RH bill ‘culture’: danger or power?

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

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The Manila archbishop voices fear about the culture to be promoted by the Reproductive Health bill, but netizens dispel his message

MANILA, Philippines – His voice trembled.

He did not condemn anyone to hell. Neither did he launch into rhetoric, as bishops and priests usually do, about the beginning of life, the evils of abortion, and the supposedly huge funding by pharmaceutical groups to ensure the passage of the Reproductive Health (RH) bill.

What Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Tagle voiced on Saturday, August 4, was his deepest fear about the RH bill that the House of Representatives will subject to a crucial vote this week.

DANGEROUS 'CULTURE'? Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Tagle echoes the Catholic Church's fear of the RH bill. File photo from Jesuit Communications

In a message, Tagle said he appreciates the legislators’ regard for the plight of the poor when they push for the controversial law.

May pakiusap lamang po ako… Kapag kayo ay nagpasa ng batas, ang batas na ‘yan ay hindi lamang batas. Bawat batas ay umuukit ng kultura. Bawat batas ay lumilikha ng mentalidad, ng priorities, ng kung ano ang itinuturing na pinapayagan at hindi pinapayagan. Walang batas na batas lang,” Tagle said during his message at the anti-RH bill rally at the Edsa Shrine.

(I only have one request… Whenever you a pass a law, that law isn’t only a law. Every law creates a culture. Every law creates a mentality, priorities, a set of things that are allowed and are prohibited. No law remains only a law.)

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?)

When Tagle spoke, he came from the context of Catholic teachings that warn against a so-called “contraceptive mentality.” This was most pronounced in a papal document by the late Pope John Paul II, titled Evangelium Vitae.

In this document, John Paul II addressed claims that contraception “is the most effective remedy against abortion.” He said it is “unfounded” when the Catholic Church is accused of promoting abortion because it combats contraception.

“It may be that many people use contraception with a view to excluding the subsequent temptation of abortion. But the negative values inherent in the ‘contraceptive mentality’ – which is very different from responsible parenthood, lived in respect for the full truth of the conjugal act – are such that they in fact strengthen this temptation when an unwanted life is conceived,” John Paul II said.

He noted that some couples use contraception or practice abortion “under the pressure of real-life difficulties.”

“Still, in very many other instances such practices are rooted in a hedonistic mentality unwilling to accept responsibility in matters of sexuality, and they imply a self-centered concept of freedom, which regards procreation as an obstacle to personal fulfillment,” the late pope said.

Filipino culture

Thus, in his statement, Tagle called out different sectors one by one, and urged them to promote values that supposedly run counter to the RH bill.

FIGHTING RH. Thousands flock to Edsa Shrine to protest the RH bill. Photo by Paterno Esmaquel II

Speaking to the poor, Tagle commended them for trying their best to support their families despite their poverty. “Kayo po ang larawan ng kulturang Pilipino dahil… ang inyong itinuturing na kayamanan ay ang inyong pamilya, ang inyong mga anak,” he said. (You are the image of Filipino culture because… you consider your family, your children as your wealth.)

Ang mga magulang ng mga dukhang pamilya, lahat ng hirap ay kayang tiisin para mabuhay ang kanilang anak. Hindi problema ng mga dukha papa’no mahalin at itaguyod ang mga bata. Mukhang ang namomroblema ay ang mga may-kaya. Dapat matuto tayong lahat sa mga dukha, papanong magpunyagi, papanong magpahalaga, papanong magsumikap,” he said.

(The parents of poor families are willing to endure all hardships to support their children. The poor doesn’t consider it a problem to love and support their children. It seems it’s the rich who consider it a problem. We should learn from the poor how to endure hardship, how to value their families, how to work hard for them.)

He also addressed children and assured them they are not “problems,” alluding to arguments the RH bill considers childbirth a problem. “Mga bata, kayo ay biyaya,” Tagle said. (Children, you are gifts.)

Ang pera, nawawala… sa bandang huli, ang kakapitan na lang na kayaman ng pamilya ay kayong mga bata,” Tagle said. (Money disappears… in the end, you will be your parents’ only riches.)

The challenge, he said, is for the government to give the poor education, employment, and other basic services.

Tagle later spoke to men, and addressed the supposed objectification of women. This is one of the Church’s core arguments against the RH bill. They say contraceptives can lead to sex without any regard for a woman’s body rhythms, unlike when couples use the Church-endorsed natural family planning (NFP) method.

SEA OF RED. Wearing the so-called color of life, anti-RH bill protestors sing, dance, and pray during Saturday's rally. Photo by Paterno Esmaquel II

In NFP, couples are advised to discuss the woman’s fertile and infertile periods, and schedule intercouse during infertile periods.

Mga lalaki, kapag ikaw ay may asawa, ang asawa mo ay hindi gamit, hindi bagay, hindi commodity… Kung ang bawat lalaki, magalang sa kanyang asawa, may disiplina, nakikipag-usap, at sensitibo sa pangangailangan, naku po, paraiso na sa inyong tahanan,” Tagle said. (Men, if you have a wife, your wife is not an object, not a commodity… If every man respects his wife, has discipline, discussses things with her, oh my, your home will be paradise.)

The Manila archbishop also addressed the so-called rebellion of the youth, and turned the tables on their elders. “May hinahanap kayo sa amin. Ang inyong parang pagrerebelde ay pamamaraan ng inyong paghahanap – nasaan ang integridad?” (You are looking for something. Your rebelliousness is your way of looking – where is integrity?)

Thousands wearing red – what they call the color of life – applauded Tagle for his speech before the 5 p.m. Mass at Edsa shrine.

What culture?

Meanwhile, on social media, netizens gave different reactions to Tagle’s speech. In particular, they responded to Rappler’s question on the “culture” that the RH bill could create, jumping off from the Manila archbishop’s message.

Most of them said the RH bill creates not a culture of death, but of empowerment.

This is the same position taken by other Catholics who believe they can support the RH bill “in good conscience,” as a paper by 14 Ateneo professors states.

In an interview with Rappler, one of these professors said contraception could give the poor a better choice, in terms of family planning, than abortion. “Half a million Filipinos opt for abortion, and that’s their family planning method… We think that’s terrible, but what choice do they have?” said Mary Racelis, research scientist at the Institute of Philippine Culture based in Ateneo.

Another Ateneo professor, Marita Castro Guevara, said contraception could give women a wider range of choices if NFP doesn’t work for them. She cited instances when NFP might not work – when a woman, for example, has unpredictable periods, has a partner who forces her into sex, or has a husband who is a migrant worker and returns to the Philippines only periodically.

“She should be able to have the means to choose the family planning method that will work for her,” Guevara told Rappler. (Watch more in the video below)

On Tuesday, August 7, the House of Representatives will decide whether to end the debates on the RH bill, or proceed to the period of amendments. – 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