Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Passage of RH Bill: Has the Catholic Church Become Irrelevant?

Pres. Benigno Aquino III

The Philippine Senate and the House of Representatives passed the Reproductive Health (RH) Bill on third and final reading in the evening of December 17, 2012. A joint senate and house bicameral committee will reconcile their respective versions of the bill, and it becomes a law after President Benigno Aquino III signs it.

The passage of the bill is hoped to usher a better future for Filipino families and put into rest one of the most contentious issues that has divided the Filipinos. Introduced in 1995, the bill has been languishing in congress for 13 years because lawmakers feared of a Catholic backlash. The Catholic Church has been campaigning for its passage and reaching out to its faithful to oppose it.

Proponents of the RH bill said it contains provisions that are pro-life, pro- women and anti-poverty that will provide Filipinos sexual education, maternal care and access to modern methods of family planning with government support.                                                                                                           

For his support of the RH Bill, President Benigno Aquino III has been the object of criticism especially from the Catholic Church which views the bill as anti-life and immoral because the use of contraception kills a fertilize egg which the church considers as a human life. But Aquino said that family planning will not be forced on the couples who do not want it. Family planning and spacing of children will be a matter of couples’ own choice. However, those couples who seek support in connection with family planning will be helped by government such as giving them free contraceptives.   

Those people who are against the RH bill attributed its passage on the endorsement of the president and his certification that the bill is urgent. Many Filipinos including the Roman Catholics view the bill as a necessity whose time has come. They see the burgeoning population of the Philippines, the 39th most populated country on earth and the lack of appropriate measure on family planning as hindrance to the country’s economic progress.                   

The voting of the RH Bill by the lawmakers is indicative of the thinking and sentiment of many Filipinos on the issue. And they are not one with the church on it. Overpopulation, poverty, ignorance and women’s and child care are matters that cannot be addressed by the Catholic Church’s emphasis on the moral and spiritual dimension of the issue alone. Sexual education of couples, access to modern method of family planning and government support can help couples raise a family that is within their means to support its basic needs such as the education of their children.

The passage of the bill however, is not a rejection of the Catholic Church by its faithful. Although it failed to get the support of the majority of the lawmakers to support the bill, the Catholic Church and its leaders are still treated with high respect by some people including those who voted in favor of the RH Bill. For them, the church is just doing what it is supposed to do.                                                                                                                                                                       

Filipinos still look up to the Catholic Church as one of their vanguards against government abuses and corruption and in other matters where spiritual and moral issues on government policies are involved. Despite the criticism leveled against it, the Catholic Church has been instrumental in the ouster of past presidents who were perceived to be tyrant and corrupt. The church is also a consistent advocate for free and honest election and the defender of the rights of the poor. It is a fact that the church and its leadership have contributed to the good of the society. The late Jaime Cardinal Sin was at the forefront of leading the people against what he saw was the excesses of the Marcos regime. He was actively visible and vocal in his crusade against the administration of Marcos.  To his credit Cardinal Sin never interfered in the people’s right of suffrage. He never told his followers who to vote for during election.                                                                                                             

Although Catholics are always respectful to their church and its leaders, there are instances when their views run in conflict with the desire of their priest and bishops. A case in point is the call of some Catholic groups for a “Catholic vote” in the coming May 2013 election to penalize those lawmakers who voted for the RH Bill. In most likelihood such a move will not be heeded by most Catholics because they will most probably vote for those politicians whom they believe as the most deserving to put their trust on regardless whether they voted for or against the RH bill.