UN: RH law vital to development
Agency official notes increasing maternal deaths
12:10 am | Monday, August 6th, 2012
STORMING THE HEAVENS. Catholics estimated by police at around 7,000 to 10,000 brave the daylong bad weather on Saturday to attend the prayer rally at the historic Edsa Shrine spearheaded by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines to protest the reproductive health bill, renamed responsible parenthood bill. The rally’s numbers did not add up to the organizers’ expectation of 50,000, no doubt due to the endless rain. ANDREW TADALAN
The United Nations on Sunday warned that failure to pass a controversial reproductive health (RH) bill amid stiff opposition from the Catholic Church could reverse the country’s gains in development goals.
The RH bill would make it mandatory for the government to provide free contraceptives in a country where more than 80 percent of the population is Catholic and which has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in Southeast Asia.
Ugochi Daniels, country representative from the UN Population Fund, said she remained “cautiously optimistic” that President Benigno Aquino’s allies who dominate the House of Representatives could muster the numbers to pass the bill tomorrow after 14 years of often divisive debate.
“What is important now is to highlight the urgency of the bill,” Daniels said.
Unless the bill is passed, she said maternal deaths in the Philippines would continue to rise with more and more women getting pregnant at a young age without the proper health care and access to key reproductive health information.
Between 2006 and 2010, the maternal mortality rate increased to 221 deaths per 100,000 live births, from 162 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2000 to 2005, according to the government’s 2011 Family Health Survey.
“I think we’ve gone from 11 (maternal deaths) a day to between 14 and 15 a day now. And unfortunately, most of these are poor women,” she said.
The UN Population Fund was “very concerned” about the rising number of deaths, she said, and noted that even in war-torn Afghanistan the trend was decreasing.
She urged Philippine lawmakers to quickly pass the bill and “stop failing our young.”
“This is now the time. We have been waiting for a very long time,” Daniels said.
The UN’s call came as Catholic priests and nuns led thousands in a rally at the Edsa Shrine on Saturday to urge lawmakers to scrap the bill.
Besides free contraception, the bill seeks to give the poor preferential access to family planning services in state hospitals, while lessons on family planning and sex education would become compulsory in schools and for couples applying for a marriage license.
The United Nations has said a lack of education and access to condoms has led to an explosion of HIV infections in the Philippines, which it said is now one of seven countries in the world where cases have risen by 25 percent or more since 2001.
Aquino faces trenchant criticism for the first time
By: Amando Doronila
Philippine Daily Inquirer
12:52 am | Monday, August 6th, 2012
Not since the turbulent days of the conflict between the Marcos dictatorship and the Catholic Church in the Philippines led by Jaime Cardinal Sin over human and political rights have the state and the Church been as bitterly at odds as they are today.
This time, they are fighting over a proposed policy on population control.
On Saturday, the dispute came to a head with the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) leading thousands of Catholics in a prayer rally to protest against President Benigno Aquino’s support for the reproductive health (RH) bill that would curb population growth through contraceptives.
Mr. Aquino’s call for the passage of the bill in his State of the Nation Address to a joint session of Congress on July 23 angered the CBCP, which has led opposition to the proposal and organized Saturday’s protest.
Mr. Aquino urged swift passage of the RH bill, which would provide “universal access and information on natural and modern family planning methods and reduce the number of mothers and babies dying during childbirth.”
That was anathema to the bishops, some of whom took Mr. Aquino’s words as a “declaration of war” against the Church teachings prohibiting the use of contraceptives.
The bishops called the Church’s followers, who comprise 80 percent of the Philippines’ nearly 100 million population, to take to the streets in a “show of force”—a sort of people power uprising like the revolution Mr. Aquino’s late mother (President Corazon Aquino) used to topple the Marcos dictatorship in 1986.
To symbolize people power, the prayer rally was held at the Edsa Shrine on the highway where previous mass actions against the government, including some in which Cardinal Sin was the prime mover, took place.
In the current conflict, the Aquino administration appears to have parted ways with the Church by espousing a national policy that would slow down population growth. With a population of more than 93 million, the Philippines is the 14th most populous country in the world.
Although Saturday’s rally did not attract massive turnouts, like those in Edsa I (1986) and Edsa II (which deposed Joseph Estrada in 2001), it managed to draw at least 10,000 protesters in Metro Manila, according to police estimates. Similar numbers were reported in Iloilo City and Cebu City and in other provincial centers.
With the Edsa Shrine rally, the President experienced for the first time since he took office two years ago trenchant criticism of his policy. Without pulling punches, the leading prelates ridiculed him and denounced his priorities.
Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas, in a message read for him by former Ambassador to the Vatican Henrietta de Villa said: “My dear youth, contraception is corruption. The use of government money, taxpayers’ money to give out contraceptive pills is corruption. Contraceptive pills teach us it is all right to have sex with someone provided you are safe from babies. Babies are a nuisance.”
By saying “contraception is corruption,” Villegas, who was a close confidant of the late Cardinal Sin, was telling the nation that Mr. Aquino’s support for the reproductive health bill was undermining his promise to the nation to stamp out corruption.
