Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Battle for Life and the Family in the Philippines

Note from Blog Admin:

Sen. Tatad has recently returned from a trip to England, where he delivered a speech at the National Conference held by the Society for the Protection of the Unborn (SPUC). To learn more about SPUC, click here. The text of the speech delivered at the conference is attached below.

The battle for life and the family

in the Philippines

By Sen. Francisco S. Tatad

and Ma. Fenny Cantero Tatad

at the SPUC National Conference 2009

Hayes Conference Centre, Swanwick,

Derbyshire, England

06 September 2009

My wife and I have been on the road for a little while now. We started in Amsterdam first part of August to address the World Congress of Families, then we flew on to New York for some meetings, then to Chicago to visit an ailing kin, then finally to Washington DC to see our daughter, her husband and their one year-old first born son, the youngest of our seven grandchildren from three married children out of seven. Indeed how gracious and sweet it is of our dear friend John Smeaton and his colleagues at the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC) to have us meet some of the finest people in Britain as we begin the 40th year of our married life, and to make it possible for us to join the rest of our board in the International Right to Life Federation (IRLF) right here, and I refer to our chairman Dr. Jack Wilke, Jim Hughes of Canada, Bill Saunders of the US, Dr. Talmir Rodriguez of Brazil, Chiang Lim of Australia, and John himself.

It is with the greatest joy that we have come to Swanwick, Derbyshire to speak to you about the battle for life and the family in the Philippines. Nowhere perhaps in the developing world is this battle being fought at this time as in our mostly Catholic country where the people’s faith in the sanctity of human life, marriage and the family, tested daily by the toxic influence of entertainment media, fashion and various other addictions, continues to draw so much pressure from the forces of secularism and relativism abroad.

In our country, where we might have learned to speak the Queen’s English had history taken a different course, the poverty of millions has given the various interested parties an easy excuse to proclaim to the poor that their traditional thinking about life and human sexuality and their outdated social conventions have become permanent obstacles to progress. But nothing could seem to dim our people’s faith in what they have always believed all their lives.

For all their weaknesses, the Filipinos are holding up. Human life remains sacred, and most of their families are intact. Abortion remains banned and punishable; divorce, civil partnership, same-sex union, etc. are out; the only sexes they recognize are male and female; the only marriage they acknowledge is the sacramental or civil union of one man and one woman for one lifetime. No penal law bans contraception or sterilization, but the State may not legally promote or propagate either; the Constitution bars it.

Our fight for life and the family then is slightly different from yours in terms of focus. Your main problem is legalized abortion and euthanasia, now euphemistically called end of life care. Our concern is state-run contraception and sterilization, the first step towards legalized abortion. But those committed to downsizing the family and the population would like to see us legalize abortion. So the battle rages.

At the beginning of this century, the Philippines became the thirty-fifth largest economy and the twelfth most populous country in the world. Its 90-million population, spread over 300,000 square kilometers of its own and various parts of the five continents, remains poor, with a GDP per capita (PPP) of $3,900. It is growing at an annual rate of 2.03%, with a total fertility rate (TFR) of 3.02, according to its National Statistics Office. The CIA World Fact Book, 2008, however, quotes the birth rate at 1.72%, the TFR at 3.00.

About 12 million Filipinos live and work in foreign countries, a good number of them here in the United Kingdom, out of necessity and by choice. A million more migrate abroad each year, leaving their families behind, in most cases. This imposes quite a burden on their families, but largely because of the support of their kin, friends and faith community, they generally manage to cope. The prolonged separation of spouses, however, normally curtails further new births.

The natural trend has been away from large families toward the smaller family, usually five--- three children and the two parents. My wife and I have seven children, but we are the exception rather than the rule. Still the extended family continues to grow through the marriage of their children. Every Filipino marriage brings together not only the newly married couple but also their respective original families. It is not unusual to find in many parts of the country three or more generations living together, and an entire clan living in a family compound as a small community.

The great majority of our people are young. The average worker is 23, younger than his counterpart in the industrial countries. While birth and fertility rates are irreversibly tumbling down everywhere and the most authoritative sources are warning against the rapid ageing and inevitable shrinking of Europe’s native population in less than fifty years, our own birth and fertility rates stand above the replacement level, and the great majority of our people and our fundamental law itself continue to recognize human life, the family and marriage as sacred and inviolate.

