Palatino’s low blowBy Malou Guanzon-Apalisok
Kabataan party-list Rep. Raymond Palatino is reaping public scorn after he filed a proposal in Congress to ban religious symbols and the holding of religious ceremonies in government offices. If we follow the timeline of the Reproductive Health Bill, Palatino may just be sowing the seeds of another secular initiative that, in due time, will gain acceptance and approval.
In justifying House Bill 6330, the lawmaker cited provisions on freedom of religion in the Constitution, which “asserts the republican and secular nature of the state, such that although laws could be religious in its deepest roots, it must have an articulable and discernible secular purpose and justification to pass scrutiny of the religion clauses.”
Palatino’s measure amounts to saying that in this country not everyone is Catholic, and Catholic images and ceremonies in government offices and buildings could offend those who do not belong to the same religion.
Catholicism in the Philippines is not just a form of religion but part of people’s culture. Eighty-three percent of the population are Catholics. Other religions that constitute the 17 percent are not viewed as “outsiders” because they are also believers. State and Church leaders have made serious efforts to promote ecumenism or unity among Christian religions. There is no dire situation occurring even in Muslim Mindanao that would warrant even the mere suggestion of banning Catholic religious articles or services in public places.
True enough, widespread resentment met HB 6330. And since the 2013 midterm election is just around the corner, support for this bill would be a kiss of death for any Congress member or politician for that matter. Palatino’s measure is just too hot to handle, pagka karon (at this time).
I am moved to qualify my observations because 10 or 20 years ago, no lawmaker would touch the earlier versions of the Reproductive Health Bill with a 10-foot pole. Population control was a bad word during the Marcos regime, so in 1992 policy makers tried to soften it by using the term “population management.” But people still railed against the policy because it was opposed to the Catholic religion.
The shift in the people’s outlook happened gradually as artificial birth control was factored in the government’s anti-poverty intervention. The view that hunger and unemployment stemmed from overpopulation gained more ground and surveys came out with figures to validate the change in the way people think. While the fallacy was being peddled, artificial birth control was being talked about in the arena of wellness or reproductive health.
The debate cited artificial birth control as no longer a matter of religious belief, but rather a self-determining act that no government or religion should govern. Policy makers were only too happy to stand on the artificial birth control platform as a way of evading poverty’s real root cause: widespread government corruption.
And then the unthinkable happened. From mid-2000 and the succeeding years, popular surveys showed that more and more Filipinos favored artificial birth control measures. In 2010, 69 percent dropped their resistance to population control. After the policy was renamed Reproductive Health Bill, pollsters reported a surge in approval, from a low of 73 percent to a high of 76 percent. Owing to the bill’s wide acceptance, sponsors in Congress challenged the anti-RH bloc to settle the issue based on surveys.
My point is that when the artificial birth control measure entered our consciousness 50 years ago, we thought it would not get past Congress because we are a predominantly Catholic country. But look where we are now. RH Bill authors are even optimistic that the landmark measure will be approved in two months.
Rep. Palatino’s bill reminds me of a measure filed by the city council of Oxford in the United Kingdom in 2008.
Called the “Equality Bill,” it sought to prohibit Christmas festivities for fear of offending people of other religions. The legislation consolidated all previous “equality” bills in the UK that included a range of other provisions like references to Christmas and its symbols like lights, Nativity scenes, Christmas trees, etc. Even winter festivals had to be renamed “wintervals” because festivals evoke Christmas celebrations.
Archbishop Gianfranco Ravasi, president of the Pontifical Council for Culture, then cautioned the British government against developing a “risk-averse culture,” citing the bill’s chilling effects on town councils and people’s organizations.
“Inclusivity” is the concept that is being bandied around, in pursuit of a generic environment aimed to supposedly promote dialogue among diverse peoples and build a “free zone in which everyone is included.”
The danger, as cited by the Vatican leader in the Oxford initiative, and clearly presented by the Palatino nonsense is to make “make identity and all history disappear,” and in the process, “God is not just denied, but totally ignored.” Ravasi described the legislation as a deliberate “negation of a greatness that we put behind us, which constitutes our very face.”
Indeed, the real threat is not so much as making atheists of our children and people, but rather in our wholesale indifference even if the blows are directed against our very face, that is, our faith that holds both our history and identity.