He said the Church maintained that modern contraceptive methods prevented procreation, “which should be the only function of sex.” Should the bill pass, he said, it would produce an “abortion generation.”
Defending the RH bill on the eve of the rally, the President said that where couples “are in no position to make an informed judgment, the state has the responsibility to provide.”
The bill would use the state-run PhilHealth insurance fund to provide birth control pills, condoms and other contraceptives for free.
It would give the poor preferential access to family planning services in state hospitals while lessons on family planning and sex education would become compulsory in schools and for couples applying for a marriage license.
The bill has been stalled in the House of Representatives for nearly 15 years because of the opposition of the Church. The opposition is grounded on the doctrine pronounced in a 2005 CBCP pastoral letter that elaborated on the Church’s concept of responsible parenthood.
Quoting from the papal encyclical Humanae Vitae, the pastoral letter said: “It calls for due regard to physical, economic, psychological and social conditions in deciding to raise a numerous family. It includes the spouse’s decision, based on grave motives and with due respect for the moral law, to avoid for a time being or even indeterminate period, a new birth.”
In calling on Congress to pass the bill, the President justified the measure on economic grounds, an entirely different context from that of the Church.
He said the measure was an important step in dealing with the country’s socioeconomic problems, particularly poverty and underemployment.
The bishops called the rally to show Congress that “most Filipinos oppose the bill that would curb population growth.” Senior members of Congress, however, say the bill would not authorize abortion as a means of curbing population growth.
The bishops claim that they have lobbied with congressmen not to vote for the bill, and by their head count, more than a hundred members of the House have pledged to vote against it tomorrow.
Whether the opponents of the bill have the numbers to stop the bill’s passage remains to be seen.
With most congressmen facing their first election next year, the bishops have promised to campaign against the reelection of legislators who would vote for the bill. Other congressmen, say, however, that there’s no such thing as a solid Catholic vote.
Next year’s elections will be mostly local races, and the bishops, with their extensive network of parishes, believe the Church has lots of influence in rural areas.
The Church faces big risks in putting its clout on the line on the basis of this assumption.
(In my next column, I will discuss the clash of ideological perspectives in the showdown over the RH bill.)
A little over a year ago, or on May 22, 2011 to be exact, I wrote an article for the Inquirer titled “My stand on the RH bill.” With the vote on the Reproductive Health (RH) bill approaching, people have asked me whether my stand on the bill has changed. Let me restate the salient points I made then.
First, let me start by saying that I adhere to the teaching of the Church on artificial contraception even if I am aware that the teaching on the subject is not considered infallible doctrine by those who know more theology than I do. I know that some people consider me a heretic and that at the very least I should leave the priesthood. But my superiors still stand by me.
Second (very important for me as a student of the Constitution and of church-state relations), I am very much aware of the fact that we live in a pluralist society where various religious groups have differing beliefs about the morality of artificial contraception, which is very much at the center of the controversy. But freedom of religion means more than just the freedom to believe. It also means the freedom to act or not to act according to what one believes. Hence, the state should not prevent people from practicing responsible parenthood according to their religious belief, nor may churchmen pressure President Aquino, by whatever means, to prevent people from acting according to their religious belief. As the Compendium on the Social Doctrine of the Catholic Church says: “Because of its historical and cultural ties to a nation, a religious community (like the Catholic Church) might be given special recognition on the part of the State. Such recognition must in no way create discrimination within the civil or social order for other religious groups”; and “Those responsible for government are required to interpret the common good of their country not only according to the guidelines of the majority but also according to the effective good of all the members of the community, including the minority.”
Third, the obligation to respect freedom of religion is also applicable to the state. Thus, I advocate careful recasting of the provision on mandatory sexual education in public schools without the consent of parents. (I assume that those who send their children to Catholic schools accept the program of Catholic schools on the subject.) My reason for requiring the consent of parents is, in addition to the free exercise of religion, there is the constitutional provision which recognizes the sanctity of the human family and “the natural and primary right of parents in the rearing of the youth for civic efficiency and the development of moral character.” (Article II, Section 12)
Fourth, the duty to care for sexual and reproductive health of employees should be approached in a balanced way so that both the freedom of religion of employers and the welfare of workers will be attended to. In this regard it may be necessary to reformulate the provisions already found in the Labor Code.
Fifth, I hold that public money may be spent for the promotion of reproductive health in ways that do not violate the Constitution. Thus, for instance, it may be legitimately spent for making available reproductive materials that are not abortifacient. Public money is neither Catholic, nor Protestant, nor Muslim or what have you and may be appropriated by Congress for the public good without violating the Constitution.
Sixth, we should be careful not to distort what the RH bill says. The RH bill does not favor abortion. The bill clearly prohibits abortion as an assault against the right to life.
Seventh, in addition, I hold that abortifacient pills and devices should be banned by the Food and Drug Administration. However, determining which of the pills in the market are abortifacient is something for the judicial process to determine with the aid of science experts. Our Supreme Court has already upheld the banning of at least one device found to be abortifacient.
Eighth, I am dismayed by preachers telling parishioners that support for the RH bill ipso facto is a serious sin or merits excommunication! I find this to be irresponsible.
