Against All Odds: The Legal and Religious Love Story of Luciano and Soledad
Christian Andrew Labitoria Gallardo
The Philippines remains, for the most part, a religious country. Despite the atrocities committed by the Spanish friars and the resulting Constitutional guarantee of the separation of Church and State , considerable leeway has been made to ensure the free exercise of the religious feats and rites. Hence, many of our regular holidays, including the incoming Holy Thursday and Good Friday, are religious in nature.
The Constitutional guarantee for the free exercise of religion however is not only about ensuring that religious worship and rituals remain free from State restriction. It also means freedom to embrace a lifestyle based on one’s faith, including, for that matter, choosing one’s partner in life. Take the love story of Luciano and Soledad in the case of Estrada v Escritor.
Soledad Escritor (Let’s call her Sol from now on) was working as a Court interpreter during the 90s for the Regional Trial Court of Las Pinas. During her stint, one Alejandro Estrada wrote to the Boss of Sol that Sol has been living with a man not her husband, and that she had begotten a child with him. Despite not being related to Sol or her alleged boyfriend, Alejandro filed an administrative case against Sol claiming that Sol is engaging in an immoral lifestyle tarnishing the dignity of the court.
Sol however claimed that she was already a widow as her husband died two years ago. She admitted that she has living with one Luciano Quilapio Jr (let’s call him Luke) without the benefit of marriage for twenty years and they already have a son. She however contends that as a member of the religious sect known as the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Watch Tower and Bible Tract Society, their conjugal arrangement is in conformity with their religious beliefs. Accordingly, after 10 years of living together, they executed a "Declaration of Pledging Faithfulness” which basically stated that while public authorities refuse to recognize their arrangement, their relationship was nonetheless binding to “Jehovah” in accordance to God’s Word. They executed that Declaration however while both the spouses of Sol and Luke were still alive.
The investigating judge recommended the dismissal of Sol for living an immoral life. The Deputy Court Administrator however adjusted the penalty and recommended her suspension for six months and one day without pay. Sol appealed the matter.
Ultimately, the issue as to whether or not Sol has engaged in a “gross and immoral conduct” is hinged upon the recognition of the “Declaration of Pledging Faithfulness”. Should the court find it binding on the lovedbirds, they shall be absolved of the charges of immorality as they are indeed acting out in accordance to the tenets of their faith.
The Supreme Court in this case wrote a lengthy section regarding the history of the freedom of religion, which includes some history on the persecution of the early Catholic Church. If you are into Church history, or if you want some love quotes from the Court, go ahead and check the full case. As for the lovebirds however, the Court ruled that the religious nature of the Filipinos warrant the application of a “benevolent neutrality” when it comes to religious affairs. This means that while the State remains secular, it must uphold the religious liberty of the Filipinos as much as possible. In short, exercise the greatest means of tolerance and respect without sacrificing State interest.
Applying the “benevolent neutrality” principle in this case, the Supreme Court has two questions: (I) Whether the right of Sol to religious freedom has been burdened and (II) Whether her her religious belief on the matter is sincere. The Court then remanded the case to the Office of the Court Administrator for the determination of these questions.
Open-ended? Well, no one exactly knows what happened to the love-birds after. One thing is certain in this case though- the State is mandated by the Constitution to exercise as much religious tolerance, so long of course that the religious practice does not cause harm to others. With this, I hope that our reflections and meditations in this Holy Week would lead us to genuine openness and being of selfless service to others regardless of political stance or religious belief, in the same way that I am hoping that Luke and Sol are happy wherever they may be now.
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Christian Andrew Labitoria Gallardo is a recent graduate of the Ateneo School of Law with a Juris Doctor degree, and is currently an associate of the Sangalan and Gaerlan, Business Lawyers, a law firm specializing in labor, corporate and business law. You may reach him through a phone call or message (09157042132) or via email (firstname.lastname@example.org).  Section 6, Article II, PHILIPPINE CONSTITUTION.  Section 5, Article III, PHILIPPINE CONSTITUTION.  Estrada v Escritor, A.M. No. P-02-1651 (2003).