Page last updated at 01:49 UTC, Tuesday, 06 September 2016 PH
I spent three weeks last July in a summer course on the Humanities in a most delightful environment at the outskirts of Bandung, capital of Indonesia’s West Java province and the third largest city in this country of 250 million people. Together with professionals from the Philippines, Spain, Indonesia and Mexico, we were billeted in a comfortable conference center within a mountain subdivision called Istana Bunga (Flower Palace) in a suburb of Bandung called Lembang with an altitude of more than 1,000 meters. Bandung itself has a population of 2.4 million but the Metropolitan area of which it is part reaches 7 million. This university city (it has 50 institutions of higher learning) is set amid scenic volcanoes and tea plantations. The younger participants in the course did a great deal of mountain climbing. Those of us who are senior citizens just did a lot of walking, enjoying the cool and unpolluted mountain air.
Our stay coincided with the end of the Ramadan and we were impressed with the way our Muslim neighbors practiced the fast and patiently chanted the religious hymns literally the whole night through. The venue we were using also is used as a retreat house for Indonesian Catholics coming from different parts of Java. In fact, it was built by a Catholic businessman from Jakarta. Families who came to Istana Bunga during the days coinciding with the end of Ramadan (very much like Christmas in the Philippines) belonged to different religions: Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, and Hinduism. They were all peacefully co-existing with one another. Once again, I concluded that Indonesia will be a model of a Muslim country—in fact the biggest in the world—that respects the freedom of religion.
Except in the island of Aceh, where some Muslim extremists can cause religious conflicts, Indonesia is exemplary in the way the Muslim majority have no serious problem in peacefully co-existing with people from different religions. The Indonesian Constitution provides “all persons the right to worship according to their own religion or belief” and states that “the nation is based upon belief in one supreme God.” The Government generally respects these provisions. Exceptionally, there are some restrictions on certain types of religious activity and on unrecognized religious cults. The Ministry of Religious Affairs extends official status to seven faiths: Islam, Catholicism, Protestantism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Confucianism and Baha’i. Religious organizations other than the six recognized faiths can register with the Government, but only with the Ministry for Culture and Tourism and only as social organizations. Although it has an overwhelming Muslim majority (about 87% of the total population), the country is not an Islamic state. Article 29 of Indonesia’s Constitution affirms that “the state is based on the belief in the one supreme God.” Atheism and agnosticism are not explicitly outlawed but socially stigmatized.
Except for random terrorist attacks, Indonesia enjoys political and social stability. This stability is attributed by many to the Pancasila doctrine adopted during the presidency of Suharto (1965 to 1998). There are five basic principles of Pancasila: a) belief in the one and only God; b) Just and civilized humanity; c) the unity of Indonesia; d) democracy; and e. social justice. In my numerous trips to this country over the last twenty years, I can attest to the salutary impact of Pancasila on Indonesian society. Despite rampant corruption during the presidency of Suharto, Pancasila has motivated the country to move closer to a working democracy and greater social justice. For example, at least compared to the Philippines, Indonesia has attained greater social justice by investing heavily in countryside infrastructures to uplift the poor. The country has been able to reduce its poverty incidence to 12% (2014) compared to the Philippines’ 25%. Since 1998, it has gradually moved closer to a democratic regime. President Widodo is the third non-military president to be elected since the fall of the Suharto regime. In fact, he won over one of the most powerful generals during the military dictatorship. He has a background not too different from our own President Rodrigo Duterte. Both of them demonstrated their capacity to govern by being outstanding local government officials (President Widodo as Governor of Jakarta and President Duterte as Mayor of Davao). (To be continued).