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Archive for March, 2011

Is the Church to blame on population problems? What’s a win-win approach to the RH Bill?

Is the Church to blame  on population problems? What’s a win-win approach to the RH Bill?

(Last of three parts)

by Juan “Jed” E.  Dayang, Jr.

Can’t the Catholic Church easily be blamed for population problems?  Here’s the logic: the government is constrained in promoting artificial contraception. The Catholic Church can promote natural contraception. We have a booming population that can be described as problematic. Therefore, is the Catholic Church  doing enough to take care of the “morals” of people particularly when it comes to family planning?

I understand that this argument is flawed for many reasons: for one, population problems are connected with economic development, of which the government is the key figure. The Catholic Church can also simply pass on the responsibility of promoting natural contraception to the government. It does, however, caution us against making simplistic generalizations.

The way to navigate this complexity is to focus on the issue at hand: reproductive health/ family planning. The government must battle against stereotypes through massive information campaigns. Reproductive health is not just about condoms. Reproductive health, whether artificial or natural, is about planning for the future and enhancing the quality of life of your children. Reproductive health is not just about choice, but about informed decision.

The government must be able to make the debate on the RH Bill positive. However, what we see now is the dynamics of two opposing views. Some members of the Church have threatened to excommunicate or refuse to give communion to supporters of the Bill. On the other hand, you have anti-Church groups which are anti-clerical and have branded the Church as “Damaso” referring to national hero Jose Rizal’s caricature of a domineering, old-fashioned and hypocritical cleric in his novel Noli Me Tanghere, which influenced the Philippine revolution against the colonial rule of Spain. We also have groups who questions objective morality in favor of personal convictions criticizing the church.

In the ongoing contentious debate and mud-slinging, where do we place the ordinary Filipino who are the primary target of the RH Bill?  He or she must be beset by feelings of guilt in using artificial contraceptives but do not know what to go about planning their pregnancies.  Many are supportive of RH Bill (7 out of 10 Filipinos surveyed by the Social Weather Station in 2008) but majority are also supportive of the Church and  remain as its pious members attending Sunday masses regularly and receiving the holy sacraments.

For many,   the issue of supporting and rejecting the RH Bill is not an easy question. It involves a deeper reflection of their values and identity as a person. Asking the question of how do you balance Filipino values of  maka-Diyos (pro-God), maka-Tao/Pamilya (propeople), maka-Bayan (pro-country) at maka-Kalikasan (proenvironment)?  These questions are aspects of the moral dimensions that would have to be considered by individuals in making an informed decision.

I believe that this is where the Government should have a more comprehensive  policy on RH Bill.  The Government must do its role in educating comprehensively its citizens on  both artificial and natural methods of family planning and leave the decision to its citizens.  There is a need for competent counselors who are sensitive to religious and cultural beliefs of its citizens in promoting birth control methods. The government must also promote fully natural forms of family planning  which are acceptable to the Catholic Church such as  the symptoms-based methods, the calendar-based methods, and the breastfeeding or lactational amenorrhea method.  The government could  cooperate with religious institutions and organizations such as Catholic schools in  providing  information on reproductive health to parents, teachers, and students.

One cannot deny that the Church has a role in the education of the young  in the Philippines. The Government is better placed to be mindful of instilling values formation to children and the young in the importance of family values and human virtues such as charity, loyalty, prudence, purity and temperance, among others to form good citizens. The government must also remain inclusive and allow freedom of religious practice. Therefore, in crafting the Bill, it should refrain from imposing sanctions on conscientious objectors in keeping with the freedom of conscience which is protected under the Philippine constitution.

Another way to promote the bill is to underscore similarities between the RH bill and the stance of the Catholic Church. For all the public knows, the RH bill has 8,000 good provisions and we are merely arguing about three. A good bill is therefore left to rot in the chambers because we cannot move forward with three contested provisions.  Highlighting the similarities will give better context to the entire issue instead of just singling out and concentrating on the sensitive portions.

At the end of the day, the government must ensure that it gets the support of its citizen on family planning and responsible parenthood. The government must enact information and education campaign to enable citizen’s to make informed decisions.  After giving full information to its citizens on the various aspects of responsible parenthood and reproductive health, then it is best to leave  the decision on the method of responsible parenthood and family planning on the individual through the use of his conscience and free will.

