Episode 12: Responding to the Varsitarian, and How the Anti-RH Bill Position Should *Really* be Argued

Ah, Varsitarian, you can’t possibly be serious. Years ago, you destroyed your credibility to the academic and journalist world by publishing your “14 Horsemen” editorial, calling out the Ateneo professors – signatories of a paper supporting the RH Bill measure – back in 2008. And now, not only are you calling out Ateneo again, but now even the University of the Philippines?

Just when you thought they couldn’t sink any lower, they bring out the industrial digger.

Apologies if the following feels disjointed, as it is roughly a per-paragraph response to the editorial.

~ ~ ~

First, Varsitarian alludes to “people power” in the March 25 rally at Quirino, even going so far as to say that the “Church as a whole” was in attendance. Let’s examine that lie. Assuming a population of 90 million, at 80% Catholic, that comes to roughly 72 million Catholics in the Philippines. Yet the attendance was only 200k-300k. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that the Church “as a whole” wasn’t in Quirino that day. In fact, looking at the numbers now, it seems that the number that went there is less than 0.0042%. “Church as a whole.” Sure, Varsitarian, sure.

Archbishop Rosales claimed that the RH Bill will foster indifference to life, arguing from a position that a “contraceptive culture” promotes sex for pleasure’s sake only. Doctrinally, this argument is sound from a Catholic perspective. Nevertheless, it is also Catholic doctrine that faith must be acted upon voluntarily, and must not be imposed nor forced, especially not by law. This is clear from the 2nd Plenary Council of the Philippines #348 and from Pope Benedict’s Deus Caritas Est (see Episode 7)and is precisely the basis for the inclusion of the conscientious objector provisions in the bill. We can’t have our cake and eat it too. Either we we say that morality cannot be forced upon people – in which case we cannot impose Catholic doctrine of “natural family planning only” – or we say we can, in which case we directly contradict traditional Church teaching in preventing the passage of the RH Bill.

Life SHOULD be defended from conception. That is the Constitutional provision. But the Constitutional provision cited is clear: “life of the unborn FROM CONCEPTION” It has been the position of the Church ever since that conception starts from fertilization. Ergo: no fertilization, no conception; no conception, NO LIFE TO DEFEND. It is very simple deductive logic. I learned this in grade school, so you’d think that a bunch of college people could figure that out easily. Apparently not.

Since the Varsitarian loves citing the Constitution, here are a few relevant provisions they failed to mention:

“The separation of Church and State shall be inviolable.” – Art. 2, Sec. 6.

“The State shall defend: The right of spouses to found a family in accordance with their religious convictions and the demands of responsible parenthood.” – Art.15, Sec.3 (1)

Read together, this simply means that, first, the State will not impose any religious belief on the couple. This includes imposing religious doctrine in the form of preferences on what family planning method to use. Second, the State is duty-bound by the Constitution to defend the right of each family to plan their family according to their own beliefs. Beliefs which may, believe it or not, allow for the use of artificial contraceptives. Far from being “an attack on human dignity and the Filipino nation,” the RH Bill hopes to defend the rights of those families who do not have the means to exercise their rights, either because they were never educated on this right or because they are financially incapable of exercising it.

As to the charge of some artificial contraceptives being “technically abortifacient,” I shall leave that to the Food and Drug Board to decide, as does the RH Bill, and so should both the pro-RH and anti-RH groups. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

Now, when we, by law, compel medical workers to provide services to women suffering post-abortion complications, are we condoning abortion? Only if you believe that providing rehabilitation services for drug addicts condones drug use, or if providing emergency services to an drunk, over-speeding driver who crashed into a post condones drunken driving or speeding (or both at once, as the case may be). Fact is, even law enforcers who get into gunfights with criminals will call for ambulances for the criminals they just shot – is that condoning the act of shooting at policemen? The logic employed by the Varsitarian looks good at first glance, but once you step back and stretch it to its limit, it becomes evident that the logic is, well, illogical. And to answer the question: no, providing post-abortive medical services does not condone abortion.

Out of the three provisions the Varsitarian says they oppose, Section 18 (employers providing family planning medical services to employees) and Section 22 (prohibition of malicious engagement in disinformation) were removed after the editorial was published. The first, because it is merely a restatement of an existing and enforceable provision in the Labor Code, and the second because it has freedom of expression implications. That leaves Sec. 9, declaring contraceptives as essential medicines. The objection is that as Catholics, they do not want their tax money used in a manner that violates their faith. The unspoken assumption here is that tax money is Catholic money, an assumption to which Fr. Bernas disagrees. It is Filipino money, which has no religious characteristic whatsoever, and can ergo be used for secular purposes. Whether or not that secular purpose is offensive to one’s religious beliefs is not a consideration to the allocation of public funds for it – a necessary effect of having a secular country that separates religion and the State. To argue in this manner is to argue that religious belief must have influence over where public money is to be spent – a blatant violation of the Church-State separation.

~ ~ ~

Now, since I’m an Ateneo graduate taking law in U.P., you know I’m gonna respond to this:

“Now, Congress, backed by academics from the University of the Philippines (self-proclaimed leftist and nationalist) and Ateneo de Manila University (self-proclaimed democratic liberal and nationalist), both elitist and bourgeois institutions, want population control back! Their concourse should show that Statism exists, whether in the left or the right, and that Stalinists and fascists aren’t so strange bedfellows. In fact, for all practical purposes they’re cozy intimates. And from their act of consummation would issue the monstrous offspring—the RH bill, nothing less than the spawn of Statism.”

