Why would God let calamity hit a predominantly Catholic country? “God is not the cause of the suffering,” answers Father Bacaltos, a Tacloban parish priest. “God cannot prevent this. This is the work of nature.”
Many Catholics would agree that nature, not God, is to blame for this tragedy. But for some leaders of the Catholic Church, the Reproductive Health (RH) law is to blame. Which leaders? Well, what a coincidence: the ones who are most vocal against RH.
Here’s Lipa Archbishop Ramon Arguelles, who campaigned against “Team Patay” through tarps, reminding us that rather than Nature’s random acts, calamities like Yolanda (Typhoon Haiyan) are God’s reminders. He adds that when we continue to oppose God through the RH Law, we put our lives in danger:
If I researched further back in time, I’d probably find even more Church leaders who blamed calamities on God (or the people who disobey God, depending on how you look at it). And something tells me it’s only a matter of time before some distasteful CBCP leader does it again.
But there are priests, like Father Bacaltos, who are more tactful, more humble, and it’s Catholic leaders like these that I continue to respect. As Susan B. Anthony, a leader of the women’s suffrage movement, said:
In an article published in CBCP for Life, Bishop Broderick Pabillo said that the “church hierarchy is entitled to speak and express its opinion on public policies that could affect the welfare of the majority.”
I don’t see anything wrong with this statement. Nor should anyone. What I don’t like is how the article says that this obvious sentiment — that the clergy can criticize the government — somehow “settles the debates pertaining to the constitutional provision on the separation of the church and state.”
What the bishop has done is conflate disallowing criticism of the government with enforcing secularism. Throughout the article, both Pabillo and the writer quoting the bishop make it seem as if secularism asks the Church to keep silent on political matters:
Again, no one is asking the clergy to end their criticism because it is proscribed by secularism. This is not what the public debate on secularism is about.
What secularism advocates ask for is not Church silence but government neutrality. A Church leader, like any other Filipino citizen, is free to say whatever he wants about politicians or policies, however religious or theocratic it sounds.
But if secularism is to be respected, public officials must not do the same. Their words and actions must be secularly motivated — motivations do not privilege one religion above others — or at least appear to be.
What this means is that a public official is not prevented from being motivated by religious convictions whenever they fulfill public duties. But they owe the public — which may or may not share their private convictions — secular justifications for their political actions. “Because my bishop/Bible says so” will no longer do.
This is why many conservative politicians must now resort to secular arguments — based on non-religious reasoning and supposedly scientific evidence — to further their religious agenda.
Although the motivations of these arguments are primarily religious — which is often evident in how little reason and science are actually involved — they can at least be debated legislatively, countered with other secular arguments, and tethered to consequences in the real world that all citizens can appreciate, regardless of religious affiliation.
That politicians make an honest effort to behave politically as though they had no religious bias: This is really all that secularism requires. Unfortunately, many politicians still act like sectarian Church preachers intstead of secular public servants.
This patent sectarianism is really what secularists want to correct. By making it seem like secularists are instead asking to silence the Church, Bishop Pabillo and the article writer cast not only secularists but secularism itself in a bad light.
Pabillo (and the article writer) hasn’t settled any debate on secularism. But he has started a small one in my mind: Either Pabillo doesn’t understand secularism, or he doesn’t want others to.
Former CBCP President Oscar Cruz has said that LGBT weddings are OK, but there’s a catch: Lesbians can only marry gays, gays can only marry lesbians, and the rest can only marry someone from the LGBT community if the other party has a different set of sexual organs:
Aside from having the right pair of genitals, Cruz mentioned two other requirements for couples: capacity to consummate the union, and the possibility of conception. Many commented with the same questions: What about love? Is marriage just about sex? What about straight couples who cannot have children?
This led a fellow freethinker to write a satirical article about Catholic marriage, reporting that the Church will now integrate a sperm count in the wedding ceremony. I hope that few would miss the fact that this is satire. But no matter how satirical, I don’t think it comes close to how absurd the official Church position is. I’ll get to this shortly, but first, a reminder: The following is not satire.
First of all, I’m surprised that Cruz got an important detail wrong, considering he is the judicial vicar of the CBCP National Appellate Matrimonial Tribunal. Possibility of conception is not a requirement for marriage. Or stated another way, sterility is not a marital impediment:
Can. 1084: §3. Sterility neither prohibits nor nullifies marriage, without prejudice to the prescript of ⇒ can. 1098. (The marriage contract can be invalidated if one of the parties is dishonest about their sterility.)
Although Cruz was wrong about sterility, he was right about impotence. Couples who want to get married must have the capacity to “consummate the union”:
Can. 1084 §1. Antecedent and perpetual impotence to have intercourse, whether on the part of the man or the woman, whether absolute or relative, nullifies marriage by its very nature.
So sterility is OK, but impotence is not. But this was not always the case.
Cum Frequenter and True Semen
In 1587, Pope Sixtus issued a papal document known as the Cum frequenter. (Again, this is not satire.) In the document, Pope Sixtus said that because eunuchs cannot have intercourse, they shouldn’t be allowed to marry. This was interpreted as saying that for men to have proper marital intercourse, they must be able to produce “true semen.” True semen, as it was first understood, meant that it contained a crucial element that could only come from the testicles: sperm. In other words, even sterility was an impediment to marriage.
Scientists soon discovered that the male ejaculate contained not only sperm but other stuff as well. According to Dorland’s Medical Dictionary, semen is “composed of spermatozoa in a nutrient plasma, secretions from the prostate, seminal vesicles and various other glands, epithelial cells and minor constituents.” So it could be argued that sperm, although often found in semen, was not what made semen “true.”
