A trade of insults between pro- and anti-reproductive health (RH) supporters last Saturday illustrates the need for level-headed and objective debate over the issue, instead of hurling insults at one another.
According to yesterday’s report in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, “members of the Democratic Socialist Women of the Philippines (DSWP) and the Filipino Free Thinkers (FFT) went to Manila Cathedral for a Mass and prayer service ‘for discernment’ on the RH bill.”
“DSWP and FFT members were in white shirts with the word ‘Damaso’ printed on the front, referring to the fictional friar who was a hated figure in the Jose Rizal novel ‘Noli Me Tangere’.”
When the group arrived at the Manila Cathedral, they were not allowed in by members of Pro-Life Philippines, despite the presence of “a poster outside the church stated that ‘everyone’ was invited to the event.” The group was even subjected to an angry rant by Pro-Life Philippines president Eric Manalang, who apparently said, “You are not Catholics in the sense of real Catholics. You are dissident Catholics.” When DSWP and FFT members decided to leave, at least two people shouted that they (the DSWP and FFT members) should have told their mothers to abort them.
Former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s election lawyer, Atty. Romulo Macalintal, a Pro-Life Philippines member, also told the DSWP and FFT members that Pro-Life Philippines sponsored the Mass, and that they should “have their own affair.”
On one hand, I doubt that the DSWP and FFT members were actually there for the Mass, as their shirts were clearly designed to put down the Catholic Church. The “Damaso” label was started when tour guide Carlos Celdran interrupted a ecumenical service at the Manila Cathedral last Sept. 30 by flashing a “Damaso”; he was subsequently arrested for offending religious beliefs or some such charge. While Celdran gained popularity for his stunt, it demonstrates the negative attitude of pro-RH proponents against the Catholic Church. If anything, Celdran’s actions simply proved to the Catholic Church that the pro-RH bill’s side was not open to listening to the church.
On the other hand, the insults and actions of Manalang, Macalintal, and the unnamed hecklers demonstrate that they are as un-Christian as the side they oppose. Christ teaches compassion and understanding, so the actions of the Pro-Life Philippines simply demonstrate the close-mindedness of the conservative wing of the Catholic Church.
In addition, the Mass is a celebration that should be open to all, and not be exclusive to Catholics only. By acting exclusive, the Pro-Life Philippines group doesn’t do the Catholic Church any favors in the RH Bill debate.
Fanaticism on both sides of the RH bill debate simply polarizes the issue, and prevents any middle ground from being reached. While the Catholic Church cannot impose its beliefs on non-Catholic Filipinos, the RH Bill proponents should also keep in mind that majority of Filipinos are still nominally Catholic, so there has to be a way to reconcile both sides.
On that aspect, some headway has been made by Jesuits Fr. Ritchie Genilo, SJ, and Fr. John Carroll, SJ, who have labored to come up with what they call talking points on the RH Bill. Moreover, the Aquino administration, which has supported the RH Bill’s passing, has shown willingness to dialogue with the bishops of the Catholic Church. This is the way to go about discussing the RH Bill, not hurling insults at one another. Here's hoping that cooler heads prevail, and a more intelligent discussion about the issue can be done.