Ninth, I claim no competence to debate about demographics.
Tenth, I have never held that the RH bill is perfect. But if we have to have an RH law, I intend to contribute to its improvement as much as I can. I hold that the approval of the RH bill today will not end all debate about it. It will only shift the arena for debate from the raucous and noisy rally fields to the more sober judicial arena where reason has a better chance of prevailing.
Finally, there are many valuable points in the bill’s Declaration of Policy and Guiding Principles which are desperately needed especially by poor women who cannot afford the cost of medical service. There are specific provisions which give substance to these good points. They should be saved even if we must litigate later about those which we disagree on. In other words, let us not burn the house just to roast a pig.
The bishops and their allies in Congress have just supplied the best arguments—not for rejecting the Reproductive Health bill but for approving it posthaste.
First by mounting an anti-RH rally consisting in the main of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s bishops and her herself. Yes, her bishops. The same ones who got SUVs from her, or indeed solicited them from her on the occasion of their birthdays. The same ones who found nothing wrong with “Hello Garci” and applauded the congressmen for killing the impeachment bids against her. The same ones who wondered what was so wrong with cheating in elections, “everybody cheats anyway.” The same ones who claimed God spoke through them while they screwed the country, quite apart from those they added to the population by.
Danilo Suarez, House minority leader, justified the bishops’ welcoming Arroyo with open arms thus: “This is an issue that she feels strongly about as a devout Catholic, although she never used her term in the presidency to push things her way.” He justified as well his, and six of his fellow Arroyo loyalists’ defection from the RH bill thus: “Changing your mind is no joke, it is a matter of conscience.”
You don’t know whether to laugh or cry at the cheekiness of these statements. Arroyo is a devout Catholic? Then that is a reason to become Islamic, Buddhist, Hindu, or atheist. Arroyo never pushed things her way when she was president? What about pushing her way as president to begin with, after she was made so not by God, vox populi, vox Dei, but by Garci, vox Garci, vox karaoke? Changing your mind is no joke, it is a matter of conscience? Really? You’ve got a conscience? Hell, you’ve got a mind to change?
It reminds us, in case we’ve forgotten already, although we’re assailed by it every time, that the Catholic Church remains primarily, and resolutely, a temporal power, and only secondarily—and cynically—a spiritual one. There are luminous exceptions, like Archbishops Antonio Fortich, Francisco Claver, Julio Labayen who fought oppression and benightedness in the past, and Archbishop Luis Antonio Tagle who fights oppression and benightedness today. Tagle, quite incidentally, has himself called for Catholics to join the rally and find discernment in it. He is at least one prince of the Church who acts, and thinks, like a prince. You know that by the fact that he abhors princely trappings and prefers beggarly ones. Unlike his fellows who like to garb themselves in finery to advertise their spurious grandness. Tagle at least I will continue to hold in the highest regard whatever his position on the RH bill.
But they are the exception. They are the rarity. To this day, the Church thrives in circumstances not unlike those Jose Rizal decried, locked in mortal combat with the state for earthly power. Its advantage then (as now) lay in the friars holding on to their positions for life while governor-generals came and went. Woe to a governor-general like Carlos Maria de la Torre who was liberal-minded and wanted to do things such as secularize the parishes held by the friars. Woe to a president like P-Noy who, unlike Arroyo, wants to make the lives of Filipinos better. They are the natural enemies of the prayle, they are the natural enemies of the bishopric.
Second, by the most absurd justifications they cite for their opposition to the RH bill. Suarez explains his turnaround in this way: He saw how other countries were having tremendous problems because of a lack of a labor force. “Our component is the people—they’re our asset. Yet we will control our population? That’s the reason I had second thoughts and withdrew my support for the bill.” And Bishop Ramon Arguelles aired his protest in this way: “Consider the future of your children and grandchildren… look at what’s happening to many countries in the West, they are becoming weak. So I appeal to the congressmen for them to see the reality.”
Can anything be more idiotic? Can anything be more pestilential? What are they saying: The more we breed like rabbits, the more we will become prosperous? The more we teem with street children, child prostitutes, child laborers, for sheer lack of ability even of the most egalitarian government to prevent, the stronger we get?
The bishops’ argument of course is that we should all populate the earth like breeders but leave it to government to feed, clothe and put the light of learning in the bred. How, they do not say. I’ll tell them how. I’ll convert to their view if they agree to give up their princely robes, quite apart from their princely lands and princely cathedrals and princely SUVs and live the way the apostles did, the way Christ bid them do (his kingdom is not of this earth), with only the clothes on their backs and faith in their hearts, to do what they want government to do. I’ll convert to their view if they agree to give up the alms they collect every Sunday to feed, clothe and educate the issue of every unwanted pregnancy, the better to add to society’s desperate efforts to battle homelessness, child prostitution and widespread misery of an order you are hard put to associate with the image and likeness of God.
In the end, that’s what makes the bishops’ opposition to the RH bill cynical and hypocritical. That they should call themselves prolife while seeing only hypothetical life and not real life, while bleeding only for the lot of those who have not been born and indifferent to the plight of those who have, while devoting all their time and energy and passion to something that was not, is not, and never will be to those who are here, who are flesh-and-blood, and who will ever remain in ignorance and hopelessness if their numbers keep multiplying.