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What can government do to navigate the complexities of the RH Bill?

What can government do to navigate the  complexities of the RH Bill?

(Part 2 of 3)

by Juan  “Jed” E.  Dayang, Jr.*

So what can government do to navigate the complexities of the RH Bill ? How does the government promote its objectives of population control and health care without dividing its citizens who are predominantly Catholics?

Having worked for the government for more than a decade, I know the importance of knowing your stakeholders. The government must be knowledgeable of the situation on the ground and must be sensitive to its citizens’ culture and religious beliefs. It is not simple as enforcing the principle of “separation of Church and State” because a citizen’s action and behavior cannot be removed from his or her cultural and religious belief system.

The government may have well-written laws passed by Congress but may be opposed by the citizens. In such case, the problem will remain and objectives unfulfilled. It may even open unintended costs for the government. In order to garner mass support from the citizens, the government must its people aware of the bill and  constantly engaged them in  dialogue.  Listening and reviewing its policies are investments to ensure that policies are run-smoothly.   It also has to justify its use of public funds in promoting birth control methods which may be viewed as private goods.

The politics of the RH Bill is that the government cannot ignore the Catholic Church because of its influential presence in the Philippines.[1] The Catholic Church has for its mandate the formation of faith and morals of its members. In the Philippines, it remains to be a key player in influencing public opinion in matters of faith and morals.

I believe that it is imperative upon the government to find a common thread and an agreeable compromise with its objectives and the position of its citizens, including the Church.  It is not just a matter of relying on surveys, which as we know are only opinion-based.  The RH bill to be successful must be inclusive  rather than be in  a position of “take it or leave it”.  It has to be able to adjust to the views of the its citizens, majority of them are Catholics.  For instance, wording in the preamble could state that the government will provide all forms of comprehensive information, including and not limited to artificial contraception but also natural family planning methods which are in keeping with religious beliefs.[2]

[A friend of mine whose mother is a midwife narrated that as a child, he read brochures from the local health center regarding natural contraception. He remembers reading about the fertility cycles and the number of days before and after menstruation that a couple needs to consider before having sex. The partnership then between government and the church should be strengthened].

There is a need for government to be positive and open to dialogue with stakeholders . It must not alienate the Church by making policies inclusive.  Instead of being adversarial, it could maintain close partnership with the Church and its members. There are areas which the government and the Church can cooperate closely such as in education, values formation, responsible parenthood, and teaching of human sexuality to the youth. The top ten universities and Colleges  in the Philippines, apart from the University of the Philippines are catholic institutions. The public school system, which are lacking in resources, are relatively inferior to private schools. The Catholic institutions are ubiquitous in Philippine society.

to be continued


*the author’s view are entirely his own and does not reflect the views of the government nor the church.

[1] It was noted during the Forum by Prof. Paul Hutchcroft of the Australian National University that the issue is no longer debated in many countries and it is not enough to say that the division is caused by the Catholic Church. I , however think that in the Philippines, unlike other countries where the religion is largely Catholic, the church remains to be an influential institution and its views must not be ignored to ensure the successful implementation of the RH Bill.

[2] The preamble could also state the state policy against abortion.

Is there a diplomatic solution to the impasse on the Philippine RH Bill?

Is there a diplomatic solution to the impasse on the Philippine RH Bill?

Is there a diplomatic solution to the impasse between the State and Church in the ongoing debate on the RH Bill?

(First of 3 parts)

by Juan  “Jed” E.  Dayang, Jr.*

The Reproductive Health Bill or simply called RH Bill, is a proposed bill in the Philippine Congress aimed at ensuring universal access and information on birth control methods and maternal care.  The RH Bill is in line with the World Health Organisation’s vision for all peoples to have the highest possible level of sexual and reproductive health through provision of information and quality services.

Although there is a general consensus on the benefits of maternal and child care aspects of the bill, there is a contentious and divisive debate on the proposed widespread information, distribution, government funding and enforcement of family planning methods.  The Catholic Church, which represents the largest religious group in the Philippines, has been most critical of the government’s promotion of artificial birth control devices, which they view as contrary to faith and morals.