The uncertainty on what constitutes true semen led the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) to allow marriage involving men who had legally imposed vasectomies. It was only in 1977 when the CDF declared with certainty that canonical potency “does not necessarily require anything in the ejaculate that has been produced in the testicles.” True semen need not have sperm.
What’s Love Got To Do With It
But if sperm is no longer crucial, what is? Three things: (1) an erect penis (2) penetrating a vagina and (3) secreting true semen. The reason for this, however convoluted, is easy enough to explain. When a married couple successfully procreates in the Church-approved way, all 3 things are present. Therefore, all 3 things are essential in every sexual act — even though it may not necessarily lead to procreation.
So even though sterile couples cannot have children when they have sex, the fact that they’re having sex in the same Church-approved way that fertile couples do makes their intercourse valid.
Unfortunately, the first requirement — an erect penis — rules out the Church-approved way for impotent men. And the fact that there has to be one penis and one vagina rules out the Church-approved way for same-sex couples.
It’s also worth noting that even fertile couples who do not ever plan to have children are not allowed to marry. This, together with the other rules I’ve discussed reveal the Church’s true understanding of marriage: nothing more than a license to have sex. It doesn’t matter to the Church how much two people care for one another. Love may be thicker than water, but not true semen.
With the resounding defeat of Church lobbyists on the matter of the RH Law, Fr. Melvin Castro of the CBCP said that he could at least thank the law’s proponent and principal author Albay Representative Edcel Lagman for one thing—because of the publicity of the RH debates, young Catholics are now confessing the sin of using contraception.
If you are familiar at all with the Catholic Church and its behavior regarding rapes by its employed priests, you would know that they view confession as so sacred that any part of it cannot even be used as testimony against a rapist. A priest hearing the confession of a rapist cannot be compelled to reveal that confession to authorities, secular or ecclesiastical. The priest is bound, upon pain of excommunication, never to speak of the secret.
Castro’s statements emphasize the complete hypocrisy and lack of human compassion of the Catholic Church, where it can just as easily break that sacrament when it can score cheap political points but never do it for its institution’s victims. Without revealing specifics, Castro, and whoever reported the confessions to him, broke that sacrament.
Of course, Castro denies breaking the sacramental seal. He says the identity of the penitent must be “publicly” revealed in order for the seal to be truly violated. It appears that the sins you tell your priest are fair game for gossip as long as they don’t tell everyone your name. If only the Church would exploit such technicalities to support police investigating rapist priests.
Where There’s Gold…
The sacrament of confession is a particularly strange relic marking the ancient and bygone political powers of the Catholic Church. Through this sacrament, priests are told by penitents, both the small and the powerful, their deepest darkest secrets, for the guarantee that they will be forgiven by God. Needless to say, the confessional is a goldmine for blackmail and coercion. It was particularly useful in discovering the Katipunero rebellion during the Philippine Revolution.
The confessional is a very intimate place. It is at this place the faithful are most vulnerable as they are encouraged not to hold anything back. In fact, it is itself a mortal sin to willfully keep any grievous evil from a priest during confession, as an earnest confession clears one’s soul of any wrongdoing.
Assuming you don’t sin on the way, if you get hit by a car going out of Church after confession, you are going straight to heaven—no purgatory necessary. The confessional is where priests have believers by the balls. This is true both figuratively and literally.
The Places You Have Come to Fear the Most
Dave Rudofsky was 8 years old in the 1980’s. Like most Catholic children his age, he would soon prepare for receiving the literal body of Jesus Christ in the form of bread. This means he first has to clean the vessel that is his body by confessing all his sins in his first holy confession. His confessor, Rev. James Burnett took advantage of the 8 year-old’s vulnerability and molested him.
Cases like Dave’s have become so frequent that Pope John Paul II issued the encyclical Sacramentorum sanctitatis tutela in 2001. This updated Crimen sollicitationis, released in 1962 during Pope John XXIII’s tenure, which tackled the problem of priests using the confessional for the purpose of sexual activity. Among those outlined as “grave delicts” or violations of canon law in Sacramentorum was “Solicitation to sin with the confessor against the sixth commandment of the Decalogue, in the act of, context of or pretext of the Sacrament of Penance.” This was reinforced by the head of the Inquisition, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in De delictis gravioribus.
However, in addition to condemning rapist priests using the confessional to, for example, forgive sexual partners of the sins they commit together, these statements also reiterate the inviolability of the seal of the sacrament of confession. No one must ever reveal what goes on during confession, even if it means justice for a rape victim. This would be a “direct violation of the sacramental seal.”
Though Castro argues that he and his cohorts did not break the sacramental seal, it can be argued that they did so indirectly. The sacramental seal is so deeply regarded that Crimen itself states that during canonical trials conducted to investigate rapes, any testimony that might even “suggest a direct or indirect violation of the seal” will be thrown out of the case and will not be recorded (Crimen sollicitationis, Chapter III(52)). Castro’s political grandstanding surely suggests at least an indirect violation. More to the point, regardless of any technical wrongdoing under canon law, Castro shows the moral cowardice of the Church and its employees—revealing some confessions when expedient while keeping others when inconvenient.
