Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Church, the State, the Family, and my Faltering Faith

I am a Roman Catholic -- maybe not as devout as my mom is, but my faith in God, the Holy Trinity, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the saints is strong.

However, there are times when my faith in the Roman Catholic Church falters, especially when the issues of family and reproductive health come up.


Father, mother, and child make family. I come from what has been termed by society as a dysfunctional family. My mom and dad never married, and I was obviously born out of wedlock. My dad eventually went on to marrying another woman, but if there is something I will never take away from him, it's the fact that he never wavered in his support of my mom and me until the time he retired from government service. He placed us in a comfortable (well, comfortable is kinda relative) apartment in Manila, he provided us with all our basic necessities, and he saw me through school until I graduated from college. He may have been an absentee father, but he was a true provider.

My mom, meanwhile, made her own mistakes along the way. She was your typical overbearing, overprotective mom (Annabelle Rama, move aside!) who used to scare off kids who'd pick on me. She had the same strictness as a soldier from Hitler's Third Reich, especially when it came to my studies. Later on, this same Nazi-like stance would surface in her regard of any of my potential suitors. Yes, she was strict, her use of guilt trips and emotional backlashes is legendary, she didn't hesitate to use a belt or her hand for disciplining me, and she was unreasonable. However, her love for me was (and still is) unconditional.

It was primarily the desire to get out of my mom's clutches that drove me to marry a man who I thought was "the one." That, as well as the desire not to end up like my mom whose love story didn't end up with wedding bells. Eventually, I found myself ending up exactly like my mom -- a single mother with one daughter. Only that I was in a worse predicament: I have legal documents proving that I was married to this loser of a husband and father.

It's also this legal bullshit that's making my separation from this loser of a husband very difficult. You see, our Local Family Code has been fashioned by legislators who are either womanizing chauvinists or Bible freaks. Thus, divorce is something an unhappy married couple can only dream of. The only alternative we have is annulment, and there has to be unmistakable proof that a marriage can no longer be consummated. More often than not, the spouses have to discredit each other in court if only to be granted annulment. It's long, it's tedious, and there is even a great possibility that annulment may not be granted.

Legal bullshit aside, my family's composition now consists of this: three women from different generations living under one roof. That's my mom, me, and my 12-year old daughter. My dad's no longer around, dunno where he is at present. He stayed in Manila when we left for Leyte in 1999. Tried getting in touch with him in 2005 but I only got to talk with their maid who told me that he and his wife left for the US to be with their children. I have never heard from him again and I dunno if he's still alive or...

My ex-husband, meanwhile, is living in Manila with his nth girlfriend. Enough said.

One day I heard mass with my family. Everything was just fine until we got to the gospel. The priest turned his sermon into a venomous tirade against those who desire for separation from their spouses. Being the good Catholic that I was, I tried "turning the other cheek," so to say, to this priest's misjudgments of people like me. (And I thought that it was only God who could give proper judgment...)

I could've sat through the priest's sermon, but I blew my top when he stressed that the only set of people the Catholic Church would recognize as family is a father, a mother, and a child/children. Any abberation of this setup can never be honored by the Catholic Church.


Contraception equals abortion. Hogging the headlines these days is the resurfacing of attempts by several congressmen to thoroughly discuss House Bill 812, more commonly known as the Reproductive Health Bill. This said legislation has so far already passed first reading on the House floor. Once again, the Catholic Church is up in arms and this time, several bishops from the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) are threatening the said bill's supporters from Congress that they will not be granted communion in their respective parishes. They are even considering outright excommunication for proponents of the said bill.

Once again, the Catholic Church is discreetly but vigorously influencing -- no, bullying -- our local legislators into acceding to their commands with the threat of falling from grace. I have listened to their arguments behind their non-acceptance of the Reproductive Health Bill but none of them held water for me.

The Roman Catholic Church has been constantly renaming the Reproductive Health Bill as the Anti-life Bill, the Abortion Bill, the Anti-family Bill...etcetera, etcetera. It is their way of convincing the religious folk among us that solons are cooking up a law that permits abortion -- a very serious sin that goes against every moral fiber of society.

It doesn't stop at that. Apart from misleading poor parishioners who simply take everything the Church says hook, line, and sinker on grounds of faith, the Church also makes its presence felt in the halls of legislation with regard to its desire to take down any bill that touches on reproductive health or population management. How many bills or amendments have been shot down in the past due to the interference of the unseen but tangible hand of the Church and other Christian religious groups like the El Shaddai? There was the proposal to expand the reproductive rights of women through the Magna Carta for Women which was eventually archived due to pressure from the Catholic Church. Even the bill seeking for equal rights and privileges of homosexuals never even made it to second reading, but that's another story.

So far, the number of solons supporting this most recent Reproductive Health Bill has already dwindled, thanks to the ministrations of the Church. With the approach of the next elections in 2010, some of them have become intimidated by the potential loss of what is loosely termed as the "Church vote." This becomes more important to several of them than the idea of excommunication, thus, they let go of their support for the controversial bill.

