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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.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

On the First Sunday of Advent and Feast of St. Francis Xavier, let’s pray for nation and church at crossroads of critical vote on RH bill. P-Noy invites House members to lunch over bill. Stand of six House Deputy Speakers (four anti-RH and two pro-RH) mirrors deep division among people and nation on this issue. No justification for this bill that succeeds only in squandering time and resources better devoted to other problems.




It’s the First Sunday of Advent today. Across this Catholic nation churches have all lighted the first of four candles in the Advent Wreath that will soon usher the Christmas Season. It’s the most joyous feast in our country---a time when our people forget their problems and there seems so much goodwill and love.

Today is also the eve of the Feast of St. Francis Xavier, perhaps the greatest missionary of the modern era in the 2000-year history of the Church.

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At this time, however, the country---and the Philippine Church---stand at a critical crossroads, and it is a good idea to recall the Season of Grace that is Advent, and invoke the intercession of the great missionary Francis Xavier four our country and the church.  For news reports indicate that the House of Representatives is being ordered by President Aquino to put an “early closure” on the RH bill; and to show he means business he has invited to lunch at the Palace tomorrow all 284 House members from both the majority and minority parties---to talk RH. 

There’s some speculation in the media that the solons’ PDAF would be distributed in advance tomorrow, presumably for use in the 2013 elections.

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P-Noy was quoted in recent news asserting that he won’t crack the whip on the solons but instead will respect their freedom of conscience in the RH issue. But going by past events in the House this may not be easy to believe.

 A House observer even wryly remarked to this blogger that he wouldn’t be surprised if the attending solons would then be loaded into buses after lunch and hauled straight to the House in QC---just so that they wouldn’t have any excuses to boycott the all-important session tomorrow afternoon.  

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A major newspaper made the startling banner headline today, “Church-gov’t ties thawing.” Many find this headline awfully curious. Its banner story recalled how P-Noy attended first the national thanksgiving celebration for St. Pedro Calungsod in Cebu a few days ago, that was also graced by high Church authorities led by CBCP President and Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma, Cebu’s retired Ricardo Cardinal Vidal, and new Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila. Then the story reported that yesterday P-Noy and ranking civil officials also attended the thanksgiving mass in Dilao, Paco, for the recent elevation to the College of Cardinals of Archbishop Tagle.

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Because the report said all went well in both occasions, with nary a note of acrimoniousness among the attendees, this newspaper was moved to rhapsodize that “Although temperatures are falling, it may already be spring for the Catholic Church and Malacanang.” It regarded the two back-to-back Church occasions that saw P-Noy and ranking church leaders interact pleasantly, especially with P-Noy and Tagle “connecting well,” as signaling a “thawing of relations between Church and State.”  

Toward the end this newspaper’s story detailed how P-Noy appears to have “discarded his confrontational stance, preferring to let the lawmakers decide on the fate of the (RH) bill.” He was quoted as stressing that “We all have a value system, a belief system, and we must listen to what our conscience says. So the party will not impose, and our allies (will listen to) each other’s conscience. They should be the ones to decide. But the suggestion is to decide,” Aquino was quoted as saying.

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But the question in many minds is, what “thawing” could there be, when President Aquino hosts a lunch tomorrow where he would push for “early closure” of the issue the Church is very much opposed to and which has bitterly divided the nation. To my mind, the provocation by the Palace of this bitter division in the nation's soul has stirred deep resentment among the ranks of the bishops and clergy, and thus, "thawing" may be an over-simplification of the current state of relations between the President and the Church. 

I strongly suspect this newspaper chose to make a big thing out of the recent events with P-Noy and Church leaders in order to soften whatever adverse reaction the bishops could have over the coming RH showdown in the House.

Startling indication of this resentment may be the warning served by  Fr. Jerry Orbos, SVD. in his column today in the same newspaper: "...Take note: Catholics can be belittled and pushed, but when push comes to shove in matters of freedom, faith and family, expect Filipino catholic action for the good of our people and our nation." Strong words from the usually cheerful and be-dimpled prelate.


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Deputy Speaker Pable Garcia Sr.
An indication of the bitter rift provoked by the RH bill is that in the House both the majority and minority parties are frightfully divided. Two of the six Deputy Speakers are for RH (namely, Erin Tanada and Crispin “Boying” Remulla), while four are against RH and Pro-Life (namely, Raul Daza, Pablo Garcia, Beng Climaco and Noli Fuentebella). Even the Cabinet seems divided: among the anti-RH is DOTC Secretary Jun Abaya.


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While P-Noy now says he’s for freedom of conscience on this divisive issue, in reality his lieutenants appear to be resorting to all tricks in the trade to push the vote.

House sources indicate that the current Palace tactic now is to push voting beginning tomorrow afternoon, despite the fact that Deputy Speaker Garcia’s motion last week, i.e., to open the “substitute RH bill” to amendments, should be on deck.  P-Noy’s allies could just steamroll the vote anytime from tomorrow to Wednesday, Dec. 5, or at the very latest, before the House adjourns for Christmas break on Dec. 19.

House leaders realize that if the RH fails to be voted by Dec. 19 it stands little chance to be passed during the Jan. 21-Feb.8, 2013 resumption of session, as the solons would already be very busy campaigning for May 2013. 

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In pushing incessantly for this bill, the President has shown seeming indifference to the effects it’s producing on the nation. Even in a country as open and democratic as the US, the President would not confront an issue as sensitive and divisive the way P-Noy is doing now with the RH bill. 

What he has succeeded in doing is to squander precious energies and talents that should be devoted instead to solving the issue of continuing and deepening poverty despite the “surprising” 7.1 economic growth last quarter, the deteriorating peace and order situation, the failure to attract substantial foreign direct investments here (Ph has the second lowest FDI in Asean), etc.  

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Deputy Speaker Raul Daza

The problem really is the tendency of pro-RH advocates to over-simplify the problem by arguing that “overpopulation” is the reason our country is poor.  I heard Deputy Speaker Raul Daza, one of the most vocal Pro-Life advocates in the House, narrate to media how his province of Northern Samar was 5th from the bottom among the poorest provinces in the country when he became its governor in 2001.

Banning public endorsement of contraceptives, vasectomy, IUS  and other birth control devices, Daza said he succeeded in raising the province’s economic well-being so that by 2005 Northern Samar had jumped to No. 7 from the bottom; by 2009, when he exited from three terms as governor, it had doubled its progress from 2001, to become 10th from the bottom. All this progress Northern Samar scored, Daza stressed, even as its population growth was 2.3 %, considered the highest in Region VIII.

Raul Daza attributed his province’s progress to "a combination of good governance and poverty alleviation," which he said his son, Gov. Paul Daza continues.  


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