The Secret’s in the Telling
Doctors enjoy physician-patient privilege. They do not reveal the contents of their consultations with patients with anyone, upon pain of having their license revoked. This is to make sure there is a culture of trust between doctors and patients; it improves the medical relationship, which results in more accurate diagnoses. The same could be said as the motivation behind the sacramental seal, but at a far grander and cosmic scale. However, doctors are still obliged by secular law to report information to the police if their patients pose a threat to society, among other situations. Priests do not have such ethical or legal duties to the nations they operate in. Their duty is to the king in the Vatican first.
The Church does not care about the harm it causes society (indeed, denies it) and does everything it takes, even going against their own principles, to make sure their institution survives for centuries to come. The Catholic Church has consistently used the seal of the confessional as a defense against criminal investigation of rapist priests. Melvin Castro reveals what this defense truly is—a sham and an abuse of religious freedom.
This Lent, think about whether you can trust your priest with your sins. Think about Dave the next time you walk into a confessional. From the start, the Church has acted as if its hands have been bound with supernatural chains, unable to help rape victims by disclosing details revealed during confessions. Castro’s statements expose that these chains are imaginary. Goodness knows what other imaginary things they tell the faithful.
For an institution that thrives on tradition and that loves talking up the long history of the Roman Catholic Church, the CBCP has sure demonstrated that they are open to expedient changes of heart when it comes to their own moral teachings.
This is an action that screams of frustration from an institution whose loss of power has just been demonstrated nationally, and it is also a demonstration of the CBCP’s hypocrisy over its own moral dispensations.
Fast forward to 2011, in another scandal involving the PCSO and SUVs, the CBCP issed forth the defense in the Senate that their bishops only took the PCSO money (which comes from a form of gambling) to… help the poor.
The CBCP demonstrates a pattern of flip-flopping on issues whenever it suits them, damn whatever moral utterances they may have made before. The CBCP may have their lists of Team Patay and Team Buhay, but they are clearly their own Team Balimbing.
The verdict is out and the courts have sentenced Carlos Celdran to a maximum of 1 year, one month, and 11 days in prison for having “offended religious feelings” under Article 133 of the Revised Penal Code. There is, however, some misunderstanding among those following the case regarding what the crime truly was. As will be clear, Article 133 privileges those with faith above those who have none, giving them special rights. And with these special rights, the faithful enjoy protection with no equal in secular society.
Apologists for Celdran’s imprisonment invariably open their arguments by saying that they are not opponents of free speech. Should Celdran have chosen a different venue, say Mendiola, he would not have been arrested. True enough, I regularly criticize the powerful Roman Catholic Church and have suffered little for it. In this country, I can make all the jokes about silly Catholic doctrines from the comfort of my home without fear of imprisonment. Article 133 specifically stipulates that the offense to religious feelings must be done inside a place of worship or during a religious ceremony.
What Celdran did was not polite, to say the least. But it did send a message, and nobody was hurt, molested, or tortured. There was no fear of clear and present danger with his placard. And nobody shielded him from the police. People like me who sit behind laptops cannot even dream of getting the reach of Celdran’s protest. And because Celdran was very effective, he was seen as a threat. The powers that be in the Church can take the tiny bloggers ranting online. After all, the old men running the Church don’t even use the Internet. They allow the nation this small freedom to appease those who think free speech is about posting half-baked Facebook commentaries. But, no. People didn’t die for the right to idle chatter. Free speech is about saying things that piss people off. Free speech is about saying things where people will hear what you say and be pissed off.
Filipino Freethinkers is a regular attendee of the Philippine LGBT Pride March that happens every December. While not an LGBT organization, FF supports the recognition of LGBTs as equal human beings. During this march, there are also regular Christian fundamentalist protesters. They shout at marchers and hold signs around the parade, saying that homosexuality is wrong. This has caused great offense to attendees, who come out to the parade to celebrate their identity, only to be shouted down in the one place they publicly proclaim their pride.
Because the parade grounds are not religious grounds, because the march is not a religious ceremony, the LGBT Pride marchers must take such offenses in stride, often making their own jokes to make light of the clearly stressful situation. LGBTs experience oppression and violence every day and choose one day of the year and one place to celebrate. They are a true minority deserving of protection. However, because they do not have politicians in their pocket and because they are decent human beings, they do not have special rights under the law to protect them from religious free speech.
It is quite ironic that those who see LGBT equality as affording “special rights” are exactly the people who have special rights under the law. While LGBTs only ask for their recognition as equal citizens, anti-Celdran apologists enjoy a unique class of speech that the non-religious cannot have. Had Celdran done the same kind of picketing the fundamentalists did but during a religious parade, he would still have been charged under Article 133. LGBTs cannot have Christian fundamentalist protesters arrested regardless of the degree of anguish they feel, which is certainly more than the attendees of the Manila Cathedral ecumenical event where Celdran protested. Witnesses even said at the trial that they had no idea what “DAMASO” meant until after the fact and that they thought Celdran was part of the activity. If they found Celdran disruptive, all they had to do was escort him out of the building. At most, they could have filed a case against him for trespassing. After all, the tax-free Manila Cathedral is private property of the Archdiocese of Manila. But, no, the CBCP flexed their muscles and showed the Philippines who was in charge. You can tweet all your criticisms, but don’t you dare make us hear them. Or else.
People have the right to peaceably assemble. People have the right to freedom of and from religion. What we ought not have a right to is unequal speech. Article 133 says that some kinds of speech are more equal than others. Article 133 is clearly archaic. It is a law that belongs to the time when the Catholic Church could do more than send people to prison. It is a law that has no place in a modern society that encourages the free exchange of ideas.
Only people who believe that their faith cannot stand on its own merit need Article 133.
