Lessons Learned from the RH Bill War
The Reproductive Health Bill has divided our nation into two factions (with a third faction of those who passively–or actively–don’t really care about it). This is unprecedented. In the past, the factions were drawn around political and even cultural lines. The EDSA Revolution was about anti-Marcos civilians (of which a vast majority was a Cardinal Sin-led Catholic Church) and troops against a pro-Marcos military. [ref] Which led political and social analysts to say that for a successful power change to happen in this country, three components have to be present: 1) the support of the Catholic church, 2) a military component, and 3) civil society. That is why EDSA Dos was “successful” in ousting Erap. And that is why now-Senator Trillanes couldn’t get the traction he needed to oust Gloria.[/ref] The Cha Cha was a movement against Charter Change by those who felt it wasn’t time–and that it reeked of self-interested fish, since it was advocated by a President who lied about running for government and who obviously wanted to stay in power– to tamper with the Constitution. One of the more recent elections was a 12-0 vs 0-12 Senatorial cockfight (I’m tempted to use the term “dogfight” but then I realized they’re not really dogs but dicks :p).
But then this debate about the RH Bill is different. It is largely drawn along religious lines. Rightly or wrongly, the Catholic Church took a hardline stance against the Bill. And rightly or wrongly, it is not just dividing society, it is dividing the Catholic Church itself. For now, it is a problem of the Catholic Church alone–I have talked to several Evangelicals for example who do not really see the Bill as theologically significant, and the Iglesia Ni Kristo and other church groups are for the passage of the bill.
I will not dare talk about the Catholic theology behind the stance. Fr. Jack Carroll, SJ who knows what he is talking about, having served in Payatas for twenty five years has written eloquently about it. Fr. Joaquin Bernas has also written about the Bill. I would rather take a longer, wider view of the issue.
Imagine us mentally zooming out of the issue and asking ourselves: What does the raging debate tell us about the Catholic Church (of which I am a member)? What does it tell us about Philippine society? What does it tell us about us? There are many, but I would like to start with five. And I enjoin you to add to the conversation with your own observations.
1) The Catholic Church is not the monolithic structure we used to think it is. This is obvious, but has to be said. When priests talk, and when Bishops pontificate, that is not the stance of all of its members. We have seen a lot of Catholics taking a pro-RH Bill stance running counter to the “official” stance .[ref] A group of Ateneo de Manila teachers for example were one of those first group of people who gave their opinion and put their signatures on a Pro-RH Bill document[/ref] There are those who are quietly supporting the bill as well but who have not voiced out their opinions. And those who have voiced out their opinions have been unfortunately threatened with excommunication by some quarters in the Catholic Church. The hardline stance of some Catholic churchmen (both clergy and rabid laymen) has in fact turned off many of its members and is not the stance of everyone in the Catholic church.
Maybe it would be good for all of us to stop thinking in generalizations when we think about the Catholic Church–not all clergy have the same opinion about the subject, not all laymen have the same stance . A priest asking his congregation to leave if they support the bill is not the norm. The Catholic Church in this country is not, and has never been monolithic.
2) We are largely a group of people who parrot other people’s opinions. I hope the first question asked during the televised debates is whether people have actually read the latest version of the bill. I saw my idol, Manny Pacquiao (sorry Manny!) look like a fool in debate because he was harping over provisions that are not even in the latest version of the bill. Now that’s a Congressman not having read the bill before a debate. I wonder how many people have really read the Bill in full. Assuming 50% have, where did the other 50% get their opinions from? I hope a survey is made of all Catholic priests, all pro- and anti- RH bill advocates, so we’ll know how many have really read the Bill in full, and how many are really just full of hot air.
3) 400 years in, and we’re still not sufficiently catechized. What this debate is also showing us is that so many Catholics do not know their catechism. And having heard my own parish priest talk about the subject, at least one member of the clergy also do not really know what to say about the subject either from a more human (humane?) perspective!
The beauty of the Catholic stance and the Catholic theology has always been its inclusiveness and openness to love as God loves. And I learned in high school that this includes an openness to nuance and paradox. Faith is both gift and responsibility. Salvation is here, but not yet. Jesus saves us and we also save ourselves. Hardline stances have to be questioned over and over again because they are not characteristic of a Catholic (i.e. universal) stance. Some of the Catholic Church leaders took a more inclusive stance in the beginning — sitting down in dialogue, asking for clarification on some provisions of the bill, leading its members to continued discernment. Something happened that made the official hierarchy become more hardline. I want to know what happened. Was it because the other side (the politicians who penned the bill, and the rabid pro-RH Bill advocates) were not open to dialogue? What happened? Why did the Catholic Church, who I expected to bring unity to dissenting opinions and warring factions, took one side, and risk everything, even its members?
Four hundred years in and our catechism is still wanting, our consciences may still be uninformed, our faith still not optimally rational.
4) Emotions, not reason, drive this issue. This Bill has brought the worse of us as a people. We have ended up making fallacious non-sequiturs, ad hominems, appeals to authority and belief and popularity. Every high school debater knows those are just wrong (and during my time, laughable, actually). But we have congressmen, and celebrities, and bishops and advocates from both sides of the issue making those elementary (pun intended) mistakes, name calling, and insulting each other like kids on national tv and national broadsheets. It is emotion that drives this.
5) A third way is needed. More than ever, we wait for a third way to evolve out of this rubble and rabble of dissenting voices. We have too much debate and too little conciliation happening. The third way allows for both sides to win–or to lose so that everyone wins. What we unfortunately have now are two emotional factions going at it facing each other from opposite sides; we need people to start walking and looking in the same direction. It would mean giving up control and accepting that you are not entirely right and the other is not entirely wrong.
The women of the Brave Nations of America hide the hatchets of their men while they talk of peace in front of campfires. The Cebuano word for peace gives us this image: kalinaw. A “linaw” is a clearing in the middle of a forest where people can build their campfires and bury their hatchets. This is the third way we hope for in this emotional debate: anti-RH Bill advocates sitting down with pro-RH Bill advocates (minus the rabid followers from both sides who have not even read the bill in the first place, minus the rabble-rousers who sensationalize the issue, and especially minus those who have not even gone to places like Payatas and just use the women there as pawns to push their agenda forward) and coming up with the best possible version of a law that is spiritually acceptable, socially sustainable, and constitutionally defensible.