Can CBCP compromise on RH bill?
MANILA, Philippines – Their possible inclusion in a group to amend the Reproductive Health (RH) bill is, in itself, challenged by the bill's advocates.
But if indeed the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) will sit in an informal Technical Working Group to amend the RH bill, what can Catholic bishops compromise? What amendments will the bill's strongest critics accept or reject?
CBCP's vice president, Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas, said bishops will always defend the “non-negotiables.” He said this in the context of proposed dialogues with pro-RH bill professors of the Jesuit-run Ateneo de Manila University.
“Thou shall not kill,” Villegas said as an example, referring to the 5th of the 10 commandments, a divine set of rules accepted by Jews and Christians alike.
“Any contraceptive method that is abortifacient, is against that commandment. That is non-negotiable. We cannot go against the command of God,” Villegas told Rappler on the sidelines of a Catholic educators' forum on August 29.
Villegas added that dialogue is part of propagating the Catholic faith.
“We should be ready to listen with charity, but we cannot compromise our identity. We should not give up our identity for the sake of peace,” Villegas said.
The president of the CBCP, Cebu Arcbishop Jose Palma, himself expressed openness to engage in a dialogue on the RH bill. He said the provision on mandatory sex education, for instance, may be acceptable to the CBCP if Congress considers age and parental consent.
“As we mentioned, age and parental consent – at the moment, that should be discussed, because the primary obligation depends on the parents. The state should not arrogate to themselves a right that is supposed to belong to the parents,” Palma told Rappler, in a mix of English and Filipino, after an anti-RH bill Mass last August 13.
The head of CBCP's family and life commission, Antipolo Bishop Gabriel Reyes, said the Church is not moving to ban contraceptives. He said the public, after all, can buy this in ordinary stores.
“What the Church is against, I repeat, is that government should promote contraception and provide free contraceptives to people,” Reyes said in CBCP's response to Jesuit constitutionalist Fr Joaquin Bernas' stance on the RH bill.
But how Church officials can proceed in dialogue on the RH bill, without violating Church teachings, is anticipated by critics.
The CBCP's official stance on the RH bill, for example, is based on a key papal document.
Pope Paul VI's Humanae Vitae bans artificial family planning methods, which supposedly interfere with the body's natural rhythms. It also emphasizes that sexual intercourse should always both unite a married couple and remain open to procreation.
In another document, Evangelium Vitae, the late Pope John Paul II warned against a so-called “contraceptive mentality.” Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Tagle spoke along these lines during a grand anti-RH bill rally last August 4.
“Nakilatis na ba ninyo? Ano ba ang kulturang Pilipino na inyong ibig ipasa sa amin at sa susunod na henerasyon? Ano bang kultura ang sisimulan nitong RH bill?” (Have you examined it? What Filipino culture do you intend to pass on to us and to the next generation? What culture will this RH bill begin?)
Church laws prohibit bishops from violating papal decrees, and indeed all Catholic teachings.
Public health analyst Marilen Dañguilan questioned the idea of the government and the Catholic Church drafting a "compromise RH bill."
"It's like asking a logger to draft an anti-logging bill or sitting down with the Ku Klux Klan to make a statement on racism. On contraceptives, the Catholic Church won't give in to women's and men's use of artificial contraceptives. For decades, the Catholic Church considers the use of artificial contraceptives as sinful. And it will always promote only 'natural' family planning methods," Dañguilan explained.
"A compromise RH bill? No compromises when it comes to contraceptives," she said.
In the first place, however, the Technical Working Group (TWG) on the RH bill shouldn't include Catholic Church officials, said the group Filipino Freethinkers through its Twitter account.
“If the TWG on #RHBill amendments has (representatives) from the Catholic Church, it should also include representatives of other faiths and non-believers. If #RHBill TWG can't contain (representatives) of all faiths and non-believers, then be secular and don't privilege the Catholic Church over others' beliefs,” the Filipino Freethinkers said.
The Palace, for its part, hopes Congress could pass an RH bill “acceptable... to a greater segment of the population.” “This will be a good time... for reasonable men to come together and discuss what the amendments could be,” said Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda in a press briefing.
Early last month, anti-RH bill lawmakers threatened to inject "killer amendments" that will dilute the RH bill, to the point that its proponents themselves wouldn't recognize the measure.
The authors of the RH bill, on the other hand, have listed 10 major amendments acceptable to them. These include the removal of a provision on the "ideal family size," as well as amendments regarding sex education. (Read the entire list below.)
For more updates on the issue of the RH Bill, view our #RHBill Debate Microsite.
Read on for other views on the RH Bill debate:
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