For the longest time, a rational population management policy eludes the Philippine government due to the rabid opposition by the Roman Catholic hierarchy. So it is not a surprise when a councilor in Quezon City is met by stiff opposition by the Church (like this one: Cubao bishop opposes proposed QC population policy).
Historically, the Church and the State were intertwined since the Spanish colonization of these islands (some would even dare say that the Church and the State were one and the same). The arrival of the Americans and the invasion by the Japanese were just great interruptions in the relationship. It is therefore not surprising that the Church exercises great influence in the government. And it exercises that influence well.
Everyone who knows his Constitution will argue that this influence is crossing a thin line defined by the Separation clause (Article II, Section 6), to wit:
The separation of Church and State shall be inviolable.
However, I will not condemn the Church for its rabid opposition to birth control, rational or scientific its reasons or not notwithstanding. The Bill of Rights has this to say about religious freedom:
Section 5. No law shall be made respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. The free exercise and enjoyment of religious profession and worship, without discrimination or preference, shall forever be allowed. No religious test shall be required for the exercise of civil or political rights.
I believe that the Church, through its people, is exercising a right guaranteed by the Constitution. I cannot blame them if they oppose birth control with a fervor of an army ready to do battle with the enemy. Not only they are entitled to express opposition, they are also entitled to express their religious belief. And that includes the usual political gimmick (blackmail, pressure, to name a few). I will not begrudge them for their religious belief.
I will not give the same leniency to the government. Specifically, Gloria Arroyo.
Article 2, Section has this to say:
The State recognizes the sanctity of family life and shall protect and strengthen the family as a basic autonomous social institution. It shall equally protect the life of the mother and the life of the unborn from conception. The natural and primary right and duty of parents in the rearing of the youth for civic efficiency and the development of moral character shall receive the support of the Government.
Note the phrase “the life of the unborn FROM CONCEPTION” (emphasis mine). As you can see, the Constitution is clear that it will protect the unborn upon conception. Conception is defined loosely as when a sperm cell fertilizes an egg cell (Wikipedia). There is no constitutional barrier that prevents the government from instituting artificial family planning methods. But what prevents this government from doing so?
There are several issues that needs to be cleared here.
1. Does a president have the right to impose his religious conviction on the nation? Hell, NO! That is tantamount to establishing a state religion, which is expressly forbidden by the Constitution.
2. Does the government have the right to impose a policy that is clearly in violation of one’s religious belief? The answer is unclear at this point – we will need a court case to establish a solid answer. I think the answer is generally no; refer to Article III, Section 5 as stated above.
That’s why I wondered why no one challenged Lito Atienza when he banned the distribution of condoms and similar materials from Manila’s health centers. I think what he did what patently illegal, since his reason is religious in nature. This is the same reason why the Department of Health and the Population Commission are not pushing hard for artificial family planning methods. And this I condemn with strong words. This is the Catholic Taliban in action. The government is not even promoting such use only because it is against Gloria Arroyo’s religious belief.
Let me clear things out in closing.
1. The Church has every right to oppose artificial family planning methods and the Government from instituting such policy. However, the Church is limited to such opposition but doesn’t have the right to disrupt the Government from doing its job (specially when what the Government is doing is legal). It doesn’t have the right to impose its beliefs on the State.
2. The Government has every right to institute policies that will protect the people’s well being. However, it doesn’t have the right to impose a policy that is clearly against a person’s religious belief. (This is a gray area, specially when “imminent danger” is invoked.)
3. Gloria Arroyo, Lito Atienza, and other members of the Catholic Taliban have no right to impose their religious beliefs to anyone. They have no right to use the executive powers granted to them by the Constitution and the laws to “obfuscate” religious belief as government policy.
4. Every Filipino is free to choose what he wants, within the limits of the Constitution and his religious beliefs. Neither the Government nor the Church has the right to impose their beliefs on a Filipino citizen. If a citizen desires to use artificial family planning methods, the Government and/or the Church can’t stop him.
The Government must promote (not push) artificial family planning to those who are willing to use it. It should not be denied to those who need it most. I believe that the policy should be of promotion, not institutionalization.
This post was made in reaction to The Jester-in-Exile’s post on the same topic.