In a final attempt at scrounging for votes against the Reproductive Health Bill, CBCP President Archbishop Jose Palma exhorted CBCP loyalists in the House of Representatives with the words their god told Abraham, “Do not be afraid.” You may recall that Abraham was the man whose son Yahweh asked him to kill to prove his faith.
Palma told representatives to “listen to what God is saying.” By pure coincidence, I’m sure, what “God is saying” is exactly what Palma is saying, with God unable to speak for himself.
While Archbishop Palma entreats conservatives in Congress to be free from fear, the Roman Catholic Church sows fear everywhere else. Once Senate Majority Leader Tito Sotto conceded that the pro-RH side had the votes to pass the measure in the Senate, he had this to say, “May God have mercy on their souls.” This, of course, was a threat against pro-RH senators that while they may win in this world, they will face everlasting torment in the afterlife.
A similar tact has been repeatedly approached by other conservative Catholics, where they quote the Gospel’s injunction against those who “cause the little ones to sin.” Matthew 18:6 says, “…if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.” They threaten RH advocates with death because they believe that the RH Bill will lead otherwise faithful believers into sin through the temptation of contraception. A cursory search through Google will reveal how popular the idiom is among conservative Catholics and just how much they would like to tie a rock around all our necks and drown us in the sea.
Centered on human sacrifice, violence is at the very root of the Catholic religion and it is not at all surprising that its most zealous adherents would resort to savage irrationality when things do not go their way (despite their confidence in a god). RH Bill sponsor Edcel Lagman has been well-aware of the Church’s history of violence, saying, “Fear has always been used by the clergy as an instrument of repression and reprisal like fear of damnation…”
Even before the RH Bill has passed either chamber of Congress, the CBCP has already issued a warning that the RH Bill is the start of a slippery slope towards what they call “DEATHS bills” or “Divorce, Euthanasia, Abortion, Total Reproductive Health, Homosexuality or gay marriages, and Sex education.” The CBCP Secretary General who was quoted saying this has obviously seen the trend in the greater part of the world toward equality for humans and rights over their own bodies. The CBCP fears that it might also happen in our neck of the woods. It is likely, in my view, that the Roman Catholic Church fears more that they will lose their centuries-long stranglehold on the Filipino people.
As RH advocates, we aim to make, with the RH Bill, this very small step towards a lasting and flourishing society in the Philippines. Our opponents have made it clear that they share no such interest. They would rather we be mired in disease, torment, and starvation, for the sake of avoiding some imagined damnation. But, if there is anyone who ought not be afraid, it is those who are on the side of equal human rights and the dignity of self-determination. It is those who are fighting for a better future, not in some invented paradise, but here, on this tiny planet we call home.
As we draw near into the final stages of passing the RH Bill, many are still hoping that both sides of the argument will come to a compromise. But, it is clear from all the threats of death and violence that there shall never be compromise for the Roman Catholic Church. For them, human souls are at stake and they will stop at nothing to prevent the evils that they foresee. None of their fears, of course, are based on any evidence.
The burden of proof is on the Church to show that the ruler of the universe does indeed think contraception is evil and that its users are going straight to hell. Nevertheless, they act as if this is self-evident. It is not. Their views betray a literally medieval mindset that has no room on the floor of the House of Representatives. Yet, it is given room by conservatives such as Rufus Rodriguez at the expense of those who live and die in suffering every day because of the denial of reproductive rights. It is time to say no to these men beholden to fear and superstition. It is time to acknowledge the right of persons over their own bodies. It is time to vote on the RH Bill.
After months of pompously brushing aside accusations of plagiarism, Senator Tito Sotto has finally been forced to take matters seriously. Of course, this was only after the daughter of his highest profile victim stepped forward to join the chorus of condemnation.
What Kerry Kennedy, daughter of the late Senator Robert Kennedy, found most appalling and “twisted” in Sotto’s sin, is that not only did he plagiarize one of the most famous speeches in the English language, he wielded the late statesman’s words to deny women reproductive rights.
Unsurprisingly, Sotto’s apology to the Kennedy family was quite visibly insincere. Instead of acknowledging any wrongdoing on his part, Sotto said he was sorry if the Kennedys were offended. This is a textbook non-apology and the kind of victim-blaming one would expect from an opponent of reproductive rights. Sotto also predictably lashed out at his critics—the academics and writers who filed an ethics complaint against him in the Senate. (Disclosure: I, personally and along with Filipino Freethinkers, Inc., am one of the signatories of the complaint.)
Sotto was quick to label the complainants as RH advocates and, indeed, most of us are advocates for reproductive rights. This should be expected, since Sotto’s series of plagiarized speeches were made against the RH Bill. It takes little imagination to see that the people most closely watching his arguments would be RH advocates. Listening to the other side is only the intellectually honest thing to do in a debate, something Senator Sotto might not be aware of.
While it makes sense that the complainants are mostly RH advocates (who were the first to notice the plagiarized passages), it does not follow that defenders of Sotto ought to be RH opponents. The content of our complaint of plagiarism has absolutely nothing to do with the merits of the RH bill. The evidence of plagiarism is incontrovertible, and to deny it is to reveal either unbelievable ignorance or unparalleled duplicity. That RH opponents almost exclusively rallied to defend an obvious and inexcusable transgression betrays their true intention of making Sotto’s plagiarism case a proxy war on the RH bill. In doing so, they are not defending a principle, rather, they are defending their anti-contraceptive club: a club that ostensibly uses any means necessary to achieve their ends, even if it is against their so-called principles. It is this same exact tribalist mentality that is used to justify the protection of rapists in the Catholic Church.
