The pro-RH people shouldn’t rejoice, say the bishops. It ain’t over till it’s over. Or till the fat lady sings, and there’s actually one opposing RH in the House.
“As Manny Pacquiao would say,” says bishop Jose Oliveros, “the fight isn’t over.” Bishop Teodoro Bacani has a boxing metaphor as well. “Two more rounds to go, we will see who gets the knockout punch. This has awakened a new consciousness in our people.” And Archbishop Oscar Cruz: “My admiration goes to those representatives who voted against the RH bill notwithstanding the political pressures and financial gain. That means a good number of our lawmakers still have a good conscience and conviction.”
“We have the momentum,” enthuses Rep. Rufus Rodriguez. “Imagine, only a 9-vote margin when the full arsenal of government was there.” Mar Roxas was there, Butch Abad was there, other administration officials were there. Such heavyweights for such lightweight results.
What can one say? Sublimely ironically, the bishops’ comparison of their defeat with RH—they had been waging a war against it, Socrates Villegas coming up with the memorable line, “Contraception is corruption”—with Pacquiao’s last fight is exceedingly fitting. But they miss the point altogether. The significance of their defeat, however close the vote was, like the significance of Pacquiao’s crushing defeat in the hands of Juan Manuel Marquez, lies in the monumental loss of their psychological advantage. Pacquiao lost his aura of invincibility in the ring, the Church lost its aura of invincibility in moral discourse.
Marquez’s punch, lucky or unlucky, depending on which side of the fence you’re in, didn’t just rob Pacquiao of his crown, it robbed him of his fearfulness. He could never be put down: that was his image, that was his rep. He could be defeated, he could even be knocked down, but he could never be knocked out. He could never be crushed. Not so, Marquez proved. Pacquiao can always seek a Part 5, but it’s not just that Marquez’s confidence would be at an all-time high, it’s that Pacquiao would have to pass through other boxers, many of them bigger and stronger than he, who would no longer be awed by him, who would no longer be intimidated by him, who would want to get back at him too, who would want to crush him too. Marquez had shown the way, they would follow.
Same with the Catholic Church. For a long, long time, that Church has had its way on matters of faith and morals. It had decreed what was faithful or not, it had decreed what was moral or not. Despite its more high-profile leaders’ repeated displays of being unfaithful to their own teachings, despite its more ambitious bishops’ forgetfulness of the soul-searching query, “What does it profit a man to gain Gloria’s largesse but lose his soul?” they continued to play shepherd to sheep, to command obedience on what constituted ethical Catholic behavior. Not least by threats of hellfire in the afterlife—they did drop hints of excommunicating the pro-RH leaders, including P-Noy, at one point—and when that failed, by threats of hellfire in this life, specifically a debacle in next year’s polls.
It’s no small irony that Cruz should talk about the political pressures that were put on the congressmen, though he’s probably right about the financial gain dangled before them, if of kind rather than cash. When his Church had been openly, loudly and unrelentingly, quite apart from unconstitutionally, vowing to make the congressmen who voted for it pay for it at the polls next year. In the past, that had worked to scare the sheesh out of them, and for a while it did make some of them scarce as Congress inched to 11th hour. How long did RH take to become law? All of 14 years. That’s how strong the Catholic clout was, that’s how strong the Catholic threat was.
Indeed, it’s no small irony as well that Rodriguez should talk about the momentum going their way, and but for the presence of sundry administration officials during the voting, they might even have swung it on second reading. What can I say? He should be thankful Roxas and Abad were there, or the margin of victory for RH might have been bigger. Levity aside, the momentum has in fact gone the other way. The dam has been burst, the one that has contained, barred, stopped, the flow of change. Reasonable Catholicism should roar out of it like a rampaging flood over the next few months, or years, or decades.
Bacani is right, if in a sense he never imagined. The RH vote has awakened a new consciousness in our people. It has even awakened a new consciousness in our congressmen, the hardest people in this country to awaken, let alone to put consciousness, new or old, in. It’s not just that it’s folly for the anti-RH people to imagine they can still succeed in quashing it in the next readings, it’s that it’s utter blindness for them not to glimpse the depth and scale of change that is coming our way.
Today, it’s RH, tomorrow it’s divorce.
Why shouldn’t it happen here? Only the Vatican and the Philippines now forbid it. Italy, home of the papacy, has divorce. You can’t have any more resolutely Catholic country than Italy. Spain, which hot-wired Catholicism in our brains or souls, not entirely figuratively with a branding iron, has divorce. Hell, it even has gay marriage, the third country to have legalized it, after the Netherlands and Belgium. Are we more Catholic than them? Are we more faithful than them? Are we more moral than them?
The answer to those questions will not long remain theoretical. The aura of invincible dogmatism, or dogmatic invincibility, of the Philippine Catholic Church has been crushed. No more and no less than Pacquiao’s aura of pugilistic unconquerable-ness, or unconquerable pugilism.
That has made all the difference.