That is being for life? That is being on the side of life?
It was unfortunate that the highlight of the much-ballyhooed “show of force” the Catholic bishops organized at the Edsa Shrine last Saturday turned out to be a deliberate lie. “My dear youth,” ran the most emphatic line from the most provocative statement read at the rally called to protest the Reproductive Health bill pending in Congress, “contraception is corruption. The use of government money, taxpayers’ money to give out contraceptive pills is corruption.”
This is a fudging of the facts and of logic so extreme it may be appropriate to call it diabolical. We use the word advisedly, because the statement, attributed to Archbishop Socrates Villegas, the renowned former rector of the Edsa Shrine who now serves the archdiocese of Lingayen-Dagupan (it was read by a former ambassador to the Vatican), is deeply dishonest, disregards the long tradition of Catholic social teaching—and argues against a legacy of Pope Benedict XVI himself.
The absolutist view of contraception was forever undermined when the Pope in late 2010 signaled a shift in his attitude toward the use of condoms to help stop the AIDS crisis in Africa, seeing it as possibly “the first step of responsibility.” That means that the use of condoms, a popular form of contraception, was not, could not be, intrinsically evil; official Church policy, to be sure, has not yet come around to such clarity of presentation, but it is deceptive of the statement-maker to suggest that the Church view on contraception is absolute and brooks no exception.
But we know why Villegas, or the drafter of the statement read in his name, insisted on the absolutist view; so he could lay the groundwork for claiming that contraception is corruption. We wonder where the Catholic Church hierarchy was when corruption under the Arroyo administration was not merely figurative but real. But is it in fact true to say that the use of taxpayers’ money to “give out contraceptive pills” is corruption? If the purpose is to safeguard the health of poor women at risk of multiple pregnancies, or to give married couples the freedom of choice, or to allow households to create the right conditions for raising human life with dignity, how can giving out contraceptive pills be considered a waste of taxpayers’ money?
Here, then, is the crux of the problem: That unfortunate statement read in Villegas’ name equates the Church hierarchy’s position on reproductive health (the war on contraception) with the good of the national community (the war on corruption). To make this the basis of national policy, however, would be to unduly privilege the Catholic Church—and that is a situation that the post-Vatican II Church itself does not approve of. “[T]hose responsible for government are required to interpret the common good of their country not only according to the guidelines of the majority but also according to the effective good of all the members of the community, including the minority,” the Compendium on the Social Doctrine of the Catholic Church asserts.
Reflecting a divergence in views that is now several generations old, many other Christian denominations accept the use of contraceptives to regulate family life; Philippine government officials, therefore, will be following the Catholic Church’s own guideline “to interpret the common good of their country” if they enact an RH bill that will make room for the views of everyone, “including the minority.”
There are many other arguments in support of the RH bill—now known in consolidated form as House Bill 4244, and due, after 14 long years, for a plenary vote tomorrow—from within the Catholic tradition, such as those from dignity and from stewardship (couples “should strive to beget only those children whom they can raise up in a human way”—the Second Plenary Council of the Philippines). But there are secular arguments as well.
As we have stated more than once before, one particular argument from statistics seems to us to be most compelling. Hundreds of thousands of Filipino women undergo induced abortions every year; tens of thousands die from the procedure, carried out in unsafe circumstances. The RH bill, simply by preventing unwanted pregnancies and increasing maternal health safeguards, will help save the lives of countless innocents.
The above are only two of the quotable quotes that the Catholic leadership said on Saturday to denounce President Benigno Aquino III for supporting the reproductive health bill, saying it undermined his promise to the people to stamp out corruption.
“You heard when candidate, now President Noynoy Aquino said during his campaign, “Kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap (without corruption, there will be no poverty),” Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas said in a message read for him by the country’s former ambassador to the Vatican, Henrietta de Villa, to thousands of Catholics at the historic Edsa Shrine who braved the rain and foul weather to protest a proposed law that would provide free contraceptives in a bid to curb population.
“My dear youth, contraception is corruption. The use of government money, taxpayers’ money to give out contraceptive pills is corruption. Contraceptive pills teach us it is all right to have sex with someone provided you are safe from babies. Babies are a nuisance,” said Villegas, whose attack on Mr. Aquino was unprecedented as he is a close friend of the President’s family, a confidante of the late President Cory Aquino whom he called “Tita Cory.”
“The use of taxpayers’ money for contraceptives is corruption,” Villegas told the protesters who were mainly dressed in red. Organizers said this was to symbolize the “martyrdom” of the unborn child.
Anti-RH bill politicians, led by Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, attended the prayer-rally. Senators Gregorio Honasan and Tito Sotto arrived to cheers from the crowd.
“We should not politicize the RH bill,” Honasan said. Asked if the Aquino administration tried to convince him and other opponents of the legislation to support it, Honasan said there were no overtures to him. “In fairness to the President, there was no partisan politics,” he said.
Show of force
The influential Catholic Church, which organized the protest, has consistently opposed various attempts to pass a reproductive health measure over the past 10 years.
