It used to be that crimes were done in the name of God. Hand it to the inglorious Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to hit rock bottom and commit malfeasance for bishops’ birthdays. Yes, that’s birthday-plus-s because the Mitsubishi Montero gift was not a lone event. On March 9, 2006, Arroyo made a much bigger offering to mark the birthday of Pampanga Archbishop Paciano “Apu Ceto” Aniceto—policies on women and the Filipino family that, in her words, “would be the best birthday gift” she could give. Unconcerned about displaying the power of Catholic bishops during Arroyo’s rule, the Philippine Information Agency (PIA) released the following account:
[Arroyo:] “It must be providential that the birthday of Apu Ceto (her important adviser) falls within International Women’s Week when I have to make policy statements on women’s concerns and issues relating to them.”
After the concelebrated mass held in the Bishop’s honor at the Mother of Good Counsel seminary in this city, the President would attend a meeting of all female members of her cabinet in which women’s issues would be discussed.
After this, the President said she would make a declaration that “a strong family makes a strong republic”, and follow up with measures designed to further strengthen the Filipino family.
“This I think would be the best birthday gift I could give to Apu Ceto”, the President said amidst loud applause from the audience composed mostly of the bishop’s religious congregation in the province.
Strange but true. Our highest public official openly gifted someone who is not a woman and does not claim to have a wife or kids with policies on women and families. Can this be just one of those quirkiness that makes our great nation so, well… quirky? To answer this, we have to go further into the Archbishop’s background and the context when this event occurred.
Luckily, the regime then was truly indifferent about revealing Catholic church influence over governance. The same PIA piece stated that the Archbishop was the President’s adviser on “issues concerning population, family, women welfare and health” and was consulted on March 2001, just two months into Arroyo’s term, prior to her making a statement on these issues; that the President “consults with him when making a choice for a new Secretary of Health”; and that at an Interfaith Summit and the UN General Assembly in 2005, the President “brought much of the Bishop’s inputs into the statements she made in front of these prestigious international bodies”.
Dr. Manuel Dayrit—a member of Couples for Christ—became the Archbishop-and-President’s Secretary of Health in 2001. In the next few years, Dr. Dayrit created the legal basis and structures for overly expanding natural family planning (NFP) and entwining it with Catholic doctrine. He set an ambitious “mainstreaming” target—unmet up to now—to raise NFP use to 20%; created a National Natural Family Planning Committee with a Couples for Christ doctor as Chairperson and with a representative of the CBCP Family Life specified as a member; and separated NFP from the national family planning program to let the government “work more closely with groups and partners that want to promote NFP exclusively”. He even tried to ban the IUD for being an “abortifacient” but was foiled by protests done by women’s and doctors’ groups.
And what was the Archbishop’s inputs to Arroyo’s statement at the UN? The full speech was 10 paragraphs long, but these two about funding NFP exclusively in the name of Catholicism, and belittling the value of artificial contraceptives are proclamations the Archbishop would surely be proud of:
… We expect the United Nations to be sensitive to the deep Catholicism of the vast majority of the Filipino people. The funding given by the United Nations to our national Government for reproductive health will be dedicated to training married couples in a natural family planning technology which the World Health Organization has found effective compared with artificial contraceptives.
The Population Council of New York has found that artificial contraception contributes only 2 per cent to the decline of birth rates, while the combination of improving the economic condition of the family, urbanization and breastfeeding contributes 98 per cent. Thus we ask the United Nations and donor countries to direct their assistance towards the improvement of family productivity and income.
Both are based on lies, or lapses in judgment if your prefer the colorful language of the powerful who when caught are always absolutely sorry about absolutely nothing prosecutable.
The World Health Organization (WHO) rates most artificial methods as more effective than fertility awareness methods. Moreover, limiting people to a method not of their own choosing—whether pills, NFP or whatever—will do nothing but cut sharply its effectiveness and violate fundamental human rights which the WHO promotes.
As for the Population Council, here’s what they said in an article entitled Family Planning Programs Remarkably Successful: “Decades of research show that comprehensive family planning and reproductive health services lead to sharp rises in contraceptive use that help women avoid unintended pregnancies. Over a 30-year period (1960–90), fertility declined in the developing world from more than six to fewer than four births per woman, and almost half of that decline—43 percent—is attributable to family planning programs.”
What’s the Catch?
The Population Council’s 43% became 2% at the UN speech, a remarkable manipulation of numbers to suit one’s needs. Audacious but nothing new. Just a few months earlier, Arroyo was heard in a wiretapped conversation with Comelec Commissioner Virgilio “Garci” Garcillano asking for a lead of one million votes while counting was still going on for the presidential election of 2004.
The Garci scandal and Arroyo’s no holds barred battle to cling to power set the stage for the Archbishop’s birthday gift in March 2006. The scandal erupted nine months earlier in June 2005. Despite widespread protests and calls for Arroyo to resign, the CBCP merely asked for an independent “Truth Commission”. The protests continued and on February 24, 2006, two weeks before the Archbishop’s birthday, Arroyo declared a State of Emergency to quell a supposed coup attempt against her.
The tottering Arroyo needed the bishops to survive. She bought them with various currencies, from religion-inspired policies to the glittering currency of legal gambling. To their historic ignominy, majority of Catholic bishops granted her wish.
Something died during those trying times of Arroyo’s decadent rule. Some may call it the moral authority of Church leaders. Or the principle that the end never justifies the means. Or maybe just plain honesty, fair play and decency. Whatever you call it, something is dead and rotting. And the stench is inevitably escaping.