Paradoxically, the First World’s bitter harvest of broken homes, shattered lives and a demographic winter that has replaced the old myth of an exploding population with the grim reality of irreversible depopulation has failed to dampen the resolve of the downsizers of the family and the general population to infect us with their failed policies and programs. Since the whole of last year, while the world teetered at the brink of economic collapse, a prodigious number of Philippine legislators have been trying to push a reproductive health (RH) bill that contains everything proscribed by the Constitution, local custom, and the people’s religious beliefs and which attacks every aspect of human life and family life.

For obvious reasons, the bill stops short of seeking the legalization of abortion. But it tries to open a door to its eventual decriminalization. It proclaims the two-child family as a model for Filipinos, and seeks to establish a state-run contraceptives and sterilization program for all interested, and compulsory sex education for young children without parental consent. All this, despite the constitutional provision proclaiming the state as the equal protector of the mother and the unborn from the moment of conception, and parents as the primary educators of their children. The same constitution proclaims the family as the foundation of the nation, and marriage as the foundation of the family and as an autonomous and inviolate social institution.

Although the bill is driven by the same ideology driving the more widely known proposed Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA) in the United States, there is a striking contrast between the principles behind the two bills. One is not less dangerous than the other. But where the US bill wants to grant the individual a nonexistent right “to begin, prevent, continue, or terminate a pregnancy” without “governmental interference and discrimination,” the Philippine bill wants to give the State the equally nonexistent right and duty to prevent women from conceiving.

In a less Orwellian setting, given our unabashedly pro-life and pro-family Constitution, our legislators should have been the first ones to recognize the limit of their jurisdiction. The bill should not have been filed or drafted at all. If at all, it should have been declared void ab initio, and promptly archived by the standing committees to which it had been referred.

Yet the proponents tried to steamroll the bill by reporting it out for floor debate after only one committee hearing in the House of Representatives, and without requiring a valid quorum in the Senate committee hearings. Self-serving newspaper ads and highly suspect opinion surveys commissioned by the RH lobby claimed overwhelming public support for the bill even though only a few lawmakers appeared to have read its text. In the 2007 congressional elections the biggest vote-getter among the party-list parties was the pro-life “Buhay”, the Filipino word for “Life,” rather than any other party identified with reproductive health.

One of the first things we did was to email a copy of the bill to John Smeaton in London and to Bill Saunders in Washington and ask for their assessment. Their prompt response assured us we were not alone in our concerns about the bill. We copied their position to our friends in Congress, the bishops, priests and laymen at the frontline, who found it useful in finalizing their stand.

Meanwhile, a small band of “catholic scholars” from a Jesuit-run university declared in an open letter that despite the bill’s total disregard of Church teaching on the evil of contraception and sterilization, Catholics should be able to support it “in good conscience.” This was followed by some economists and “scientists” whose statements read like boiler-plate copies of each other.

Joining the debate, a group of 42 international scholars from well-known Catholic universities, seminaries and centers of research and special studies in the United States, Europe and the Middle East jointly rebuked the local academics for misrepresenting the truth of the Catholic faith, and said that no Catholic in good conscience could possibly support the bill. That silenced the pro-RH scholars.

Throughout this time, officials of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), notably the Episcopal Commission on Family and Life (ECFL), engaged with the leaders of Congress through the Bishops-Legislators Caucus of the Philippines (BLCP). As the need arose, they also wrote individual letters to all the lawmakers. Along with the other bishops, they brought the issue directly to the people through pastoral letters read in churches at Holy Mass. Then they engaged individual lawmakers in private, discussing with them the far-reaching cultural and ethical implications of the bill.

For their part, various lay organizations, women and family associations packed the galleries of both Houses daily, and held pickets and prayer rallies, just to increase the pressure on Congress. Lay professionals engaged the proponents in public forums, even those organized and funded by the RH propaganda office, and where the moderators and media anchormen and women made no attempt to be objective or neutral during the give-and-take. Leading opponents of the bill used their blogs to keep their public updated.