The Edsa Shrine rally, which counted students, lay people and priests, was a show of force by the Church ahead of the House vote on Tuesday when representatives will decide whether to close debate on the issue and send the bill for amendments, a shortcut that will speed up its adoption.
The Mandaluyong police estimated that 7,000 people attended the mass action. The Eastern Police District said the crowd reached 10,000 in the afternoon.
The present incarnation of the bill seeks to provide universal access and information on natural and modern family methods and would encourage families to have only two children to reduce poverty. Its supporters say the bill, if carried into law, will cut down the number of mothers and babies dying at childbirth.
The Church maintains that modern contraceptive methods prevent procreation, which should be the only function of sex. Should the bill pass Congress, it will produce an “abortion generation” and encourage infidelity, Villegas said.
The President came out in support of the bill in his State of the Nation Address in Congress late last month. In a statement just before Saturday’s rally, he said that in a situation where couples “are in no position to make an informed judgment, the state has the responsibility to provide.”
The proposed law would use the state-run PhilHealth insurance fund to provide birth control pills, condoms and other contraceptives for free. It would give the poor preferential access to family planning services in state hospitals, while lessons on family planning and sex education would become compulsory in schools and for couples applying for a marriage license.
The House of Representatives, dominated by Aquino supporters, is expected to pass the bill on Tuesday after failing to do so last year. But the Senate must also pass the law and has come out strongly against it.
Church prelates said the Aquino administration seems to regard the RH bill as an easy way out of its economic troubles.
Mr. Aquino should not look at the Philippines’ burgeoning population as a problem, Villegas said. Corruption in the government is the reason for the country’s slide to poverty, he said.
"A culture of contraception looks at babies as reasons for poverty. Birth control, they say, means more food, more classrooms, more houses and better health for mothers. If more babies are the cause of poverty, are we now saying ‘Kung walang anak, walang mahirap (If there are no children, there will be no poverty)?’” Villegas said.
“We can have more classrooms, more food, more jobs if we would be less corrupt,” he said.
The Church hierarchy bristled at suggestions by the bill’s supporters that they are just a group of old men who are out of touch with the plight of women and the poor.
Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Tagle said the Church has always been on the side of the downtrodden.
“It is not true that the Church has no compassion for the poor. If others see the poor as statistics, the Church sees them as human beings,” he said.
“The poor are not numbers,” Tagle said.
RIP to RH bill candidates
Some Church officials did not shy away from reminding lawmakers that their vote could affect their chances of victory in the next elections.
Bishop Gabriel Reyes, head of the Episcopal Commission on Family and Life, said the Church would be issuing guidelines to voters in the 2013 local elections that will tell them to choose a candidate who are pro-life.
El-Shaddai leader Mike Velarde, in his speech before the Mass, said: “Those who vote for the RH bill. You know what will happen. RIP.”
Streamers and banners hung from the walls of the shrine and from the highway railings. One of the banners read: Yes to Saved Sex, No to Safe Sex. Church officials said the availability of modern contraception methods would encourage premarital sex and erode morals.
In a message to the youth, Villegas reminded them that “contraception makes sex cheap.”
“When we teach you that contraception is corruption, we are not being insensitive to the challenge of modernity … We are just being protective of you because it can destroy you sooner than you think,” he said.
“Artificial contraception could open the door for marital infidelity and a general lowering of standards. We, your elders, plead with you. Don’t follow that path to moral corruption. Dare to be different. Dare to be better,” Villagas said.
Aiming for 50,000
Although the skies had cleared by late afternoon, the first part of the program was marked by rainshowers and fairly strong winds.
Senior Supt. Armando Bolalin, Mandaluyong chief of police who helped secure the rally area, estimated the crowd at 7,000 to 10,000 as of 2:30 p.m.
His deputy chief, Supt. Cris Landicho, also the assistant ground commander of the Mandaluyong City police deployed in the vicinity, had a more conservative estimate of 5,000 people as of the same time.
Bolalin said that had it not rained, the 50,000 crowd that the organizers were aiming for would have been met.
He expressed doubt that participants would even reach half of that figure by the end of the prayer rally, which was scheduled at 7 p.m.
The Palace legislative liaison officer merely shrugged off the presence of Enrile, Sotto and Honasan at Friday’s rally.
“We have the numbers. It’s easier to pass the RH bill in the Senate,” said Manuel Mamba, chief of the Presidential Legislative Liaison Office, which acts as a go-between between Malacañang and Congress.
With reports from TJ Burgonio and Kristine Felisse Mangunay
“It is not true that the Church has no compassion for the poor. If others see the poor as statistics, the Church sees them as human beings,” he said.
“The poor are not numbers,” Tagle said
Human beings need to eat, drink, be housed, be clothed, be educated.
And yes, my dear Bishop, the poor, much like the lot of us human beings, are numbers. Because without numbers we cannot plan for the benefit of, we cannot care for, we cannot make things better for every man, especially the poor.
When will you get off your ad hominem soap box and see that you are seeing mere phantoms?
There is no abortion provision in the RH Bill you oppose. In fact it emphatically upholds that abortion is a crime.
