By Francisco S. Tatad - Stung by his unbelievably narrow margin during the vote on second reading of the highly controversial reproductive health bill in the House of Representatives last week, President Benigno Aquino III has mobilized all his forces to score a decisive win when the House takes it up on third reading. Aquino is used to getting what he wants, but the anti-RH bloc may not make it easy for him this time.

Despite its having been outvoted during the first round, the anti-RH bloc paradoxically appears to be more confident now than ever before.

It got a big boost yesterday when Filipino Catholics all over the country trooped to the first of the nine-day predawn pre-Christmas masses called Misa de Gallo or Simbang Gabi, and listened to homilies from the pulpit and a pastoral letter from the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) on the evil of the RH bill.

Entitled “Contraception is Corruption!”, the letter was signed by Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan, CBCP vice president, on behalf of Archbishop Jose S. Palma of Cebu, CBCP president, who is attending an Asian bishops’ conference abroad.

It congratulated the 104 congressmen who voted against the bill, while 113 voted in favor, and called upon the 64 others who failed to cast their votes to be “enlightened and stand up for the Truth.”

“Do not be swayed by worldly pressures,” the letter said to the 64, “say no to contraception, which is corruption, and be faithful to the Christ Child who was pro-woman, pro-child and pro-poor. Be the champion of the people who voted for you.”

Reiterating a powerful statement he first made during a prolife and pro-family rally at EDSA not too long ago, the Archbishop of Lingayen-Dagupan said, “contraception corrupts the soul.”

“The RH bill is being gift-wrapped to look like a gift for maternal health care,” he said. But if enacted into law, “it will put the moral fiber of the nation at risk, and lead to the destruction of family life and greater violence against women,” he added.

The RH bill will not improve the lives of the poor, contrary to its claim, the Archbishop said. “The poor can rise from their misery through more accessible education, better hospitals and lesser government corruption. Money for contraceptives can be better used for education and authentic health care,” he argued.

Aquino has already paid a high price for his effort to divide an already divided nation through the bill. But it could go higher still. After subjecting the congressmen to the same pressure he had used in impeaching then-Chief Justice Renato Corona, whom the Senate subsequently convicted, and dangling before them hundreds of millions of pesos in “projects” in exchange for their votes, all he got was a measly nine-point margin when the congressmen voted.

No wonder Aquino appears sorely disappointed. He had sent four of his Cabinet members to the House to monitor the proceedings and make sure the promised votes were delivered. But apparently the most they could do was to convince some who could not support the measure not to vote anymore so as “not to embarrass the President.”

These included one high-profile congressman who, at one point, was being touted as the leader of the anti-RH bloc. He participated in the period of amendments but ultimately left the session hall before the voting started.

Had the absentees decided to vote, the pro-RH side might have lost, and Aquino roundly humiliated before his foreign patrons, who had openly pushed for the vote.

The exact price Aquino will have to pay is not easy to calculate. In using the vast powers of his office and the humungous pork barrel under his control to buy the congressmen’s votes, the self-proclaimed “nemesis” of corruption has become the chief corruptor of Congress, the principal promoter of graft—and a deeper and more virulent institutionalized form of graft and corruption at that.

In the process, Aquino has revealed the utter vacuity and bogus character of his “Kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap” (The poor would not exist if the corrupt did not)—and his so-called “Daang Matuwid” (The straight and narrow path). He has exposed these as a fraud.

One question asks itself: If Aquino is convinced that the RH bill is good for the nation, not just for the population controllers and the condoms and contraceptives manufacturers, why did he have to use the taxpayers’ money to buy anyone’s votes?

Why did he require his own ruling Liberal Party, at the prompting of Local Government Secretary Mar Roxas and Senator Franklin Drilon, to impose the pro-RH position as the official party line, instead of allowing party members to vote on the issue according to their conscience?

What exactly is the payoff from the foreign population controllers, who staged a big family planning “summit” in Manila, to announce to the whole world that they had him and the country’s corporate establishment inside their pocket? How does Aquino intend to survive as “president” of an “independent” republic after he has been proclaimed, without any objection on his part, as an unabashed and undisguised foreign puppet?

What exactly does Aquino expect to gain by trampling upon the moral convictions and religious beliefs of the Catholic majority, and in the process dividing the country and creating an unwanted institutional opposition to his presidency? Until now, he had been able to congratulate himself for achievements he had absolutely nothing to do with, including the country’s economic performance, which has been the work of 12 million overseas Filipinos, and still part of the momentum of an economic program that ironically belongs to the scandal-ridden but economically defensible Gloria Macapagal Arroyo presidency?

In an effort to press what he obviously perceives to be a tactical advantage, Aquino has certified the RH bill as urgent so that it could be voted on third reading before the anti-RH group could consolidate its ranks. At the same time, he has redoubled his personal efforts and those of his political agents to persuade those who had voted against the bill to change their position, in exchange for the infamous political pork.

