Rizal and RH | Inquirer Opinion
At Large

Rizal and RH

MAYBE REPRODUCTIVE health advocates are going a little overboard, I thought to myself when I read the press release about an activity today billed as: “Cherish Rizal’s Heritage: Pass the Reproductive Health Bill.”

Indeed, there would seem to be little to link our national hero, whose 150th birth anniversary we observe this month, with the pending passage of the RH bill, which seems on the surface to have something to do mainly with women, mothers, babies and sperm donors.

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Then I thought a bit about the life of Jose Rizal, specifically an aspect of it that is often featured in magazines and even textbooks: his active sex life. Of course, the textbook authors put it a little more, uhm, delicately. They prefer to call the subject matter “The Loves of Rizal” or some other romantic claptrap. But historians are wont to paint our peripatetic hero as some kind of traveling lothario, someone with a “girl in every port,” who managed to strike up friendships, close relationships or intimacies with women wherever he went. And then went on to write about them.

It’s a wonder Rizal didn’t end up fathering more children than the baby that Josephine Bracken, his last love and common-law wife, claimed to have lost in a miscarriage. Although that reminds me of the “urban legend” that speculates that Rizal may have fathered no less than Adolf Hitler, via the hero’s German girlfriend.

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Anyway, before the Rizalistas and keepers of his memory lynch me, Akbayan Party List, Likhaan and other women’s and youth groups, which are behind the “Rizal and RH” activity at the Batasan this morning, say the occasion is meant to honor the nationalist and martyr as well as push for the passage of the RH bill because of “Rizal’s heritage of promoting education, knowledge and progress … the same values being promoted by the proposed RH Bill.”

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THEY add that they intend to draw a parallelism with the equally fevered battle to pass the Rizal Law in the 1950s. The law, which mandated that all educational institutions in the country offer courses about Rizal and his works, was vehemently opposed by the Catholic hierarchy when it was proposed in 1955. In a line now echoed by anti-RH legislators, opponents of the Rizal Law argued that the legislation violated the “freedom of conscience and religion” of Filipino Catholics. This was because Rizal’s writings, specifically his novels “Noli Me Tangere” and “El Filibusterismo” were strongly anti-clerical and lampooned and lambasted the hypocrisy of the Spanish clergy in the Philippines.

Indeed, this is the reason the single word “Damaso,” in tour guide and social critic Carlos Celdran’s one-man protest action at the Manila Cathedral, resonated so powerfully not just with RH supporters but also with the gathered prelates and religious figures he confronted. Padre Damaso was a character in “Noli” and through the decades he came to symbolize all the frailty and venality of priests and bishops, instantly conjuring images of portly friars living off the fat of the land while preaching humility and servility to the indios.

As we all know, the Rizal Law was passed and signed into law, and even staunchly Catholic educational institutions like the University of Santo Tomas (which counts Rizal as an alumnus) ended up offering the Rizal Course in its classrooms. The world as we know it, or even the faith of young Catholic men and women, did not come crumbling to ruination with the teaching of Rizal’s life and writings. And neither would the Filipino family or family values with the passage of the RH bill.

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AS EXPECTED, the real intent of senators behind the filing of the bills on the “Protection of the Unborn Child” has been revealed to be actually an attempt to delay, if not derail, the expected passage of the RH bill.

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Filed by Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Vicente Sotto III, Jinggoy Ejercito Estrada, Ralph Recto and Bong Revilla Jr., the bills would, on the surface, seek an investigation into the efficacy and “modes of action” of oral contraceptives, the IUD and other drugs and devices to determine whether these are “abortifacients,” or cause the expulsion of a fetus.

But Democratic Socialist Women of the Philippines (DSWP) chairperson Elizabeth Angsioco says the bills are in effect really seeking answers to the question of “When does life begin?” Now this is a question that has been debated for centuries, with no clear conclusion in sight, even by scientists or the medical community.

“Dealing with this question will waste precious time and people’s money because consensus will not be achieved,” Angsioco adds. “The authors, all known to be against the controversial but widely supported Reproductive Health (RH) bill said they intend to clarify which methods of family planning are abortifacient. This can easily be ascertained by going through the list of the World Health Organization’s List of Essential Medicines which clearly and separately categorizes contraceptives and abortives. Thus, these hearings are unnecessary.”

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COMMENTING on the motives of the five senators, she notes that “They know that there would be no unity on the issues of when life begins or which contraceptives are abortifacient. They merely want to further delay the sponsorship of the RH bill in the Senate, and this is frustrating.”

These “unborn bills,” she adds, pit unborn children versus the mothers, a development which is as unsavory as they are cynical. “The provisions clearly protect only the unborn and totally forget about the mothers,” adds Angsioco. If the authors truly want to provide mothers and the unborn “equal protection” as mandated in the Constitution, “they cannot be selective … the rights and welfare of mothers cannot be subsumed under the rights of the unborn.”

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TAGS: columns, family planning, Jose Rizal, opinion, reproductive health, Rina David
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