It can also be said that fundamentalism and stupidity aren’t so strange bedfellows either, but that’s just gravy. By defining each university in the way they did, the Varsitarian only seeks to position UST and itself as the “middle, reasonable, rational” ground. And yet from the breakdown above, it would seem that the Varsitarian editorial staff are neither reasonable or rational, nor is the UST position that they claim to represent; the only thing that is sure is that they’re in the middle of *something.* Feel free to provide possibilities here.

The real issue here is, why even bother arguing this at all? So what if Ateneo’s professors and U.P.’s professors support the RH Bill? Why demonize them and call them names? Why demonize the institutions they represent? (And to clarify: the official stand of Ateneo de Manila University is that it is anti-RH; it is its professors, in the exercise of their academic freedom rights, who support the RH Bill in their personal capacity.) Could it be because the Varsitarian needs to establish UST as “above” Ateneo and UP in this debate? But why do that if the argument against the RH Bill is logically sound?

Ah, there’s the rub. And it only took seven questions to figure it out.

In any case, you know you’re not thinking straight when you call U.P. “elitist and bourgeois.”

~ ~ ~

The main problem here is that the Varsitarian tries to posit a legal argument and falls flat on its face. It cites only the Constitutional provisions it wants, and ignores other provisions which weaken its case. That is simply intellectually dishonest.

Now, since I have friends who are anti-RH, and since I want to be fair to them, I have decided to argue for their case from a legal perspective.

To be clear, this does not change my pro-RH position in the least. Just because I can formulate an argument against it doesn’t mean I’m against the bill.

~ ~ ~

In American jurisprudence, they have derived a legal test to determine if State action has violated the Church-State separation clause. This is called the Lemon Test, named after the case which established it (Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U.S. 602). This test provides the following specific criteria:

1. The State measure must have a valid secular legislative purpose. This means that the measure’s purpose does not involve religious beliefs.
2. The State measure neither advances nor inhibits religion. This means that the measure does not primarily promote one belief over others, nor prevents the practice of a belief.
3. The State measure does not foster an excessive government entanglement with religion. This means that in implementing the measure, the State does not become involved in how a religion goes about its practice. To check for this we consider the following:
a. Character and purpose of the institutions that are benefited
b. Nature of the State aid
c. Resulting relationship between the government and religious authority

The RH Bill clearly passes Criteria #1 and #3. The purpose of the legislation is secular and valid (prevent spread of STDs, prevent maternal and infant death, promote family planning in general), and it does not entangle government with religion (since this will be implemented universally in barangay health centers and hospitals).

That leaves Criteria #2, which I will use to argue the anti-RH Bill case. First, I will establish that the sexual act in the context of a marriage is an intrinsically moral act, and within the province of religious belief. Second, by subsidizing artificial contraceptives and providing them for free, the State is advancing the religious view held by non-Catholics that artificial contraceptives is morally acceptable.

In principle, we recognize that the right to found a family is closely tied to the religious beliefs of a couple, as enshrined in Art. XV Sec. 3 (1). Founding a family necessarily involves intimate relations and bearing children, so we must understand these acts to be part of the scope of a couple’s religious convictions. This includes, therefore, all things related to the sexual act, including family planning methods. In fact, every major religion includes in its doctrine specific teachings on permissible methods of family planning, and invariably these doctrines deal with artificial contraception.

This brings me to my next point: The question of whether or not artificial contraception is permissible, in the context of its use by married couples, is a matter of religious belief. We can thus generalize the question into two overarching belief systems: those that accept the use artificial contraception as moral, and those that do not.

As opposed to natural family planning methods, which by their nature are virtually cost-free, artificial contraceptives are commercial goods that must be purchased to be used. This is the status quo, and has never been in question. It costs money, after all, to manufacture condoms, pills, IUDs, etc. so it is perfectly reasonable to have to purchase them.

The point where the State starts to advance religious belief, then, is when it subsidizes the purchase cost of artificial contraceptives and gives it to asking couples for free. The act of paying for condoms, pills, IUDs, etc. by the government, where couples would otherwise be willing to purchase them as part of the decision to use them, is tantamount to the State advancing the religious view that the use of artificial contraceptives by married couples is acceptable and moral. On this basis, the RH Bill fails the second criteria of the Lemon Test, and is therefore a violation of the non-establishment clause of our Constitution.

~ ~ ~

And THAT is how you argue the unacceptability of the RH Bill.

Of course, there are easy responses to that argument. You can say that simply making artificial contraceptives more readily available is not per se advancing the religious belief supporting its acceptability. You can argue that the RH Bill, taken as a whole, does not aim to promote any specific belief on family planning as superior/inferior to the other. Finally, you can posit that by the the act of advancing must be the primary effect of the RH BIll (see Lemon Test Criteria No. 2), and that given the intent of the RH Bill and specifically the subsidy provisions, advancing/promoting a religious belief is not the primary effect of the bill.

Nevertheless, it is at least an argument that is not addled by pretenses of a “moral high ground,” nor does it try to divert the argument to areas where the law is not concerned in the least.

If only the anti-RH people would argue this way (yes, Varsitarian, and yes Bishop Bacani, I’m looking at the both of you), then the discussion would likely be more fruitful.

Wishful thinking, I guess.

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7 responses to “Episode 12: Responding to the Varsitarian, and How the Anti-RH Bill Position Should *Really* be Argued

  1. To be honest, I can’t even get past the first paragraph. Soooo. The Varsitarian has its own annotations of the Constitution.

    And hey we should totally link exchange! Although my blog is nowhere near as socially and politically relevant as yours 😉

    • To be fair, sumakit ulo ko trying to figure out a way that an anti-RH Bill position could be argued from a law perspective. Nakabukas yung Consti II notes ko the entire time. Lolz.

  2. Pingback: Episode 17: The Year That Was, And How The Times They Are A’Changin « Letters from the Laughing Man·

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