There’s a legal controversy in Baguio, and it involves the separation of Church and State as mandated by the Constitution.
Under Section 29 (2), Article VI of the Constitution, “no public money or property shall be appropriated, applied, paid, or employed, directly or indirectly, for the use, benefit, or support of any sect, church, denomination, sectarian institution, or system of religion, or of any priest, preacher, minister, or other religious teacher, or dignitary as such….”
Last month, the Baguio-Benguet Ecumenical Group (BBEG) revealed that the Baguio City government headed by Mayor Benjamin Magalong will pay P4 million in public funds for a so-called leadership and values training course being given to city government employees by the Way to Happiness Philippines Foundation Inc.
The BBEG asserts that the foundation has very close ties to the late L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology, a controversial religion established in the United States in the 1950s.
Hubbard wrote a book, “Way to Happiness,” which is about good social behavior. Critics say that Scientologists market the book as a non-religious moral code based wholly on common sense.
It appears that Hubbard’s book teaches that every person must follow standards of human behavior to attain spiritual fulfilment.
Although Scientology has a number of American show business celebrities among its members, the religious sect has been the subject of intense criticism from investigative news reports and television documentaries.
The BBEG told the Baguio City Council that employing a religious organization like the Way to Happiness Philippines Foundation Inc. to do what is essentially government work violates the constitutionally mandated separation of Church and State cited above.
One foundation official claims its members are not Scientologists, and are volunteers from various faiths who use Hubbard’s book as an inspiration for a moral, value-centered lifestyle.
Mayor Magalong sided with the foundation. Although he opined that the training provided by the foundation is not anchored on religion, he did not explain the reason for his statement.
From all available indications, the Way to Happiness Philippines Foundation Inc. appears to be engaged in a religious activity, akin to the promotion of the religion called Scientology.
Its title alone is a giveaway. Naming the foundation after a cornerstone book used by an established international religion strongly suggests a link between the foundation and that religion.
Since the Way to Happiness Philippines Foundation Inc. has the badges of a religious organization, the P4 million deal between it and the Baguio City government invites a taxpayer class suit, an anti-graft case even, for violating the separation of Church and State clause of the Constitution.
Other legal questions arise.
Was the contract between the Baguio City government and the foundation subject to public bidding as required by law for contracts involving millions of pesos?
If there was one, the BBEG should take a look at the paper trail and find out why a happiness training seminar for Baguio City employees was purportedly needed in the first place. Whose idea among the city councilors was it in the first place? Does that proponent have any ties to the foundation and to Scientology? If so, that proponent is in legal trouble.
If no public bidding was undertaken, the city government has a lot of explaining to do. That’s because a supposed “need” for a happiness training seminar for Baguio city employees is not so extraordinarily important as to warrant a negotiated contract in lieu of a public bidding.
The University of the Philippines (UP) in Baguio and the Development Academy of the Philippines (DAP) have enough competent academics to conduct a values training seminar for Baguio City employees. Since the UP and the DAP are government agencies, their help should have been sought by the city government before the later resorted to the foundation. Did Baguio City Hall even bother to contact the UP and the DAP?
Steps should be taken by the BBEG, or by any crusading taxpayer for that matter, to take this constitutional issue to court, and to file a complaint in the Office of the Ombudsman. No city government or religious foundation should be above the Constitution.