RH bill backers hit bishops’ ‘science’

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

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Reproductive Health bill advocates hit Catholic bishops for their 'political strategy' to junk the long-delayed bill

MANILA, Philippines – What 140 votes?

Reproductive Health (RH) bill advocates on Thursday, August 2, debunked the claim of Catholic bishops that 140 legislators will vote against the bill in a crucial session on August 7.

In a forum, academics from the University of the Philippines and the Ateneo de Manila University presented figures, “based on more reliable research methods,” that 143 legislators will vote for the RH bill. Meanwhile, 33 Congress members remain neutral on the August 7 vote.

QUESTIONABLE FIGURES? The CBCP's survey showing 140 votes against the RH bill is based on a 'political strategy,' not science, RH bill supporters claim. Photo by Paterno Esmaquel II

The voting will determine if the House will end its debates on the RH bill, and proceed to the period of amendments on the bill that has languished for over a year in the present Congress.

The UP and Ateneo professors denounced the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines’ (CBCP) figures in a statement titled, “Beware When Bishops Do Science: An Appeal for Scientific Literacy on the RH Bill.”

“The figures presented by the CBCP to the media have been generated through questionable methods of research. Their numbers are based on hearsay reports of what are likely to be biased interviews,” said the group. 

The professors’ figures, on the other hand, are “based on actual interviews with legislators themselves or their office staff.”

The RH advocates in the forum included Dr Sylvia Estrada Claudio, director of the UP Center for Women’s Studies; Dr Mary Racelis, research scientist at Ateneo’s Institute of Philippine Culture; Elizabeth Angsioco, chair of the Democratic Socialist Women’s Party; Akbayan spokesperson Risa Hontiveros; and other representatives from government and non-government organizations.

The academics said science, which they used in gathering legislators’ votes, is the same thing they’ve invoked in the RH bill debate. “Yet the CBCP and its mandated organizations have refused to listen to the expert opinion of the mainstream scientific community,” the RH bill advocates said.  (Watch more in the video below.)


Racelis, a former Unicef regional director, told Rappler the CBCP engaged in a “typical political strategy” when it released “very unreliable” data on legislators’ possible votes. “When you start contacting congressmen, isn’t that politics?” Racelis said in a mix of English and Filipino.

“Perhaps they want to give this impression that the whole thing is collapsing,” she added, referring to a possible bandwagon effect that the CBCP’s figures could produce.

Hontiveros, for her part, sees the hand of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in the bid to delay and, eventually, junk the RH bill. “Umaasa yata siya na ang boto sa August 7 ay maging vote of no-confidence sa administration,” she said. (She is perhaps expecting that the vote on August 7 will be a vote of no-confidence against the administration.)

Mrs Arroyo, who is out on bail, said she will vote against the RH bill. (Watch more in the video below.)

Isang grave miscalculation ito,” Hontiveros said, noting that majority of Filipinos support the RH bill, based on surveys. (This is a grave miscalculation.)

Handang handa itong Catholic majority, bahagi ng Philippine majority, handang handang mag-yes sa RH bill pero siguradong magno-no kay GMA. Kasi sa karamihan ng Pilipino, si GMA, unfortunately, ay kumakatawan pa rin sa klase ng pulitika na nakaka-alienate sa mga tao,” Hontiveros explained.

(The Catholic majority, part of the Philippine majority, is ready to say yes to the RH bill, but is sure to say no to GMA. For majority of Filipinos, GMA unfortunately represents the brand of politics that alienates the public.)

Hontiveros blamed Mrs Arroyo’s “brand of politics” for the RH bill’s delay. She said Mrs Arroyo, a devout Catholic and one of the Philippines’ most unpopular presidents, worked against the bill so she wouldn’t antagonize the Catholic bishops. (Watch more in the video below.)

Sociologist Randy David, in a recent column in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, also said Mrs Arroyo “will not hesitate to exploit the RH issue in order to strengthen their connections with the bishops.”

“As I see it, that is the only way she can hope to stay out of jail and retain what residual power she still enjoys — i.e., by offering herself to the bishops as the loyal commander of the Church’s troops in Congress,” David wrote.

If the Church renews its ties with Mrs Arroyo, however, he said it would “risk casting the institution in the role of an enemy of reform.”

“The Church has done a good job in articulating its position; it cannot do more,” David added. “It must now let the political process take its course.”

Political ‘test’

What David wants to see is the actual August 7 voting.

“The RH bill will be a test of how far the nation’s political system has achieved operational closure from religion. It will give us an indication of the state of our institutional modernity,” he said.

So far, however, the Philippines’ political parties have refused to take a stand on the RH bill.

ACCURATE SURVEY? CBCP President Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma and Antipolo Bishop Gabriel Reyes present the results of a survey predicting votes against the RH bill. Photo courtesy of CBCP

The House majority coalition considers the August 7 decision a “conscience vote.” A party spokesperson, the Nacionalista Party’s Jesus Crispin “Boying” Remulla, explained: “It has become a local matter to many because of the pressure from the religious community.”

The Palace, for its part, said the vote is not about “being reelected in 2013.”

“It should be a vote on the future of our country and the future of the children that we bring into the world. What kind of support, what kind of decent life can you bring if you got too many children that you have brought into this world without the means to support them?” said Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda on Monday, August 1.

President Benigno Aquino III backs “responsible parenthood,” which, for RH bill advocates, means support for the measure that’s been long delayed. – Rappler.com


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Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He finished MA Journalism in Ateneo and MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email pat.esmaquel@rappler.com