Saturday, September 24, 2011


I use the phrase family planning because it is a phrase that covers a broad spectrum of ways of limiting the number of children. It can include abstention from sexual congress intended to beget children. It can include what are called natural methods of preventing conception. It can include artificial means of preventing conception. It also includes abortion. All these contribute to the reduction and regulation of the number of the children that are brought into this world.
In the current debate brought about by the introduction of the RH Bill the question of what is anti-life comes up. It is therefore important to be able to clarify what precisely is meant by being anti-life. In the current debate the phrase anti-life is often used in the most pejorative way. It is used in the sense of being against existing life. Murder, in other words.
But it can also be understood to mean not being willing or not desiring to add more human life to the already crowded population. This would be the stance of a married couple who decide to abstain from the acts that bring about life. To a certain extent this is also the stance of a young man who chooses a celibate life not because he hates children but out of a conviction that he can accomplish better what he feels he is called to do without the burden of raising children. Definitely I would not categorize such persons as being anti-life. They love life so much that they take it upon themselves to contribute in some way or other to the improvement of the quality of life of those who are already born.
We come now to contraception. Is contraception anti-life in the sense of being directed at actual life? The phrase anti-life is an active and not a passive word. The word “anti” in compound word is an active word aimed at life. Thus we must ask when life begins, because before life begins it is beyond the reach of anti-life action.
When does life begin? For me, the starting point in dealing with this very specific question is what the Constitution says. It says that the state “shall protect the life of the unborn from conception.” What this means, in the understanding of the men and women who wrote that Constitution, is that life begins at conception, that is, upon fertilization. Before fertilization there is no life. This is also the view of the Philippine Medical Society and this is the view of John Paul II. John Paul II says that life is so important that we should not do anything that will endanger it. We would be taking at least a very serious risk against life if we terminate development after fertilization.
What this means is that one who practices abstention is not anti-life. The celibate who gives up procreation for a higher calling is not anti-life. The use of contraceptive devises that only prevents fertilization is not anti-life in the sense of being an act of murder. Abortion, in the sense of expulsion of the fertilized ovum at any time after fertilization is anti-life, is abortion and is an act of murder. If life of the unborn is terminated at a stage of viability the crime is infanticide. For that reason the Penal Code and also the proposed RH Bill prohibits and penalizes abortion and infanticide.
I have heard it loosely said that what are being marketed as contraception devices are in fact abortive devices. This is loose talk. If there are such abortive devices being marketed, they should be identified scientifically, not by gossip, and withdrawn from the market. The Food and Drug Administration has the responsibility of ensuring that no abortifacient drugs be marketed. I know of one drug which was withdrawn from the market after being proved before the FDA to be abortifacient. This was the subject of a thesis of a student of mine which she defended, as required for graduation from the Ateneo Law School, before a panel of professors.
Having said all this I must also put on my hat as priest of the Catholic Church. I accept the teaching of the Catholic Church which prohibits not only abortion but also artificial contraception. Yet one might say that through this article I am in fact approving artificial contraception. I am not doing such a thing. Aside from being a Catholic priest in good standing I am also a lawyer and teacher and student of Constitutional Law. What I am doing is to place all this in the context of our constitutionally mandated pluralistic society. Not all citizens of the Philippines are Catholics. Many of them therefore do not consider artificial contraception immoral or anti-life. The teaching of my Church is that I must respect the belief of other religions even if I do not agree with them. That is how Catholics and non-Catholics can live together in harmony. The alternative, which God forbid, is the restoration of the Inquisition.
26 September 2011

Saturday, September 17, 2011


The Statute for the International Court will enter into force in the Philippines on 1 November 2011, three months after the Philippine government deposited its instrument of ratification to the Rome Statute of the International Court (ICC). We actually are one of the later joiners.
The ICC treaty itself was born on 17 July 1998 when 120 states adopted the Rome Statute as the basis for establishing a permanent International Criminal Court. It was a historic milestone. The Statute entered into force after 60 countries ratified it on July 1, 2002. The Philippines is the 117th to ratify.
The road to the formation of the Statute had a much earlier start. As early as 1950s it was already considered in the UN. It was, however, not until 1989, after the Cold War had ended, that attention was again drawn to it. The discussion came about when Trinidad and Tobago suggested that the International Law Commission establish an international criminal court to deal with drug trafficking. What came out as a result was a draft that would cover more than just drug trafficking and which would evolve into what was debated on in the Rome Conference of June-July 1998 to eventually become the Statute of the International Criminal Court. Its birth was spurred in part by the creation of the earlier International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and the International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia.
The jurisdiction of the International criminal Court, however, does not cover all kinds of criminal offenses. It covers only “the most serious crimes of concern to the international community as a whole.” According to Article 5(1) these are genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and the crime of aggression. The Rome Statute describes these crimes in detail and a supplementary text provides the elements of each of the crimes.
Now that the Philippines has become party to the Rome Statute, what are the chances of the Philippines being able to bring cases to the ICC? The preconditions for the exercise of ICC jurisdiction will make such occasions very rare indeed, if at all. The preconditions are that the alleged crime was committed on the territory of a state party to the Statute, that the State of the person accused of the crime is a party to the Statute, and finally that the crime is not being investigated or prosecuted by national authorities or that national authorities are unwilling or incapable of genuinely carrying out the investigation or prosecution.
In other words, the jurisdiction of the ICC is complementary. It is not intended to replace national courts. This flows from a recognition of national sovereignty. The aim of those who drafted the Statute was to create an independent, fair, impartial and effective court.
Postscript. This postscript has nothing to do with the International Criminal Court. In fact it is very parochial in scope. It is a about an ordinance or proposed ordinance from the same barangay that came out with a very controversial ordinance about contraception. This time it is about purifying the barangay population. The ordinance is entitled “Ordinance enforcing the proper use and control of residential houses and lots within Barangay Ayala Alabang, including maintaining records of residents and monitoring transient or temporary residents and providing penalties for the violation thereof.”
Section 1 states the heart of the ordinance: “It shall be the duty and responsibility of all lot owners, homeowners and tenants to ensure that the residential houses they own and occupy be limited strictly for the use of one (1) single family unit up to the fourth civil degree by consanguinity, and their house helpers, i.e., servants, caregivers, gardeners and drivers.” There is also a provision on the uses of empty lots within the barangay.
A Whereas clause seems to indicate that the ordinance was partly inspired by reports of the presence of foreign students under circumstances that do not come under the list of legitimate occupants as found in the Ordinance’s Section 1. My impression, however, is that the terms of Section 1 will effectively exclude all foreigners, except for foreigners who have owned lots in the baranggay prior to the 1935 Constitution. I doubt that there are any such. Foreigners now cannot acquire private lots. Will this restriction on foreigners imposed by a state entity have an international implication?
It will be interesting to watch what will happen to or under this ordinance and whether it will suffer the same fate as the earlier ordinance on contraception.
19 September 2011