The controversial bill has polarized various sectors of society including experts, academics, religious institutions, and political leaders who are either support or are against the bill.  Based on surveys, seven out of ten Filipinos are in favour of the bill. President Benigno Aquino has expressed his full support to the bill compared to his predecessors. The impact of his outward support of the RH Bill alienated the Catholic Church. In the end, the President decided to have a dialogue with the Catholic Bishop Congress of the Philippines (CBCP) and has since been less vocal of his support of the Bill pending deliberation in Congress.  The position of the Catholic Church is that  use of artificial contraception is a major attack on authentic human values and on Filipino cultural values regarding human life and enjoins its members to disobey the RH bill if passed into law based on freedom of conscience.

In formulating the bill, it is imperative to know the stand of its most visible and outspoken critic, the Catholic Church in the Philippines.  In crafting any policy, it is important to know the positions of the critics because they can dilute the influence and reach of the policy. In a setting where parties can negotiate and concede some positions in favour of others, a compromise can be reached. We can, however, expect the Catholic Church not to waver in its positions.

We thus have a situation where: (1) the critic is not willing to negotiate; and (2) the critic is extremely influential. It will be foolish not to know its stand. The bill can ultimately be passed but it can run the risk of having no or limited followers, in which case the entire exercise in legislation is rendered ineffective.

To be continued


* The author’s main argument is the strengthening of the partnership between the government and the state. This article was presented in  the Forum on RH Bill organised by the Philippine Study Group (PSG) on 25 March 2011 at the Toad Hall, Australia National University.  The views expressed by author is entirely his own and does not reflect the Philippine government’s stance on the RH Bill.

Globalization and the Emergence of Consular Diplomacy

Globalization and the Emergence of Consular Diplomacy

by Juan  “Jed” E. Dayang, Jr.

In the context of globalization,  the following observations on  international migration can be made:

  • First, international migration as determined by economic and non-economic factors has become institutionalized;
  • Second, international migration is relevant to to development and security concerns; and
  • Third,  international migration has  increased the linkage between diplomacy and society particularly on  consular services and assistance provided by governments.

Migration has emerged on top of the global political agenda. However, managing migration remains as a big challenge among  origin, transit, and destination countries.  Some of the issues of mutual concern include the protection of migrant workers and how to jointly deal with with forced  and irregular migration.  In the current  environment, international migration is restrictive.

Based on figures from the United Nations (UN), an estimated 214 million people or three percent of the world’s population live outside their countries of birth. This phenomenon has become more prevalent due to the forces of globalization.   It is not surprising that the UN has recognized international migration as a top political agenda of governments.

The implications of international migration to  foreign affairs are two-fold: one is the necessity for greater international migration cooperation and second,  the enhanced role of consular affairs.

The global cooperation in international migration has taken several forms.  For example, the Global Forum on Migration and Development (GFMD) is an emerging platform to discuss migration issues.  The GFMD, however is only a forum among governments and non-state actors to manage international migration.  In  the absence of global governance on migration, countries have undertaken bilateral labour agreements to manage migration and to protect their migrant workers.

Emergence of Consular Diplomacy

In diplomatic scholarship, consular affairs have received little attention from students and academics. They regard consular affairs as dealing with the delivery of public service to citizens rather than management of international relations.

In view of the evolution of the diplomatic and consular practice, scholars like Maiike Okano-Heijmans and Kevin Stringer have noted the emergence of ‘consular diplomacy’.  In their view,  consular function is increasingly becoming a core task of Ministries of Foreign Affairs (MFA). The changing patterns of tourism, trans-boundary crime, terrorism, and natural disasters have increased demand for consular assistance .  For instance, consular function of MFAs were put to the test when Ministries had to deal with the protection of their citizens who were in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya in the  recent political crisis in the region. Natural disasters such as the recent tsunami that hit Japan also required consular action from governments to locate missing pers0ns and to bring their citizens home safely.

