Don’t rub salt in the wound.
Catholic Church leaders warned that the proposal to introduce divorce in the Philippines would further divide the country after the bitter debate over the contentious reproductive health (RH) bill and implant a “culture of death” in the nation.
Retired Novaliches Bishop Teodoro Bacani said Speaker Feliciano Belmonte’s plan to enact a divorce bill in the next Congress was “not a good development” for the country.
Bacani, along with other bishops and the Catholic Vote Philippines alliance, said that proponents of the bill would have a tougher time pushing the measure compared with the 14-year struggle that RH supporters went through.
“Divorce will not be a very good development, in my own personal opinion, especially after the RH bill that has so severely divided the nation,” Bacani said in an interview. “It will further divide the country.”
He said that one big lesson the Church learned from the RH controversy was the need to educate the people.
Bacani said the harm divorce would bring was clear in statistics, not just in social costs. “It will also destroy the very sacred nature of marriage,” he said.
When asked what his message to President Aquino was, Bacani said, “I don’t have a message to him because he does not listen to what we are saying.”
Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma, the president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), said he had requested a meeting of the bishops to discuss the Church position on the issue.
“I feel sad because some people, or many of the legislators, have the belief that anything they legislate is good and it’s for the good of the country,” Palma said. “What’s next? Same-sex marriage, abortion, etcetera?”
“This is part of the plan of the people who want to destroy the family and life,” said Fr. Amadeo Alvero, spokesperson of the Archdiocese of Palo in Leyte province.
“This is part of the culture of death,” he said, referring to divorce, euthanasia, abortion, population control and homosexual union.
“What is happening? It would seem that some legislators are throwing the concept of God out the window,” said Msgr. Meliton Oso, director of the Jaro Archdiocesan Social Action Center.
Not on the radar
Strategic Communication Secretary Ricky Carandang shrugged off talk of a divorce legislation. “That is not being discussed, it’s not on the radar,” he told reporters.
Sen. Pia Cayetano said during a break in the bicameral discussions on the RH bill Wednesday she wanted to get the measure out of the way first before tackling the divorce issue. The main proponent of the RH bill in the Senate earlier said the divorce bill was “long overdue.”
Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago also indicated willingness to consider the proposal, as long as strict guidelines were enforced.
Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, who led the opposition to the RH bill in the House, said it would be “arrogant” of the government to introduce divorce legislation now. “Don’t push it. You might bring the country to the moral brink,” he said.
“It’s a serious matter,” said Leyte Rep. Ferdinand Martin Romualdez. “Let’s not use political momentum but rather let’s be deliberate about it.”
The Philippines, aside from the Vatican, has become the world’s only country without a divorce law after Malta legalized it last year.
During a pre-Christmas lunch with reporters, Belmonte was asked about the divorce bill sponsored by the party-list group Gabriela pending at the committee level. He said it was unlikely to be passed at this time.
“But it’s there at the back of our minds,” he said. “I want that to remain in the consciousness of congressmen so at some point, we can take it up again.”
Reconciliation a ‘sham’
Fr. Melvin Castro, executive secretary of the CBCP’s Episcopal Commission on Family and Life, said Belmonte’s remarks only showed that calls for unity and reconciliation following the passage of the RH bill were a sham.
“I do not wish to sound ‘We told you so’ but that very statement itself reveals that RH is just the beginning of a series of antifamily and antilife legislation,” Castro said. “This government has revealed its true face. It has never been for the welfare of the family, women and children.”
Lipa Archbishop Ramon Arguelles said prolifers had always expected that the passage of the RH bill would be followed by proposals for divorce, same-sex marriage, abortion, and euthanasia “and all the rest of what we call death bills.”
“We prolifers and pro-God people have always said that there would be a domino effect after the RH bill … The pro-RH promoters denied all the time the said consequences. Now, we see happening what they have denied,” Arguelles said.
Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo said the chances of a divorce bill becoming law would depend on the composition of the next Congress.
“We will see after the elections what the composition of Congress would be. Why would we lose sleep over it? It’s still just a threat,” Pabillo said.
Dr. Ricardo Boncan, spokesperson of Catholic Vote Philippines, said the group was ready to “educate” lay Catholics so that they would know who they would vote for in 2013.
“We are not surprised that they are now proposing divorce because we had expected them to come up with more antifamily legislation after the RH bill. They might even target the Constitution to remove the provision protecting life from the moment of conception,” Boncan said.
“We are now ready for that. We are going to the grassroots so that, in this coming elections, we will change the composition of our legislature,” he said.
“That’s a tall order but Catholic groups that were once uncommitted are now joining us after seeing (in the RH bill voting) what we are up against. There’s now a groundswell, especially in the provinces,” he added.
Catholic Vote Philippines includes the biggest lay organizations in the country: El Shaddai, Knights of Columbus, Couples for Christ, Sangguniang Laiko ng Pilipinas, Dominican Network Institute of Teaching Lay Missionaries, Federation of National Youth Organizations, Youth Pinoy, National Youth Ministry, St. Thomas Moore Association, Educhild Philippines, Families Against RH Bill, Filipinos for Life, Doctors for Life, Alliance for the Family, ProLife Philippines and the Jericho Community.
“I think it will be harder for divorce proponents because divorce is more specific than the RH bill. The RH bill was somewhat vague and they were able to make it appear that it would help the country’s economy,” Boncan said.
“The divorce bill is different. It is specific and will hit the family. Even pro-RH lawmakers know that the hardest hit casualties of divorce would be our children,” he added.
Boncan said the administration should instead tweak the country’s laws on legal separation and marital abuse.
“We already have the necessary laws in place to take care of the issues they are using to push for a divorce law,” he added. With reports from Michael Lim Ubac, Norman Bordadora, Christian V. Esguerra, in Manila; and Joey Gabieta, Jani Arnaiz, Carla Gomez, Nestor Burgos, Veda Bongalos and Jhunnex Napallacan, Inquirer Visayas