Reveille

Nation needs RH law

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We have read and heard many of the arguments put forward for and against the reproductive health (RH) bill. Frankly, some of them were a bit too complicated for my simple mind to understand and appreciate. Some were disingenuous. Some have helped to crystallize my own thoughts and sentiments. I especially want to thank my publisher, Raul C. Pangalangan, for assisting me with his ideas.

In his last column, Raul wrote about “two distinct strands—population control and human rights” that have emerged from the RH debate. I had always thought of it as more of an economic issue. Now I realize there is another aspect, perhaps even more important than population control.

I have often wondered why we pride ourselves in being the only Catholic nation in this part of the world.

What is there to be proud of? We have been lagging behind our neighbors in most stages of progress and development. In terms of corruption, we are not much better than some of our neighbors. In fact, our record is nothing to brag about. I also realize that religion is not the sole factor involved.

When bishops tell us that Typhoon “Pablo” is a sign of God’s displeasure with the RH bill, I begin to understand why all these years we have made so little progress as a nation. Only yesterday, our pastor in his homily suggested that lawmakers who support the RH bill would do so for monetary gain rather than for the national interest. I recall that some years ago under the previous administration, when the impeachment of then President Gloria Arroyo was about to be voted upon, lawmakers trooped to Malacañang and later left with what was reported to be envelopes and paper bags of cash. The Church was silent, but later there were reports of vehicles being given to some religious leaders by government agencies. The vehicles were eventually returned.

Raul provides us with two approaches to the RH deliberations.

I have my own personal thoughts. I live in a neighborhood alongside many informal settlers. Through the years the community has grown by leaps and bounds. So many children, so little opportunity. And it will continue to grow unless government provides some assistance in terms of education, birth control information and accessories, among many other needs. The children will turn out to be productive members of society or burdens to the community, possibly ending up as criminals, depending on what we do. We cannot rely on the old saying, “Bahala na ang Diyos.”

The amended RH bill is not perfect. But in most situations in life we are often faced with imperfect choices. We have to make the best of what is possible. But we must have the courage to move forward and not be held back by the past, or the nation will not be able to fully throw off the image of “sick man of Asia,” and our people will continue to be a major source of household help for other nations.

All the brilliant arguments have been placed on the table. For me it is time to listen to the voice from within. My conscience tells me that the nation needs the RH law. I hope and pray that our political leaders share my view.

But if by chance, my position on RH is wrong, I know that my God, a God of compassion and mercy, will understand and on Judgment Day will summon me to His side and whisper, “You were wrong on RH, but I myself made a few boo-boos in my lifetime.”

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Last Friday, I attended the book launch of “Philippine Army Special Forces—50 Years of Valiant Service.”

In the Armed Forces of the Philippines, there are three major units that are considered as the elite of the military organization. These are the Marines of the Philippine Navy, and the Scout Rangers and Special Forces (SF), both of the Philippine Army. When I use the term “elite” I refer to the fighting skills and discipline that are the hallmark of these units.

Often Scout Rangers and Special Forces are mistaken one for the other. Their training programs are similar, though not in certain aspects, but it is in their missions that they really differ.

Scout Rangers are involved in small unit actions that focus on stealth, infiltration and jungle combat. Long-range reconnaissance and first strike operations are their specialty. On the other hand, Special Forces are not just for counterinsurgency but also for community and nation-building. Thus, the SF soldier is trained to be proficient in civilian skills such as engineering, health care and other related missions.

The founding commander of Philippine Special Forces is Gen. Fidel V. Ramos, former president of the Republic. Together with Capt. Cesar Batilo, Lieutenants Jose Magno and Dave Abundo, he trained at the US Army Special Warfare School in Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Then Captain Ramos and Lieutenant Magno placed Nos. 1 and 2, respectively, in their class composed of officers from Asia, Europe, and South America. They formed the core group of the First Special Forces Company (Airborne) that was made operational on June 25, 1962.

The book is a treasure trove of stories about the Special Forces. But with the environment playing such a large role in our lives these days, I wish to focus on one story by Gen. Leo Alvez who served as commander of the regiment from 1989 to 1993. He calls it “the greening of Fort Magsisi.”

“When I was a Second Lieutenant we referred to the home of the Special Forces as Fort ‘Magsisi’—a hot, barren area meant to test the limits of one’s endurance. We had to walk two kilometers toward the jungle area to get some shade. When I became the Commander I told my training officer, Maj. Benito Ramos, that we should plant trees in the fort. When he expressed doubt that trees would survive on clay-like soil, I imparted what my father taught me as a kid in Cebu where the land had formed from coral deposits. The technique was simple: Dig a one cubic meter hole, fill it with appropriate soil and allow the roots to grow strong enough to penetrate the clay. It became part of the SF course for each trainee to plant at least ten trees in this way.”

Today Fort Magsisi is one of the greenest installations of the Armed Forces.

The present commander of the Special Forces is Col. Donato B. San Juan II, PMA class 1984. He should be receiving his star soon. He confesses that “the price of operational success is a greater likelihood that the regiment will be downsized. This should not be cause for concern. After all, size does not matter very much. It is the manner of employment that counts.”

One last word. Of the three elite units mentioned, it is only the Special Forces that was never involved, as a unit, in coup attempts against the government.

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