Yesterday, the Philippines went to war. The president’s website displayed an inverted Philippine flag. The flag is only inverted in times of War. The matter however intentional or not, was incredulous for most Filipinos. We still teach school kids the the proper way that the flag is displayed, correct? Ironically, the entry was about celebrating Flag day. To the Palace’s credit, the entry was taken down.
Perhaps, the inverted flag is about war being fought about the Reproductive Health Bill (RH Bill). The bill is being debated in Congress. While it isn’t called that per se, the Reproductive Health Bill being debated in Congress has sparked war. Allegedly, an Anti-RH advocate did battle with a Pro-RH supporter. This fight happened in the halls of Congress no less. Sadly, it wasn’t a war at the session hall, debating the merits of the bill. It was a fist fight in the halls of Congress.
The tiff in congress is an example of animosity created by the Reproductive Health bill. It is indicative of the quality of our debate, and the distinctive state of our minds. Most of the arguments against the bill are ad hominem. You could clearly see the distinctive prejudices cropping up. Model Mocha Uson noted in her RH Bill 101 that ignorance about the bill is a reason why some are against it. “The priest is against it that is why I am against it as well.” Father Bernas flatly declared his stand on the RH Bill and called some of the clergy, irresponsible.
For a supposedly secular nation, Religion, particularly the Roman Catholic flavor dominates much of Philippine life. Belief in the leadership of the Church is deeply rooted in Philippine society. Much of the history of the Philippines is dominated by the Church. Randy David believes God in politics exists because it is hard to separate, and probably impossible in a culture like ours.
The Church is against the treatment of Religion as a private matter. As the Holy Father, Benedict the XVI said, “Is it consistent for practicing Catholics to ignore or exploit the poor and the marginalized, to promote sexual behavior contrary to Catholic moral teaching, or to adopt positions that contradict the right to life of every human being from conception to natural death? Any tendency to treat religion as a private matter must be resisted. Only when their faith permeates every aspect of their lives do Christians become truly open to the transforming power of the Gospel.”
It is why for some Catholics support for the RH Bill and being Catholic are not distinct. For them, one can not be Catholic and support the RH Bill. Take Manny Pacquiao who wants to ban condoms in the Philippines.
Yet, it has been the Health department’s policy to promote use of artificial contraception in the fight against AIDS for example. Family planning is also Department of Health policy.
From the religious point of view, the treatment of religion as a private matter weakens the influence of the Church. And you can see why the CBCP is fighting all out to keep the Reproductive Health bill from passing. It dilutes Church influence.
It is why there is a growing voice that would demand the Church start paying taxes. Everyone does, why shouldn’t the Church do the same? Why shouldn’t the Church pay taxes when it seems to want to influence Philippine society?
Health is not a religious issue because it transcends religious boundaries. Muslim Filipinos need health care as much as Catholic ones do. Their faith matters, as much as a Catholic’s. So our public policy does not come from the Pope nor should it come from the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines.
Are there legitimate questions about the RH Bill? For one thing, do we really need an RH BIll if the Department of Health has already made it policy? What happens when as a health worker, you refuse to follow the law based on religious grounds?
As Father Bernas points out the RH Bill is imperfect. While it is imperfect in its present form, there is no doubt in my mind that there should be a Reproductive Health bill. It is ultimately about choice. Whether or not I choose natural family planning methods or artificial contraception— is my choice. It is a private choice, just as my religion is a private matter. It would be nice to introduce that choice to as many people as possible. Whether or not my choice leads me to sin is first between God and I, and second between my religion and I. Religion is a private matter.
Photo credit: Some rights reserved by robertelyov