The narrative that the conservative Catholic establishment has always thrust upon the RH discussion is on morality—specifically, the medieval Catholic brand of ethics that they use to divine God’s apparent hate for contraception. It is quite curious, then, that they would casually ignore a clear ethical breach in order to pursue an anti-contraceptive agenda. It is not even that they believe that Sotto is innocent. Macalintal readily admits that Sotto used Robert Kennedy’s speech, shamelessly asserting that the late New York Senator would have been “proud” that Sotto used his words to shut down a bill that would provide women access to modern family planning.
This is moral expediency par excellence, which is particularly odd coming from these Catholic dogmatists. The Catholic ethical system specifically denies that morality can be seen in shades of gray. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church says, human acts are “either good or evil.” There is no in between. Their system has no room for the moral inconsistency practiced by those defending Sotto. Whether or not the consequences of their actions would bring about a Catholic ideal (which would be a ‘good’ consequence), if it is done with the ‘evil’ intention of lying, then it is still ‘evil.’ As the chief philosopher of the Church said, “An evil action cannot be justified by reference to a good intention.” By abandoning consistency in their absolutism and supporting the dishonesty of a public servant, these conservative Catholics have shown that not only is their ethical system out of step with the real world, even they don’t believe in it.
So there’s this guy named Pedro. I don’t know him personally. I mean, I know him, I definitely know him, but I never met him in real life because he’s technically from Guam, plus he lived in the 1600s, so there’s that. But I know the guy, and everyone says he’s awesome, and I think he’s awesome, too.
He’s actually so awesome that he brought this woman from Leyte back to life, and he—Pedro—was already dead! No, I’m serious! What I mean to say is that this whole miracle thing happened in 2002—way, way, WAY after Pedro’s time. Seriously, 2002! And he was from the 1600s! So how did he do it? Well, this woman, she died, right? I mean, she was clinically dead, two hours after a heart attack. And then her doctor prayed to Pedro and then BAM! She’s ALIVE again! I mean, honestly, how else could she have gotten that chance, right? OF COURSE you get to live again when your doctor prays to someone who died centuries ago! Duh! What else could it have been? Go Pedro!
So the Vatican, they’re going to name Pedro a saint because they said he performed a miracle from the grave, miles and miles and centuries away, okay? Okay, so the thing is, this Pedro, who lived most of his life in Guam, was born in the Philippines, so OBVIOUSLY that means he’s a real Filipino and we should all be super proud of him and use him as an example of why we’re the BEST COUNTRY EVER. Sounds good, right? But here’s the thing: we kind of need 60 million pesos from you guys.
Seriously, we need 60 million. We’re going to be celebrating Pedro, and we’re going to need a little extra cash for the tarps, and maybe an AVP. Balloons, if we can find a decent supplier. I mean, this is going to be HUGE, guys. Like, it’s going to be the EVENT OF THE YEAR. TIME is going to STOP on Canonization Day. I mean, people from all over the country are just going to drop what they’re doing—their jobs, their families, their hopes, their dreams—and come over to Manila and par-tay, you know? I mean, I don’t even need to tell you to mark your calendars, because God has already marked them for you. And an event like that calls for a little glitz, don’t you think?
So, yeah. Could you spare some change, friends? I mean, we’re not asking for much. I know most of you can barely afford to feed yourselves, let alone your 10 children, but this is a once-in-a-lifetime event, you know? And ultimately, it’s all for God. For God, guys. Wouldn’t you want to do something nice for God, for once? I mean, He’ll like you a whole lot more if you help us out. Like, bless your life and save you from hell and stuff.
And about the 18 billion pesos we already have, well, we can’t really spend it for this. Well, we can, but do you seriously think we should, given this godawful recession? Come on, guys. It is tempting to dip into the funds just a little, but you know what they say about temptation. We’re just trying to be frugal here. Live a simple life. Earn a billion here, maybe a hundred million there, then stow it all away for a rainy day. It’s the thing to do. You know how it is. You all understand.
So, do we have a deal? Yes? Okay? We’d definitely prefer cash over checks, by the way. (The Pope’s not too hot on paper trails these days.) Just leave the envelopes with the guard at the CBCP gate
We really look forward to all your help, guys. This means more than you’ll ever know. You have no idea how happy this will make us. And seriously, rest assured that there will be a very, very good return on investment. You’ll definitely get what you deserve. This is a solid deal, guys. Real solid. Serious stuff. Totes legit. It’s going to be the smartest thing you’ve ever done. Seriously. I swear it. I swear to God.
Image from http://www.travel-images.com/pht/phil37.jpg
But when I recently visited their website, what really struck me was a little animated banner they were running on one side. An animated banner that had a quote from Jose Rizal and his image as well, fighting for the dogma of the Catholic church against the Reproductive Health Bill.
It’s an interesting little banner, because in the 1950’s the CBCP was fighting one of these pesky laws that we have in our nation, Republic Act 1425, or the Rizal Law: a bill that was enacted to teach the life and writings of Jose Rizal to all public and private school students in the Philippines.
The CBCP resented having to teach the life and work of someone who they percieved to be anti Catholic in their private Catholic schools. They seemed to have fought the Rizal law as vociferously as they are fighting today against the RH bill. The CBCP brought in political proxies in the form of Senators to fight the Rizal Law, a tactic that they still deploy in fighting the RH bill.
