Ebralinag vs Division Superintendent, GR 95770, 1 March 1993
Department of Education Culture and Sports (DECS) Regional Office in Cebu received complaints about teachers and pupils belonging to the Jehovah’s Witness, which refused to sing the Philippine National Anthem, salute the flag and recite the patriotic pledge.
Division Superintendent of schools, Susana B. Cabahug of the Cebu Division of DECS directed to remove from service, after due process, teachers and school employees, and to deprive the students and pupils from the benefit of public education, if they do not participate in daily flag ceremony and doesn’t obey flag salute rule.
Members of the Jehovah’s Witness sect find such memorandum to be contrary to their religious belief and choose not to obey. Despite a number of appropriate persuasions made by the Cebu officials to let them obey the directives, still they opted to follow their conviction to their belief. As a result, an order was issued by the district supervisor of Daan Bantayan District of Cebu, dated July 24, 1990, ordering the ‘dropping from the list’ in the school register of all Jehovah’s Witness teachers and pupils from Grade 1 to Grade 6 who opted to follow their belief which is against the Flag Salute Law, however, given a chance to be re-accepted if they change their mind.
Some Jehovah’s Witness members appealed to the Secretary of Education but the latter did not answer to their letter.
Therefore, Petitioners students and their parents filed special civil actions for Mandamus, Certiorari and prohibition, alleging that the respondents acted without or in excess of their jurisdiction and with grave abuse of discretion in ordering their expulsion without prior notice and hearing, hence, in violation of their right to due process, their right to free public education and their right to freedom of speech, religion and worship. Petitioners prayed for the voiding of the order of expulsion or ‘dropping from the rolls’ issued by the District Supervisor
On November 27, 1990, Court issued a TRO and writ of preliminary mandatory injunction, commanding the respondents to immediately re-admit the petitioners to their respective classes until further orders.
On May 31, the Solicitor General filed a consolidated comment to the petitions defending the expulsion orders issued by the respondents.
Petitioners stressed that while they do not take part in the compulsory flag ceremony, they do not engage in ‘external acts’ or behavior that would offend their countrymen who believe in expressing their love of country through observance of the flag ceremony. They quietly stand at attention during the flag ceremony to show their respect for the right of those who choose to participate in the solemn proceedings. Since they do not engage in disruptive behavior, there is no warrant for their expulsion.
Whether members of Jehovah's Witnesses may be expelled from school (both public and private), for refusing, on account of their religious beliefs, to take part in the flag ceremony or singing the Philippine national anthem, saluting the Philippine flag and reciting the patriotic pledge
No. They should not be expelled.
Before, the 30-year-old ruling of the Court in Gerona case upholding the flag salute law and approving the expulsion of students who refuse to obey it, should be reexamined. The idea that one may be compelled to salute the flag, sing the national anthem, and recite the patriotic pledge, during a flag ceremony on pain of being dismissed from one's job or of being expelled from school, is alien to the conscience of the present generation of Filipinos who cut their teeth on the Bill of Rights which guarantees their rights to free speech and the free exercise of religious profession and worship
Hence, Exemption may be accorded to the Jehovah's Witnesses with regard to the observance of the flag ceremony out of respect for their religious beliefs, however "bizarre" those beliefs may seem to others. Nevertheless, their right not to participate in the flag ceremony does not give them a right to disrupt such patriotic exercises.
Moreover, the expulsion of members of Jehovah's Witnesses from the schools where they are enrolled will violate their right as Philippine citizens, under the 1987 Constitution, to receive free education, for it is the duty of the State to "protect and promote the right of all citizens to quality education x x x and to make such education accessible to all" (Sec. 1, Art. XIV).
Forcing a small religious group, through the iron hand of the law, to participate in a ceremony that violates their religious beliefs, will hardly be conducive to love of country or respect for duly constituted authorities.