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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.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Timely reminder in the internet on Feast of St. Stephen today: “The Catholic Church---Outlasting Oppressive Governments since 33 A.D.” Lacson laments bishops continuing opposition to RH bill, but this may be due mainly to bribery and intimidation that attended House vote. Monsod’s assertions questionable.



During this Christmas Season, some media opined that with the passage of the RH bill, the influence of the Catholic Church in the Philippines, which led the anti-RH campaign, is decidedly on the decline. Some critics said the local church is out of sync with its people, while others even argued with ill-disguised rejoicing that it's a dying institution. 

Several things must be noted about this ancient institution. A true believer posted on the internet right after the final voting in Congress this reminder: “The Catholic Church---Outlasting Oppressive Governments since 33 A.D.”  That date refers to the start of the persecution of the Christians after the crucifixion of Jesus Christ during the reign of the Roman Emperor Tiberius Ceasar (serendipitously, today marks the feast of St. Stephen, the first martyr of the Church).

Whoever posted the above reminder must be thinking of what Standard columnist Kit Tatad terms the first true opposition to President Aquino---the Church. This consists of the faith-based loose assortment of people---clergy as well as the faithful---who cannot be bribed and who nurture deep  convictions. A sampling of them filled the House gallery doggedly day in and day out in their blazing red outfits during deliberations and subsequent votings on the RH bill---a far cry from the hakot crowd of purple across the cavernous hall. 

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The second point is that the history of the Church shows that the more it’s persecuted, the more glorious it becomes. The bishops' stubborn insistence on giving no quarter to the acceptance of contraceptives may have caused some Catholics to drop out or be alienated from the Church;  but I suspect this is just another winnowing process it's going through in its 2000-year history. Those who have remained with it are are the “die-hard” members of the Faith.

In its long history, the Church has had to make tough decisions that shook it to its core. Take its refusal to yield to King Henry VIII’s demand that the Church recognize his divorce from Catherine and marriage to Anne Boleyn. In the process it lost England.  Yet the Church, critics to the contrary, still stands strong, confident of its Founder's promise that He will be with it "to the consummation of the world."

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The Church’s opposition to the RH issue is based primarily on its staunch belief that human life begins at conception (affirmed by our Constitution) and that contraception prevents this life from flourishing or even kills it in the womb; thus its use is immoral and contrary to the teaching of the Church. 

 It’s easy to see that it will remain adamant on this point even though it loses segments of the population who, as Standard columnist Gary Olivar noted, prefer to be “cafeteria Catholics”---choosing points they like about church teaching and discarding those they don’t like.

This immutability of its teaching over the many centuries is both the glory and the pain, the agony and the ecstasy of the Bride of Christ.

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But in addition to historic argument, it should be stressed that the 133 members of the House and 13 senators who voted to pass the RH bill last Dec. 17 do not truly represent the sentiment that the people want this bill. True, the surveys appear to convey this picture, but as some commentators noted, the survey companies have Aquino relatives as common denominator in their directorates. 

It’s a fact that the administration slugged its way to victory. The weekend before third-reading P-Noy certified the RH bill as urgent and this delivered the frightful message to his 92 party-mates in the House to vote or else. Even pro-RH commentators opined that P-Noy's move changed the equation.

During the two votings in the House several Cabinet members invaded the congressional lounge in a show of massive insecurity about the possible outcome. They coaxed nine LP representatives to reverse their second-reading vote---and others to go home if their conscience could not stomach signing the bill. And it worked:  of the 286 House solons, 66 failed to show up, but many of them were believed to be anti-RH in their hearts and consciences.

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There were also threats against re-electionist legislators that they won’t get their pork barrel, public works projects, road users’ tax proceeds and the Speaker’s one-month salary bonus if they vote against the RH bill. Solons feared this would happen, for among the five reps who haven’t received their pork barrel for the past two years is staunch oppositionist Mitos Magsaysay of Zambales.

In a front-page story of Manila Standard on Dec. 6, 2012, Alliance of Concerned Teachers Rep. Antonio Tinio spoke about the P280 million to be given to each House solon voting for RH, or to be withheld in a No-vote. That story has never been denied.

In the final days some solons spoke openly about their fears, and in an election year we non-politicians could only commiserate with their buckling down before an administration that unscrupulously pushed threats with taxpayers’ money. 

