It was only last month when the Papal Nuncio to the Philippines, Archbishop Giussepe Pinto hailed the country as the ‘last bastion against divorce’. The envoy from the Vatican underscored the fact that aside from the Holy See, the Philippines is the only country not to have any form of divorce in the world.
While the whole world has soften their stance on traditional Christian values and adopting to more-liberal measures, the Philippines managed to preserve a centuries-old inheritance from its’ Spanish colonizers. As the world embraces on new-found freedoms such as divorce, pre-marital sex and same-sex marriage, the Philippines persists on the values laid down by religion and creed.
Although it is essential to maintain our morals, we must bear in mind that the first and foremost duty of a head-of-state is to ensure that the demand of the majority is given utmost priority and to be responded to immediately. In a nation of 85 million Christians, this is certainly not the case.
A survey taken by leading polling organization Social Weather Stations (SWS) last June 2011 showed that eighty-two percent, or roughly 8 out of 10 respondents, supported the idea of planning family size. This is a staggering number, a statistic that cannot be ignored. There is a clear appeal from the masses to make family planning a priority in this fast-growing country. The rapidly-increasing population has always been a hurdle for our economy and a headache for past heads-of-state. To make matters worse, no clear plan can be conceived to counter the boom of the population. The largely-influential Catholic Church, spearheaded by the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) has been a stumbling block to all efforts made by the government. The argument that sexual intercourse should be pro-life instead of for pleasure and the importance of family compels House Bill no. 4244 or better known as the “Reproductive Health and Population Development Act of 2008“ filed by Albay Representative Edcel Lagman as immoral and against the Catholic Church.
The said act envisions the designation of family planning supplies as ‘essential medicines’, emergency obstetric care be given to women and sexuality education be mandatory to students. Contrary to claims made the CBCP, a clause legalizing abortion, or the termination of the unborn fetus, does not exist in the said bill. As a matter of fact, the bill aims to avoid any unwanted contraception which usually leads to abortion, which is usually done in rural areas by unskilled abortionists which then puts the mother’s life at risk.
At the same time last year that the country’s GDP rose by 7.6%, the population increased by 4.5% as well. Our economy is progressing, but if the population continues to swell how will the people feel the gains that it brings? As a sinking ship needs to plug its’ hole before it can start pumping out water, so too should an economy control its’ population before it can start making strides. The clamor for more job opportunities in the country would only amplify as our numbers continue to double. More children would also require more schools and health facilities, social services which the government is struggling to deliver to the people.
Doubtlessly, as Filipinos it is important to preserve our culture and heritage. As stated in the preamble of the 1987 Constitution, as citizens we are tasked to: “conserve and develop our patrimony”. Christianity and our well-knit values definitely count as being part of our heritage; the CBCP has stressed this enough. But before PNoy and Congress decide on whether to veto HB 4244 or not they should, as how they would in any other legislation they craft, weigh up the pros and cons. Will it truly benefit the people? Are all conditions and clauses in the said bill preferable and just? Is the interest of the majority being prioritized in this piece of legislation? The bishops must also bear in mind that although 90% of Filipinos are Christians, a number of our countrymen belong to different denominations as well. Forcing to impose Christian beliefs on them is just plain bullying.
The CBCP may argue that they are the sentinels of God’s people, safeguarding their values, but they have to decipher why the majority of their flock lean towards the idea of a Reproductive Health Bill. Eighty-two percent is a percentage that cannot be taken for granted. As an early Christian proverb would say, “the voice of the people is the voice of God.”