House leader prods Senate to pass own Magna Carta on Religious Freedom Bill

A ranking member of the House of Representatives is calling on the Senate to immediately pass its own version of the proposed Magna Carta on Religious Freedom Act.

Camarines Sur 2nd district Rep. LRay Villafuerte (Facebook)

According to Camarines Sur 2nd district Rep. LRay Villafuerte, the potential enactment of the measure as contained in House Bill (HB) No.6492 "will put flesh into our fundamental right, as guaranteed in Section 5, Article III of the 1987 Constitution, to freely choose, exercise and propagate any religion with its attending beliefs and practices, and to act and live according to one’s conscience without undue interference from the government or from any individual, juridical person or organization".

Villafuerte, who is president of the National Unity Party (NUP), said that to guarantee such religious freedom, the State—as mandated in the House-approved Magna Carta—must “ensure that no act of the government or any of its agencies, instrumentalities, officers or employees shall burden, curtail, impinge or encroach on the person’s right to exercise one’s religious belief, freedom and liberty of conscience".

The lower chamber approved its version of the measure on third and final reading last Jan. 23. For the magna carta to prosper, the Senate must approve a counterpart measure.

The Bicolano said that such counterpart measure—Senate Bill (SB) No.1043—was introduced in the Senate in August 2022, and was eventually referred to the Committees on Justice and Human Rights and on Cultural Communities and Muslim Affairs.

In addition, Villafuerte said the particular magna carta bill further requires the government to prohibit any act by a natural or juridical person or by any group of persons or organization that “burdens, curtails, impinges or encroaches on this constitutional right to religious freedom".

HB No.6492 explicitly protects 12 rights: Right to Choose a Religion or Religious Group; Right to Exercise or Express Religious Belief, Practices, Acts or Activities; Right to Act in Accordance with Conscience; Right to Propagate Religious Beliefs; Right to Disseminate Religious Publications; Right to Religious Worship and Ceremonies; Right to Organizational Independence; Right Against Discrimination in Employment; Right to Freedom Against Discrimination in Educational Institutions; Right of Companies or Businesses to be Founded on Religious Belief; Right of Parents or Legal Guardians to Rear Children; and Right to Tax Exemption.

The House-approved bill served as the substitute for measures like HB No. 278, which was authored by Villafuerte with three fellow Camarines Sur-based congressmen.

Villafuerte is the majority leader of the powerful Commission on Appointments (CA).