Monday, May 16, 2011

Civil disobedience

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

Is there anyone in this country who is surprised by the fact that the leaders of the Catholic Church has threatened the government of civil disobedience unless it drops its support for the controversial reproductive health bill that is now due for debate at the House of Representatives?

The Church has been playing this game since the time of Jose Rizal. When it doesn’t get what it wants, it resorts to issuing threats, demonizing, and name-calling. In fact, there seems to be some truth in the observation that the Church has not really shed its Padre Damaso characterization—to this day, it presumes to be the only authority on moral issues and does not take kindly when this authority is challenged.

It can be argued that advocates of the reproductive bill health have not exactly been shy about engaging in the same kind of polemics either although I know that there is evidence to show that the name-calling, the demonizing and the blackmail did not come from their sector.

However, the Church is supposed to be the bastion of ethical behavior, kindness, charity, forgiveness, etc. In short, it is once again doing the exact opposite of what it has been preaching for the longest time. Who needs the likes of Ely Soriano when the leaders of the Church are already doing a great job of decimating the numbers of faithful Catholics?

Ever since I’ve been writing about my support for the RH bill, I’ve been receiving quite a number of hate mails and texts from everywhere. I have been called evil, satanic, immoral, purveyor of filthy ideas and other words I couldn’t possibly repeat in the presence of my mother without giving her a heart attack. I’ve learned to take these in stride as the price of fighting for something I firmly believe in.

Why, just last week, I received this text message from someone I used to hold in high esteem: “Let’s continue to wage the moral fight against the diabolical RH bill and pray that our legislators are freed from the snares of the devil so they can see the light of God’s grace.” I just cannot fathom the kind of enmity that instigates people to use words like diabolical in the same sentence that invokes God’s grace.

The President has already been threatened with excommunication a few months ago because of his—in my opinion, even halfhearted—support of the RH bill. Quite frankly, even if the President was a known supporter of reproductive health when he was still a congressman and senator, he has been speaking in measured tones about the issue since he assumed the post of President. I don’t fault him for trying to be conciliatory and for trying to seek the middle ground, but we all know that at a certain point the lines had to be drawn—either one was for or against the measure.

For a time there, I actually hoped the Church would make real its threat of excommunicating the President because I just couldn’t see how the Church would have benefited from such a move.

Can you imagine what a public relations nightmare it would have been for the Church? It would have been unthinkable to imagine a country where 80 percent of citizens are Catholics and where the President cannot even receive communion or receive other religious benefits. I can imagine just how such a move could be misinterpreted by many young people as justification for not going to Church at all because, after all, even the President does not have to. Let’s not even go into the ramifications of wielding power simply because one disagrees with the hierarchy on one sticky issue.

Obviously the Church cannot afford to excommunicate the President. So now, it has settled on hurting the government where it matters—economic sabotage. Or at least will attempt to because I doubt if it can actually muster enough support for such a lose-lose and downright unethical and dare I say it—unpatriotic proposition.

Lawyer Lyndon Caña of the Citizens Alliance for the Protection of Human Life officially issued the threat last week. But the threat has been whispered about for quite sometime now by some Catholic bishops as a form of protest for the state-sponsored promotion of artificial contraceptives. Anyone out there looking for proof that the threat was actually sanctioned by the bishops will find it in the response of certain bishops to the President’s off-the-cuff remark that non-payment of taxes, or even mere talk thereof, constitutes sedition.

Ramon Arguelles, archbishop of Lipa, immediately issued a challenge to the President. He didn’t deny the threat or even soften its impact. “He can put us all in jail” was his fighting retort. He likened the President to the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos who also threatened to apply the full force of the law against those who threatened civil disobedience at the height of protest actions against the Marcos dictatorship.

Here’s what archbishop Angel Lagdameo, former President of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines had to say: “We are willing to pay the price to save the unborn from modern Herods and save the executioners from the grasp of the evil one.” Again, there was no denial, qualify the statement, or efforts to backpedal there.

Bishop Deogracias Iñiguez of Kalookan was more guarded in his response although he also indicated that he was not against issuing such a threat. He said that the Church was not advocating civil disobedience “for now” but followed up by saying that Catholics are obliged not to follow any law that violates their faith.

What I find extremely ironic and hypocritical is the fact that the threat of non-payment of taxes is being made by a sector that does not pay taxes to begin with! If the Catholic Church pays taxes, their call for civil disobedience in the form of non-payment of taxes would have moral legs to stand on. But as it is, how can a sector that had benefited immensely from the fact that it has never had to pay taxes at all advocate for the non-payment of taxes! It’s ludicrous! It’s absurd!

And then imagine the kind of message such a move sends out to all Catholics out there. I can just imagine the kind of explaining nuns would have to do to elementary and high school students on why the Church has to be excused this time around for turning its back on its teachings of “offering the other cheek,” “forgiveness,” “humility,” etc. In short, why we should not castigate if for telling us to “do what we say, not as we do.”

So this is where we are right now. The lines have been drawn, the swords unsheathed. The easiest way to get out of the impasse is to put the measure to a vote. Prolonging the debate only opens the possibility of more enmity and divisiveness. Let’s pass the measure already and get it over and done with.

No comments: