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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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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.

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