Slippery slope arguments are just plain ridiculous. Should we ban the manufacture and sale of matches and petrol because these are sometimes used by arsonists? If not, why should we ban the dissemination of information and the providing of facilities that will actually prove useful to those who need it most?
A day ahead of the crucial vote to end plenary debates on the Reproductive Health (RH) bill, President Aquino is trying to woo at least 150 members of the 285-man House of Representatives to vote in favor of the controversial measure.
A lawmaker, who is not a member of the ruling Liberal Party but is allied with the administration coalition, revealed the move in a text message sent by a Malacañang official on Friday, inviting them to a luncheon at Malacañang today.
A senior Church leader also confirmed that Aquino is going to meet with “anti-RH” lawmakers today in the effort to convince them to change their position on the proposed measure.
“He is set to meet with lawmakers on Monday around lunch time. P-Noy (Aquino) will try to convince them. I hope they don’t get convinced,” Lipa City Archbishop Ramon Arguelles said.
He said they have received information that Aquino is set to discuss with the lawmakers the Responsible Parenthood (RP) bill, Malacañang’s version of the RH bill.
Another source from the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) said they received the information through a text message from a “pro-life” lawmaker.
“We received a text message from a pro-life lawmaker that they were being asked to go to Malacañang on Monday, lunch time, because P-Noy will explain his position on responsible parenthood,” the source said.
Arguelles expressed confidence that House members under his diocese in Batangas will not be swayed by the President.
“All of our lawmakers are pro-life. I don’t think they will be dissuaded,” said Arguelles, referring to Batangas Reps. Tomas Apacible (first district), Hermilando Mandanas (second district), Nelson Collantes (third district), and Mark Mendoza (fourth district).
About 150 congressmen have so far reportedly confirmed attendance to the presidential invitation. Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte, however, was apparently unaware of the invitation to all of Aquino’s allies in Congress.
She said this was just limited to members of the ruling party who will hold a caucus.“The invitation is not for House leaders. The Liberal Party will be having its caucus at 1 p.m.,” Valte said.
“So we do not know the agenda since I am not a member of the Liberal Party. Presumably, they would discuss what concerns the party,” she said.
The House is set to take a crucial vote tomorrow whether to terminate the period of debates on House Bill 4244, or the proposed Responsible Parenthood, Reproductive Health and Population and Development Act of 2011.
Aquino is expected to explain his stand and logically seek the support of the House leadership, led by Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr., in marshaling the lawmakers into voting in favor of the RH bill, of which Aquino’s RP measure is included.
Meanwhile, Presidential Adviser on Political Affairs Ronald Llamas criticized the Catholic Church in its moves in opposing the measure.
While they respect the rights of the Catholic bishops to oppose the measure, Llamas it was unfair for the Church to be spreading lies like contraception is corruption.
“It’s unfair but not unexpected. From the start the anti-RH campaign has been characterized by false claims and misinformation,” Llamas said.
“And while we respect the right of bishops, as ordinary citizens, to express their opinions, when they use their ecclesiastical office to mislead the public and to bully elected representatives, it crosses the line into impropriety,” he added.
Llamas said Malacañang remains confident that the proponents of the RH bill retain sufficient support in the House.
“The President, of course, maintains his firm support for the measure, as he made clear in his SONA (State of the Nation Address),” he said.
Lawmakers, on the other hand, engaged in a word war yesterday in gearing up for the crucial vote on the RH bill.
Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, the bill’s principal author, accused certain members of the clergy and their “lay allies” of allegedly spreading “black propaganda” and resorting to “political intimidation.”
Congressmen opposed to the proposed RH law, on the other hand, claimed the measure would only benefit foreign companies manufacturing condoms and other contraceptives.
Amid the raging war of words, six militant House members announced they are supporting the RH bill and would vote for closing plenary debates on it tomorrow.They are Reps. Teddy Casiño and Neri Colmenares of Bayan Muna, Luzviminda Ilagan and Emmi de Jesus of Gabriela, Rafael Mariano of Anakpawis, Raymond Palatino of Kabataan, and Antonio Tinio of the Alliance of Concerned Teachers.
Casiño said they are for the passage of the RH bill because the proposed law would help “curb maternal and child mortality and give greater support and funding for reproductive health.”
De Jesus said, “The urgency of the bill is in the fact that a growing number of poor mothers and children are being deprived of health services. As a result, the maternal mortality rate continues to rise and an increase in fetal deaths has been recorded in at least three regions in 2010.”
Lagman urged his colleagues in Congress to “legislate for the general welfare based on verifiable realities, unperturbed by fear of hellfire or reprisals at the polls.”
“While the freedom of expression guarantees the Catholic hierarchy and its lay supporters to express their differing views on any pending legislation, propagating falsehoods and intimidating legislators constitute license not covered by the mantle of free speech. Play of words purveying misinformation, falsities and deceit is not protected by the Constitution and statutes,” he said.
Lagman said Church leaders, in opposing the RH bill, overlook the connection between population and poverty, scientific and medical data on the safety of non-abortive contraceptives, and surveys showing that majority of the people support the proposed law.