In these two novels we find passages against Catholic dogma and morals where repeated attacks are made against the Catholic religion in general, against the possibility of miracles, against the doctrine of Purgatory, against the Sacrament of Baptism, against Confession, Communion, Holy Mass, against the doctrine of Indulgences, Church prayers, the Catechism of Christian Doctrine, sermons, sacramentals and books of piety. There are even passages casting doubts on or covering with confusion God’s omnipotence, the existence of hell, the mystery of the Most Blessed Trinity, and the two natures of Christ.
So here we are, in 2012, with the CBCP fighting the RH bill this time. The CBCP is being insistent on protecting the dogma of the church. And who is one of their champions in this time of great need? Why, none other than Jose Rizal of course! Because of course Jose Rizal is such a great upholder of Catholic dogma! I mean, that’s what the CBCP said right?
So here we are, in 2012. The CBCP has somehow managed to change their minds about Rizal despite their bawlings about him in 1956. What else do you think they can change their minds on in the future?
Imagine a woman warned by her doctor to refrain from having a fifth pregnancy for medical reasons. She decides to use natural family planning (NFP). Will the bishops of CBCP and their allies question her decision?
Serious motives, such as those which not rarely arise from medical, eugenic, economic and social so-called “indications,” may exempt husband and wife from the obligatory, positive debt for a long period or even for the entire period of matrimonial life. From this it follows that the observance of the natural sterile periods may be lawful, from the moral viewpoint: and it is lawful in the conditions mentioned.
Now imagine another woman with exactly the same medical reasons who chooses contraceptive pills. To be consistent with their own teachings, one would expect the bishops to simply say: right reason, wrong method. But no, they are now on a war path and have branded the use of contraceptives as treating pregnancy like a disease. In their desire to destroy the status of contraceptives as medicines and its value to public health, it seems they are willing to stigmatize pregnancy prevention as inherently immoral.
In his “contraception is corruption” speech, Archbishop Villegas said: “A contraceptive pill is to be considered an essential medicine. If it is a medicine, what sickness is it curing? Is pregnancy a sickness?” Weeks later, Senator Enrile echoed the same line: “In the case of a contraceptive pill, is pregnancy a disease that needs to be cured? Why do we need to prevent it?”
Sure, pregnancy is not a disease. But pregnancy and childbirth can lead to diseases or injuries. Even bishops must be aware of this fact, which makes their argument sound so contrived. The World Health Organization has a whole chapter listing such diseases and injuries in its International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems. Obstetricians exist to prevent or treat these conditions.
If the bishops of CBCP and the anti-RH camp are not yet convinced that they are stirring up double standards in morality, they should try asking this to any user of NFP: “Is pregnancy a disease to be cured? Why do you need to prevent it?”
A double standard in law is also being pushed by the anti-RH camp. The claim that medicines must cure a disease, or must not prevent normal bodily functions like pregnancy is not supported by our laws.
Anti-coagulants and contraception
As far back as the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act of 1963, drugs have been defined as articles intended “for use in the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease,” or “to affect the structure or any function of the body.” The above phrases are retained in the latest version of that law, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Act of 2009. And in case the anti-RH camp will try to claim that medicines are different from drugs, they should read the Universally Accessible Cheaper and Quality Medicines Act of 2008 which defined drugs and medicines the same way, and included “drugs and medicines indicated for prevention of pregnancy, e.g., oral contraceptives” as part of the “List of Drugs and Medicines that are Subject to Price Regulation.”
Many substances classified as medicines without any controversy expose the hollowness of the “pregnancy is not a disease” argument. Blood clotting or coagulation is not a disease. Yet we have anticoagulant medicines, commonly used to reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes. A functioning immune system is not a disease, yet we have medicines that suppress the immune system, a standard fare to prevent organ transplant rejection. Having gastric acid is not a disease, yet we have antacids to manage indigestion.
People do choose to avoid normal or even desirable activities to prevent possible future harm. I’m pretty sure even bishops and anti-RH campaigners do it. We avoid too much sun; avoid too much food; avoid too much reading; avoid crossing streets when overpasses are available. When the path towards harm is clear enough, stigmatizing people who steer away violates plain common sense. Unless the bishops have another brand new standard of common sense.
Double standard in action is my final beef with the “pregnancy is not a disease” argument. In that memorable August 16 Headstart episode, TV host Karen Davila asked Senator Tito Sotto if his wife has had a tubal ligation, and this in part is what he said:
She has to be ligated. Because, yes, because she had, how many pregnancies. … She had four cesarean operations. … So, pagkatapos noon, sinabi ng [obstetrician], “You have to be ligated.”
A few minutes before in that same interview, when asked why he was against the RH Bill, Sotto’s first response was to attack the status of contraceptives as medicines. This is what he said:
Medicine is supposed to be, must cure something. What does a condom cure? What does an injectable cure? What does an IUD cure? So they’re not medicines, they’re not essential medicines.
A tubal ligation is of course a contraceptive medical procedure, not a medicine. But women fearful of the health consequences of another pregnancy, whether using condoms, injectables, IUDs or tubal ligations to prevent the next one, would surely be hurt by the senator’s loaded questions. Sotto attacked the health benefits of contraceptives and admitted to using the health benefits of a contraceptive procedure. The double standard is simply stunning. Perhaps Sotto should answer Enrile’s core concerns: “Is pregnancy a disease that needs to be cured? Why do we need to prevent it?”
