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.