It was Ifugao Representative Teddy Baguilat who voted following his conscience. ”Ang batayan ng aking posisyon,” Baguilat explained, “ay ang pangangailangan ng aking kababayan sa aking lalawigan.” There were no bishops, no pandering and patronizing, no intercessions from patron saints, not a shred of “Filipinizing” or whatever populist neologisms that were thought of right then and there on the House floor. It’s worth noting, too, that a town in his jurisdiction has its own RH ordinance: not because it was “the will of God,” as the CBCP would often imperiously proclaim, but because it was needed by the people.
The RH bill was passed on the second reading: hardly a plurality, but still enough to be decisive. For those against the measure, it seems that “conscience” is the monopoly of Christians, and Roman Catholics at that.
The mistake of the pro-life camp, de facto led by the leaders of the Philippine Roman Catholic Church, was not in the viewpoint. Rather, it was in the standpoint. The anti-RH movement was defeated by the substance of its argument, more than the numbers that only highlighted the weakness of the argument.
Every time the anti-RH congressmen stood up to oppose RH in the name of their Roman Catholic religion, they forgot that there is no state religion enshrined in the law. Every time the anti-RH congressmen defended their stand in the name of their Roman Catholic faith, they forgot that this was not a religious debate, but a debate on policy. Every time the anti-RH congressmen spoke up in the name of natural law, they forgot that the halls of Congress stands there to create the laws of man.
The most logical arguments against RH are deceptively simple, but are far more nuanced than “we’re a Catholic country,” and – to the dismay of bishops – secular. The literature on this is not lacking: one can even find an example written by a Nobel Prize-winning economist to throw a wrench into the pro-RH machine. Never mind that Sen is Hindu, and the measures in Kerala were – for the lack of a better term – socialist.
Another rather convincing argument: a literate population, when provided with the capabilities to maximize their resources and develop them for the improvement of their lives, will not need to sire way too many children to help out with labor and, in the process, impoverish themselves into rearing the household for all the needs that come with caring for so many children. Simply: “Development is the best contraceptive.” But the nicest soundbite that a very unemotional argument can lend itself isn’t good enough for the pro-life representatives.
They needed the Apostles’ Creed and speeches dedicated to Our Lady of Guadalupe to do that, as if Catholic religion is not compromised by very Catholic politicians in the act of graft and corruption. Never mind having to throw a big slap in the face to the reasons behind OFW labor, trivializing the daily struggles of OFWs to provide for their families, and that we should all do the same. The more the hours dragged on the more it became evident that the Congressmen who opposed the RH bill were doing good by their own personal beliefs, and not doing good by their constituency and their duty to create policy.
In a chamber replete with resounding “conscience votes,” it was Baguilat’s affirmation that had more resonance than Thelma Almario’s “Filipinizing” drivel. Or Rufus Rodriguez’s “evil bill” claims.
The argument against RH could have been a very reasonable one: one of policy, one of distribution, one that points out the tenuous relationship between managing populations and managing resources. But no: the noisiest members of the camp – those who have appropriated upon themselves the role of leaders – had to invoke “natural law,” ranted on and on about the least empirical and the most subjected proofs, and ended up alienating the secular argument in favor of ones made from the pulpit.
That, I think, was how the anti-RH vote was lost: it was squandered.