Before long many congressmen sent word that they were withdrawing from the bill, and many more, that they were seriously rethinking their original position. Alarmed and hoping for a favorable vote before any further defections, the authors and sponsors now tried to curtail the House debate by proposing the use of the guillotine. To this the pro-life and pro-family bloc replied that at least twenty-five of them had been waiting in line to take part in the debate and that any of them might be sorely tempted to filibuster if there was any attempt to impose cloture. That did it. The second of the twenty-five is still holding the floor even as we speak.

But towards the adjournment sine die of the last session in June, while the pro-life and pro-family groups were focused on blocking the RH bill, the pro-RH bloc managed to sneak in an undebated Magna Carta of Women during the logrolling of otherwise innocuous personal bills. What had begun as a harmless women’s bill had been turned into a harmful one --- one that yielded a cleverly reworded version of the proposed state-run contraceptives and sterilization program in the RH bill. Its passage would have rendered superfluous the passage of the strongly opposed RH bill.

In the original draft, the pro-life and pro-family bloc had agreed that the State could provide women with “ethical, effective, safe and legal methods of family planning.” This provision would allow the State to provide women free access to natural family planning, which does not mean contraception or sterilization, both of which are ethically unacceptable. In the final version, however, the word “ethical” was dropped, thereby changing the meaning of the provision altogether, oddly enough without anyone in the anti-RH bloc noticing.

As soon as the bishops saw it, they protested the maneuver and warned that unless the bicameral conference committee restored the word “ethical” in the bill’s final version, there could be a firestorm. The committee finally relented, putting to rest all objections to the bill. So we now have an acceptable magna carta for women.

Still, not completely chastened by that incident, the pro-RH bloc tried to bring in the RH language wherever they could, even in completely alien topics of legislation. Thus when Congress was trying to beat the deadline for a bill on agrarian reform, they inserted in the committee bill a provision that gave landowning rights to poor “women in productive and reproductive labor.” Despite the obvious irrelevance of the term “reproductive” it took time and effort to delete it from the text.

The real malice, however, is that while the RH bill tries illegally to replace the constitutional policy on what current UN-speak calls “reproductive health,” there is not only an unconstitutional policy already in place but above all an unconstitutional program which the government has been funding illegally for years. The program began in the early seventies during martial law under President Ferdinand Marcos, long before the 1987 Constitution barred state intervention in the family life of married couples. It relied heavily on funding from foreign governments, multilateral and other donor institutions, and entrenched itself as a bureaucracy within a bureaucracy, despite the 1987 constitutional policy that had rendered it void.

Thus, in the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in Cairo, the Philippine Secretary of Health could entertain a closed door gathering of international NGOs with stories of how he had used the US relief agency CARE to transport condoms and other contraceptives to the farthest places in the country along with US relief goods.

It was in Cairo where the least developed countries (LDCs) were first put on notice that they would eventually have to bear the cost of their own long-term RH programs, and for this purpose should be prepared to raise some $20.5 billion by 2010. Since then the country’s yearly RH budget has bloated, even though there has never been enough money for basic and high quality education, food production, low-cost housing, running water and basic sanitation for the poor or programs to save women from the major common killers. This year it appropriated two billion pesos. At the same time, foreign grants and donations for reproductive health continue to pour in to the government and the NGOs which are accountable to no one but their foreign funders.

The latest and by far the most devious and sinister move involves a constitutionally destructive campaign to bamboozle or coerce local government councils----in this case, mostly city councils-----into legislating the very program which, as we have seen, Congress itself does not have the constitutional authority to legislate. Local councils, which are not nearly equal to Congress, customarily enact ordinances (not laws) applicable to their constituents on matters within their jurisdiction and legal competence. How married couples perform their conjugal duties and exercise their conjugal rights is not subject to legislation, except perhaps in a totalitarian system. Assuming for the sake of argument it is, it is surely beyond any local council’s jurisdiction and competence; the local council would in that case be usurping a power not its own.

Yet upon the prodding of the RH lobby, several city councils have adopted their RH programs without much deliberation or debate. Many have entered into direct agreements with foreign governments and international organizations, or signed memorandums of agreement with the Department of Health to implement a massive contraception and sterilization program as though there were no insurmountable constitutional and moral obstacles to it. And donor governments and institutions, supported by a less than critical mass media, are the first ones to promote this gross disregard and destabilization of the Constitution while talking about the constitutional order and rule of law everywhere in the world.