In what seemed like an effort to show an appreciation of the separation of Church and State and to give an answer to Fr. Joaquin Bernas’s explanation that “public money is neither Catholic, nor Protestant, nor Muslim or what have you and may be appropriated by Congress for the public good without violating the Constitution,” Antipolo Bishop Gabriel V. Reyes defended the stand of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) on the RH bill by saying that their opposition to contraceptives, which the RH bill seeks to fund and promote, is not based on faith or revelation, but on “natural law.”
“By studying through correct reasoning the nature of the human person, we arrive at this teaching regarding contraception. All human beings, Catholic or not, are obliged to act according to right reason. By the efforts of the Church to go against the RH Bill, the Church is not imposing her religious beliefs on others. She is trying to stop a bill which is against natural law, a law which all human beings, Catholic or not, should follow. The RH Bill, judged from the principles of natural law, is against the good of the human person and the common good.”
But what exactly is this “natural law” the bishops keep bandying about? Is it the physical laws of the universe that are observable in nature?
The term “natural law” is actually a misnomer, quickly misleading those hearing it for the first time. An entry in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy states that:
Thomas Aquinas Image Credit: Wikipedia
“If any moral theory is a theory of natural law, it is [Thomas] Aquinas’s [the 13th century Dominican priest and theologian]. Every introductory ethics anthology that includes material on natural law theory includes material by or about Aquinas; every encyclopedia article on natural law thought refers to Aquinas.”
Aquinas held that natural law is given by God. This premise alone already makes such law supernatural. And by insisting that not only Catholics but all human beings are subject to this law, Bishop Reyes is overstepping the bounds of religious authority and disrespecting those who do not share his belief in God.
“[B]eyond protecting the very important right of the unborn, [the meaning of the right to life] must extend to a recognition that a life that is weighed down by poverty, sickness, and social inequality—now compounded by environmental stresses—deprives humans of agency to transform themselves and the world for the common good.”
What good would uncontrolled procreation do when our children are left to the streets, begging for food and exposing themselves to diseases and sexual predators? To declare procreation as an absolute good (and contraception as intrinsically evil) is to invoke dogma. So while Bishop Reyes may claim that the CBCP’s opposition to contraception and the RH bill is not based on faith or revelation but on natural law, it is clear that their arguments are ultimately religious in nature.
Fortunately, the constitutional separation of Church and State makes sure that Aquinas’s law or any religious law for that matter is not forced on our citizens. Philippine jurisprudence states that:
“If government relies upon religious beliefs in formulating public policies and morals, the resulting policies and morals would require conformity to what some might regard as religious programs or agenda. The non-believers would therefore be compelled to conform to a standard of conduct buttressed by a religious belief, i.e., to a “compelled religion,” anathema to religious freedom.”
The CBCP’s objection against the RH bill is noted, and the bishops’ right to free speech is respected. Let us just hope that our lawmakers are keen enough to discern between secular and religious arguments, and that they do not forget to respect our Constitution, especially the clause that declares that the separation of Church and State shall be inviolable.
I recorded this video interview with Frank when I got home from COMELEC before writing this post. Some details might be inaccurate, which I hope this post corrects. Toward the end of the video is footage of the BUHAY spokesperson saying the titular statement.
“Your mothers should have aborted you” is so 2010. I’m of course referring to members of Prolife Philippines wishing out loud that we hadn’t been born as we were leaving Manila Cathedral. We were there to listen to a discernment mass on the RH Bill, but weren’t allowed to attend because of the DAMASO shirts we were wearing. Aside from wishing we weren’t alive, a public exorcism on us was also attempted by Eric Manalang, president of Prolife Philippines.
Now it’s 2012, and the Prolife greeting has been updated. It now goes, “Your mother should have used RH.” We learned this yesterday when we expressed our opposition to BUHAY’s party-list accreditation at their COMELEC review hearing. After witnessing the most absurd justification for applying to be a party-list, we had an exchange of words with BUHAY that reflects a lot of what happened in the Manila Cathedral incident of 2010.
It began with a question. The BUHAY spokesperson who had represented them during the hearing approached us and asked, “Are you pro-RH?” “Yes,” answers Kenneth Keng, who had earlier expressed at the hearing our intention to oppose BUHAY’s accreditation. “Then your mother should have used RH. So you wouldn’t be here today.”
At this point, I was approached by another BUHAY member. “Did you go to school?” he asked. “Yes,” I replied. “Then why aren’t you using your education,” he said. He probably meant that my pro-RH position betrayed a lack of education.
I was about to explain how education actually leads to being pro-RH when I saw Ken being approached by several BUHAY members. They were trying to grab his camera away from him. I walked over and learned what was happening. The BUHAY spokesperson complained that Ken had started recording without his permission.
They had also asked whether Ken was with the media. Ken had initially said yes out of fear and confusion; their demeanor had given him the impression that they might harm him. He later clarified that he wasn’t with the media and was just a regular blogger, something that I’d clarified earlier with the BUHAY member I’d been speaking to.
At this point we were all huddled between the elevators and the COMELEC reception, where several security personnel were watching. The BUHAY member I’d been speaking to, the one who asked whether I was educated, started talking. He said that if we weren’t with the media, he doesn’t have to treat us that way, and can just treat us like kanto boys. He repeated this, removing his coat as if preparing for a fight. He told us that he would meet us at our levels as kanto boys and invited us outside.
I clarified: “Just to be clear, are you inviting us to a fist fight outside?” He replied, “Anywhere.” I was actually surprised that he was behaving like this in front of COMELEC security. When they finally got on the elevator, we decided it was probably wise that we stayed. Some members of the COMELEC security thought so, too. They advised us to stay for a bit because the BUHAY members might be waiting for us downstairs with less than good intentions.
