Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Joaquin Bernas on Conception, Abortion and Sex Education

My stand on the RH Bill by Joaquin Bernas, S.J. in Philippine Daily Inquirer is the strong position and lucid explanation of it from a literal Founding Father of the 1987 Cory Constitution that was ratified to establish the present "Fourth" Philippine Republic (after Malolos 1898, Commonwealth 1935, Marcos 1972).  A previous Commentary covered the first few points in that column article.

Bernas Points No. 5, 6, and 7
"Fifth, specifically I advocate removal of the provision on mandatory sexual education in public schools without the consent of parents. (I assume that those who send their children to Catholic schools accept the program of Catholic schools on the subject.) My reason for requiring the consent of parents is, among others, the constitutional provision which recognizes the sanctity of the human family and “the natural and primary right of parents in the rearing of the youth for civic efficiency and the development of moral character.” (Article II, Section 12)
DJB's Commentary on Bernas No.5 :

I am puzzled as to why Fr. Bernas does not assume that those parents and families who send their children to PUBLIC schools (as opposed to private Catholic schools) ALSO accept the program of the Department of Education on the subject--especially since the matter of sex education will have been debated right in the House, Senate and in the general public and presumably is appropriate and acceptable.  I for one am against "picking the SEX ED peas out of the salad" called the public school curriculum. It reminds me of how in 2002, xPGMA and Raul Roco did radical brain surgery on the curriculum and CUT OUT the Health and Science Subject in all Grade One & Two classes throughout the entire public grade school system. Here is an infographic on the 2002 Basic Education Curriculum showing the damage done. The reduction of the grade school Health and Science program by 33% also drove away into emigration, as a direct consequence, thousands of public school SCIENCE teachers.   If the suggestion of Fr. Bernas for an OPT-IN system by parents on the topic of Sex Ed were adopted, it would create an artificial barrier between that subject matter and the entire program of Health, Science and Biology of which Sex education is an integral and I daresay, inseparable part. To single out this very specific topic for parents to either join or not join, would make it hard or impossible to INTEGRATE sex ed into the rest of the public school science and health program, as really it ought to be or don't even do it!  Therefore I also oppose the so called OPT-OUT program by parents, since even that would create artificial barriers between sex ed topics and the rest of educational science.  Consider for example the matter of education on sexually transmitted diseases like HIV/Aids. Is this really a matter for which we expect parents to decide whether to opt-in or opt-out?  What would prevent a precedent being set and any one or more of the million topics IN the curriculum would become optional?  Moreover, making it optional would treat Sex Ed on par with Religion, which is a subject allowed to be taught in public schools under just such an OPT-IN program as Fr. Bernas suggests for what is in essence a topic under the Science subject.

Fr. Bernas addresses abortion and abortifacients in Point No. 6:
Sixth, I am pleased that the bill reiterates the prohibition of abortion as an assault against the right to life. Abortifacient pills and devices, if there are any in the market, should be banned by the Food and Drug Administration. But whether or not there are such is a question of scientific fact of which I am no judge.
I would love for Fr. Bernas to do a follow up piece on ABORTION and ABORTIFACIENTS after reading the following article I've been calling attention to for several months on Twitter where I am, as everybody knows, writing a lot under the handle  ((@SagadaSun)):

Is Natural Family Planning Abortion? 

Above article throws a rhetorical monkey wrench right in the middle of Humanae Vitae and the so-called "natural" family planning method of contraception and birth control. I think Fr. Bernas would find the premises and assertions made here credible and grounds for the Vatican to invoke the FALLIBILITY of its present teaching on contraception (including especially NFP!).

The central matter of CONCEPTION is addressed in Bernas Point No. 7:
Seventh, I hold that there already is abortion any time a fertilized ovum is expelled. The Constitution commands that the life of the unborn be protected “from conception.” For me this means that sacred life begins at fertilization and not at implantation."
Commentary by DJB on Bernas No. 7

When Fr. Bernas says that "sacred life begins at fertilization and not at implantation" he is no longer speaking as a Constitutional lawyer but as a Catholic priest. He is expressing the religious belief that when a sperm happens to fertilize an ovum and their DNA information combines together,  an immortal human soul is created at that very moment of conception and "sacred" life begins.

But such religious belief must answer to and explain certain things before we use it as basis for interpreting  the all-important 1987 provision Fr. Bernas refers to:
Section 12. 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.
If or when the RH Bill is enacted into Law, I am certain it will be challenged in the Supreme Court on the basis of the above provision.