Ideally, there should be easy recourse to the Supreme Court against such naked violation of the Constitution on so important an issue. But the pro-life and pro-family groups feel they should seek such a court ruling only after everything else has failed. So they must fight it out in Congress, the mass media, the schools, the parishes, every conceivable public forum, and each one’s private personal apostolate.

The problem continues to intensify particularly because of uncertainties in our national politics and increased pressure from abroad. US President Barack Obama’s lifting of the ban imposed by President Reagan’s Mexico City policy of 1984 on the use of American money for abortion activities in developing countries could bring in more RH money through the US AID. The other rich countries could flood our cities and countryside with more NGO workers determined to turn the country into an ideological war zone.

At the same time continuing efforts of the UN committee for the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discriminations Against Women (CEDAW) and the committee monitoring compliance with the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) to compel UN member-states to change their laws against abortion---to name just two---could ultimately alter the situation in our country if we elect a morally indifferent president in 2010 who would easily succumb to external pressure, or hold a constitutional convention that would render the pro-life and pro-family provisions of the present Constitution subject to change.

Although the UN treaties themselves do not oblige any country to legalize homosexuality, divorce, or abortion, the UN bureaucrats and “experts” monitoring their implementation have arrogated unto themselves the power to interpret them according to their own ideological orientation. And many fail to see this as a grave disorder. The most vulnerable are countries whose political leaders will trade their country’s sovereignty for foreign political support.

Many things need to be done to turn back the tide. At the international front, the United Nations must be recalled to its original mandate of promoting the peaceful and harmonious cooperation between and among nations rather than involving itself in the most intimate affairs of the family. Although the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is, strictly speaking, not a treaty, there must be greater respect for it, particularly Article 16, par. 3, which declares that “the family is the natural and fundamental group of society, and is entitled to protection by society and the State.” The UN must now be also more attentive in monitoring compliance with the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide, adopted a day before the Universal Declaration, which classifies measures “to prevent births” within a certain group of people as “genocide.”

There may be a need, and it is probably time, for the UN to conclude an international convention intended solely to prevent states, organizations of states, and their instrumentalities from controlling the reproductive faculties of men and women through state-mandated contraception, sterilization and abortion, instead of protecting the life and dignity of every human being from conception until natural death. For her part, the universal Church could probably finally come out with her Catechism on the Family, as earlier mentioned in the papal document, Familiaris Consortio.

In our country today, there is an urgent need to elect political leaders whose desire to uphold the sanctity of human life, marriage and the family is integral to any desire they may profess to defend the country’s sovereignty from any foreign interference in its domestic affairs, and lift it from poverty, corruption and moral decay. For the first time in our history, our predominantly Catholic electorate will need to choose truly good and faithful Catholic leaders who would exemplify authentic Catholic virtues, more than mere values, in public life. This is not to say we will need a confused cleric or any kind of preacher at all to lead any kind of theocracy; that would be a cure worse than the disease. It simply means having the best qualified, well-formed Catholic lay person or persons preferably to lead the government of this predominantly Catholic country.

Whether or not that comes to pass, we will simply have to rely on the strong faith of our people who, with nothing more than their native and innate good sense, have no problem recognizing that human life is a God-given gift without which nothing else is possible---the only gift that creates the recipient of the gift themselves within the family through a man and a woman united permanently and exclusively in marriage. Without the gift, the recipient does not exist; no human being therefore may claim the right to suppress or destroy it for being “unwanted.”

Despite all the gender workers trying to teach our poor women to call their pregnancies “unwanted,” we have not learned to use that word to describe anyone born or unborn the way they do so casually in other parts of the world.

We believe our Creator God calls no one to existence whom he does not want; and no mere creature has the right to override his will. Human life is an open sea that can take every drop of dew or rain that falls; it is not a gated piece of property which we, who walk the earth, could claim as our own and keep everyone else out as trespassers. For the poorest Filipinos therefore the fight for the unborn and for the natural family is no mere human struggle; it is God’s first before it is our own, and we continue to believe that God never loses any battle.

May the victory come to all of God’s children around the world soon.


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Guido Alfredo A. Delgado said...

Your comments and views are very well explained and I hope we can spread this to our countrymen. Can we work on a project related to this, together?

How about lunch in the month of October?