The justice of paradise lost

Patricia Evangelista
He may bow before the altar of justice, but Associate Justice Roberto Abad appears to worship a higher god

Patricia EvangelistaHis voice rises, on occasion. He giggles, on occasion. He mutters and interrupts, in a manner that belongs more to the pulpits of certain churches in certain places. He may bow before the altar of justice, but it appears he worships a higher god.

By all appearances, Associate Justice Roberto Abad is unhappy with the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Law of 2012. He is a moral man, this gentleman in dark robes. The biases seem palpable, in the hours-long interpellation that may or may not imply he believes his court is all that stands between God’s country and national immorality. He can of course claim his line of questioning is in the pursuit of justice, but if it is not, the logic he offers makes it difficult to keep faith in the High Court.

The country is a nation of values, he says at the oral arguments for the RH law.

“If people, if married couples love each other really to make these sacrifices, and learn also the art of abstinence and love, then that will also work, will it not?”

The Philippines he seems to imagine is a nation of responsible parents and well-meaning children, content to rein in desire in the name of love. Parents will tenderly offer their children sex education. Women will walk down the aisle virgins. Husbands will not demand marital rights. True love comes with the twinkling of the morning star. It is the paradise before the fall, and the government must stand before its gates, bathed in the glory of God Almighty, a vanguard against the serpent that is sex without responsibility.

His honor appears afraid that sex education and access to information will send the country to hell on a handcart, down the slippery slope of pedophilia, prostitution and promiscuity. That pedophilia, promiscuity and prostitution exist, will continue to exist, has continued to exist without a law offering free contraception does not seem relevant. Perhaps he is of the belief that sex is so sacred, so secret, that the merest hint it can exist outside the bonds of marriage and family will prove too tempting for those who otherwise would abstain.

“I think that is your purpose,” he thunders. “Teenagers should have sex, go to the schools, should have sex without getting pregnant.”

It is odd to imagine that dangling a box of pills in front of a teenage girl will send her into spasms of lust. Certainly it is not sex education that makes a tenth of all women between the ages of fifteen to nineteen mothers or pregnant with their first children, or why, for example, there were 2,532 reported teenage pregnancies in 2011.

Perhaps the 165th Justice of the High Court is a romantic. He appears to believe that there should be no sex without love. Love can conquer all, including youth, statistics, mortality, and the hot throb of a beating heart. There is no room in this imagined world for absentee mothers, promiscuous lovers, men who rape their wives and fathers who diddle their own daughters. 

“The lesson really is to say to these kids that there is nothing wrong with sex provided you don’t get pregnant. I don’t think those are the values that we want to put in the hearts of our children.”

We’re not backward!

He presents a shopping list of arguments against the law, ranging from contraception’s dangers to the variability of science. He talks about the public’s right to information. He talks about the limits of the government’s expertise. He talks about the risk to the population. He concedes that several thousand women may die, but to implant intrauterine devices on 23 million women of childbearing age is not worth the price, never mind that implantation is a choice and not a compulsion.

All women, says the justice, have access to information. There is no need for the government to assist them. They are allowed to listen to the radio. They are not prevented from watching television or films. They can avail of books and magazines, ask questions of neighbors, and surf the Internet for answers.

 “We are not so backward that this law can claim it is what women need to give them access to information relevant to reproductive health,” he says. “If they want information there are many places to get information. They are not prevented.”

It is difficult to understand precisely how a mother of nine will have access to a Google search bar or a magazine subscription. It is more difficult to understand why Abad continues to rail about the danger of influencing a gullible Filipino populace, then celebrates the fact that the same gullible populace will acquire sex education from soap operas and radio call-ins.

At the center of this insistence on the status quo is a bone-deep belief that sex for its own sake is a fundamental evil.

“You bring in information that may not be within the values of that family,” Abad tells Sen Pia Cayetano. “Sex without love. Sex without the values our families keep.”

READ: Up close and personal

The justice appears comfortable speaking about sex, but cannot accept “sex for sex’s sake.” 

He may concede that women are dying, he may agree some form of education may be necessary “in the loving company of parents,” but to imply that sex is possible outside the limits of procreation is a guaranteed travesty of national values. That the idea will be peddled to the youth has him vehement about the evils of the western world, where “I think even the age of 5 they are already taught these things.”

“You can have a sex mate, sex is cheap, when we do all these things, sex becomes cheap.”

Sexual choices

The arguments all end with this, as if saying the words with enough distaste will be enough to make it a violation of the constitution. There are many who believe the same, dragging a reluctant government through the bedroom door to whip the covers off immoral beds.

That is the other slippery slope, the more dangerous one, of the state legislating morality and determining precisely when, why and how an individual should demonstrate intimacy.

There is no doubt that the good justice of the High Court is well-meaning in his passionate protection of national purity, but he may be unaware he cannot romanticize a reality that kills 14 women daily and aborts several hundred babies.

A democratic government is not in a position to judge its citizenry for its sexual choices; it can only offer protection to those who have none. Unless the constitutionally protected right to individual morality is trumped by the vision of a Catholic nation, the protectors of God’s people may have to remember that in this reality, Eve has eaten the apple, the serpent is in the blood, and the garden is a slum whose gates have long been stolen. –