What happens physically and biochemically during the stage of human reproduction called fertilization is rather well known and on that basis I would like to state my own take on what happens at the point or moment of conception referred to by Fr. Bernas and 1987 Constitution.

In my opinion when a human male's sperm cell successfully merges its DNA information with that of a female's ovum, what results is the creation of the "architectural plans" for the development of a new, individual human being.  It is essentially the creation of a new packet of INFORMATION through the biochemistry of genetic materials, which at some stage has the potential not only for independent biological and physical life but also a mental life through a self-aware consciousness.

However, not every actual fertilization event is guaranteed to result in a DNA assembly that is HUMAN. Many things could go wrong and the resulting combination of sperm and egg might contain DNA information that is not actually capable of producing a human being or any other kind of viable living being at all.

I shall reserve further commentary on this vast subtopic for the Comment Thread.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Father Bernas Takes a Stand on the Reproductive Health Bill

JOAQUIN BERNAS, SJ, weighs in on the highly controversial Reproductive Health Bill currently being debated in the Philippine Congress, in Mass Media and online in the social networks.

If and when this legislation is passed by Congress and signed by the President, the Catholic Church opposition and its staunchest allies will surely seek to have it annulled by the Supreme Court--in a case destined to be historic as far as religion, education and social policy making in the PH are concerend.

Thus the many salient points Joaquin Bernas makes in his Philippine Daily Inquirer column are likely to echo in the coming controversies and debates over the RH Bill. I hope to address them in a series of now-rare "long form" Philippine Commentaries and invite readers old and new to participate in the Comment Threads.

"First, let me start by saying that I adhere to the teaching of the Church on artificial contraception even if I am aware that the teaching on the subject is not considered infallible doctrine by those who know more theology than I do. Moreover, I am still considered a Catholic and Jesuit in good standing by my superiors, critics notwithstanding!"
Commentary on Bernas-1:

In the above, Fr. Bernas mentions a little-appreciated point about current Church Doctrine on "artificial contraception"-- that it is not one of the Churches officially designated INFALLIBLE TEACHINGS. Even though this opinion is held by  "theologians who know more than" he does, Fr. Bernas claims to nonetheless adhere to the Church's teaching on the matter.  As proof of this he notes that his religious superiors still consider him to be in good standing within the Catholic Church.  (((Whew, only a Jesuit could put it like that and thus smuggle in some Freedom of Speech wiggle room on the issue of contraception without being excommunicated or fall out of good standing!))) But I happen to agree with his assessment of the current state of the Church's teaching on contraception. Papal infallibility has not been proclaimed for its teachings on birth control -- which only means that it COULD CHANGE. In other words, the present Church teachings on artificial means of birth control are corrigible and reformable.   Upon close examination, this simple observation made in Bernas No. 2 has a severe rhetorical implication for diehard anti-RH Bill forces inside and outside the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines.  They cannot claim that the Vatican won't ever change its position on artificial contraception. Indeed, the Pope could at any time allow certain forms of artificial contraception that the Church authorities could establish as definitively and technologically non-abortifacient. A hint of this possibility has already been given in Pope Benedict's recent statements condoms.

Bernas No. 2

Father Bernas was a member of the 1986 Constitutional Commission appointed by President Cory to draft the later ratified 1987 Constitution.  He addresses  certain essential operating principles Freedom of Religion at those who oppose the RH Bill's passage into law on religious grounds--that such a law would allow behavior contrary to Catholic doctrine and faith.
"Second (very important for me as a student of the Constitution and of church-state relations), I am very much aware of the fact that we live in a pluralist society where various religious groups have differing beliefs about the morality of artificial contraception. But freedom of religion means more than just the freedom to believe. It also means the freedom to act or not to act according to what one believes. Hence, the state should not prevent people from practicing responsible parenthood according to their religious belief nor may churchmen compel President Aquino, by whatever means, to prevent people from acting according to their religious belief. As the “Compendium on the Social Teaching of the Catholic Church” says, “Because of its historical and cultural ties to a nation, a religious community might be given special recognition on the part of the State. Such recognition must in no way create discrimination within the civil or social order for other religious groups” and “Those responsible for government are required to interpret the common good of their country not only according to the guidelines of the majority but also according to the effective good of all the members of the community, including the minority.” [italics and bolding by DJB]

DJB Commentary on Bernas No. 2

Having first expressed his adherence to Church teaching and continued "good standing" within it, Father Bernas here in Point No. 2 makes crystal clear, his take on Freedom of Religion and I congratulate him for the lucid expression of it above.  For it is a stunning statement if you look at it more closely and mine it for all its panoply of rhetorical and constitutional implications.

