Sunday, August 26, 2012


Bishops at War
In the wake of the controversy about the RH Bill a couple of bishops have gone to war against university professors and in the process have issued dire warnings against universities themselves. They threaten stripping universities of the title Catholic.  I doubt that the bishops were thinking about what is happening to the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru because there is only one Pontifical Catholic University in the Philippines, and it is not the Ateneo. At any rate, are the bishops waging a just war? I will not attempt to answer that question.  I will simply say that the professors and the universities can take care of themselves.
But, as election time approaches, there is also a threatening war against defenders of the RH Bill who might dare run for public office in the coming elections.  And since we, and not only bishops, are interested in the Church teaching  on church and politics, we might all learn something from what a young Jesuit colleague of mine has put together in a piece from which I will freely quote or paraphrase.  (Let this mention of my young colleague count as the required acknowledgment of sources needed to avoid accusations of plagiarism!)
Will a holy war against candidates who support the RH bill get the support of Benedict XVI?  In Deus est Caritas Benedict XVI emphasized the old Catholic teaching that the formation of a just society as a political task is not a direct duty of the Church; this task belongs properly to the laity. The role of the Church is indirect: to purify reason and inspire ethical political participation leading to the building of a more just society. 
The CBCP itself as a plenary body does not endorse nor disapprove candidates, but it allows individual bishops to do so. Such a two-level approach to granting or denying political blessings to candidates may prove to be confusing for Filipino Catholic voters who usually identify the statements and actions of individual bishops as the moral position of the entire hierarchy. But that is the price we pay for freedom of expression which, when not properly used by a church leader, can work even against the Church itself.
It is also good to recall what the Second Plenary Council of the Philippines PCP2 taught.  My young colleague shared these quotations from PCP2:
“The public defense of gospel values, however, especially when carried into the arena of public policy formulation, whether through the advocacy of lay leaders or the moral suasion by pastors, is not without limit. It needs emphasizing, that, although pastors have the liberty to participate in policy debate and formulation, that liberty must not be exercised to the detriment of the religious freedom of non-communicants, or even of dissenting communicants. This is a clear implication of Vatican II’s Dignitatis Humanae. This is not just a matter of prudence; it is a matter of justice. “
There may even be some Catholic believers who in all honesty do not see the truth the way the Church‘s magisterium discerns, interprets, and teaches it. In such a situation, the Church must clearly and firmly teach what it believes is the truth and require its members to form their consciences accordingly. Yet the church must also, with all charity and justice, hold on to its doctrine on religious freedom -- that the human person is bound to follow his or her conscience faithfully, and must not be forced to act contrary to it.”
When a bishop tells his pro-RH Bill congressional candidate that his diocese will campaign against him or her in future elections, the bishop is no longer seeking to persuade the legislator about the reasonableness of the Church’s position but rather the bishop is simply appealing to the legislator’s instinct of self-preservation. Such a tactic is counter-productive to the formation of a kind of politics that is based on principles because it reinforces a way of practicing politics that values expediency rather than service, justice, and the common good.
Besides, the threat against candidates would be meaningful if there were such a thing as a Catholic vote. The CBCP itself, in its Catechism on Church and Politics for the 1998 elections, had denied the existence of a Catholic vote: “there is generally no such thing as a ‘Catholic vote’ or ‘the Bishops' candidates’. This is simply a myth.  It still is today.
The CBCP Catechism provided for an extraordinary exception when a prelate can order the lay faithful to vote for one concrete political option:
This happens when a political option is clearly the only one demanded by the Gospel. An example is when a presidential candidate is clearly bent to destroy the Church and its mission of salvation and has all the resources to win, while hiding his malevolent intentions behind political promises. In this case the Church may
authoritatively demand the faithful, even under pain of sin, to vote against this particular candidate. But such situations are understandably very rare.
The CBCP intended this exception to be used only on rare and grave occasions such as when the survival of the Church and its mission would be at stake. I doubt that the CBCP would apply this to a bishop’s desire to apply political pressure on a legislator to vote against the RH Bill. 
27 August 2012

