Philippines: Religious Opposition Stalls Progressive Legislation

Rights Based Bills in Congress

Among the rights-based bills in the Filipino Congress, two have encountered unwavering opposition from the Church. The first of these is House Bill 00017, a comprehensive reproductive health bill that owes much to the advocacy of the Reproductive Health Alliance Network, RHAN 1. The second piece of legislation is the anti-discrimination bill, House Bill 956. LAGABLAB, 2 the Lesbian and Gay Legislative Advocacy Network, has been the prime mover of this bill.

The "Reproductive Health, Responsible Parenthood and Population Development Bill" would provide access for Filipino families to safe, effective, affordable and acceptable methods of family planning. The bill has been co-authored by at least 48 members of the House and was approved by the House Committees on Health and Population and Family Relations. This bill has been re-filed repeatedly since being introduced in 1998 during the 11th Congress.

The anti-discrimination bill, "An Act Prohibiting Discrimination on the Basis Of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity and Providing Penalties Therefore," has acquired supporters from different government and mainstream institutions since it was filed during the 11th Congress, in 1999. But like the reproductive health bill, it has been an uphill battle to get people to support it and especially to make politicians understand its importance. Those advocating on behalf of both bills have found it necessary to hold numerous educational fora, collect research and documentation about cases of violence and discrimination, and meet with politicians to explain why there is a need for national legislation on reproductive health and to secure the rights of LGBTs.

The Church’s Response

Since 2001, The Catholic Church has minced no words, declaring that the reproductive health bill and the anti-discrimination bill are part of the D.E.A.T.H. campaign by groups they term anti-life, anti-family and immoral. In the acronym D.E.A.T.H., D stands for divorce, E for euthanasia, A for abortion, T for total contraception, and H for homosexual relations—all issues that in the eyes of the Church diminish the value of life and tarnish the Filipino family. At present there are no bills that advocate for divorce, euthanasia, abortion, total contraception and same-sex marriage.

The Church has used its influence in its congregations, in Catholic schools and with politicians, to condemn the bills and ask members of Congress to withdraw their support from them. Banners describing the reproductive health bill as abortion and saying no to same-sex marriage have been seen outside church walls. A "pro-life" group has labeled Reps. Ruiz and Salimbangon as "anti-Filipino," "anti-God," "anti-life," and "anti-family" for signing the bills in Congress. The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) has mobilized itself to campaign against birth control proposals pending in Congress and has even gone so far as to refuse to give communion to politicians supporting the reproductive health bill, promising the withdrawal of the "Catholic vote" in the upcoming 2010 national elections.

Despite scientific evidence that condoms are a critical part of HIV-prevention efforts and that contraceptives are an effective methods of family planning, the Church has refused to relax the ban on condoms and contraceptives. Instead, it has spread disinformation about their effectiveness, even to the extent of blaming LGBTs and the use of contraceptives for Filipinos’ declining standards of morality.

The Catholic Church has told people to withdraw their support for the anti-discrimination bill because once it has passed LGBT groups will then seek the passage of same-sex marriage legislation and thus taint and devalue the "sanctity of the Filipino family." Rep. Abante, who is the head of the Committee on Civil, Political and Human Rights and also a Baptist pastor, charged that the enactment of the anti-discrimination bill would invite the wrath of God and mean "death to the most cherished Filipino values of Godliness and moral rectitude."3 After lambasting the anti-discrimination bill, he proceeded to demonize the reproductive health bill, calling it anti-family and warning that condoms and sex education for young Filipinos would promote sexual promiscuity and decadence.

Humanae Vitae & the Philippine government

To celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Humanae Vitae 4 (Human Life), thousands of Church and lay people gathered last July 25, 2008 for an event to celebrate the sanctity of life and the sanctity of the family, and reiterated their hope to hear the President of the Philippines "reaffirm her commitment to protect the sanctity of life and that the foundation of a strong republic is a strong family." Their prayers where answered when President Arroyo reiterated her position during her state of the nation address last July 28, 2008. This was not a surprise since Arroyo has been taking the side of the Church on issues regarding family planning and LGBT in an attempt to maximize her political capital.

Reflections

The Philippines is a democratic state and under the constitution, Church and state should be separated. But this distinction is regularly undermined in the Philippines, where the Church repeatedly distorts facts about reproductive health and LGBT rights, intimidating people and politicians by threatening to withhold the sacrament in exchange for their support in opposing the two bills. In a democracy, everyone should be given the chance to know the facts and to live in a way that they see beneficial for them. The reproductive health bill and the anti-discrimination bill seek to raise the quality of life of all Filipinos. It is a pity that this fact is often lost in the polarized rhetoric around the legislation.


1- RHAN, a coalition of 40 NGOs and peoples’ organizations, is the country’s largest network working for reproductive health and rights. One of its main objectives is the passage of a national legislation on reproductive health.

2- LAGABLAB stands for the Lesbian and Gay Legislative Advocacy Network, a local network of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) groups and individuals working for LGBT rights. The main objective is the passage of the anti-discrimination bill in Congress.http://lagablab.wordpress.com/

3- See, "House human rights chair: Anti-Discrimination Bill to invite wrath of God", November 22, 2006. http://lagablab.wordpress.com/2006/11/22/abante-speech/

4- Humanae Vitae (Latin "Of Human Life") is an encyclical written by Pope Paul VI and promulgated on July 25, 1968. Subtitled "On the Regulation of Birth", it re-affirms the traditional teaching of the Roman Catholic Church regarding abortion, contraception, and other issues pertaining to human life. http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/paul_vi/encyclicals/documents/hf_p-vi_enc_25071968_humanae-vitae_en.html Forty years on, Humanae Vitae obstructs the implementation of good public policy for family planning and HIV prevention. To mark the anniversary, Catholics for Choice has released a new publication, Truth & Consequence: A Look behind the Vatican’s Ban on Contraception, which uncovers the history and current impact of the ban. www.CatholicsForChoice.org