At Large

Shot across the bow

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Contrary to general impression, the Archdiocese of Manila did not pursue the case against tour guide Carlos Celdran, an official statement said recently. Convicted by a Manila court for “offending religious feelings,” Celdran faces up to a year in prison for interrupting an ecumenical service at the Manila Cathedral. Garbed in a costume reminiscent of national hero Jose Rizal, Celdran strode up to the altar while holding up a placard with a single word, “Damaso,” on it. The protest was Celdran’s way of denouncing Church interference in politics, specifically the pending passage of the reproductive health bill which local bishops opposed vigorously.

“While deeply disturbed by the incident, then Manila Archbishop Gaudencio B. Cardinal Rosales gave instructions for the Archdiocese to no longer pursue the case,” the statement said. But the public prosecutor (and a lay private prosecutor) had other ideas.

“Cardinal Rosales has long forgiven Mr. Celdran,” the statement added. But the Catholic hierarchy and many anti-RH personages, it seems, are still on the warpath—maybe not against Celdran personally, but what he stood for, the “pro-RH” camp which scored a significant victory with the recent passage of the “RH bill” into law.

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In an article in the New York Times, Floyd Whaley writes of the efforts of some groups to create a “Catholic vote” in May. “We haven’t had a reason to come together and vote as Catholics,” Whaley quotes Lorna Melegrito, executive director of Pro-Life Philippines. “We have a reason now.”

Melegrito said their group was just one of many groups “organizing a grassroots campaign in preparation for the May elections, in hopes of unseating members of Congress who supported the … measure.” Melegrito warned that “it is going to be a difficult campaign for the politicians who supported the immorality of the RH Law.”

In what could only be considered a “shot across the bow,” the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines recently issued a statement that is purportedly against political dynasties but also reiterated the bishops’ continued opposition to the RH Law, encouraging Catholics to be “politically active.”

The record of the Catholic Church’s involvement in politics is spotty. While it played a decisive role in mounting the “People Power” protests of 1986 and 2000, it also failed to stop the election of people it deemed unfit for office (Erap), and has had setbacks in its efforts to derail laws it opposed (the Rizal Law).

Nor is this the first time that the Church has waded into the electoral arena. Note that in 2010, the bishops held a “laying of hands” ceremony on presidential candidates they favored. The two chosen ones—Sen. Manuel Villar and JP delos Reyes—trailed in the outcome. Let’s wait and see if the “Catholic vote” remains a myth or emerges as a monster at the polls in May.

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Just a brief note on the recent recognition as an “Eminent Person” of Albay Representative Edcel Lagman, main sponsor of the RH bill in the House, by the Forum on Family Planning and Development.

The conferment, said Forum trustee Ernesto Pernia, was in recognition of Lagman’s “generalship or shepherding of the RH Law and other legislation like the Sin Tax Law.” It was of a piece with the effort to “cut down to size dinosaurs [who are] stumbling blocks to development in this country,” Pernia said.

For his part, Lagman, who attended the ceremony with his wife and some of his children, reminded those present of the “tasks that still lie ahead” in bringing the RH Law to reality. The law “is now enforceable even in the absence of IRR (implementing rules and regulations),” he said, even as he defended the constitutionality of the law, now the subject of several petitions by anti-RH groups in the Supreme Court.

It was, in all, a most genial and euphoric gathering, reminding everyone of the decades that had passed since the initial efforts to make reproductive rights a reality for all Filipinos.

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Among the hundreds of groups that sought accreditation from the Commission on Elections to run in the May polls under the party-list system, the poll body has chosen to accredit only one to represent persons with disabilities, or PWDs.

This is the Pilipinos with Disabilities (PWD), No. 10 in the list of accredited parties. In its approval, the Comelec said its support for PWD’s petition is “breathing life to the constitutional mandate that the weak be given power, that the voiceless be heard and that they be enabled to become veritable lawmakers themselves.”

The group’s first nominee is Mike Barretto, a long-time leader of the blind community in the country who has expanded his crusade to cover the cause of all PWDs in the country. The other nominees are: Manuel Agcaoili, Luis Jose Arellano, Adeline Ancheta-Dumapong, and Octavio San Agustin Gonzales.

There are an estimated 10 million Filipinos with disabilities and since the party-list system was subject to popular vote, no party-list group for their sector has ever won a seat in Congress. As part of its legislative agenda, PWD said it would work for amendments to local laws to “harmonize” with the provisions of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and work for new laws if necessary.

More specifically, the party-list group will work for the full implementation of the law requiring the establishment of a PWD office in every city and municipality, as well as of a national registry for PWDs, to better guide future policy. Among these are livelihood training and opportunities, specifically to get all government agencies and local government units to follow the law requiring them to give PWD groups at least 10 percent of an agency’s requirements for manpower services and material needs.

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