Senator Joel Villanueva stressed the importance of exercising freedom of religion in the proposed Bangsamoro Government during the bicameral conference committee meeting in Pasig City.
As both House and Senate panels threshed out the differences in their respective versions of the Bangsamoro Basic Law, Villanueva pushed for the full guarantee and exposition of religious belief and creed in the Bangsamoro territory regardless of denomination, membership or affiliation.
The senator stated that the Bangsamoro people should be protected from harassment or any undue pressure, coercion and violence on account of religion.
"We need to be mindful of the fact that people are harassed or subjected to violence because of their choice of beliefs in certain areas of the country," Villanueva said.
"Given my concerns, what is the strongest guarantee we can extract from the regional government that it will be proactive in protecting this freedom?" the senator asked.
In the Senate version of the bill, there was a provision stipulating the promotion of religious freedom by the Bangsamoro government. Such provision was not present in the House version.
Meanwhile, Villanueva emphasized the importance of having the said provision in the proposed BBL as "religion plays a big role in shaping the beliefs, backgrounds, and acts of the people living in the area."
"This is not to mention the fact that the region is multicultural. We have Islam, Christianity, and the dozens of indigenous beliefs in the area," the senator further noted.
Villanueva added that the exercise of freedom of religion must also extend to establishments.
"Apart from the mandate protecting people persecuted on account of religion, we also want to ensure that the free exercise extends to establishments that wish to express a certain faith, subject to the rights, privileges, and restrictions granted by law," the senator said.
Both panels agreed to adopt the provision proposed by Villanueva.