Iver Neumann asserts that “consular work has exploded and the potential tasks are literally infinite.”[1] The benefits of migration to both sending and host countries have prompted governments to increasingly tap labour migrants a for its development and economic aims.

Media has  played a key role in bringing consular assistance to a higher level of attention.  Media  covers cases of distressed citizens and the quality of government assistance to them. The promotion of rights of migrant workers and empowerment of migrant workers have increase their political leverage resulting in higher demands for proactive consular assistance. As a result, higher expectations of citizens for consular services are shaping the way diplomats and consular staff work.

The international landscape has wider implication on the practice of diplomacy and requires governments to adapt. In this respect, embassies and consulates are becoming extensions of ‘city halls’ that provide services to its citizen’s abroad.


[1]Iver Neumann, “Globalisation and Diplomacy,” Working Paper 724(2007).

International Women’s Day: Migrant Women’s Role in Development

HK Victoria Park Philipino Migrant Workers

Image via Wikipedia

International Women’s Day: Migrant Women’s Role in Development

by Juan E. “Jed” Dayang, Jr.

Female migrant workers have contributed greatly to development and poverty alleviation in their countries of origin.

According to the recent   New York Times article  “ women migrants have become a formidable force for development — and for the rise of women in developed countries whose careers depend on affordable child care” in the first 11 years of the 21st century.  Money sent by women migrants to their families through remittances also  “…appear to be more frequent, regular and reliable even in times of crisis.”

Based on the UN Population and Development statistics, 50% of  the 215 million international migrants in 2010  are female. In OECD countries, the percentage of women in skilled work has increased.

An anecdotal study in the case of Ghana yielded interesting data that women migrant workers and women recipients tend to send money for human capital investments such as food, education and  health care while male workers or recipients tend to invest remittances in land and electronics. However, there are still few rigorous studies made on the role of gender in migration according to the Times article.

The impact of remittances vary in different countries. UN Women’s studies in Albania, Dominican Republic, Morocco, and Senegal suggest that  women migrants’ role in remittance sent to their families has contributed to development.  In OECD countries, female African migrant workers sent lower average remittances compared to men due to lower education and income.

Female recipients also had an impact in improving children’s health in Sri Lanka.  In Mexico, females working in informal occupations decreased due to remittances. However, remittances offset the loss of income from female labour force.

Philippine Case

In the Philippines, 2004 statistics  have shown that seven out of ten migrant workers were women. Although, recent 2o11 data shows that the ratio between men and women migrant workers have evened out, Filipina women still comprise a big chunk of emigrants from the Philippines which stands at around 8.7M worldwide. Most Filipina migrant workers are employed in the service sectors as nurses, teachers, caregivers and household workers. The downside of the so called  “feminisation of migration” is the social costs of mothers and wives leaving their children and husbands behind.

Children left behind experience loss of maternal care and may suffer from the lack of attention from absentee mothers. Usually, migrant mothers leave their children with their relatives who substitute  as caregivers using the money the send home.  The positive aspect is that children are provided better material goods and enable them to attend better schools.

Female domestic workers are also vulnerable to abuse from their employers. For instance, several cases of  employers abusing their Filipina household workers are lodged and handled by the Department of Foreign Affairs of the Philippines and their consular officials on a daily basis.

What can governments do?

Some suggestions have been made to improve the plight of female migrants such as the introduction of  legal and social protections for domestic workers (e.g. bilateral agreements of the Philippines with Singapore and Hong Kong case), liberalized entry and exit rules in temporary labour migration through work permits, allowing children visiting their migrant mothers, and lowering remittance fees.

At the end of the day, recognizing the role of women in development and empowerment of women are key factors  in enhancing their contribution to development.

Reference:

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/08/world/europe/08iht-ffhelp08.html?_r=2&ref=global-home&pagewanted=all

When is multilateral diplomacy more rewarding than bilateral diplomacy?

UN Security Council Chamber in New York.

Image via Wikipedia

When is multilateral diplomacy more rewarding than bilateral diplomacy?


by Juan “Jed” E. Dayang, Jr.

Between bilateral diplomacy and multilateral diplomacy, I believe that many diplomats would say that  bilateral diplomacy is more rewarding. For the “bilateralists”, multilateral or conference diplomacy is time-consuming and could be  frustrating.

