Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Threatening congress

This is my column today.

Politics, religion and sex make up a really potent, perhaps even toxic brew.

And in this country, those three are strangely closely intertwined. I know I am making it sound more twisted than it really is—which is not to say that it isn’t— but really, how else are we supposed to make sense of the current imbroglio involving Catholic bishops, Congress, and reproductive health?

I don’t know about you, but I find the idea of Catholic bishops using a sacrament of the faith as leverage against the passage of the reproductive bill quite unnerving. It reeks a little of illegitimate political behavior.

It speaks a lot about the emerging values of the Church when bishops begin using sacraments as tools of blackmail to get what they want. Those among us who were schooled in Catholic institutions were taught the values of forgiveness and humility; to turn the other cheek, so to speak. And now, we hear of bishops deliberately threatening to excommunicate those who are not on their side on the reproductive health issue.

In case you have been on holiday from the usual murk that envelopes our daily existence, the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines has threatened to follow the directive of Ozamis Archbishop Jesus Dosado which imposed a Communion ban on Catholic politicians pushing for “abortion.” At least one other bishop has expressed agreement with Dosado—the irrepressible Archbishop Oscar Cruz of Lingayen-Dagupan.

The strange thing about the whole directive is that it is cloaked in a lot of gobbledygook—for example, the repeated reference to an objective situation of sin, whatever that means—that only validates the perception that it really is nothing more than a heavy handed attempt to pressure congressmen from supporting a measure which has been festering in Congress for more than a decade already. The current incarnation of the bill, “An Act Providing for a National Policy on Reproductive Health, Responsible Parenthood and Population Development, and for Other Purposes” is a hybrid of earlier reproductive health bills such as HB 17 (Responsible Parenthood and Population Development Act of 2007), HB 812 (The Reproductive Health Care Act) and HB 2753 (The Women’s Right to Know Act).

The reason why the measure has festered that long is easily explained by this recent political power play of the Catholic Church.

Threatening to withhold communion to congressmen who support the bill is just the recent of a series of moves of the Church designed to thwart the passage of the bill. The other tactics such as deliberately obfuscating the issues, labeling people, stigmatizing, indulging in rather simplistic and often mass generalizations, and threatening people have been resorted to many times in the past.

All these are pretty much evident even in the current imbroglio. For example, the indictment on people “who support abortion” is a sweeping generalization addressed to everyone and no one in particular—it’s either a warning shot or firepower from a shotgun. It’s duplicitous.

Despite all the medical evidence to the contrary, the Church’s insistence on what abortion is and how certain contraceptives are, in its view, abortifacients, are reflective of the growing irrelevance of the Church. And when its leaders indulge in the same squid tactics that traditional politicians indulge in, we’re not just talking about irrelevance anymore, we’re talking about conduct that’s unbecoming. And if the bishops and the clergy cannot stand as role models anymore, then there’s hardly any point to its moral teachings.

But what exactly is in that bill that’s raising the hackles of our venerable bishops?

Nothing new, actually. It’s the same things that women, social activists and everyone else who wants to empower people have been fighting for these many years: The right to reproductive health, the right to have control of their bodies, the right to live happy productive lives for themselves and for their children.

What’s different this time around is that the bill seems finally destined for approval as soon as Congress convenes because of the current social and cultural context. Even the current administration, which has so far been subservient to the Church on the issue of contraception, has already acknowledged the need for a more realistic policy on population.

With Filipinos now numbering almost 90 million and still counting, practically all experts—except those allied with the Catholic Church of course who remain deaf and blind to the grueling poverty around them—have already warned that this country’s resources aren’t simply enough to provide for the needs of its growing population.

The really sad thing is that there really is no need to trundle out statistics and empirical data to make a case for population control and reproductive health. All one needs to do is open his or her eyes and be aware of what’s going on around us.

Just yesterday, all dailies carried stories about the increase in dropouts among schoolchildren. We know people are struggling with the increased prices of commodities. And our resources are simply becoming more and more insufficient—we’re importing rice, vegetables, practically everything. That whole crap about all these being the result of ineffective management is also true; but even management skills is a resource that is sadly deteriorating courtesy of a confluence of factors which, again, can be traced to the same origins.

Poverty and suffering have always been a staple subject matter among our television shows. The shows that used to depict poverty in ways that made audiences wince and shed buckets of tears were soap operas. Today, it’s the news and current affairs programs that produce the drama—and I tell you, it’s the kind of drama that produces more than just tears.

Just last week, I caught on television two programs that were so difficult to watch because they portrayed poverty at its heartbreaking worst.

