MANILA, Philippines - The Reproductive Health Bill has yet to reach committee-level at the House of Representatives, but the debates are likely to get hotter.
As far as the RH Bill advocates are concerned, however, it’s high time that the landmark bill is passed.
The bill has been mothballed for a long time already - 14 years and counting - while population is on the rise.
The advocates can only blame the Catholic Church, which has seemingly stepped up actions to halt the passage of the bill – from threats of excommunication to civil disobedience.
In an interview with ANC’s Headstart, Gabriela Rep. Luzviminda Ilagan said “it’s a sad thing to do, almost tragic. They have not even read the text yet. They should take care of their flock and…lead moral examples.”
On Sunday, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) said “civil disobedience” remains an option if the government continues to push for its pro-choice agenda, which President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III himself has been trumpeting around.
In a statement, CBCP Secretary General Msgr. Juanito Figura said “the Catholic Church in the Philippines can do that if it decides to do that because for one thing, civil disobedience is a moral option, one of the moral options.”
The CBCP said the policy is unconstitutional, since it steps on the right of the unborn child.
Ilagan said “[the government] should not abdicate its responsibility. [The Church] should refrain from [throwing] threats that would muddle the issue. Here is a bill that has yet to be taken to the committee. We should also listen to the women and men on the ground.”
RH bill promotes abortion, same-sex marriage?
Ilagan said abortion is not the issue here, as what has been floated by the Catholic Church.
“The bill, in fact, has a provision which prevents abortion. It even provides choice,” she said.
It does not even say anything about same-sex marriages, she stressed.
“If there are people who want to go into that arrangement, that is their right, but we are not encroaching into that. The RH Bill is a comprehensive bill that will look into the needs of our women, from pregnancy to child birth to menopause,” she said.
Performance artist Carlos Celdran added: “We have to start focusing [on the issue]. We should stop dragging in other religions, classes, sexuality. We should focus on human rights, reproductive health and freedom of speech.”
‘Make this a priority bill’
Celdran, who was recently arrested after disrupting a service at the Manila Cathedral on Thursday, said Aquino should make the bill a priority.
“If you want the arguments and animosity over, let’s vote on the bill already. If it will just drag again until next year, we’ll just keep the animosity going,” he said.
Celdran already apologized for the manner of his protest, but is standing by his message.
Wearing a dark suit and top hat, Celdran held up a placard with the word “Damaso” in the middle of the supposed homily.
Damaso is the abusive priest in Jose Rizal’s novel “Noli Me Tangere.”
“Let’s look at it historically. The Manila Cathedral is built upon the ashes of a burned down Muslim Kingdom. You start telling me that I desecrated a place…Let’s get Rajah Sulaiman subpoenaed first. I believe somebody burned down his house to create that house,” he said.
Celdran is also a famous Intramuros tourist guide.
He is currently out on bail, but is still facing charges for violating Article 133 of the Revised Penal Code.
He said he is willing to talk to Manila Cathedral authorities regarding his case.
Reaching the masses
Nonetheless, Celdran said the pro-choice policy is the issue that should be at the forefront.
“It’s all interconnected. Touring Intramuros, how do I justify all the street children? How do I justify the poverty I see right beside the Cathedral. It’s really the street children of Intramuros that really drove me to do this,” he said.
Ilagan, for her part, said other advocates and activists are preparing campaigns to show the importance of the bill.
She said they are planning to make a Filipino version of the bill so that more Filipinos would understand the message.
“I think it’s a very good suggestion to publish it, or if we can’t afford to publish it…maybe we can ask Carlos to come up with creative ways…,” she said.