Political Tidbits is the prestigious column of Belinda Olivares-Cunanan that ran for 25 continuous years in the op-ed page of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the newspaper that she helped put up with its multi-awarded founder, the legendary Eugenia Duran-Apostol, in December 1985, just two months before the EDSA Revolution.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Rules broken in House over ‘substitute RH bill.’ Is there a Catholic vote? Definitely. Lipa Archbishop Arguelles appeals to CBCP colleagues to dedicate their dioceses and people to the Immaculate Conception of Mary on Dec. 8, to counter RH bill. Serendipity over Cardinal Wyszynski and Lech Walesa.

In the House of Representatives one can feel the tension daily over real or imagined showdown between pro-RH and anti-RH legislators---and this is reflected easily in the restiveness of their followers in the gallery. After the Secretariat determines that a quorum (minimum of 142 votes) exists, many thoughts immediately wonder to whether pro-RH advocates would try to push voting on this controversial bill.

Apparently there’s no defined rule of behavior on this issue, despite rules evolved over many Congresses by the Committee on Rules chaired by the Majority Leader.  For instance, last Monday,  Nov. 26,  174 House members showed up in answer to Speaker Belmonte’s plea for quorum and in no time what’s known as the Speaker’s “substitute bill” on RH was voted upon by viva voce (by acclamation of the ayes vs. the nayes), replacing the old bill principally authored by Rep. Edcel Lagman on deck.  


Many rules were broken in that exercise, one being that a heavily amended bill ought to go back to the committee; instead the "substitute bill" was railroaded  straight to the floor for voting. It’s easy to see why pro-RH solons chose viva voce---shouting one’s vote together with everyone else’s does not give one’s identity away; obviously the pro-RH solons wanted to hide from their bishops, lest the latter rain down fire and brimstone on them come election time.

But when Cebu’s senior solon Pablo Garcia called for nominal voting right after viva voce (which demands that each member stands up to explain his vote), presiding Deputy Speaker Gilbert Remulla quickly banged the gavel and adjourned for lack of quorum daw---even though 174 were present.


To some observers, the solons’ hiding behind the ayes and nayes vote last Monday confirmed their belief that there is a Catholic vote, despite protestations to the contrary, and that this could affect their standing in the polls in 2013. A veteran Mindanao legislator recounted to me not too long ago, as the two sides began their showdown, how he used to take the pro-RH side. He recalled with a laugh how nearly daily for weeks his parish priest would lambast him for this perceived stand. Today this solon is rabidly anti-RH and swears that there is indeed a Catholic vote---if it chooses to mobilize.  


If by Catholic vote we mean those sizable chunks of the population who would be swayed by their bishops to vote for a particular candidate because he or she happens to be their friend or patron, this doesn’t apply. But at this stage I personally think there is a Catholic vote indeed on the RH bill which has become a black-or-white issue to many people of faith, despite what the surveys aver. In fact I must confess I have never seen the Catholic Church as united as in these times.

To be sure there are discordant voices here and there, especially among some Church-goers (including some academic faculties of some schools). But by and large, the Catholic bishops appear to be solid---or near-solid---against the RH bill and united to their flock, as they find repugnant the RH imperialism being foisted on this Third World country from abroad. They also feel strongly against the bill’s provisions especially on the morality of abortifacient contraceptives, the sex education of the youth and attempts to control the population.

In other words, this is not campaigning for any one candidate for the bishops, but their taking a strong unequivocal stand on matters of faith and morals; it appears that they are willing to fight those who would advance anything to the contrary.


In fact in this regard, I’ve heard a couple of church historians opine that the fervor being displayed in some sectors of the faith reminds them of the same ferocity of feeling of the early Christians. Helping to fan the renewed flames of faith among Filipinos were recent events in succession: the canonization of St. Pedro Calungsod, the appointment of Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Tagle to the exclusive club of Cardinals and the proclamation of the Year of Faith and the New Evangelization by Benedict XVI.


Lipa Archbishop Ramon Arguelles
One of the most vocal bishops is 68-year old Lipa Archbishop Ramon Cabrera Arguelles, former vice-chair of the CBCP-Episcopal Commission on Family and Life and a spirited Batangueno whose roots are in Batangas City and Taal. Earlier this week Arguelles hit the headlines when he was quoted exhorting the faithful to use the “Catholic vote” against solons who would vote for the RH bill.  Arguelles’ exhortation drew various reactions, with some fearing it would turn off even Catholic faithful; but there are also those such as Batangas Rep. Hermilando Mandanas, who feel it’s time the battle-lines are drawn.  I’ve heard Ateneo alumni open about “putting their mouths where their conviction is.”


Earlier this week I also heard that the outspoken Lipa Archbishop, who had former served as military vicar before Lipa, had written fellow bishops exhorting them to dedicate their respective dioceses to the Immaculate Heart of Mary this December 8--- the Feast of the Immaculate Conception and a huge annual celebration in the Church. Arguelles, known to be very “Marian,” reportedly has scheduled the dedication of the Archdiocese of Lipa to the Blessed Virgin at the 5:30 pm. mass on Dec. 8 at the Cathedral.


From what I gathered, Arguelles has long been studying the phenomenon whereby the late Primate of Poland and Archbishop of Warsaw, the iron-willed Stephen Cardinal Wyszynski, had saved his country from communism by dedicating his country and people to the Mother of God.

Media sources note that Wyszynsky, whose 30th death anniversary last May 28, 2011 was marked in Poland and the Vatican, was imprisoned in 1953 during the government crackdown on Catholic resistance; he lived for months under house arrest. But as “Clerical Whispers” noted, Cardinal Wyszynski and the Polish Church “endured to celebrate the Millenium of Polish Catholicism in 1966, and later to see the election of his fellow Polish cardinal, Karol Wojtyla, as Pope John Paul II.”

Clerical Whispers said that at his Sunday public audience in Rome, Pope Benedict XVI advised visiting Polish pilgrims to imitate Cardinal Wyszynski, especially his “total abandonment to the Mother of God.” 


My sources note that Archbishop Arguelles sees this dedication of the Filipino people and dioceses in "total abandonment" to the Mother of God as the surest way to protect them from the evil onslaughts of the RH bill. This second week of Dec. 8 will celebrate not only the Immaculate Conception of Mary but also the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe on Dec. 12. Both of them are patronesses of the Philippines, with Guadalupe as the special patroness of pregnant women (her image from Juan Diego’s cape portrays her as pregnant).


By incredible serendipity, as we recall here the heroism of Cardinal Wyszynsky in standing up to communism in Poland, that country’s former President and Nobel Prize winner, Lech Walesa, who was most instrumental in the final overthrow of communism in his country two decades ago, was a visitor to Manila earlier this week. He made a call on President Aquino and addressed various groups.

The 69-year old former Solidarity Leader, said to be a devout Catholic, was quoted in a Star article as opining that couples “should be guided by their conscience, decide for themselves and not be dictated on whether they should use contraceptives.” The item said that Walesa had also opined that “the issue of the (RH) bill in the country should be done through proper consciousness and proper education.”

Walesa was quoted as stressing that “the Polish Church is always conscious of such (responsible motherhood or parenthood) and it is appealing that it is the responsibility and proper education that would lead to proper birth control…It has to come from the conscience and not from imposing condoms or any other items.”

Rightly said, Mr. Solidarity.

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