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Philippine Judiciary Rules in Favor of Adventist Student

A court in the Philippines ruled in favor of Denmark Valmores, who filed a case against Mindanao State University-College of Medicine (MSU-COM), Dean Cristina Achacoso, and faculty member Dr. Giovannie Cabildo. The petition resulted from the respondents’ incessant denials of the petitioner’s religious rights and for their noncompliance to Section 5 of the Bill of Rights of the 1987 Philippine Constitution which states “the free exercise and enjoyment of religious profession and worship, without discrimination or preference, shall forever be allowed.” 

Valmores’ attorney Neil Abayon (an Adventist) and Aangat Tayo, the Party List Representative, said this development reminds the Adventist Church to value religious freedom and also solidifies the Adventist identity as a people who observe Saturday as the Lord’s day of rest.

“The impact is very big considering one of the most used arguments against the Adventist community when we ask for recognition of our religious freedom rights is "bakit si ganyan pumapasok naman ng Sabado" (“How come one of your Adventist friends goes to school on a Sabbath?”), says Abayon, citing a common rebuttal to those seeking permission to be excused on a Sabbath. “In the Valmores case, that was clarified by the Supreme Court. That adherence to one's creed is the general rule and that a person cannot be penalized for the transgressions of another person's religious beliefs.” 

The case started in 2014 when some of Valmores’ classes and examinations were moved to Saturday. On one occasion, Valmores failed to take his Histo-Pathology laboratory examination because it was scheduled on a Sabbath. He received a failing grade and was deemed ineligible to take any make up tests. In response, Valmores wrote Dean Achacoso and Dr. Cabildo requesting an exemption from doing any class-related work on Saturdays while expressing his willingness to take a special examination. After sending several formal communications, including a Certificate of Membership to the Seventh-day Adventist church signed by Pastor Hanani Nietes, director of Public Affairs and Religious Liberty (PARL) for the North Central Mindanao Conference (NCMC), Valmores received no answer. 

After this, Valmores asked assistance from the Commission on Higher Education (CHEd) through Chief Administrative Officer, Roque U. Agcorpa.

The issue was addressed accordingly and was referred directly to the MSU president, Dr. Macapado Abaton Muslim. In response, Dr. Muslim sent Dean Achacoso a copy of the 2010 CHEd Memorandum as her reference for the ongoing complaint raised by Valmores. Neither Dean Achacoso nor Dr. Cabildo responded after receiving the instruction. This silence urged Valmores to take legal action as his religious right was being suppressed and tested. 

Four years after Valmores filed the case, the highest court in the Philippines released its decision in favor of the Adventist petitioner, stating that “educational institutions are bound to safeguard the religious freedom of their students. Thus, to such end, our schools carry the responsibility to restrict its own academic liberties, should they collide with constitutionally preferred rights.” 

Afterwards, Abayon spoke of the importance of the case. “Valmores’ case can be classified as a landmark case due to it being the first case questioning the Sabbath keeping faith of Seventh-day Adventists,” he said. “Thus, [it] will most likely be discussed in law schools under the Constitutional Law 2 subject. So, in effect, the next generation of lawyers will be made aware of what Sabbath-keeping is about.” 

Currently, Valmores is continuing his education in the same university while freely exercising his religious freedom.

 

This article was written by the Southern Asia-Pacific Division (SSD) Communication Department and originally appeared on the SSD news website. Image: Adventist Congressman Neil Abayon (center) poses with Denmark Valmores (second from right). Courtesy of SSD / Congressman Neil Abayon.

 

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