Saturday, August 18, 2012


The constitutional quality requirements for a Chief Justice are no other than the basic requirements of “competence, integrity, probity, and independence.”  No one can possess all these qualities in a degree higher than all the other nominees.  Not one of the nominees, for instance, can be considered as possessing the highest degree of competence in all fields of law.  The field of law is so broad that necessarily there are varying fields of specialization.  Precisely the Supreme Court is a collegial body in recognition of this fact and in order for it to be able resolve the variety of problems that can be brought before the Court.  In term of competence, it can be assumed that all the nominees have sufficient competence to engage in the give and take debates within the Court.
The qualities of integrity, probity, and independence are interrelated.  How the nominees are ranked according to these qualities is crucial for the President’s choice.  Which of those are the most important for the goals that the President has in mind?  The expressed dissatisfaction of the President with those listed  might give us an idea of what kind of Chief Justice he wants.
Amending HB 4244. Those who are seriously studying the RH BILL should take a look at the amendments already offered by the authors of the Bill themselves.  They are contained in a letter of Edsel Lagman to Congressman Rogelio   J. Espina, Chairman of the Committee on Population and Family Relations.  However, to understand the proposed amendments one must read and study House Bill 4224 and not just rely on criticism by some who may never have read it much less studied it. 
Yes, there are good number of misconceptions about the RH Bill and there can be dishonest critics who set up straw men they can merrily attack.  One may ask, for instance, how many among the church authorities have read and studied HB 4244?  This is an import question because I see the amendments as efforts to adjust to the transition from an established Catholic church whose word was law to the demands of freedom of religion today.
I propose in this column to pull together the various amendments already accepted by the authors of the Bill.  I shall take up the pertinent sections of the bill one by one.
Section 13.  Role of barangay health workers.  Instead of saying that they should “give priority to family planning work” simply say they should “help implement this Act.”  This should obviate the complaints that family planning is being given undue emphasis.
Section 15.  Funding Mobile Health Services.  Charge the funding to the National Government instead of to the Priority Development Fund of Congressmen (PDAF) while at the same time allowing individual lawmakers to use their PDAF.
Section 16.  Mandatory Age Appropriate Sex Education.  Give parents the option not to allow their children to attend mandatory sex education while at the same time giving assistance to parents who want assistance in this matter.  This is in conformity with the primary right of parents.
Section 20.  Ideal Family Size.  Delete the entire provision.  This will preclude further misinformation about the meaning of this provision.
Section 21.  Employers’ Responsibility.  Delete this because it is simply a restatement of Article 134 of the Labor Code.  Deleting it will preclude further debate.
Section 28(e)  Prohibited Acts.  Delete the provision which penalizes “any person who maliciously engages in disinformation about the intent and provisions of this Act.”  There already are penal limits on freedom of expression.
In addition to the above amendments already proposed by the authors of the consolidated bill there are others which are worth considering.  Let me mention a few:
On Age-Appropriate Reproductive Health and Sexuality Education
1. Private schools can opt to provide an alternative sexuality education curriculum based on the school’s religious beliefs or values. The government will monitor that there is a curriculum being implemented, whether the standard one or the alternative one.
2. If a public school cannot provide enough adequately trained teachers or there are public school teachers who cannot teach the government’s curriculum because of religion-based objections, the proper government agency would send trained instructors to teach the sexuality education classes.
3. An additional topic for the curriculum is the role of religious freedom and conscience in choosing the means of planning families.
On Prohibited Acts
Any healthcare service provider, whether public or private, who shall require a person to undergo a sterilization as a condition for providing basic health care or emergency care or health care assistance to indigents shall be penalized.
I realize that there are other urgent matters which Congress must consider.  But the effort of some to block the period of amendments merely as a tactic for preventing the approval of the bill at any cost does a disservice to the nation.
20 August 2012

Saturday, August 4, 2012


A little over a year ago, or on May 22, 2011 to be exact, I wrote an article for Inquirer entitled “My Stand on the RH Bill.” With the vote on the RH Bill approaching people have  asked me whether my stand on the bill has changed.  Let me restate the salient points I made then.
First, let me start by saying that I adhere to the teaching of the Church on artificial contraception even if I am aware that the teaching on the subject is not considered infallible doctrine by those who know more theology than I do.   I know that some people consider me a heretic and that at the very least I should leave the priesthood.  But my superiors still stand by me.
Second, (very important for me as a student of the Constitution and of church state relations) I am very much aware of the fact that we live in a pluralist society where various religious groups have differing beliefs about the morality of artificial contraception which is very much at the center of the controversy. But freedom of religion means more than just the freedom to believe. It also means the freedom to act or not to act according to what one believes. Hence, the state should not prevent people from practicing responsible parenthood according to their religious belief nor may churchmen pressure President Aquino, by whatever means, to prevent people from acting according to their religious belief. As the Compendium on the Social Teaching of the Catholic Church says, “Because of its historical and cultural ties to a nation, a religious community [like the Catholic church] might be given special recognition on the part of the State. Such recognition must in no way create discrimination within the civil or social order for other religious groups” and “Those responsible for government are required to interpret the common good of their country not only according to the guidelines of the majority but also according to the effective good of all the members of the community, including the minority.”
Third, the obligation to respect freedom of religion is also applicable to the state. Thus, I advocate careful recasting of the provision on mandatory sexual education in public schools without the consent of parents. (I assume that those who send their children to Catholic schools accept the program of Catholic schools on the subject.) My reason for requiring the consent of parents is, in addition to free exercise of religion, the constitutional provision which recognizes the sanctity of the human family and “the natural and primary right of parents in the rearing of the youth for civic efficiency and the development of moral character.” (Article II, Section 12).
Fourth, the duty to care for sexual and reproductive health of employees should be approached in a balanced way so that both the freedom of religion of employers and the welfare of workers will be attended to.  In this regard it may be necessary to reformulate the provisions already found in the Labor Code.
Fifth, I hold that public money may be spent for the promotion of reproductive health in ways that do not violate the Constitution. Thus, for instance, it may be legitimately spent for making available reproductive materials that are not abortifacient.  Public money is neither Catholic, nor Protestant, nor Muslim or what have you and may be appropriated by Congress for the public good without violating the Constitution.
Sixth, we should be careful not to distort what the RH Bill says.  The RH Bill does not favor abortion. The bill clearly prohibits abortion as an assault against the right to life. 
Seventh, in addition, I hold that abortifacient  pills and devises should be banned by the Food and Drug Administration. However, determining which of the pills in the market are abortifacient is something for the judicial process to determine with the aid of science experts.  Our Court has already upheld the banning of at least one device found to be abortifacient.
Eighth, I am dismayed by preachers telling parishioners that support for the RH bill ipso facto is a serious sin or merits excommunication!  I find this to be irresponsible.
Ninth, I claim no competence to debate about demographics.
Tenth, I have never held that the RH Bill is perfect. But if we have to have an RH law, I intend to contribute to its improvement as much as I can.  I hold that the approval of the RH Bill today will not end all debate about it.  It will only shift the arena for debate from the raucous and noisy rally fields to the more sober judicial arena where reason has a better chance of prevailing.
Finally, there are many valuable points in the bill’s Declaration of Policy and Guiding Principles which are desperately needed especially by poor women who cannot afford the cost of medical service. There are specific provisions which give substance to these good points. They should be saved even if we must litigate later about those which we disagree on.  In other words, let us not burn the house just to roast a pig.
6 August 2012