For example, Father Bernas is surely indirectly chastising public persons such as Rep. Manny "The Pacman" Pacquiao and Rep. Pablo Garcia who invoke their belief in God and the Church's teachings in  opposing the RH Bill.  As with the most conservative among the Catholic Bishops  they declare that their opposition to the Reproductive Health Bill is based on a strict interpretation of, and adherence to the Church's teachings and is essentially an exercise of their Freedom of Religion. But Father Bernas' point above challenges such Catholic  because their right to exercise Freedom of Religion depends on recognizing an equal right by others to practice their religion, and most importantly, "to act or not to act" according "to what one believes."  

Fr. Bernas is saying that even if Catholics believe (as some of them certainly do) that "human life begins at fertilization and not at implantation" they may not prevent others from believing that "conception" of human life begins at some other earlier or later stage of the reproductive process. Moreover such Catholics have no right to prevent others "to act or not act" upon such different belief. 

I agree with this characterization of Freedom of Religion. It presents the radical anti RH Bill wing of the Catholic Church with an ethical dilemma as follows. In the crafting of laws and public policies by Congresses of Catholic majority composition, how are conscientious officials what is the that some Catholics may deem as going against Catholic doctrinal teaching in one way or another. 
The 1987 Constitution contains the following provisions in  the Bill of Rights which many regard as a definition of the Freedom of Religion in the PH (with obvious Anglospheric roots): 
Section 5. [1] No law shall be made respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. 
[2] The free exercise and enjoyment of religious profession and worship, without discrimination or preference, shall forever be allowed. 
[3] No religious test shall be required for the exercise of civil or political rights.
 Of these three I think the last contains a relevant and material point to the RH Bill as follows. While the No Religious Test provision is conventionally interpreted as covering only the idea that anyone otherwise qualified can run for political office regardless of his Religion, I think it can be given a much wider interpretation and applies to far many more situations involving questions of Freedom of Religion and Separation of Church and State.

For example,  who will deny that getting married and having children is both a CIVIL and HUMAN RIGHT protected by the Constitution and the Civil Code? We can surely assert that, "No religious test shall be required for the exercise of civil and political rights," such as the right to get married to have children. Or NOT to have children at a particular time in a couple's life and relationship."

I don't see why "No religious test" should be restricted in interpretation to "a test of what is a person's religious affiliation." I think the provision actually means something much more. I think that "No Religious Test" means that the Congress may not pass laws or craft social policy based on some particular THEOLOGICAL consideration. The "public morality" enforced by the Laws, in my opinion, cannot be based on any theology at all for that would violate the absolute neutrality towards Establishments of Religion that Separation of Church and State demands.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

On the Resignation of Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez

With less than two weeks before the start of her Senate Trial, Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez suddenly resigned on Friday, 29 April 2011 after she had been impeached by the House of Representatives on six counts of BETRAYAL OF THE PUBLIC TRUST.

In her letter of resignation presented personally to President Benigno Aquino III, the resigned Ombudsman said (among several even more self-serving things) “the President needs an Ombudsman in whom he has complete trust and confidence.”

Without a doubt, the President never had any reason to trust or have confidence in Ombudsman Gutierrez, a holdover from the previous administration seemingly installed to undertake a rear guard holding action against any significant investigation into graft and corruption under Gloria Arroyo.  This objective lack of trust and confidence in her  ought to have been enough for her to tender her courtesy resignation out of delicadeza on Day One of the Aquino administration. 

Indeed, when the House of Representatives began to consider impeaching the Ombudsman last September, she was able to quickly get an astounding "Status Quo Ante Order" from the Supreme Court (which as everybody knows is populated by 14 out of 15 Justices appointed by Gloria Macapagal Arroyo). 

But the House stood its ground and finally did impeach her in plenary after months of exhaustive investigation by the House Justice Committee led by Reps. Niel Tupas and Rudy Farinas who I hope will carry out a threatened  impeachment of the Supreme Court Justices for "betrayal of public trust" in the manner that they issued above mentioned SQA Order. 

CONGRESS is coming back, albeit slowly, from the debacle handed to it by GMA, Hilario Davide, Angelo Reyes and the Supreme Court during Edsa2001!  

The IMPEACHMENT POWER will again be the SOLE and EXCLUSIVE power of the Congress of our people! Beware ye now UNELECTED JUDGES!