On GMA-7’s special “Kalam” there was this brood of very young children struggling to survive on their own because their parents abandoned them. The same situation was also featured last Saturday on another show (I don’t remember what the program is now), this time involving a trio of siblings with congenital bone defects who were also struggling on their own because their parents likewise abandoned them. It’s the kind of viewing fare that makes you wish there is a law that makes it a crime for parents to have children if they can’t afford to have them.

7 comments:

TwinSkies said...

I may be Catholic, but even I found the CBCP's stance on reproductive health repulsive and retrogressive.

Then again, even the Jesuits I studied under criticized the CBCP for having such needlessly conservative views.

Well, I've already said my piece regarding them as well, though it'd be pretty tiring for me to say it all again.

In a nutshell: I think the CBCP's a bunch of hypocritical old fossils that seriously need to get out of their caves:

http://blogs.inquirer.net/voxpopuli/2008/07/17/double-standards/

Take your time reading through, and Godspeed.

vic said...

Hi Bong, Been a while since I posted a comment, but I always visit and read your blog... Me and Pluck here have been discussing the issues, and he after a year and a half told me that he now can see clearly (I know he was a devout Catholic) how the Separation of the State and Church really is in Reality. The Church may join the Debate and Discussion and may even threatened to refuse communion to the Leaders too (mostly they were ignored, but once the Courts handed down the rulings and the final rulings been arrived on Appeal, everyone has just to settle down and accept what we always believe and live by; the Rule of Law...

I’ll cite the case of the Woman’s Right to Choose...Before the Charter of Rights and Freedom of l982, Dr. Henry Mongentaler, an Abortionist and Activist, was fighting for that right since 1972. Abortion at that time can be legally procured only in Hospital after approbation by the Therapeutic Abortion Committee and there are other Statutory Restrictions.
He was charged 3 times for performing illegal abortion, but acquitted by trial by Jury but in all instances reversed on Appeal by the Court of Appeal (the crown can appeal a not guilty verdict in Canada) and Acquitted by the Supreme Court, but during that time there was no basis to declare the Statute Unconstitutional as the Charter of Rights and Freedoms only exists in l982.

In l983, during his last appeal, the SC declared that the Laws in which he was convicted was in violation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and therefore Unconstitutional and thus had no effect. This ruling essentially ended all statutory Restriction on Abortion in Canada, and the Churches, all them can not do a thing about it.

The same thing with Same-Sex Marriage...It didn’t even get to SC, as the Government decided it will be just a monumental waste of time, because all cases related to it were in favour..

Case in Ontario..George Hislop...sued Pension Canada for Widow Pension for the Death of his Long Time Partner, under Section 15 of the Charter, Equality Rights..Canada Pension fought the lawsuit on the strength of family law that states...Marriage is the Union of man and woman at the exclusion of all others. It took years..but the courts agreed..Equality is for all...

Again regards and Pluck and family will be moving to their first “home” maybe next month...

Bong C. Austero said...

thanks, will read your piece.

Twin-Skies said...

I just read through a copy of the current bill. Based on what I can make out, it doesn't even support abortion as a reproductive right.

http://www.ncrfw.gov.ph/inside_pages/legislative_advocacy/reproductive_health_bill.html

If anything, the bill's clauses indicate that it seeks to improve reproductive rights and options for women so that they won't have to resort to something as drastic as an abortion. IMHO, that's highly laudable - Prevention is better than the cure.

I assume that the Bishops never read the bill properly, instead opting to jump the gun and make a statement for publicity's sake.

Either that, or they knowingly covered up that detail of the bill when they were writing their pastoral letter.

Either way, they just shot themselves in the foot. They have shown that they are as guilty of the "sins" they're accusing their targets of.

Bong C. Austero said...

twinskies:
you are right, of course, the bill is not what the bishops say it is. however, i don't think the bishops and everyone else who blindly support the Catholic faith's dogma care about the truth. it's all politics. and lest we forget, politics is still the last dirty word. thanks for dropping by again and for your insightful comments.

bong

Bong C. Austero said...

vic, how good to hear from you again! i kind of missed your insights and your comparative analyses of the vast differences between the way things are in our country, and in your adoptive country. thanks for the updates about pluck and family. i hope you guys are doing very well there.

bong

Show-Ender said...

At first, I thought of "mass euthanasia": instead of giving alms to beggars, you give 'em hot lead!! Burn all those shanties, with their occupants inside!! That'll end their misery!!

But I realized I'll only be drawing flak from these bleeding-heart cultists, so here is humane approach...

Soylent green, anyone?

Let's just feed the homeless to the hungry!! That'll make poverty history!!

Watchasay?