But these efforts could still be frustrated. Led by Congressman Rufus Rodriguez of Cagayan de Oro, the bloc has questioned the constitutionality of the bill’s certification, and the law appears to be on its side. Under the Constitution, the President may certify the necessity of a bill’s immediate enactment “to meet a public calamity or emergency,” without having to require the distribution of its printed copies to members of the House that passed it three days before it is voted upon.

But just exactly what public calamity or emergency does Aquino seek to address, is not clear to anyone. The only calamity known to the nation is the recent typhoon Pablo, which inflicted extensive death and destruction upon the country, especially in Compostela Valley in Mindanao. But the RH bill has nothing to do with it.

Obviously the intention is to prevent the anti-RH bloc from gaining time to solidify its ranks, especially with the poor packing all the churches to overflowing during the nine-day “simbang gabi.” At press time, it was being claimed that printed copies of the bill had been distributed on Friday to enable a third reading today (Monday). If this is true, what then was the reason for the certification on Friday?

The CBCP pastoral letter makes no adverse or negative reference to those who voted for the RH bill. But this is no guarantee that priests, nuns, laymen and lay women will not use the Advent season to campaign against the pro-RH politicians ahead of the campaign season. Their names have been published, c and many Catholic laymen and women are eager to demonstrate that, contrary to everything that has been said about the absence of a Catholic vote, there is indeed a Catholic vote, which could be activated whenever necessary.

An early parish-based campaign against pro-RH candidates should also help inform the public on the issue in a way they have not been informed until now. Most of the 217 congressmen tried to explain their votes last week. But none of the “pros” said anything to persuade anyone that the bill was either necessary or constitutional.

None of them was bold enough to speak of “overpopulation” as they used to do in the past. They obviously have those heard that the world’s real crisis is the “depopulation” or “demographic winter”, which has already engulfed a number of countries in all severity.

No one also spoke anymore of people as the cause of poverty as they used to do in the past. They obviously have heard of human capital, and realized that in an election year they could not be asking for votes from people if they considered them the enemy of a “sustainable environment.”

But some of them still spoke of maternal deaths as the reason why there must be an RH law. They spoke of women dying while pregnant or during childbirth, without talking of the far greater numbers of women dying of cancer, heart and respiratory diseases, diabetes, tuberculosis, and other killer diseases without any state support.

Despite Congressman Rodolfo Biazon’s fanciful claim of an unverified demand from an overwhelming majority of the women he met for an RH law, no one dared to refute or offer a story different from that of Congressman Antonio Alvarez of Palawan who said that in his 27 years of uninterrupted service as an elective public official, he had received all sorts of requests for help for every conceivable need from his constituents, but not once had he ever received a request for condoms or contraceptives.

Nor was there any attempt on the side of the pros to respond to be points made by several congressman but probably best articulated by Pangasinan’s Congresswoman Gina de Venecia, who said the RH bill was nothing but a population control bill masquerading as a reproductive health measure. Has not the bill overstepped its bounds in choosing to interfere in the family life of citizens? De Venecia asked. “Is it appropriate for the state to prescribe the size of family one must have? Is it fitting for the state to mandate when our children should be taught sex education and by whom?”

Nor was there any attempt by the pro-RH side to show that Cebu’s youthful Rachel Marguerite (Cutie) del Mar was simply imagining things when she said the bill “disrespects basic religious belief and treats it as if it were separate —or could be separated—from the daily life of a Catholic believer who must live his faith, as if faith in God could be easily explained away in economic and demographic terms, and Catholic citizenry would just meekly submit.”

With clarity and vigor Del Mar expressed the position of many when she pointed out that the bill “wrongly assumes that Filipinos are a people of ‘shallow faith’ and ‘feeble conviction’, who with the passage of time would embrace a bad law, as if such a law eventually would become good, as if religious belief and resistance to the law would crumble in the face of repressive legal sanctions.”

The only acceptable response to that would be to demonstrate by superior reasoning and facts that the objection is ill-founded and wrong. But Aquino’s response is to throw the awesome powers of the presidency and its mighty pork at the issue and try to manufacture a cash-oriented majority to support a perverted view of law and reality.

What an RH law should not be MANILA STANDARD By Fr. Ranhilio Aquino | Posted on Dec. 17, 2012 at 12:01am | 124 views

[PHOTO -After narrow House vote, Aquino certifies RH bill as urgent]

The House of Representatives has voted for the passage of House Bill 4244. The ball is now on the Senate’s side of the court and from all indications, the measure will find its way into law, the vehemence of objections to it particularly from Catholic clergy and lay leaders notwithstanding.

There are plans afoot, I hear, to challenge the statute, when it is passed, before the Supreme Court but no matter the earnestness of its opponents and, without a doubt, the sincerity and honesty of their convictions, I do not see any constitutional barriers that stand in the way of the RH measure entering into force.