“Contrary to the Church’s statement that contraception is corruption, it is the denial to women of access to medically safe, legal and effective contraception which corrupts their inalienable right to health and which could lead to maternal death” Lagman said.
“How can contraceptives harm the impervious soul when they do not even inflict any serious harm on women’s bodies?” he asked.
Bill is anti-abortion
Lagman argued the RH bill does not promote abortion.
“In fact, the bill is anti-abortion not only because it repeatedly provides that abortion is illegal, punishable and not a method of family planning, but it has also been established that regular and correct non-abortive contraception by choice reduces the abortion rate by 85 percent,” he said.
Lagman said the RH bill cannot be labeled as “anti-life” because it is intended to promote “quality life, prevent maternal and infant mortality and enhance the attainment of sustainable human development.”
Lagman added that it was wrong for bishops to claim that reproductive health and sexuality education will result in irresponsible behavior among the young.
“Because the contrary has been established by years of research and study by the United Nations and countries which have institutionalized sexuality education,” he said.
Opponents of the RH bill, on the other hand, urged Congress to use the money that they claimed would benefit condom producers for job generation. “The duty of Congress should be to protect the dignity of human life, not prevent life. So instead of population control, let us advance our greatest resource, our people, by using taxpayers’ money to generate more jobs and livelihood.” Davao City Rep. Karlo Nograles said.
“Let us not waste taxpayers’ money buying imported contraceptives,” he said.
Nograles said he is not against people resorting to family planning but that the government should let them decide what’s good for them.Cebu Rep. Rachel del Mar said the country’s huge population, instead of being blamed for its economic woes, should be credited for its success in surviving the series of financial firestorms that swept the globe since 1997.
Leyte Rep. Lucy Torres Gomez said the country’s population is already on a decline even without the proposed RH law.“Our population growth rate is at 1.9 percent, based on 2010 census of the National Statistics Office. This is a lot lower that our 2.09 percent population growth rate in 2007,” she said.Gomez said the proposed funding for contraceptives would be “completely unnecessary and a complete waste of government resources.”
In a statement over the weekend, the Human Development and Poverty Reduction (HDPR) Cabinet Cluster – which consists of 20 government agencies dealing with poverty and development – strongly endorsed Aquino’s pro-RH position.
Philippine Catholic hierarchs deem all contraceptives — including condoms, vasectomy, and tubal ligation — as abortifacients. If confronted with scientific proof to the contrary, they shift argument to the readiness of natural family-planning methods. Rhythm and Billings conform to the female’s monthly ovulation, during which the couple can avoid sex. Yet the wife also naturally feels sexiest during ovulation, and the loving husband obliges. To avoid pregnancy they might resort to sexual manipulations other than coition. There again, the hierarchs admonish that withdrawal, as with masturbation and similar ways of climaxing, are sinful because onanistic.
That’s when the most basic insistence of the hierarchs emerges: the sole function of sex is procreation. Bottom line, pleasurable sex is wrong if not for pregnancy. The only pure alternative is abstinence. Alongside it are other strictures, like chastity and marriage before procreative sex.
Unfortunately, if natural methods are so difficult to observe, then more so is abstinence. The Church intellectual Augustine understood human frailty. Not all men could live like saints. And so he quipped in confession, “Lord, make me chaste — but not yet.”
The impracticality of abstinence has led to the present situation in the 80-percent Catholic Philippines:
• a 100-million population — double what its resources presently can sustain, and still growing at more than two percent yearly;
• a 33-percent poverty rate, with the poorest households weighed down by too many mouths to feed, and too little knowledge and means to plan family size;
• eleven mothers dying each day giving birth, mostly because of one too many, too frequent unplanned pregnancies;
• a malnutrition rate of 26 percent among children below five years old; and
• 79,000 backstreet abortions of unwanted pregnancies in 2000, confirmed in government hospitals only because of serious aftermaths; meaning, the volume can only be higher through the decade, considering the unreported cases.
Again Catholic hierarchs have a way of dismissing such figures. Supposedly those are concocted by sinister western imperialistic groups that want to rein in Philippine population for easier domination. If again confronted with government and private studies, the hierarchs point to other causes. Bureaucratic corruption, tax evasion, and corporate and individual greed, they say, are to blame for the poverty and ignorance all around. The government is striving to curb the maladies. Still, the Catholic hierarchs insist that the solution is in charity — sharing everything with everyone.
Absolute chastity and charity are impossible in this imperfect world. That is why health and women’s groups for two decades have been advocating state support for reproductive rights.
Pending in Congress is a Reproductive Health Bill that would:
(1) ensure health care for mothers, newborns, and toddlers;
(2) teach the public, starting at inquisitive pubescence, about reproductive health, rights, and restraint;
(3) afford couples the freedom to learn and the means to plan families and space pregnancies;
(4) obligate the national and local governments to prioritize the citizens’ reproductive health and welfare; and
(5) slow down the runaway population growth rate.
The present version of the RH Bill would be up for voting at the 286-member House of Representatives on Tuesday. After that, rough sailing is expected at the Senate. The chamber leaders who control the agenda — the Senate President, Majority Leader, and Assistant Majority Leader — are against the proposed law.
