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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Stand fast against friars’ friendly fire

Passion For Reason
Stand fast against friars’ friendly fire

By Raul Pangalangan
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 01:24:00 09/18/2009

Sen. Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III hasn’t even filed his certificate of candidacy yet, but some misguided members of the modern-day frailocracy have already begun flexing their muscle. He must stand his ground. He must not yield.

One, this is the first criticism coming from within his own camp. All the other attacks have hitherto come from the enemy: from Malacañang or the toadies of the other presidential aspirants. The clergy’s critique is friendly fire, so to speak, but no less deadly. How candidate Noynoy reacts to church threats today is a preview of whether a President Noynoy will defy or succumb to pressure groups. To be held hostage by the clerics’ warning will reduce him to just another “trapo” (traditional politician) willing to compromise principle for expediency, and render him vulnerable to the importunings of the various power groups now hovering at the smell of power.

Conversely, this is Noynoy’s golden opportunity to break away from the shadow of Ninoy and Cory (and in this case, especially Cory’s). It would have been unimaginable for Cory, the traditional Catholic, to displease the clergy on an issue like reproductive rights. How refreshing for Noynoy, the modern Catholic, to stand up to them. His response on TV already does him credit (and here I paraphrase) when he said he hoped the Church venerables would give him a chance to explain his side, since all he wanted was to ensure that parents planned their families responsibly and didn’t beget children they couldn’t feed. Vintage Noynoy Aquino, I must say: sober and plain-spoken, respectful but firm. None of the fancy-schmancy flights of macro-economics. None of the fudging politicians are given to. Just the bare reality that an unemployed father will find it easier to feed two kids instead of eight.

Two, this is the first criticism to focus on his substantive position on issues. Hitherto all the other criticisms have focused on his person: his fitness for the job, his performance as a legislator, and—the level of debate goes lower—on his unstylish hairstyle and awkward gait. The Church’s attack ironically elevates the level of the debate to real issues, but it also gives Noynoy an opportunity to define himself not just as a policymaker but, even more, as a leader who is prepared to act boldly against entrenched orthodoxies.

Ricardo Cardinal Vidal has lamented that Noynoy was one of the sponsors of the Reproductive Health Bill in Congress and declared him to have “an anti-life tendency.” Msgr. Gerardo Santos of the Catholic Educational Association of the Philippines, representing the 1,240 Catholic schools (from university-level to kindergarten), a potent source of warm bodies mobilized for public protests, called on Noynoy to “rethink his position” on the “anti-life” provisions of the RH bill. Suddenly sounding much like Noynoy’s Malacañang critics, Santos said: “The Cory magic … is still there but Cory is different from Noynoy. … It is not enough that you have a name.”

Fr. Melvin Castillo of the Commission on Family and Life of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines pushed it one step further: he proposed bloc voting, urging the faithful to go only for “our allies in family and life.” Mercifully, he has been disowned by the CBCP head, Jaro Archbishop Angel Lagdameo, who said on Radio Veritas that the “Church is not in favor of bloc voting like what others do [an apparent dig at the Iglesia ni Cristo] because our citizens should have the freedom to choose their candidates according to their own conscience.” The same conscience, I add, that they will use when they decide how many children they want, whether they want to raise children in hunger, homeless, barefoot and unable to study, and what it means to raise these children with love.

That is all that the Reproductive Health Bill proposes: for the government to respect the constitutionally guaranteed “right of spouses to found a family in accordance with their religious convictions and the demands of responsible parenthood.” Let the non-Catholics follow their own Church teachings. Let the modern Catholics use condoms. And let the Catolico cerrado chill under a cold shower—or for their hypocritical males, do it with their queridas.

The Reproductive Health Bill doesn’t legalize abortion. Indeed, it categorically says that “abortion remains a crime and is punishable” and “abortion is not included as a family planning method.” On the contrary, the bill actually aims to deter abortion by preventing unwanted pregnancies and ensuring access to family planning methods. Surveys show that in 2000 alone, there were almost half-a-million induced abortions in the Philippines, more than 90 percent by married women. And almost 60 percent of users depend on government for their supply of contraceptives. Just imagine how many aborted fetuses the bill can save!

And the devout would rather purport to stop abortion on paper while abetting it in practice! No wonder Jose Rizal delighted in mocking the friars of his time. They represented the backward idiocies of the dark ages, while Rizal reveled in the joys of the Enlightenment.

This is actually the perfect moment for Noynoy to defy entrenched political wisdom, especially the fear of the Catholic vote. SWS surveys show that 97 percent of Filipinos want to be able to control their fertility and plan their families—and almost 90 percent of those respondents were Catholics. He still takes a risk; perhaps these Catholics have dual standards, and will use condoms at night but devoutly listen to their parish priest in the morning. But it is a calculated risk on a worthy issue, a decisive move that Noynoy and every other candidate must take to define themselves to the Filipino voter.