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The Church’s muted voice

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The Church’s muted voice

It’s said that during his long reign as dictator, Ferdinand Marcos kept a copy of a draft divorce law in his desk drawer. This was so that if and when the clergy raised a public outcry against human rights abuses committed by the police and military, he could summon a representative of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines and show him a copy of the divorce decree. Perhaps Marcos didn’t need to say anything; the threat was pretty obvious. But if so, in time the threat of legalizing divorce in the Philippines proved inutile, even if to this day, there is still no divorce in this country.

(We are the only state in the world, save for the Vatican, where divorce remains illegal.)

What broke the dam, and the Church’s deafening silence against martial law, was when Marcos troopers entered a Jesuit seminary and arrested everyone they found on charges of subversion. This seedling of protest grew taller and sturdier with the assassination of Ninoy Aquino in 1983 and the three years of street protests that followed. Indeed, it was Jaime Cardinal Sin, speaking over the Church-run Radio Veritas, who issued the call for “people power” that sparked the Edsa Revolt and led to the fall of the Marcoses and to a real end to martial law.

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Today, concerned citizens as well as many in the rest of the world are still puzzling over the seeming public indifference to the thousands of killings and arrests that have taken place in the six months of the Duterte administration.

Church leaders, including the Manila archbishop, Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle, and the CBCP president, Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas, have spoken out. But their declarations—measured, mournful, indeed muted in the extreme—have been largely ignored.

Why is this so? Has the Church lost its vaunted influence on Filipino society and public life?

On one hand, I am disturbed at the loss—or at least reduction—of influence of the Catholic Church.

Who shall, to employ a whistle-blower’s rhetorical question, “modify the greed” of the nation’s officials? Who is left to still their bloodlust, to sate their hunger for impunity, and curb their murderous, bullying instincts? What other institution in the country can match the heft and credibility of the Catholic community?

But to take another view of things, perhaps it’s also good in a way that the Church has been relegated to the spiritual and moral realm, even if its political interventions have always been couched in moral and spiritual rhetoric.

Recently, President Duterte signed Executive Order No. 12 which, as stated in its heading, supports the full implementation of the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Law, defines the roles of various government agencies (local government units, the Departments of Health, Education, and Social Welfare, and the Commission on Women), and even provides the needed funds.

As yesterday’s editorial in this paper put it, in an ideal world, there would have been no need for Mr. Duterte to issue the EO, since the RH Law was enacted in 2012 and was declared “not unconstitutional” by the Supreme Court.

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But to our shock, the law remains far from being implemented, with the same high court issuing a temporary restraining order on the use and licensing of certain contraceptives, thereby depriving the women most in need of them.

There are, to be sure, ways to skirt the TRO, such as coursing contraceptive distribution through LGUs (only the DOH is covered by the TRO) or nongovernment organizations. The Food and Drug Administration could also take up the high court’s challenge to test and certify contraceptives whose licenses have been held, or will soon lapse, as being safe and nonabortifacient.

The Church is, has been and will always be opposed to most forms of modern contraception. But it is well within its rights as an institution to speak its mind and lobby for influence. It is up to the government to do what needs to be done for the greater good, whether or not the Church approves. Perhaps Mr. Duterte’s order will put some backbone in our government officials whose mandate it is to look after their constituents’ welfare.

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TAGS: Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, divorce, Divorce Law, edsa revolt, Ferdinand Marcos, Jaime cardinal sin, Marcos dictatorship, Ninoy Aquino, Ninoy Aquino assassination, nonabortifacient, People Power, Radio Veritas, street protests
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