We are seeing interesting times today as it seems like roles have been reversed for the first time in the last several decades. The Philippine Roman Catholic Church descended into a very public tantrum following hints from President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III that calls for a boycott on paying taxes made by some Church officials will be grounds for sedition charges. Today, MalacaÃ±ang for its part called for sobriety…
â€œWe have different positions here, but probably we should explain our positions within the means of the law. That is what the President is saying. There is room for debate, it doesnâ€™t have to degenerate to illegal acts or anything like that,â€ Communications Secretary Ricky Carandang told reporters.
Whereas in the past, it was the Church that was seen to be a unifying force and secular politics the divisive ones, today it is the other way around. The Roman Catholic Church in its bizarre hardline stance on its much-cherished dogma around artificial contraception not only divides the Philippine public between those in favour of the passing of the controversial Reproductive Helath (RH) Bill and those who are against it, it also divides the country between Catholics and non-Catholics.
All for what?
Roman Catholic dogma is a centuries-old belief framework with many tenets that not only lack clear bases in the Christian Scripture from which all things Christian supposedly derive legitimacy, but also fails to afford a robust foundation for sensible debate. Artificial contraception, the epicentre of the RH Bill “debate”, is one such concept that Catholic dogma makes very categorical directives about but finds very little basis when scrutinised along the lines of Christian scripture or when subject to modern critical evaluation.
This reality surrounding the laughable position that the Church currently finds itself in this debate is quite evident in how very little inclination towards citing specific passages in Scripture that Catholic officials exhibit in their public statements against birth control and how much they resort to appeals to emotion — specifically the fear mongering around what happens to “sinners” after death — when challenged using otherwise sensible arguments. In the apt words of Gabriela Rep. Luz Ilagan, the Church is already showing “a symptom of scarcity of arguments” on the matter.
The CBCPâ€™s move [to disengage from any further dialogue with MalacaÃ±ang on the matter of reproductive health] was an indication that the Church was â€œbankruptâ€ of reasons why the RH bill should not be legislated, with Church leaders resorting to â€œthreats, name-calling and emotional tantrums,â€ according to Ilagan.
Politicians, as they tend to be, are reluctant to go up against an institution such as the Church which, along with mass media, enjoys a direct line into the Filipino mind. But the current disjoint between what the Church prescibes and what the Catholic community practice and want of their politicians is unprecedented. Politicians therefore find themselves for the first time faced with public opinion on a matter of “morality” that is not necessarily in sync with the morality preached by their Church.
Should politicians, in keeping focused on their on-going singular agenda to get re-elected, continue to schmooze with the officers of the Roman Catholic Church, an institution that is rapidly unravelling under the weight of sensible argument that it has so far proven to be ill-equipped to deal with? Or should politicians listen to the Filipino (remember them?) who, for the first time may be using their heads to suss out such a relevant matter as birth control that has clear implications on the country’s future fortunes.
Getting elected or re-elected is a fair personal goal for (and in fact the whole point of being of) the average politician. As such, it comes down to how consistent Filipinos plan to be when they go to the poll booth in the next Congressional election. Will Filipinos, having already seen how unreasonable their Church had become on a matter so important to their future prosperity, continue to trust the political “recommendations” of their men-in-robes? Or will the Filipino learn the key lesson that comes out of this RH Bill circus — that the Church, while well within its scope-of-work to guide its flock on matters of spirituality, has no business prescribing positions to take on matters that are clearly between Citizen Filipino and the State.
Philippine politicians will merely go where the voice of public opinion takes their rhetoric. So it us up to the Filipino Voter. Filipinos will have to step up and assure their politicians — most notably the man who is in the Church’s firing line, President Noynoy Aquino — that they will not be punished in the polls (and approval “surveys”) if they too step up and assert the superiority of democracy over the Inquisitious tyranny of Catholic dogma.
This, I believe, is what Filipino politicians really want to be assured of:
What’s in it for them if they decide to go out and risk antagonising the Roman Catholic Church?
Perhaps a first step is to start an accounting of which politicians are up to the job of moving the Philippines into the modern era — by supporting and passing the Reproductive Health Bill — and see how they fare in the next elections. That way, we will have a clear basis for determining how much more mature Filipinos have become as citizens of a secular modern democratic state.
If Filipinos truly aspire to get the most out of their representatives in government, then they should be prepared to assess them on the basis of how well these representatives uphold their constutuents’ interests in future elections.