I do admire the bravery of Iloilo Rep. Janette Garin -- a medical doctor who knows exactly the impact of HB 812 on the health of our fellowmen -- for standing steadfast amid the steady stream of threats by the Catholic Church. Defiant, she openly stated that she is willing to lose in the 2010 elections when she runs for a second term in her province. Her only desire is that she sees this bill through.

Congresswoman Garin and her fellow supporters of the Reproductive Health Bill may have lost some allies from their own fold, but has gained an unlikely supporter from the administration itself in the person of Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) Secretary Esperanza Cabral. Seeing the situation of many Filipino families at the grassroots level, she knows that that the primary factor to their poverty is the fact that they have so many mouths to feed. She also knows from her work that a vital solution to this problem is the proper information dissemination and education of different methods of family planning. This is the same concept that the Reproductive Bill emulates.

Unfortunately, even with the passing of HB 812 in Congress and the Senate, the biggest stumbling block will be with the president herself who reiterated her "pro-life" stance.

Sigh...all this hoopla for nothing. Once again, the archaic teachings of the Roman Catholic Church to "go forth and multiply" get the upper hand.


Our place in the town of Tanauan in Leyte is a big old two-storey house that we share with our landlady -- a wonderful woman in her twilight years. Directly beside our house is a lot filled with rickety shanties. About six to seven families occupy that lot. What interests me about these families is that they are virtual baby factories. From our window, one would see several grime-covered groups of kids in varying degrees of shabbiness playing in the dirt, sans slippers. While these kids turn our side of the street into their living room space-slash-playground until nighttime, their parents are either huddled together by a table armed with glasses and a jug or two of tuba, or singing their lungs out on one of the families' videoke machines.

One of these adults interests my mom and me a lot. While she does have a real name, we prefer to call her by this term, "buli." Mom says that "buli" is a Waray term for a chicken's ass that never stops moving. (Dunno if this is true, though.) It is this certain characteristic that Mom relates to this character's mouth. That's because she never stops screaming invectives to just about anyone from the time she wakes up until she goes into an alcohol-induced sleep.

A day in our neighborhood is never complete without hearing Buli and her husband shouting and clawing at each other. Despite this constant bickering, they manage to produce babies almost every year. So far, they already have seven, the youngest of which is barely two years old. And to think that Buli is just my age. That could only mean many more babies to come.

Buli only reached Grade 3 in terms of educational attainment. Because of this, job opportunities for her are very limited. Her substance abuse problem (she drinks like her liver is made of steel, and smokes like a chimney), as well as the number of children she has, further limits her chances of landing in a good job. Thus, she is relegated to doing laundry for neighbors and other odd jobs. Her husband's job as a pedicab driver could barely support their big family. It is the lack of money that becomes the major cause of this couple's squabbles.

Buli's eldest boy is older than my daughter at 14 years old, and yet he could be mistaken for a nine-year old child. He, along with his school-age brothers and sisters, languishes in the elementary years at the local public school. These kids couldn't go to school properly. Buli insists that if one of them goes to school, the others have to absent themselves just so they could help her with the laundry and with their younger siblings. Thus, all of them come to school on alternate days, never completing a school week.

Whenever Buli's husband is not around for her to vent her ire on, she vents it instead on the children. The poor kids are subjected to tongue-lashings of the most embarrassing sort, as well as lashings of the more violent kind. It's difficult not to find out about what Buli is doing to her children when you can hear the children's cries, her whipping, and her graty fishwife voice reverberating through our walls.


Buli and her family is just but one of many Filipino families today who are bogged down by many problems like poverty and the inability to attain proper education. These concerns primarily boil down to the lack of education in family planning. As they add one more mouth to feed, their chances at a better life become slimmer. And I'm sure that this cycle of pathos will go on for generations to come.

Is this the kind of family the Roman Catholic Church wants us to have more of?


Congresswoman Garin has reiterated several times in many press interviews that she will never condone abortion unless a pregnancy becomes detrimental to the mother's survival. This statement of hers ultimately debunks the Church's main allegation that the bill she is supporting seeks to allow abortion in our country. Nonetheless, the Church continues to maintain their position, this time placing the coat of morality over their feeble arguments.

What could be so morally deviant about giving a couple the chance to plan their family well through both natural and artificial methods? What could be so wrong about maintaining a family that doesn't have a father in the picture?


Bishop Deogracias Yniguez, head of CBCP public affairs, said in a recent television interview that anyone supporting the Reproductive Health Bill is commiting a grave sin, and priests have the option not to grant communion to these people.

I strongly support HB 812 as a citizen of the Philippines and prime beneficiary of this bill. Does that make me a sinner, too?


Once again, I reiterate that my faith in God remains as strong as ever. It is only my faith in His supposed "chosen men" that has faltered greatly.

However, at the end of the day I cannot blame them for their actions. After all, they are not gods but mere bickering mortals -- much like the Pharisees of Jesus' time.

I try my best to distinguish God's divine actions with the actions of men purporting to be under God's influence. That way, I would never lose sight of my spiritual integrity.

If my Creator's minions have condemned me to eternal damnation for my critical thoughts, then let them do so. After all, it is not for them to pass judgment: that is God's role.

And I know my soul is safe with Him.

No comments: