Monday, May 30, 2011

On the Reproductive Health Bill (FilAm Star, May 26, 2011)

It is said that life is fleeting enough for someone who manages to live well into adulthood and old age. How about for the humanoid entity (if we can use this term) that is created at the moment of conception? In that entity, or “being” if you prefer, throbs the possibility and potential of human life. But can it really be considered alive at that instance? Can it be considered a person, a living human being, a mortal individual? The Catholic Church, as it is steered by Vatican doctrine, says yes, that the moment of conception is the indisputably sacred and irrevocable genesis of human life.

There is a seismic convergence of forces that forms the other side of the divide of this argument. These forces, among others, are the modern ethos, scientific thought, activist feminism, the rights of the individual in a secular society, and the principle of a female’s autonomy over her own body.

Added to this whole array of dissenting discourses is the democratic concept of the separation of church and state. Right now, this concept is being confronted by the Roman Catholic Church of the Philippines which has expressed its wholehearted opposition to the proposed Reproductive Health Bill. A basic argument of the Church against the bill is that it promotes artificial contraception, a key component of the pending legislation.

Contraception to the Church is tantamount to committing a form of evil. One such form is based on the belief that it is akin to murder in the eyes of God. Now I strongly disagree with this, but I wish to avoid conducting an intractable debate that is attributed to an interpretation founded on religious faith and another that is tied to a more profane worldview. What concerns me more in regards to the uproar over the Reproductive Health bill is that it has been triggered by the Philippine Roman Catholic Church’s hardcore and dogmatic Christianization of what is at the center of it, a public health, welfare, and demographics issue.

As I have written in the past, the Church, as much as anyone else, is entitled to its opinion on reproductive health. The Philippines is a free country after all (at least on the surface) and constructive disagreement can be a good thing. The problem begins however, when the Church uses fear, intimidation, coercion, unmerited criticism, and what is the declining weight of its socio-political authority to influence public policy, a field that is outside of their core metaphysical jurisdiction. The Philippine Catholic Church, as it is guided by the self-referential and self-righteous club that is called the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), has all but exceeded the moral, legal, institutional, and political boundaries of the separation of church and state.

From unilaterally breaking off discussions with the government, to contemplating legal action, to seriously advocating civil disobedience, and finally, to having some of its august members label President Noynoy Aquino as anti-Christian and bring up the issue of his possible excommunication, the CBCP has bared its zeal in blurring the crucial line between pragmatic public policy and private, otherworldly morality.

The concept of the separation of church and state in the Philippines will invariably be broken if the Catholic Church has its way in the RH bill battle. This would suit the church hierarchy just fine except that it would represent a dangerous lack of understanding of the socio-economic and demographic realities of modern Philippine existence and of the sexual drives that are naturally inherent in every human being.

But because of a refusal to put any store in timely perspectives that might nevertheless be deemed by hypersensitive religious absolutists as seditious to the Church’s teachings, any real reconciliation between the demands of modern society, the inner and physical struggle of the contemporary human condition, and the sacrosanct values of Roman Catholicism, is nothing more than a remote prospect.

If only the Philippine Catholic Church would accept its proper place in a democratic society and focus on piously ministering to its flock, which is its main occupation in the first place. Better yet, if only the stubborn Church prelates would recognize that many present-day Filipino Catholics are not the meek worshippers that they once were and that significant numbers of them actually support the RH bill.

ALLEN GABORRO

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