Truth to tell, there is nothing dramatic in the House version that is far different from the prevailing regime. Condoms are freely available at the moment, and instruction on human reproduction and sex is widely and readily available both in the forms that DOH, advocacy groups and even schools make it available as well as in the prurient versions that video clips gone viral through mobile phone or full length shows on cheap, pirated DVDs and CDs continuously proffer.

Government hospitals routinely perform tubal ligations and vasectomies, procedures that are more readily available in comparison to the dismally inadequate life-saving equipment in many a health facility.

While I have criticized the posturing of some of the bill’s opponents who were not, to me, sufficiently respectful of the rules of public discourse in a secular state and in a pluralistic forum, what I find profoundly distressing about the present aggressive push for the passage of the RH bill is precisely the fact of its insignificance as a legislative measure in relation to facts that already obtain (and laws already in place) aside from the fact of course of fixing matters in a statutory vehicle!

It is becoming disturbingly clear to me that Malacanang is intent on locking horns with the Catholic Church, something it has not shied from doing in the past, counting once more on its vaunted “popularity”.

It is the same dynamic at work when claimant nations bare their fangs and indulge in the rigmarole of saber-rattling over a speck of rock in the middle of nowhere that makes its appearance only at low-tide! Of course, the playing-field is not even because the resources at Malacanang’s command are enormous.

The dastardly pork barrel has lard enough with which to grease palms and consciences as well, and this is not in any way to disparage those who support the measure out of true conviction. The powers of today’s brokers can determine fates and spell the difference between prosperity and woe—at least for now!

If this is what it is, and it is very difficult to think otherwise, then it is truly petty and has nothing to do with academic debates on human sexuality. It is classic bullying with all the pettiness that makes bullies the miserably annoying beings that they are.

If HB 4244 or something close to it is passed into law, it will follow as a matter both of law and of logic that any incentives given by government to couples with fewer or no children will constitute a violation of the basic guiding principle of freedom of choice, this notwithstanding the provision on the “ideal family size”.

The measure does not and cannot espouse a “two-children” policy without contradicting itself. Increasing taxes (which can take the form of downscaling tax exemptions) for families with more than two children is definitely a punitive measure and would be in violation of the law and of fundamental freedoms.

Furthermore, if the “ideal family size” is two-children, then a couple without children is not ideal at all! And if the bill is serious about reproductive rights, as it purports to be, then it must with equal prodigality support the aspirations of those who wish to have children!

It also becomes the duty of the State to provide for access to information and effective assistance in the employment of the natural family planning method.

The incompetence of health workers who instruct on the use of the method should not be passed on to NFP itself, as has so many times happened. “Hindi po kasi masyadong mabisa ang NFP” really translates into “Hindi naming gabay na ituro kung papanong gamitin ang NFP”!

Any barangay health facility that has a supply of condoms, contraceptive pills, spermicidal gels, etc. but does not have available for distribution to the public instruments for the accurate measurement of basal temperature and other aids in NFP will be clear instances of the law’s violation.

And while women who suffer post-abortion complications are to be rightly attended to and cared for, a deliberately procured abortion is still a police matter that must be handled as such and whoever might be criminally liable, including the woman herself, must be investigated, prosecuted and, if found guilty, duly convicted.

That a woman has the right to decide about her own body (which is not at all an uncomplicated proposition in moral theory!) does not entail the proposition: “Therefore, she has the right to be rid of the fetus in her womb”.

That was bad logic in Roe v. Wade; it remains bad logic in all of those who continue to invoke it with fervent unction! For this you do not need a theory of ensoulment or hominization. You need only the Constitution that wisely recognizes that human life commences at conception —a life over which the mother has no dominion at all!

The law-in-the-making also makes sex and reproductive health education mandatory starting with Grade 5. Catholic schools, as well as schools of religious denominations with similar persuasions on the issue, will however be well within their rights to teach what their credal persuasions are.

A Catholic school cannot be compelled, without violating both religious liberties and academic freedom, to teach as acceptable what the “teaching office” of the Church teaches is unacceptable.

The students have the right to know what an IUD is, how pills are taken, how effective a condom is, and whether or not a vasectomy is reversible, but when the Catholic school then discusses the colatilla: “All these methods, the Church holds to be malicious”, it will not be violating the law by dissuading the use of these methods, first, because it is not the duty of the Church to encourage use of such methods; second, because the Constitution stops the heavy hand of the State from interfering with religious belief and practice, allowing interference only on the ground of “compelling state interest”!

On the part of the Church, the prayerful reflection must continue, and truly involved philosophical and theological debate must flourish so that the response to the summons of faith may be truly faithful not to the traditions of an institution, really, but to Him who calls us forth constantly into newness and fullness!

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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