MANILA- Members of a religious corporation accused of masterminding a multi-million peso investment scam have invoked the separation of the church and state after President Rodrigo Duterte ordered its closure.
Decrying the crackdown on the Kapa-Community Ministry International offices, members of the group claim that the closure order is a form of harassment.
Their leader, Pastor Joel Apolinario, meanwhile refused to surrender to authorities despite an ongoing manhunt against him, and has pleaded to the government to allow their corporation to resume operations.
Under the 1987 Constitution, it is the state's policy that the "separation of Church and State shall be inviolable."
This policy is further supported in the Bill of Rights enshrined in the charter which bars the state from establishing any religion and from conducting any religious test for the exercise of one's civil rights:
"No law shall be made respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. The free exercise and enjoyment of religious profession and worship, without discrimination or preference, shall forever be allowed. No religious test shall be required for the exercise of civil or political rights."
But is the government allowed to regulate a religious group once it enters into business or registers itself as a corporation?
Fr. Ranhilio Aquino, dean of the San Beda Graduate School of Law, clarified Tuesday that a religious sect becomes subject to government regulation once it conducts activities subject to government regulation.
"While it is true that every religion and the members of a religious sect are free to exercise their religion, the moment they engage in certain activities that are government-regulated, they have to submit to government regulations," he told radio DZMM.
"The moment we set up cooperatives, the moment we put up corporations, the moment we engage in micro-finance eh talagang dapat sundin ang mga batas ng estado (we should really follow state policies)," he said.
The state, however, cannot regulate a group or person's belief.
"The freedom of religion in so far as the concern is belief, is absolute. You can believe anything that you want to. But the moment that you commit an overt act based on your religion, that will be subject to state supervision," Aquino said.
He cited as example the Catholic Church's freedom in holding masses, novenas and other religious activities.
Aquino explained that a religious corporation conducting activities that are normally regulated by the government, cannot invoke the separation of church and state to evade regulation.
"You cannot use the separation of church and state to say na hindi na dapat sumunod sa mga alituntunin ng pamahalaan," he said.
(You cannot use the separation of church and state to say that you should not obey government policy.)