Both the House and the Senate must assent for any proposal to be enacted. If the RH Bill passes in the House, the Catholic hierarchs would be banking on the three Senate leaders to shelve any voting in their chamber.
The bill’s proponents are praying that elected leaders would heed the sentiment of Catholics and non-Catholics alike. As stated in survey after survey, up to 85 percent of Filipinos believe that the government actively should participate in population planning. And up to 65 percent say they need help in family planning.
SKETCHES By Ana Marie Pamintuan (The Philippine Star)
Updated August 06, 2012 12:00 AM Comments (1)
The trouble with muscle flexing is that when it isn’t impressive enough, it can betray weakness and backfire.
The Catholic Church will have to redefine “massive” in describing the turnout for its Saturday rally against the Reproductive Health (RH) bill, attended by a handful of politicians who we presume have never used a condom in their life. Or maybe they have, but they always confessed after every moment of sin.
Since Filipinos are used to the legal definition of corruption, the Church’s use of the word in the moral context at the rally may be confusing for some of its flock. A confusing message is a lost message.
All that this government has to do is dust off stories about SUVs given away as gifts by a government agency for private use, without proper accounting, or behest loans and sweetheart deals, or about molestation of young boys, and people may wonder who’s accusing whom of corruption, whether legal or moral.
In answer to the argument that you can’t kill what has not been conceived – that’s why it’s called contraception, there’s no union to create life – now we’re being told that the mere intent to prevent conception is a corrupt idea. So even the natural method is corrupt?
We still like best the way Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago put it, in public, right on the Senate session hall, when Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile argued that a sperm, on its own, already has life.
Let’s hear it again from Senator Miriam: “If it is the position of Senator Enrile that a sperm has life, of course, if a sperm has life, then that life should be protected. Therefore, in logic, when a person masturbates and releases all those sperms for nothing, he commits murder. Let’s think about that.”
It’s not murder, Senator Miriam, but a sure path to becoming deaf. That’s what we were taught in Catholic school. Maybe this is why some lawmakers use a hearing aid.
* * *
Truly, deception is the surest way to destroy one’s credibility. Even the poor and uneducated can see through the twisting of facts to suit one’s arguments. Especially if there’s another group presenting a clear and accurate picture of the controversy. “Kung walang anak, walang mahirap” …c’mon.
RH opponents should have learned their lessons from boxing superstar and Sarangani Rep. Manny Pacquiao, whose arguments, which he read on the House floor (and weakened by his wife’s publicly declared use of the pill), were demolished by RH proponents led by Edcel Lagman. At least this time Pacquiao stayed away from the “massive” rally at the EDSA Shrine.
The Church needs a face for its campaign – someone who never let a single sperm go to waste. Pacquiao didn’t cut it. Sen. Gregorio Honasan, pro-life… we should ask the Left what it thinks about that. Enrile did exceptionally well as presiding officer in the impeachment trial; he should quit while he’s ahead.
As for the bishops’ devout supporter, former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was too sick to attend the rally, but she was still the subject of nasty text messages over the weekend, together with her links to the bishops. Critics should be reminded that in her final months as president, GMA allowed her health secretary to promote condom use.
The Church, it must be emphasized, remains a major force for good, for eternal hope and boundless charity. It is simply being consistent with its long-held teachings on birth control.
But it must be forthright with its flock, which is increasingly well-informed in this Age of Information. The poor and lacking in formal education also want to make informed choices, to have full control over their lives.
The Church has left out in its advocacy the fact that even Pope Benedict XVI has (grudgingly) acknowledged that using condoms is acceptable, although only to prevent AIDS and save lives. This is still sex that’s not for procreation, and a waste of sperm, so why is it OK in this case but not in others? The flock needs enlightenment.
With all the major scandals rocking the Vatican – sexual, financial, organizational – it should also open itself to the Catholic voices that see reproductive health as a basic human right of women.
Melinda Gates, wife of Microsoft founder Bill Gates, is putting reproductive health up front in the health programs to be supported in developing countries by their private foundation, the world’s most richly endowed.
Bill Gates does not believe in God; Melinda is a practicing Roman Catholic. She admitted in a recent interview with Newsweek magazine that she agonized over her decision to push reproductive health, but finally decided that she was being true to another advocacy of the Catholic faith, which is social justice.
The turnout at the rally last Saturday vindicates the pollsters, whose surveys in the past years have consistently shown high public support for reproductive health programs.
It should also further allay politicians’ fears about a threatened Catholic vote in 2013. After the defeat of the Church’s “anointed” Ramon Mitra to the Protestant Fidel Ramos in 1992, and the landslide win of Joseph Estrada despite a Church campaign against him in 1998, politicians shouldn’t even need further persuading, but what can we do… they are politicians.
The Catholic Church is weakened when it is unbending in its views and forces its teachings on others. Remember the Inquisition and the Crusades. Remember those persecuted for insisting that the Earth is round and is not the center of the universe.
The Church has always been at its strongest when it allows its flock to exercise free will based on informed choices. Free will is a bedrock of this glorious faith.