Arguably, the benefits and impact of bilateral diplomacy are easier to measure  given that there are only two  players  with agenda items somewhat limited in scope. However, bilateral diplomacy is not a panacea. Due to the imbalance of power relations between strong and weak states, the latter may find it incapable of pushing for its national interests in  a bilateral negotiation. Thus, some issues are best addressed among various states. Some of these issues include addressing international challenges in trade relations, climate change, migration, and transnational crimes.

Multilateral diplomacy,  which takes place when there are three or more states in a conference, could address the limitations of bilateral diplomacy and, in these circumstances, is likely to be more rewarding.

A More Level Playing Field

One significant benefit of multilateral diplomacy is levelling the playing field among states with different political and economic levels. The British Foreign Secretary Canning, after returning from a series of conferences after the 1815 Treaty of Vienna, praised normal bilateral diplomacy when he said “each for himself and God for us all”. Such remarks sum up why multilateral diplomacy limits self-interested motivations of the states.

In the United Nations, the veto powers enjoyed by the five permanent members of the Security Council prevent the tyranny of the powerful by ensuring that one veto can outvote any acts  with selfish intention or when one state resort to aggression.  Thus, it could be said that multilateral diplomacy is an effective safeguard against unilateralism and hegemonic ambitions of powerful states.

Coalition-building

In the United Nations, states can form coalitions based on geographic and regional considerations. Some examples or regional groupings includes the Africans, Latin Americans and Arabs, and European Union.  The  Group of 77 is an aggrupation  based on economic commonalities of developing countries.  These sub-groups form coalitions, cooperate, and promote their common interests that may subdue more power states. For instance, the G-77 countries  plus China called for the ending of the Doha Round of  trade talks last year.  Another example is how member countries of ASEAN are able to navigate a region which is surrounded by powerful neighbours such as China and India through the regional  body.

Venue to Address Transnational Issues and Harmonise Policies of States

Multilateral diplomacy is also more rewarding in finding and formulating solutions to global challenges which are transnational in nature.  Some of these issues include peace and security, international trade, climate change, human rights and solving transnational crimes.

Through multilateral diplomacy, states could come up with agreed norms through treaties that harmonises the foreign policy of member-states.  The League of Nations and the United Nations were created to provide a forum for nation-states to prevent war and conflict. Although the League of Nations failed, the U.N. has succeeded in minimizing the possibility of World War III.

Promotes Peace and Security

The U.N. is also involved in peace-keeping operations and  promotes  peace in conflict zones.  The U.N. Millennium Development Goals (MDG) agenda also provides the states with a clear target and benchmarks for global elimination of poverty. In the U.N., states are able to discuss and formulate common agenda on issues such as human rights, including the rights of women and children and rights of migrant workers and their families, which may not be tabled in bilateral diplomatic exchanges.

In the Asian region, the ASEAN+3 is the only confidence-building mechanisms and venue where rival countries such as China, Japan and South Korea could sit and negotiate on issues not just related to North Korea. At the same time, the Six-party Talks, which has as its members the United States, China, Japan, South and North Koreas, is another example of the effectiveness of multilateral diplomacy in discussing and diplomatically engaging North Korea.

Representation through Candidatures

Multilateral diplomacy is also a venue for states to exert influence in the international stage through candidatures in International Organisations. For instance, countries, regardless of political or economic levels, could field their own candidates to the U.N. bodies and International Organisations.   One example is that South Korea supported the candidature of former Foreign Minister Ban Ki-Moon  as U.N. Secretary-General to project South Korea  as an economic model to the developing world. Likewise, the Philippines fielded the candidature of a Department of Foreign Affairs Undersecretary, who lost his bid as Deputy Director General of the International Organisation of Migration (IOM) , aimed at projecting the Philippines as  model in managing labour migration.

Inclusivity to Non-state Actors

Lastly, multilateral diplomacy can be more inclusive and therefore more rewarding to non-state actors.  Although the primary actor of multilateral diplomacy remains primarily the state, civil society groups are recognised for their valuable role and contribution to development and may sometimes be consulted in in decision-making process.

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