The big RH swindle
By Francisco S. Tatad
We can all probably agree that respect for the Constitution, the moral convictions, religious beliefs, human dignity and solidarity of our people is indispensable to the health and wellbeing of the nation. And that no democratic government ever enacts a law that is certain to divide its people.
Yet never before have we seen so many Filipino politicians trying to savage that view, and further divide an already divided nation. All in the name of a foreign-dictated Reproductive Health (RH) bill.
Many of the debates, arranged or sponsored by the RH patrons and funders, have been one big swindle. Often moderated by the uninstructed and uninformed, they have tried to discuss every tangential issue, while evading the central issue that will ultimately decide whether the bill, if enacted into law, could bind anyone in conscience.
They have tried to scare us with all sorts of doomsday scenario about our birth rate of 1.9 percent, and the country’s population density of 313 per square km, which are quite healthy, without ever mentioning the plunging birth rates and the rapid ageing and dying in the developed countries, which should terrify anyone living in this century.
They have tried to make us feel guilty that ten or so childbearing women are dying everyday for lack of proper obstetrics and maternal care, even though several times more women are dying everyday from cancer, heart disease, respiratory disease, diabetes, tuberculosis, and other diseases, without any medical or burial assistance from government.
Not every congressman or senator has read the RH bill. And not everyone who has read it has correctly understood its whys and wherefores. They say its purpose is “to protect the right” of women (and men) to decide whether or not to practice birth control and what method/s to use. But that is not true at all. It is patently false, a gross deception.
No law prohibits contraception or sterilization. Everyone is free to contracept or get sterilized on their own. No law distinguishes abortifacients from mere contraceptives either. A woman could commit abortion while ostensibly practicing contraception only. This has been so for the last 35 years.
Since the 1970s, the government has been funding what it now calls RH every year. At least P2 billion this year. Additionally, some LGUs are now implementing some foreign-funded RH programs. The constitutionality of these things has yet to be ruled on. But the nation’s contraceptive prevalence rate now stands at 51 percent and counting.
So what women’s “right” to contracept are they talking about? What need is there for this RH bill? We have the global population controllers and contraceptives and abortion providers to thank for.
At the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo, there was a proposal that poor countries should assume at least two-thirds of the cost of their RH programs, which until then had been borne by the rich governments. This means two-thirds of $20.5 billion in 2010, and $21.7 billion in 2015, which were the cost estimates at the time. But even the ICPD document did not contemplate the totalitarian approach of the present RH bill.
The bill seeks to require all married couples to practice birth control as an integral part of marriage, regardless of their religious beliefs and moral convictions. This will revise the very nature and organic laws of marriage, an institution that precedes the State.
Indeed, the bill will allow individuals to choose what method/s of birth control to use, but it wants all married couples and even unmarried individuals to be part of a state-run program of population control. It also wants to impose a mandatory sex education program on schoolchildren from Grade V until fourth year High School, without parental consent.
However, these points have been muted in the debates. The proponents have tried to dance around the real issues, and many of those against have been lured into joining the dance too. Thus we have discussed the side issues, but left untouched the central issue, which is, Does the State have the right or duty to organize the intimate private lives of its citizens? Can Congress enact the RH bill into law without regard to the moral law and the Constitution?
The mandate of Sec. 12, Article II of the Constitution is clear and cannot be obscured. It needs no interpretation. “The State recognizes the sanctity of family life and shall protect and strengthen the family as a basic autonomous social institution. It shall equally protect the life of the mother and the life of the unborn from conception. The natural and primary right and duty of parents in the rearing of the youth for civic efficiency and the development of moral character shall receive the support of the Government.”
Some people, including some supposed theologians and constitutional experts, have tried to muddle this issue by asking, “when does life begin?” Is it upon “fertilization” of the egg, or upon “implantation”of the fertilized ovum? That would be quite relevant if we were discussing abortion, which we are not.
The only relevant issue here is this: If the duty of the State is to equally protect the life of the mother and the life of the unborn from conception, does it also have the right or the duty to run a program of contraception and sterilization whose purpose is to prevent the birth of children? Can the State be the protector and preventer of childbearing at the same time? Clearly, the State can be one or the other, but not both at the same time.
Likewise, it parents are the natural and primary educators of their children, the State can only support, but not replace them in that role. It cannot, therefore, impose a compulsory sex education program on schoolchildren, without parental consent.
Now, Article XV “recognizes the Filipino family as the foundation of the nation,” and marriage “as an inviolable social institution,” “the foundation of the family,” which “shall be protected by the State.” Sec. 3 provides: “The State shall defend: (1) The right of spouses to found a family in accordance with their religious convictions and the demands of responsible parenthood.”
This is where the Catholics and other religious believers come in. They have to defend their basic human right to their own respective religious beliefs. I am a Roman Catholic. I believe, with the Church, that contraception and sterilization are intrinsically evil, and I try to practice what I believe. My friend and neighbor is of a different faith; he believes that contraception and sterilization are good for his health. The absence of an RH law has not impaired, and will not impair, his “right” to practice contraception and sterilization. It will not hurt the practice of his faith. But the passage of an RH law will certainly hurt mine.
I do not want the State to act as the enforcer of my Catholic faith, and compel my friend and neighbor to believe what I believe. But I cannot allow the State to tell me to abandon my belief either and support with my tax payment a government program that attacks my religious belief. I would feel religiously persecuted, and I will have to respond accordingly.
I may or may not march against the government, I may or may not call or join any call for civil disobedience. But the so-called RH law would have no moral or constitutional basis and could not bind me or anyone else in conscience. It would simply further divide the nation. The law would have turned this country into a totalitarian state, and the government would, in the language of the February1986 CBCP statement, lose the moral authority to govern.
For these reasons, the House of Representatives would be well advised to simply archive the RH bill now, revoke the present RH program and appropriation, retool the Department of Health and the Population Commission, and begin to mind our more authentic and pressing national concerns.