July 18, 2008

communion and options

Caught an interesting replay of “Straight Talk” on ANC, a show hosted by Pia Hontiveros, the other day. The topic of the debate: The controversial reproductive health bill. Her panel of guests featured Rep. Janette Garin of Iloilo, who solely defended the bill against a representative from the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines and former BIR head Liwayway Vinzons Chato.

Things came to a head earlier this week when a bishop announced that solons who endorsed the bill should not be given communion because supporting the bill was immoral because it endorsed abortion. Garin, a medical doctor by profession, reiterated that the bill also condemns abortion and that the use of contraceptives was not equivalent to abortion.

Of course, we all know the Catholic Church has always opposed artificial methods such as the use of condoms and pills, among others. The government, despite the supposed separation of Church and State enshrined in the Constitution, has refused to take a progressive stance on population control.

What is even more shocking is the fact that, apparently, the Church believes that the Philippine population is actually decreasing, thus there is no need for population control, much less family planning. I regret not having taken out my phone for a quick picture; I really should have taken a screen grab of that quote when it was flashed on ANC the other day.

I have no idea where the Church got the figures that supported this, when the National Statistics Office has actually put RP population at 88 million last year and at 90 million this year. NSO is also projecting RP population to breach 92 million in 2009 and 94 million in 2010. In 2006, it estimated RP population to be as much as 140 million by the year 2040. (Btw, these figures were 2000 census-based projections) Between the censuses of 2000 and 2007, the average annual growth rate was at about 2 percent. While this is actually slower than previous figures, it is still erroneous to say that the population is decreasing. My lay mind really doesn’t see it.

(The sarcastic remark actually was that maybe this estimate was based on church attendance. And/or collection volume? In deference to any of my friends who may be offended by this tongue-in-cheek theory, I am already stopping this trail of thought.)

To further erode the so-called separation of Church and State, CBCP has even announced, as heard on the show, that it will campaign against those who will vote for the bill, should they run for re-election come 2010. In my opinion, this is precisely why the government is not very keen on endorsing any population control policy – put simplistically, the Church doesn’t like it, and when it gets angry, it can influence voters on grounds that its role is to teach its flock about what is moral, about what is right.

In a country where nine in every 10 Filipino voters are likely to be Catholic it is clearly not a very wise move for any politician to irk the Church.

But as a friend of mine pointed out, the country is not exclusively Catholic – so why should the pronouncement of one religion affect other constituents who are members of minority religions? Legislation should be for all, regardless of religion, and I think this is one of those legislations. (I wonder what everybody else’s churches are saying.)

Another friend is asking, what is wrong with being given the proper education on other options of family planning? I’m asking the same thing. Some of those who are against the bill are questioning why the government should spend on contraceptives and not just pour all the money into teaching people about natural family planning. Or at least this is how I understood their points.

The thing is, what is wrong with options? What is wrong with the government allotting money so that barangay centers in poor barangays can have adequately trained personnel, proper teaching materials, as well as contraceptives for community members who have decided for themselves that this is what they want for their families?

What is wrong with having someone else talk about how to plan families other than the church? The reason this bill has to be passed, despite arguments that there is no need for it because contraceptives are not banned anyway, is that the poor don’t have access to options, with regards to reproductive health, above all.

Garin, who had admirably defended the bill on the show while being calm and articulate, said something that struck me: that it was more immoral to bear children knowing that you can’t feed them. To which I wholeheartedly agree.

There is no love lost actually between this church and I, what with its stance on homosexuality and same-sex marriages, first and foremostly. When I was younger, it was easier to listen to homilies about being a good person. But lately I’ve found listening to priests comment incessantly about politics as unbearable. Now it seems they’re using the sacrament of the Eucharist unfairly to have their way. I think it’s time for the Church to widen its perspective.