Friday, February 12, 2010

The CBCP: Pro-Life But Against the Living

As I've mentioned in previous posts, the Philippines has a long road to travel in getting its moral priorities straight. Part or most of the blame for this country's misplaced values lies with the CBCP--the Catholic Bishops Conference of The Philippines, which among other duties acts as a political lobby for the Church. Thanks to the efforts by the CBCP, the Reproductive Health Act as pending legislation is dead meat, at least till after the national elections in May. The RHA would have reversed the government's long-standing position against family planning via artificial birth control methods and would have made these means more available to the public than they are at present.

At this time, the only "family planning" measures that the Church allows and that the national government supports are those that they consider "natural", such as the bizarre "fertility awareness" approach and the rhythm method ("Vatican Roulette"). These are high-risk methods for preventing pregnancy (why else would the Church allow it?). This is especially the case for women with irregular ovulation cycles and who cannot track their "stop" and "go" days, and / or couples who for their personal reasons do not wish to abstain from sex at the "required" times of the month.

Through intimidation of politicians and lying to the voters, the CBCP, which falsely claimed that the RHA is "anti-life" and that all means of artificial birth control are "abortion", has shown itself to be hypocritical and dictatorial. As early as 2008, the CBCP threatened to withhold communion from Catholic legislators who backed this law. Then in January, this august body told Church members (the predominant percentage of the electorate in the Philippines) to "vote their consciences" in the pending elections but to reject politicians who support the RHA. In other words, "vote your conscience as long as it tells you to do what we want".

But it gets even better. When a radio journalist asked an influential bishop why the Church on one hand condemns legislators who support the RHA but on the other does not denounce politicians who oppose birth control but who are corrupt and steal from the people, the clergyman had the audacity to respond that in the greater scheme of things, official corruption is less of a sin than the use of artificial family planning methods(!) In other words, wearing a condom or taking the pill to prevent unwanted children is a greater sin than plunder. Further, the good bishop sees nothing wrong with Church officials socializing with crooked politicians, especially the ones who give money to the Church.) In the Middle Ages, this practice was known as selling indulgences wherein rich patrons could commit immoral acts and then buy their way back into the grace of heaven simply by donating money to the Church. ( Hmm, that would explain a lot about wealthy lawbreakers here).

Just where does the CBCP get off by claiming to be "pro-life" anyway? The Maternal Morality rate of 230 out 100,000 live births in the Philippines is unacceptably high, thanks to the Church's stance regarding family planning. These (mostly poor) women who die in childbirth might still be alive if they had easy access to birth control. In addition, 32 out of 1,000 infants do not live to see their first birthday. There are thousands of street children throughout the country, some as young as four years whose parents cannot or will support them. Yet if there are any Church-supported orphanages to take in these kids at least in the Metro-Manila area, I'm not aware of them.

As for abortion itself, this birth control method of last resort which is illegal in the Philippines is nevertheless not uncommon here. It is often self induced usually by desperate (usually poor) women who would not likely have to go this route if they had knowledge about and access to artificial means of family planning in the first place. Of course, well-to-do women can instead avail of safe and legal abortions simply by going abroad. Ironically, one popular spot where abortifacients are peddled is on the steps of a Catholic Church in the center of Manila..

At the end of the day if a person believes that artificial birth control is wrong and that it's up to an (unproven) supreme being to determine how many a children a couple will have, that in my opinion is a severely misguided outlook. Yes, the argument could be made that one is entitled to his or her own personal beliefs, no matter how baseless. The problem is that opponents of birth control are more likely to to try to force their beliefs on those who want to limit the number of their children or be completely child-free than the other way around. In a seriously overpopulated country like the Philippines, this is more than just an academic debate. The problem of too many people and too few resources is not going to go away by itself. It is a fact on the ground that must be dealt with realistically and soon--like yesterday.

In 1979, China which was also faced with staggering overpopulation implemented a law limiting the number of children to one child per family. It was a draconian measure, but it worked. May the Philippines never have to resort to such steps to bring the population into manageable levels, but if that's what it takes, or at least the suggestion of such means for the people to understand what a population catastrophe that the country is facing, then the concept in some form or another should not be completely dismissed. For example, people could be "incentivized" i.e. rewarded for limiting the size of their families instead of being forced to do so. Otherwise, if the status quo continues and the population here continues to mushroom, the assertion by Filipinos that they love children will prove to be as empty as the bellies of street kids who are reduced to scrounging and begging for food.

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