We are told we are on the verge of open war. The generals are mounting their cavalry; the defenders of the faith are mustering their troops. This war did not spring from the deaths of the 11 members of the New People’s Army killed in a June encounter with the Army’s 85th Infantry Battalion. Neither was it a result of the hostilities in Basilan, whose terrorists shattered the bodies of the 10 soldiers whose coffins arrived yesterday at the Villamor Air Base. The war does not involve the Chinese garrison at Scarborough, or the families of the victims of the 2009 Maguindanao massacre, or even the millions whose lives we are told are at stake at the center of Edwin Lacierda’s metaphorical war against poverty. The battle of 2012, we are told, was declared on July 23.
“Now that we are ending the backlog on textbooks, perhaps we can also avoid a backlog on students,” said President Aquino at his third State of the Nation Address. “I believe responsible parenthood is the answer.”
This, according to Lipa Archbishop Ramon Arguelles, is a declaration of war.
“Aquino declared an open war, a head-on collision against us and against the Catholic Church. So terrible, so blatantly Aquino missed the point,” he says. “We in the prolife movement are so disgusted with these vigorous pronouncements in support of responsible parenthood.”
The lines are clearly drawn, at least by the Catholic Church. “The battle resumes,” says the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines’ Fr. Melvin Castro. It is “unacceptable” for the President of a predominantly Catholic country to endorse what is “antilife.” The enemy is named Benigno Aquino III, the evil is contraception, the prize is the very soul of the Republic of the Philippines.
“Aquino has credited the Filipino people as his bosses for the changes made by his administration,” says Malolos Bishop Jose Oliveros. “Now he is imposing on the Filipino people his own stand on the RH bill. He should listen to the voice of the majority of our people who are Catholics.”
It is an old argument exhumed by the Catholic Church. We are Catholic. The country is mostly Catholic. The nation must employ Catholic morality. The argument falls on itself. Catholic does not mean conservative, and the millions whose birth certificates announce they are Roman Catholic do not necessarily agree with every edict of his Holiness Pope Benedict. A 2011 survey independently conducted by the Social Weather Stations puts at 82 percent respondents who believe that “the choice of a family planning method is a personal choice of couples and no one should interfere with it.”
As many as 73 percent of the respondents also said that if a couple wanted to practice family planning, relevant information on “all legal methods” should be provided by the government. The majority of the people may be Catholic, but they are, by the standards of the Catholic Church, largely immoral. Perhaps it is this immoral many that the President considers his boss.
Oliveros speaks as if opposition to the RH bill is automatic to members of the Catholic faith. The CBCP itself admits there are a number of priests among the Catholic brotherhood who themselves quietly support the RH bill. Pampanga Archbishop Paciano Aniceto, chair of the CBCP’s Episcopal Commission on Family and Life, admitted in an interview that although these priests have not openly voiced their support for the bill, the bishops are aware of their positions.
But all this is irrelevant; it is only an attempt to show the distance that exists between reality and the CBCP’s imagination. The provision of free contraception and the availability of information do not limit anyone, least of all the faithful whose hatred of the freedom to fornicate is permitted to flourish. Not a single section of the RH bill demands that Oliveros and his faithful snap on banana-flavored rubber.
Nothing stops them from excommunicating the erring and condemning the immoral. The Philippines may be largely Catholic, but it is fully secular. At its foundation is respect for individual choice, and it is not bound by the choices of men who happily volunteer the unlimited use of uteruses that are not their own.
What is damning about this blitzkrieg attack from the Catholic Church is not so much its emphasis on morality as its own hypocrisy. Shame on the President, they say, for misleading the Filipino. Shame on the man for his selective pursuit of his promised path to righteousness. “Do not kill,” says Sorsogon Bishop Arturo Bastes to the President after his Sona.
And so they declare war on contraception while they themselves promote natural family planning, all the while howling at a killer President and his legion of antilife advocates.
Where were these men of the Church when the Arroyo administration condoned the massacre of dozens of journalists and activists? How many of them declared open war on the President after reports were released of over 90 civilians lost to extrajudicial killings in the last two years? Did the CBCP as a body comment on the President’s failure to address in the Sona his own administration’s inability to bring closure to the Maguindanao massacre?
Bishop Bastes himself was vocal against human rights violations in Sorsogon, has himself protested that the impunity today is similar to the conditions during martial law, and yet his request for justice is nowhere near the rage he has demonstrated against the President’s careful support for the RH bill.
The Church now threatens the government with its numbers come elections. Cebu Archbishop Emeritus Ricardo Cardinal Vidal said the CBCP will draw a list of national and local candidates against the RH bill for endorsement to the voting public. It is the same threat they made in 2010, admitting publicly that it is better to vote for a crook than for a supporter of contraception. Legislators were elected in spite of the threat, although the Church says it was probably because “there must be other convening factors beside the issue.”
It is easy for the powerful to claim moral authority, not so easy when the lambs are more recalcitrant than the shepherds would like to claim. The oddest of all odd Church arguments came from Bastes himself, complaining that the President’s support for RH “is undermining the moral force of the Catholic Church.”
It is an odd and very dangerous concession—that the Church’s moral force is so fragile, so inconstant, that it is necessary for the government itself to protect its existence. They call the President an enemy, and yet concede he has the power to destroy the faith they claim is infallible. Yet protecting the powerful has never been the responsibility of any secular government. There is no cause to make the passing of this bill the last front of Catholic morality. The debate over contraception could have been no more than a matter of secular choice, but the Church will not allow it, and so the battle lines are drawn.
This is not a war that Mr. Aquino declared. It is a last stand by the old guard, one that fails to see it has already lost.