2012 (INQUIRER) By Rina Jimenez-David - I don’t know about you, but I’m not standing anywhere near Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo these days.

Recently, reacting to the horrific news reports about hundreds dead in the wake of the “visit” of Typhoon “Pablo” to our shores, the good bishop commented: “Ewan ko lang kung yan ay coincidence lang o dahil nga may pinapasabi ang Diyos sa atin na kapag iyan ay pinag-uusapan nang matindi ay parang may mensahe na nangyayari na maraming kahirapan na nagaganap sa atin (I don’t know if it’s just a coincidence or if the Lord is trying to send a message to us that whenever that is being discussed heatedly, it seems that there’s a disaster that causes much suffering among us).”

Bishop Pabillo was referring to the Reproductive Health bill that is now undergoing the final stages of discussion in Congress and is expected to be passed into law in the near future.

Defeated in the halls of Congress and in public opinion, the bishops, in the person of Pabillo, now seem to be grasping at straws, claiming that the death toll and damage done by Pablo is “God’s punishment” on Filipinos for even daring to contemplate passage of the RH bill.

If you believe in such stuff, then I suppose Pabillo should be the target of a divine smiting anytime soon, for the grievous sin of taking God’s name in vain, or for blaming Him for a disaster which is utterly explainable in scientific terms, and traceable, if at all, to entirely human causes, including overpopulation that has driven families to live on precarious mountain slopes, and deforestation that created those murderous landslides and floods that led so many to their deaths.

If there is any lesson to be gleaned from the tragedy of Pablo, it is indeed that we need to slow down the growth of our population, for it is human interventions—including global warming and the desperate search for livable habitats—that have made natural disasters so destructive and tragic.

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A report on Pabillo’s interview aired over the Catholic Radio Veritas said the bishop asserted that “tragedies happen whenever lawmakers push for the RH bill.” The underlying message, he said, “should be understood since lalo’t ayaw natin na ang panukala ay madaliin at palihim na iginagapang para makalusot (we don’t like it when the bill is being rushed and secretly pushed among members of Congress to pass).”

I never thought that Catholic bishops believe so fervently in a malicious God who would cause death and destruction for innocent folk in an expression of pique over a piece of legislation that would simply put the Philippines on the same wavelength as other countries all over the world.

Is God against reproductive health or, at the very least, the reduction of the numbers of human beings on this planet? Don’t you think a disaster that kills more than 300 people in one or two days and destroys entire villages is precisely a form of population reduction?

Or am I just being specious, quoting Pabillo out of context?

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This to me is the height of insensitivity. To use the deaths of our people in a disaster as a propaganda point against a piece of legislation that everyone—save for Catholic bishops and their conservative allies—says is long overdue, necessary and would provide relief for families struggling to provide their children a life of dignity and value.

Let Bishop Pabillo and all those who heed him and his ilk consider this: If we had adopted not just a sound population policy decades ago, as our neighbors have, would we have so many deaths from a typhoon?

The answer is no. For part of a rational population policy is planning for future growth, which is only possible if authorities can predict where population surges will take place, and put in place measures to mitigate whatever environmental, social and economic impacts we will face.

If the population push had not led to thousands of poor families setting up homes and settlements in mountain barangays, then there would not have been so many left vulnerable to Pablo’s depredations. And if these economic migrants had not laid bare the mountains’ trees and stripped the land for marginal farming, would they have been buried by landslides and mud?

I am not “blaming” the victims, or scolding them in afterthought. But disasters are the results of lack of planning and enforcement, of carelessness with the environment, and even of stubbornness in the face of authorities’ warnings about a coming typhoon and the need to seek shelter on safer ground.

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In other words, God gave us free will and intelligence to properly prepare for the disasters that global warming has presaged. We had days—days!—to follow Pablo’s track and to mitigate the foreseen damage by strong winds, tidal surge and rushing floodwaters.

I can’t help but sympathize with P-Noy who expressed his frustration that despite so much time afforded us by modern weather forecasting, on the ground, our best efforts were frustrated by inept organization, human hard-headedness, and lack of imagination.

Of course, many of the lost lives, injuries and material losses were also the result of accidents and—let’s face it—bad luck.

But it is bad luck that will hound us in the years to come as our planet undergoes the worsening effects of climate change. What we need to do is to prepare and put in place measures that will ensure fewer lives lost the next time another “supertyphoon” visits us.

Let us pray we will cope with coming disasters better and that we will minimize the loss of lives. But let us also entreat our legislators to pass the RH bill now, for we need to ease the pressures that bear on our environment and preparedness as soon as we can—like yesterday.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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