By INA ALLECO R. SILVERIO
MANILA — Just when Interaksyon.com published an interview with the late former archbishop of Milan and papal candidate Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini who said that the Catholic Church was “200 years out of date,” De La Salle professors called for intellectual openness and empowerment of the poor and marginalised women as they gave their support to the Reproductive Health bill pending in Congress.
Forty seven faculty members of DLSU declared their support for the Reproductive Health (RH) bill, or House Bill 4244, which aims to improve maternal health care and allow Filipinos the freedom of choice when it comes to planning their families. The educators released the statement to the media on September 4.
In a statement, the DLSU professors said they support the RH bill because as educators, it’s part of their mission “to create a haven for critical Christian thinkers committed to serve society, particularly the poor.”
In a nine-point manifesto, they addressed several bones of contention against the RH bill, which is being vehemently opposed by Catholic organizations and the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP). In the statement, the professors said that beyond protecting the right of the unborn, there should be recognition that a life that is weighed down by poverty, sickness, and social inequality worsened by environmental stresses “deprives humans of agency to transform themselves and the world for the common good.”
They also said that a key dimension of the democratic ideal in the country is to promote pluralism and diversity, especially promoting what will empower the poor.
“Empowering the poor and the marginalized, women in particular, requires opening up opportunities for their self-actualization. Lack of access to quality and affordable reproductive health services and timely information as much as poverty has kept many women from finding their own voice, exercising their basic rights, and taking their place as full members of society,” they said.
Gently criticising those who passionately oppose the RH bill on the reason that it is “going against the will of God,” the group appealed for intellectual openness guided by morality and ethics, as well as scientific truths and conventions.
“The ability to make moral judgments, however, requires knowledge and information, and for those living in materially constrained circumstances, requires further support from the society. The capacity to provide that support now rests with the State and its instrumentalities,” they said.
The professors – who are teaching subjects such as psychology, chemical engineering, literature, english and applied linguistics, educational leadership and management, philosophy and commercial law – said the passage of the RH bill into law is ” a much needed step toward the attainment of a just and democratic society which celebrates life at its fullest range and quality.”
The educators also enumerated what they saw as the benefits of the RH bill, saying that its passage would strengthen the government’s capacity to assist women and their partners to make informed choices. This, they said, will help both to become healthy and responsible parents.
“This is achieved by providing women and their partners, particularly the poor, with information and other forms of reproductive health support, including safe and affordable methods that do not violate the Constitutional provision declaring as illegal abortion and, by implication, the sale and promotion of abortifacient birth control technologies,” they said.
The professors also approved the RH bill’s provisions calling for the active participation of parents and their guidance when it comes to the sexual and moral education of their children. This, according them, , will help provide the youth with access to age-appropriate knowledge and information which, in turn, will equip them to make decisions that would prevent them from having early and premarital sex, unwanted and teen pregnancies, and abortions.
“The RH Bill is not a panacea to solve the problem of poverty; it is a vital component of the complex set of interventions that all sectors of society, not only the State, should undertake to promote and make successful,” they explained. “It provides only options for individual citizens, and does not contain coercive or punitive mechanisms to compel or penalize persons to act against their own religious beliefs, moral and ethical convictions, and cultural sensibilities,” it said.
The right to take a stand
Earlier in July, 160 faculty members of the Ateneo de Manila University came under fire from the CBCP after they signed a petition for the urgent passage of the RH bill.
Professors and students from ADMU, Ateneo School of Medicine and Public Health, Ateneo Law School, Ateneo High School, Ateneo Graduate School and Faculty, Ateneo de Naga University, Ateneo de Davao University, Xavier University – Ateneo de Cagayan, Ateneo de Zamboanga University released a manifesto supporting the RH bill. ADMU president Fr. Jose Ramon Villarin, SJ, however, immediately issued a statement saying that the university itself does not support the RH bill and that it toes the line of the leadership of the Catholic church in the country on the matter.
One of the RH bill’s main proponents in Congress and a former professor at Ateneo de Davao Gabriela Women’s Party Rep. Luz Ilagan immediately sided with the professors and said that it is “their right to give their stand on a very important issue.”
Ilagan graduated from and eventually taught at the Ateneo de Davao for 40 years.
“That they view the RH bill as a piece of legislation that will help provide much needed maternal and infant health services to Filipinos is a laudable demonstration of compassion, social awareness and a commitment for the poor and the marginalized,” she said.
Ilagan further said, “These teachers are living out the Ateneo Mission Statement of social concern by being men and women for others. We laud their fortitude in the midst of this adversity. We shall continue to emulate their pursuit of the Ignatian spirit manifested in their preferential bias for the poor.”
The Gabriela Women’s Party (GWP) solon said those opposing the bill in its current state and formulation can give their inputs as the proposed legislation now enters the period of amendments. She also said the GWP continues to push for amendments for a reproductive health policy that is beyond contraception, meeting demographic targets or population control.
“Let the RH policy be about giving women and children access to health services, information and choice,” she said.
Another teacher turned lawmaker, this time from the University of the Philippines in Diliman,” also gave his support for the academics supporting the RH bill.
“The CBCP may well be within its right to strip schools of Catholic status but it yet reveals how Catholic dogma and values are in conflict with modern, secular, and democratic values like women’s rights and academic freedom. We laud the stand taken by the 150 Ateneo professors for the enactment of the RH Bill and urge the Ateneo administration to respect their right to speak. We urge other members of the academe, including those in other Catholic schools, to take a similar stand on such a vital issue,” said ACT Teachers Party-List Rep. Antonio Tinio.
The lawmaker and the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) have long supported the RH bill, but said that there are provisions in it that they oppose such as Sections 3(l), 12, and 25) that promote population control, and Section 12 that states that family planning and responsible parenthood be integrated in anti-poverty programs.
“With this provision, release of the floodgate for the State to carry out its population control program under the guise of pro-choice and poverty alleviation is a reality we must collectively oppose. To allow the notorious Population Commission under section 25 to serve as coordinating body in implementing the bill once it becomes law underscores the State’s intent in pushing for population control,” said the group’s secretary-general France Castro.