Outcry at Philippine ban on religious ‘distractions’

Philippine authorities have banned hanging rosaries and religious icons off car dashboards because of safety concerns, prompting an outcry from the Catholic Church which insists they offer divine intervention on the nation’s chaotic roads.

The ban, which will take effect on Friday, is part of a wide-ranging new law aimed at eliminating distractions for drivers.

These include talking or sending messages on mobile phones, putting on make-up, and eating or drinking coffee while driving, according to Aileen Lizada, spokeswoman for the national transport regulatory agency.

But it is the ban on the religious icons and trinkets — which visitors to the Philippines inevitably see hanging off rearview mirrors in taxis and the colourful mini-buses known as jeepneys — that has stirred the most controversy.

Roughly 80 percent of the Philippines’ 100 million people are Catholic, a legacy of centuries of Spanish colonial rule that ended in 1898, and the religious icons in vehicles are seen by many as offering God’s protection while driving.

“This is an overreaction, insensitive and lacks common sense,” Father Jerome Secillano, executive secretary for public affairs at the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, told AFP on Monday.

“With these religious images, drivers feel they are safer, that there is divine intervention and they are being guided and protected.”

Piston, an association of jeepney drivers and owners, also criticised the plan, saying there was no data showing rosaries and religious trinkets caused accidents.

“Do not meddle with the drivers’ faith in God,” Piston president George San Mateo told AFP.