Saturday, September 10, 2011


9/11 Remembered. Yesterday Americans celebrated the tenth anniversary of the terrorist attack that brought down two New York towers and killed hundreds of civilians. One can find in YouTube quite a number of videos depicting the event from different angles. Reflections on the event can also be found in various media outlets. Meanwhile the United States government has issued warnings that more terrorist attacks could be coming.
The reactions of those directly affected by the event have been very varied. Some still harbor anger and resentment against the faceless perpetrators of the crime and often focus their resentment indiscriminately against Muslims in general. Others have learned to forgive, even if they cannot forget, and they warn against generalizing judgment bout Muslims.
There is a widely reviewed PBS video entitled “Forgiveness: A time to Love and a Time to Hate.” ( It is an exploration of various stories ranging “from the Amish families for the 2006 shooting of their children in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania; the struggle of '60s radicals to cope with the serious consequences of their violent acts of protest; the shattering of a family after the mother abandons them, only to return seeking forgiveness; the legacy and divisiveness of apartheid and the aftermath of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings in South Africa; the penitential journey of a modern-day Germany, confronting the horrific acts of the Holocaust; and the riveting stories of survivors of the unimaginably, brutal Rwandan genocide.”
A Jesuit writer who was about to review the video was warned by another Jesuit who said: “Don’t be like so many religious voices who urge reconciliation at the drop of a hat, often enough before they have even acknowledged any real and painful conflict!” A reviewer also wrote: “Once a uniquely religious word, forgiveness now is changing and there is no consensus about what it is and what it is becoming. However you define forgiveness, its power is real — and never more so when it struggles with the unforgivable. Inevitably, as Whitney reveals [in the PBS video], its new role in the world raises serious and complex questions: why is forgiveness in the air today; what does that say about us and the times we live in; what are its power, its limitations and in some instances its dangers; has it been cheapened or deepened... or both?”
I have never experienced being a victim of an atrocious offense myself. Hence, I cannot really say from experience what it means to be willing to forgive and how capable I am of forgiving. In the gospel reading for yesterday, Peter asked Our Lord whether one must be willing to forgive seven times. We might say that Peter was already being overly generous. But Our Lord corrected him saying seventy times seven times. Of course we know that Jesus would later say from the Cross, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”
I can only pray that, if ever I should be confronted with a challenge similar to those recounted in the PBS video, I will have at least the seven-time generosity of Peter.
About Sunday Sermons. In talking with friends I often hear complaints about the quality and length of Sunday sermons. I smile when I recall that when I was a kid, my father, who was a town physician, would walk out of the church after the gospel to visit his patients and still be back for the Credo! I did not complain then because at that time, when I reached a certain age, my mother did not object to my walking out to talk with friends during the sermon. I guess that was part of how I got my vocation to the priesthood!
Recently I came across an article which can keep doctors from walking out to visit their patients during the sermon. Let me share it with fellow priests. I quote:
“Eight minutes, tops. That is how long an average Sunday sermon should last, according to the Rev. Roy Shelly of the Loyola Institute for Ministry in New Orleans. On weekdays, sermons should be even shorter: three to five minutes. The goal is not to shorten the liturgy, as some restless pew sitters may wish, but to be succinct and stay on point. It is much more difficult to speak for eight minutes, Shelly says, than to preach for 20. In the words of Archbishop Fulton Sheen: ‘If you want me to speak for an hour, I’m ready. If you want me to speak for 10 minutes, I’ll need a week.’
“In workshops with preachers, Father Shelly employs a neat teaching tool. First he asks the preacher to summarize his message in one sentence. After the sermon is delivered, parishioners are asked to write down a one-sentence summary of what they heard. These are collected and reviewed later by the preacher.
“In addition to brevity, preachers should be persuaded to stay focused on the week’s readings. Avoid using the pulpit to speak about service trips or the March for Life. There are other times and places to address such subjects. Well prepared, Scripturally grounded sermons are essential to a good liturgy. They could both satisfy a spiritual thirst and bring disaffected Catholics back to the pews.”
Good luck!
12 September 2011