NEW YORK—I couldn’t quite believe it when I first heard about the Reproductive Health bill finally being passed by Congress. The final vote was 13 to 8 in the Senate and 133 to 79 in the House of Representatives. Panels from the House and the Senate need to meet to iron out the differences in their respective versions after which the final bill can then be sent to President Aquino for his signature.
Who would have thought? After at least a decade-long struggle to have sane government policies to help regulate population growth, the bill passed, in spite of the still prevalent notion pushed by our honorable churchmen of contraception being the equivalent of abortion—so absolutely and clearly wrongheaded one can only conclude that malicious, deliberate misinformation lies at the heart of it. I would suppose that having someone like Senator Vicente Sotto and Congressman Manny Pacquiao take their marching orders from the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines strengthened rather than weakened support for the bill. The former quotes without attribution and refuses to consider that plagiarism, while the latter’s expertise lies mainly in the boxing ring.
As for the CBCP, well, no surprise in their invocation of a vengeful God, to whom naturally they have a hot line. In a pastoral letter, the bishops all but said young people would soon be having sex off the charts: “The youth are being made to believe that sex before marriage is acceptable, provided you know how to avoid pregnancy. Is this moral? Those who corrupt the minds of children will invoke divine wrath on themselves.” I don’t know what country or even what century the good bishops live in, but I have news for them: the young are having sex before marriage as they have in the past and will do so in the future. The CBCP has said it will challenge the constitutionality of the law.
The main beneficiaries of the RH legislation will be poor families, as the middle and upper classes already have access to medical services and the income to afford contraceptives such as birth control pills. The bill represents the triumph of those who believe that, like their more moneyed compatriots, the poor should have the right to family planning and the same choices when it comes to the size of their families. Every year there are an estimated 3.4 million pregnancies of which roughly fifty percent are unintended, according to the United Nations Population Fund. Corollary to that, the Fund points out, is an average of 11 pregnancy-related deaths every single day.
The law will be especially helpful to the poor living in rural and remote areas, providing through public health centers the means for proper birth control. It will be particularly beneficial to women who can now have some control over if and when to get pregnant.
Will such legislation mean a reduction in poverty rates? Not necessarily but it certainly is the right step in the right direction. I can’t help but think that the church’s opposition to rational and beneficial family planning is an unconscious (or perhaps not so unconscious) fear that their mass base will dwindle, as family size gets smaller and income proportionately rises. The Church often trumpets its role in being a champion of the poor, which means the Church needs the poor as much as the poor think they need the Church.
Maybe legal divorce is not too far off—the Republic of the Philippines is the only country in the world, except for the Vatican, where divorce is still a no-no. Of course, if you were married in church and wealthy enough to afford the expensive process of petitioning the Vatican to dissolve yours, you could get one. It may not be called divorce (“annulment” is the term used) but it looks, feels, and sounds like one. If on the other hand a couple lacks the wherewithal to go through such a process, they simply separate. House Bill 1799 being proposed by the partylist Congresswomen Luzviminda Ilagan and Emerenciana De Jesus of Gabriela would legalize divorce and thus open up this avenue to the rest of the populace.
One hopes that the stranglehold the institutional Catholic Church has on Philippine society has been weakened, a stranglehold that has lasted since the Spanish friars set foot on the islands in 1565 and a brand of religion that has been more bane than boon took root, weeds that took over a flourishing and beautiful tropical garden and killed many healthy flora. Ever so slowly but surely that garden is being cleared of mala yerba.
Copyright L.H. Francia 2012