A reconciled version of the Reproductive Health Bill (House Bill No. 4244 and Senate Bill No. 2378) has now been ratified by the two houses of Congress, only two days after it passed third reading. It is now certain to be signed into law having been certified as urgent by the popular president, Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III.
The RH bill achieved a landmark of sorts, comparable to the passage of the Rizal Law in 1956. Like the latter, it passed despite a bitter, all-out, and massive campaign by the conservative Roman Catholic hierarchy. Its difference is that, while the Rizal Law touched the nationalist nerve of Filipinos, the RH bill rode on human rights and women power. The latter have come of age in the Philippines, mainstreaming into the national consciousness.
Backround: RH bill awaits PNoy's signature after Congress' ratification
In both cases, the conservative Catholic hierarchy tried a wide variety of tactics, from using expert testimonies to more faith-based arguments, from appealing to lawmakers to threats of negative campaigns against pro-RH legislators in the 2013 elections. After the passage of the bills, there were still pronouncements coming from some bishops for a disobedience campaign, a case in the Supreme Court, and a partisan political campaign for anti-RH candidates. Earlier, there had been isolated calls for excommunication of the president and pro-RH proponents and comparison of the president to the Connecticut school murderer.
The behavior of the conservative Catholic hierarchy borders—if not actually crosses over—the thin constitutional line separating the church and state. There is already the historical record of revolts and revolution against friars and the Church authority on temporal matters on which people disagreed with the latter. The popularity of the Church positions on social issues, including its eventual anti-Marcos dictatorship position, relies heavily on their being aligned with the best positions already embraced by its flock. In this case, the flock leads the shepherd.
Related story: Philippine president accused of 'bribing' Congress
In resorting to extremist behavior, there is the danger that the conservative Catholic hierarchy may be perceived of overdoing its opposition to the RH bill. For some of them, it seems, the RH bill has become the be-all and end-all of its relations to the Aquino administration, to the government itself, and even to all Filipino Catholics. The latter were told off to leave the Catholic fold.
Ironically, if this extremist behavior persists, it will only provoke the latter. When ordinary people, most of whom are Catholics, cannot identify with the Church anymore, many will leave to become converts to other religions, Christian or otherwise, or become non-practicing Catholics. It is a dangerous behavior with graver consequences for the Church than to the State.
Also read: Philippine birth control fight not over: bishops
Some bishops—and the Aquino administration and most others in the pro-RH group—had already called for leaving the dispute behind, cooperate on monitoring and implementation of the RH law, and go on to more productive relations and projects.
There is sense in their arguments. The RH bill—or the RH law—is already in the throes of birthing.