Monday, February 28, 2011

An outrageous ordinance

This was my column on the date indicated above. This post is antedated.

I didn’t know what the more appropriate reaction was: To laugh, get angry, or feel really sad.

It was just so outrageous; it was difficult to believe it was the handiwork of people who were thinking straight.

Why would a barangay council think that they are over and above the Constitution of this country that they could pass an ordinance that infringed on constitutionally provided rights? The whole range of rights that were merrily trampled over ranged from those covered under freedom of expression, the right to confidentiality particularly of medical histories as well as confidentiality between doctors and patients, to the right of access to certain products deemed legal by government, and even the right to conduct business!

What kind of air do they breathe in Ayala Alabang (supposedly the enclave of the rich and famous in this country) that made certain barangay officials think they have the power and the authority to redefine scientific facts long upheld by global authorities such as the World Health Organization, the experts at the Bureau of Food and Drugs Administration, or even the doctors at the Department of Health?

More importantly, what is it that made members of the barangay council so convinced of their moral superiority; made them suffused in righteousness that they actually thought it is within their powers to dictate to couples what they can and cannot do in the privacy of their homes?

There are more questions that I would have wanted to ask, but they would all be questions that express outrage.

The barangay council of Ayala Alabang passed Barangay Ordinance no. 1 on January 3, 2011 entitled, “An Ordinance Providing for the Safety and Protection of the Unborn Child within the Territorial Jurisdiction of Barangay Ayala-Alabang; Fixing Penalties for its Violations, and for other Purposes.” The ordinance, however, only received media attention last week.

It is clear that the ordinance is a political statement against the reproductive health bill that is currently scheduled for plenary debate in the House of Representatives. I am told that certain individuals in the Ayala Alabang community who are among the most active lobbyists against the RH Bill in Congress are also behind the barangay ordinance.

Like I said, the ordinance is so outrageous a friend actually thought it was a farce—a satirical statement directed at people who oppose the RH Bill.

The Ordinance sought to, among others, penalize anyone who advertises through billboards, brochures, leaflets, flyers or similar means, sell, offer for free, endorse, promote, prescribe or distribute abortifacients (which they redefined liberally to include intrauterine devices and contraceptives.

As if these weren’t fascist enough, the ordinance likewise decreed that the purchase of condoms and contraceptive pills inside the village and at establishments at the Alabang Town Center would require prescriptions. It gets even more fascist. The ordinance mandated the recording in a register book information about customers who buy pills or condoms, among others, the name and address of the customer as well as the physician who prescribed the condoms and pills, referred to as abortifacients and anti-conceptionals.

I share the views of Elizabeth Angsioco, chairperson of the Democratic Socialist Women of the Philippines and columnist of this paper when she said that “The ordinance is coercive as it forces residents to adhere to the wrong view that contraceptives are abortifacients and are dangerous to women’s health. The Ayala Alabang barangay council cannot be more authoritative than (the World Health Organization) on this matter. Fact is, even the country’s Bureau of Food and Drugs Administration recognizes the safety and efficacy of contraceptives with its approval to making contraceptives available.”

There were actually quite a number of really insightful and intelligent (not to mention witty) comments made by others in response to the Ayala Alabang ordinance. Former Health Secretary Esperanza Cabral, a resident of Ayala Alabang, said in a television newscast that the barangay council “should remember that Barangay Ayala Alabang is not in Afghanistan. They are not the Taliban.” Carlos Celdran twitted that “Ayala Alabang is totally promoting STDs (sexually transmitted diseases). Bravo!” Even Lea Salonga weighed in with her own reaction expressing astonishment at the narrow-mindedness of the council.

I texted a couple of former students who are residents of Ayala Alabang and asked them what they thought of the ordinance. Their reaction could not be printed here but essentially echoed the point of view propounded by many others: The ordinance was not indicative of moral leadership but of hypocrisy of the highest order. One of my students even shared some incriminating information about one of the people behind the ordinance.

What the Ayala Alabang ordinance painfully illustrates is the major disconnect between the people who live in Ivory Towers from harsh reality.

Obviously, regardless of how many ordinances the barangay council produces—they can plaster all the walls of the Village with all kinds of ordinances reminiscent of the tactics of Dolores Umbridge in the Harry Potter series or of Caligula and the laws he posted so high up no one could read them—this will not stop residents from having sex. This will not stop teenagers from having premarital sex, nor will it stop live-in couples from using contraceptives, or even wives from taking the pill because she doesn’t want to get pregnant while her husband maintains two other mistresses on the side. They can pontificate all they want about their moral superiority but the reality is that some families would continue to bundle up their daughters to the United States to get an abortion there because they can afford it. They can legislate crazy ordinances all they way but they will not be able to legislate sexual behavior.

What the Ayala Alabang ordinance painfully illustrates also is that it is easy for moral righteousness to cross over to moral fascism if people don’t stand up to stop it. Someone once thought Jews and black people and homosexuals were inferior and sought to annihilate them. Millions died before people finally stood up to end it. Fortunately, there are quite a number of people who are standing up to the barangay council in Ayala Alabang before they wreck more havoc with their bigotry, their moral superiority and their narrow-mindedness.

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