Much has been said about the issue of Reproductive Health in the Philippines. The debate is sure to rage on for some time yet, tonight’s Harapan debate on ABS-CBN being little more than the televised version of the discussions that happen all over the country every day.
My qualm about the debate is that religious groups have such an insistent voice in this discussion. In last night’s debate I was disappointed to find out that the CBCP’s spokesperson and at least two medical experts affiliated with the Pontifical and Royal University of Santo Tomas were speaking in opposition to the RH bill. Rodrigo Tano, a Protestant bishop and chairman of the Interfaith Partnership for the Promotion of Responsible Parenthood, spoke in support of the bill, as well.
I’m not surprised that religious groups have a say on the matter of reproductive health in a society as conservative and religious as ours. The CBCP, I need not mention, has been furious in its offense against the bill, occupying all the airtime and column space the networks and publishers will allow them. Catholic teachings, of course, prohibit the use of artificial family planning methods, although Jay Salazar has pointed out that many clerics were in favor of contraception.
The church to which I belong, the Iglesia Ni Cristo, is opposed to natural family planning methods and advocates the use of modern family planning so long as it is not abortifacient; this has been the church’s stance since at least the 60s. Ka Eduardo Manalo, the Church’s Executive Minister, explained the INC’s stand to Rep. Rogelio Espina, chairman of the House committee on population and family relations, in a letter he wrote in October of last year.
The Interfaith Partnership for the Promotion of Responsible Parenthood, Inc., comprising several Christian denominations, similarly expressed their support for legislated Reproductive Health.
The fact, however, is that these opinions do not matter in a secular debate such as this. Or at least, they shouldn’t.
Much of the time that could have been spent discussing the merits of the bill in last night’s debate was wasted on irrelevant religious banter; for a fleeting, painful moment the discussions swerved into excommunication and priestly celibacy. Many anti-RH bill tweets sadly professed that to prevent the bill’s passage was to preserve our country’s morality, as if anyone has a right to define morality for 90 million people based on their religious beliefs.
This is my problem with the debate. I am a non-Catholic Christian living in a secular democratic state. My being non-Catholic doesn’t make me any less Filipino than Oscar Cruz; why should my opinion matter less than his?
So why don’t we stick to our beliefs—you to yours, I to mine—and discuss the bill in a secular context? To do otherwise, that is, to use any religion’s argument in any way in the RH debate, is to disrespect all other religions. It is, more importantly, an insult to democracy.
In simpler terms, I don’t care what your or my religion’s stand is, it doesn’t matter in the debate.
Of course, I don’t expect pious Catholics to oppose their Church’s teaching, the same way I don’t expect my brethren in my own faith to oppose ours. This is precisely the point, without getting too wordy: you do what is right in your belief, I do what is right in mine, and let’s argue the RH bill without stuffing the King James Version down each other’s throats. The result, hopefully, will be a bill that is forged on common ground and that respects the diversity of our country’s culture and faith.