Surely enough, they were waiting. As I was exiting the building, the BUHAY spokesperson blocked my path, holding a cameraphone to my face. “Excuse me, I need to get out,” I said. He stands aside after a few moments, keeping the cameraphone on me. He asked me for my name and organization, and I give it to him. At this point, Ken also has his cameraphone out, and we were recording each other (another member had a proper camcorder, too).
With all the cameras turned on I wished that Ken’s was on when the BUHAY spokesperson wished Ken’s mother had used RH. Luckily, he repeated his wish, and we got it on video. At first he said that he didn’t mean anything bad when he said this. After all, he says, isn’t RH a good thing? To this we agree, and I further explain that my parents used RH: after all, it includes family planning, birth spacing, etc.
Then he says that my parents used failed RH, because after all, I am here. By doing so he betrays the malice in his wish. To him failed RH means we are born, and successful RH means we aren’t, and it’s pretty clear which of the two outcomes he’d been wishing for us.
We explain that RH isn’t abortion, which is what he keeps on implying, but he disagrees. He advises us to read the Cairo conference. I explain that the RH Bill and the Cairo Conference are two different things. At this point Atty. Macalintal, who had been mostly quiet this time, left in a car with the BUHAY member who had challenged us to a fist fight.
We also headed for our car, leaving the BUHAY spokesperson alone, waiting for his. As we were leaving, I saw the Manila Cathedral and thought about how similar the event from 2010 was: the wishing we hadn’t been born, the prolifer’s fear of being caught on video, the trying to forcefully take our cameras. I sort of expected the BUHAY spokesperson to shout “Your mothers should have aborted you!” as we were leaving. But then I corrected myself: “Your mothers should have used RH.” Because “Your mothers should have aborted you” is so 2010.
Note: Please also read how BUHAY responded to our opposition of their party-list accreditation in COMELEC.
The party-list system of representation is broken. Want proof? Consider the case of BUHAY party-list.
According to COMELEC, you have to be a member of the sector you claim to represent. BUHAY claims to represent “the unborn, the sick, the disabled and others not capable of protecting themselves alone, through observance of their basic right to live.” Never mind being sick and disabled and incapable of self-protection (all at the same time!). Is even a single BUHAY representative unborn?
Even if we grant for rhetorical purposes that every BUHAY representative is unborn, they would still be disqualified for one simple reason: the unborn is not a sector recognized by COMELEC. This fact was repeated several times at BUHAY’s accreditation hearing at COMELEC yesterday.
And every time the COMELEC official mentioned this, the BUHAY spokesperson would answer the same way: BUHAY representatives actually represent its own political party, which is the one marginalized and underrepresented.
Setting aside how self-serving this reasoning is, does BUHAY actually think that a political party should be considered a sector of society? Let’s humor them a little and pretend that it is. Why is BUHAY party marginalized?
According to their spokesperson, it’s because aside from their party-list seats, they haven’t won any major political positions (senator, president, etc.) in the past elections, so they aren’t a major political party. And according to BUHAY, that means they are marginalized. Poor BUHAY. Since 2004, they’ve only won 7 seats in the House of Representatives.
That’s right. Seven seats in almost as many years have been allotted to the unborn representatives of BUHAY party, each representing the unborn citizens of the Philippines, and of course, that other marginalized and underrepresented sector, the BUHAY party itself. If that can’t convince you that the party-list system is a joke, I don’t know what can.
But there’s hope. COMELEC has been reviewing the current party-list candidates, and from the way they’ve been conducting these accreditation hearings — I’ve witnessed a few — they seem to mean business. I just hope it translates to disqualification, especially in the case of BUHAY and Ang Prolife — another conservative Catholic religious group trying to disguise itself as a political organization.
When we opposed Ang Prolife’s application, I thought nothing could ever beat the absurdity of their claiming to represent OFWs and “the structure of the Filipino family.” Well played, BUHAY party. Well played.
Note: This post isn’t meant to be a comprehensive opposition to BUHAY’s application. We’ll leave that to our formal opposition, which we were given 3 days to file, and will post as soon as it’s available. For now, check out Kontradaya’s reasons for objecting to the accreditation of BUHAY (follow the link for other party-list groups they argue should also be disqualified):
Buhay claims to represent the following sectors: the unborn, the sick, the disabled and others not capable of protecting themselves alone, through observance of their basic right to live.
However, none of its present representatives in Congress, and nominees for 2013 elections belong to these sectors.
First representative Mariano Velarde, Jr., the son of El Shaddai’s Mike Velarde, has a personal net worth of P53.326 million for 2011. He does not belong to any of the marginalized and underrepresented sectors Buhay claims to represent. He is not unborn, sick, disabled, nor incapable of protecting himself.
So is second representative Irwin Tieng, whose net worth amounts to P20.054 and whose family owns Solar Sports. He does not belong to any of the marginalized and underrepresented sectors Buhay claims to represent. He is not unborn, sick, disabled, nor incapable of protecting himself.
Second nominee for the 2013 elections is Jose L. Atienza, more famously known as Manila Mayor Lito Atienza. Mayor Atienza served as Manila Mayor from 1998 to 2007. Previous to that, he served as Manila Vice Mayor from 1992 to 1998. He also held other high positions in government, being appointed by former President Gloria Arroyo as the Secretary of Department of Environment and Natural Resources.
Clearly Mayor Atienza can compete for a position in Congress through regular elections. This is in addition to the fact that he does not belong to any of the sectors that Buhay claims to represent, and neither is he marginalized and underrepresented.