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Rabid pro-RH Sen. Panfilo Lacson laments that some bishops still feel bitter about the passage of the RH bill, when they should be the first to “reconcile” factions in our deeply divided people---"to let the healing begin.” But if some bishops still feel deeply aggrieved today, I surmise it’s because they saw how dirty the game was played. There was intimidation, threat and bribery---no free hand for some of the 133 who voted for the bill and the 66 who stayed away. 
It was only the 79 anti-RH solons who were truly free to vote their conviction.

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Arch. Socrates B. Villegas
Inquirer columnist Winnie Monsod took issue with Lingayen Archbishop Socrates Villegas' opinion as enunciated in the recent CBCP pastoral letter he penned, titled “Contraception is Corruption: Seeking Light and Guidance on the RH Bill.” For instance, Monsod disputed Villegas’ assertion that “Contraception corrupts the soul because a contraceptive mentality is the mother of an abortion mentality.” She cited Marston and Cleveland, International Family Planning Perspective, 2003, that claimed that, to quote Monsod’s column, “in general, rising contraceptive use results in reduced incidence of abortion.”

The source cited maintains as its main pillar contraception and population control, but there are many other sources that would dispute its assertion.

For instance, there's the third-edition book titled “A Consumer’s Guide to The Pill and Other Drugs,” by John Wilks (Bachelor in Pharm.,  MPS), Director of the Drug Information Centre of Western Sydney and the first Sydney pharmacist to be accredited by the Pharmacy Guide of Australia to the new Quality Care standards. More interestingly, Wilks provides consultancy services to other community pharmacists interested in patient counseling, and has held positions as researcher-investigator in a variety of projects linked with both the University of Sydney and PHARMACEUTICAL MANUFACTURERS (emphasis BOC’s). In other words, Wilks knew of the various contraceptive drugs whereof he spoke.

In his preface to this edition (published in PH in 2000) Wilks wrote, “I have added a detailed explanation of how the pill acts on implantation factors. This is a new area of research that has its origins in studies conducted by IVF clinics. Based on this research it is now clearer than ever how the pill can act as an abortifacient.”

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Citing Prof. R. Rahwan’s opinion that certain drugs “from a biological standpoint, must therefore be considered an early abortifacient approach,” Wilks warned, “The potent capacity of female hormones to affect every aspect of a woman’s body demands that a detailed case history and physical examination be performed, including the ascertaining of pregnancy.” Wilks adds that “These are mandatory pre-requisites. Only a doctor can meet these criteria. Any move away from this model of health care is foolish in the extreme. De-scheduling of potent drugs trivializes the complexity of the pill’s side effects and, consequently, BELITTLES THE DIGNITY OF WOMEN. IT IMPLIES, IN EFFECT, THAT WOMEN ARE NOT WORTH WORRYING ABOUT. (emphasis BOC’s).

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Dr. Angelita Miguela Aguirre, M.D., then associate professor of the UST Faculty of Medicine and Surgery, wrote in her foreword to this third edition: “Although (oral contraceptives’) abortifacient properties have been recognized since 1967, most physicians, including obstetricians and gynecologists, seem to be indifferent to, if not ignorant of this reality. Little attention is also given to the adverse reactions and side effects patients suffer. Prior knowledge of these potential problems is important in making an informed choice.”

This is exactly the beef of many anti-RH people, apart from the morality of contraceptives, which is a separate debate. This is, that in the bombardment of our women, particularly in the poorer sectors, with contraceptives, they would be left to the mercy of the Food and Drug Administration---which is so ill-equipped even in detecting mercury in cosmetics, how much more with the more complicated contraceptives---and under-trained health workers mandated under severe penalty to push these deadly drugs to control population growth. 

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Monsod also cites un-sourced 2008 data estimating abortions at an annual rate of 500,000.  She then went on to argue that had the RH bill been passed when it first surfaced 14 years ago, many abortions would not have occurred, “because obviously the conception of these babies would have been prevented” with wider access to contraceptives. 

What she does not say---or perhaps know---is that if the bill had been passed in 1998, there would be even more abortions, as some contraceptives, as Wilkes and Dr. Aguirre assert, are plainly abortifacient. In addition, there would have been many more deaths of women from cancers of various kinds, for it is an accepted fact in the medical world that some contraceptives result in cancer and other female disorders.  


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