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Editorial

Religion trumping science

/ 05:12 AM August 10, 2019

Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind,” declared Albert Einstein, who certainly knew about science but whose authority on religion is, shall we say, doubtful.

These days, in the halls of the Philippine Congress, science and religion are locked in a battle of wills. Or perhaps we should say the minds of legislators are engaged in a clash of priorities. While moral values should certainly permeate lawmaking, some legislators believe religion should supersede the truths established by science. Others assert that science, or simply facts, should hold sway over faith or sentiment, at least in the crafting and implementing of laws that will affect all Filipinos, even nonbelievers.

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Take the draft divorce bill, which has been “pending” with the Philippine legislature for decades— save for a brief period during the American colonial occupation and for Muslim Filipinos. The story is told that when the Philippine bishops called on then President Marcos to express their concern over mounting human rights abuses, the dictator pointedly displayed a copy of a draft divorce decree on his desk. So unyielding was the Church on the “sanctity” of marriage, that Marcos could use the threat of divorce to defang or at least blunt, the bishops’ opposition.

In any case, Marcos is long gone, but divorce remains officially anathema, despite a 2017 Social Weather Stations survey showing that 53 percent of Filipinos now favor legalizing it (32 percent said it should remain disallowed). These days, the issue is once again in the headlines, with bills pending in both houses of Congress. In the House, Rep. Edcel Lagman and the Gabriela party list have had a bill awaiting debate since last year. Under the 18th Congress, divorce measures have been filed by two women senators: Pia Cayetano and Risa Hontiveros.

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Barely had the ink on their bills dried when other senators, mainly male, voiced their stiff opposition to divorce. Sen. Joel Villanueva drew a line in the sand when he said a divorce bill would be passed in the Senate only “over my dead body,” saying ours is a Christian nation “where marriage is considered sacred.” Forgotten, of course, is the fact that there are non-Christian Filipinos (Muslims among them) and those that profess no faith. Also, that other majority Christian countries have long legalized divorce, and that the Philippines is the lone UN-member country not to offer this legal relief to couples.

But while Villanueva and other like-minded legislators are staunchly against the legalized termination of marriage, some of them also see no problem supporting and even fast-tracking the legal termination of lives via the death penalty. Sen. Manny Pacquiao even went so far as to justify the death penalty by citing the crucifixion of Jesus, implying perhaps that the Son of God supported the measure since He could very well have saved his own life.

Such “religious” evidence flies in the face of research that shows that the death penalty by itself is no deterrent to crime. Rather it is the certainty of arrest and conviction and imprisonment that makes criminals hesitate. Given the massive holes in our criminal justice system, it would seem most logical to first patch up those holes (such as the conviction of drug lords, for instance) before resorting to the ultimate punishment.

The last instance of religion trumping scientific evidence has to do with the delayed or erratic implementation of the reproductive health (RH) law, enacted more than six years ago. Having survived challenges to its constitutionality, including a lengthy tussle before the Supreme Court, the RH law is still far from achieving its goal of increasing the contraceptive prevalence rate (CPR, or the number of couples availing themselves of modern family planning). The current CPR stands at only 40 percent, still a far cry from the target of 65 percent by 2022.

To make matters worse, the rate of pregnancy among young people is rising, compromising not just the future of young people but of their children as well. Puzzlingly, a cleric has blamed this on the availability of contraceptives, which he claims “encourages” young people to engage in sex. Given the obstacles to youth accessing family planning services and the long-delayed full implementation of the comprehensive sexuality education module in public schools, which to this day emphasizes abstinence as the main mode of protection against pregnancy, one wonders from where the good reverend drew his conclusions. Perhaps from blind faith?

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TAGS: Philippine Congress, Religion, Rep. Edcel Lagman, RH law, Science, Supreme Court
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