The Struggle for A Catholic Way of Life
The Philippines for centuries was known as the only Catholic country in Asia until East Timor gained its sovereignty on May 2002, it was then that the Philippines and East Timor shared the distinction of being the two countries in Southeast Asia that are predominantly Catholic.
In the Philippines, more than 80% of the people belonged to the Roman Catholic Church. The seeds of Christianity were planted in this archipelago with the arrival of Ferdinand Magellan in 1521. Miguel Lopez de Legazpi's expedition in 1565 started the Spanish Colonial Period that spanned for more than three centuries profoundly influenced the Filipino culture. The Spaniards left a profound Catholic Heritage that permeated the lives and psyche of Filipinos finding its creative outlets in the arts, architecture and lifestyle until the present time.
Recently, the Philippines was in the limelight for being one of the only two sovereign nations that does not have a divorce law, the other one being the Vatican City. However, some members of the country's House of Representatives are overly eager to join the rest of the world in having a divorce law. Indeed, it seems that some members of the Philippine Congress are working overtime with proposals for the passage not only of the Divorce Law but also the Reproductive Health Bill (RH Bill).
At present, the major issue that has caught the attention of the Church in the Philippines is the RH Bill. Alarmed by the proposals to distribute contraceptives and condoms in local health centers using public funds, the introduction in the elementary schools of Reproductive Health Education/Human Sexuality patterned after those developed in Western countries, and the possibility of introducing legalized abortion in the country. The Bishops with their flocks and concerned Pro-Life groups have organized rallies, seminars and awareness campaigns against the RH Bill throughout the country.
The RH Bill and the Divorce Bill are merely reflections of the undercurrent in the sea of change that the Filipino society is undergoing for the past decades. I believed that this emerging materialistic and secularist philosophical atmosphere serves as the matrix why the RH Bill is gaining so many supporters among us Filipinos even if they are baptized Catholics.
The issue of the RH bill is far more complex and deep than what we Filipinos can imagine. The source from which the bill draws its dynamism comes from an emerging philosophical paradigm that slowly unravels the fabric of traditional Filipino culture that in my opinion is essentially secularist and anti- Catholic. These anti-Catholic groups usually project the Catholic Church and its teachings as "anti-progress" and "conservative".
In a Developing Country (also called as Third World before) like the Philippines, there is always the concern of poverty alleviation. The issue of poverty is usually enmeshed with almost all the problems besetting the country. Lawmakers usually cite poverty as the reason for passing this or that law with the intent of making the country materially prosperous. Filipinos for a long time accepted these promises of poverty alleviation but after several decades what we got are just pieces of broken promises. Once more, the proponents of the RH Bill present this bill as part of the poverty alleviation program. Another promise meant to be broken.
The thinking that the RH Bill will help alleviate poverty is actually a deceitful attempt to replace the Filipino values with materialistic values because the proponents are insinuating that children are "expenses or financial burdens" and no longer as "treasures of the family." This is a direct affront to Filipinos who value more than any other possessions their family and children.
The RH bill with all its intent and purpose is plainly telling us that there will be no poor people if the poor stop propagating! I believed that in a poor country like the Philippines, the poor are poor because there are no available jobs while those who have jobs received wages that can barely cover the high prices of commodities, shelter, and medicines.
In other words, it deflects attention from the real cause of poverty in the Philippines, which is corruption in all strata of government and society together with unequal opportunities and distribution of wealth that caused the Philippines to languish in poverty.
There is also the presence of a strong Western ideological agenda in the push to pass the RH Bill into a law. It is undeniable that the RH Bill is recommended and sponsored by Developed countries. One of the RH Bill proponents who professed herself as an atheist argued that if the Philippines will not pass the RH bill then what will the international community say since we have already entered into an agreement that we will pass the RH bill. She is more concerned with the opinions of foreign countries than what is authentically helpful for her fellow Filipinos!
It makes you wonder whether we Filipinos elected our public officials in order to serve the interests of foreign powers. Another irony is this, the proponents of the RH bill always claimed in the debates that what they are for is to give the people the opportunity to choose, in other words they are Pro-Choice. Yet this particular RH Bill proponent presented her argument that since the Philippines have already entered into an agreement with other countries to ensure the legislation of a Reproductive Health bill in the country, it seems that Filipinos' got only one choice, to have the bill passed! Is there freedom to choose when you got only one choice?
In the end, the 'battleground' is the mind and heart of every Filipino. There is a need for an authentic Christian formation of the Filipinos so that they may be able to resist the forces that seek to destroy their moral values and to inoculate themselves against the mentality that intends to replace the Gospel values with secularist and relativistic philosophies. It is sad that there is a growing trend among the Filipino intelligentsia to readily dismiss Catholic doctrines as obsolete and 'out of sync' with the needs and realities of the modern world. Although, the Philippines is a deeply religious country there are observable phenomena of the dichotomy of faith and life. At the same time, many public officials and members of the academia virtually marginalize Christianity by confining its boundaries within the walls of churches. Whenever the Church leaders speak out, the usual retort is that the bishops and clergy should focus on religion and not on political issues.
I believed that among the varied reasons raised by both the Church and the proponents of the RH Bill, the most important element is the formation of the conscience of the people. Material prosperity does not guarantee that people are better than those who are not. Nor does it ensure that those who are poor are more 'moral' than the rich or that contraception will result to a better Philippine society. There is a need for the development of a well-formed and educated conscience because this will be a sure guard against the pernicious elements that seek to threaten the integrity of the faith in the Philippines.
Lastly, at the heart of the issue is the Filipino family. This is what the RH Bill and Divorce Law is destroying. It is rather confounding why is it that my country wants to have the things that many countries does not want to have or want to let go already. Particularly, the contraception mentality and the divorce law with the many problems it produced such as their aging society, sexual promiscuity, and the trauma of children growing up in broken and mixed families among many other unarticulated pains. Hopefully, my country will hold on and cherish its Catholic faith amidst the challenges that plague it these days.