22 February 2009

The Story behind CBCP's Senate Walk-out

Today's PDI headline: Bishops quit RH bill talks. The Inquirer made a banner story of the walk-out of three CBCP representatives (there was no bishop among them, by the way) from the technical working group hearing of the senate's committee on health. The reporter/s took pains to repeatedly insinuate it was because of the Church's stand against artificial contraception.

The fact is many times more enlightening than the spin. The discussions have yet to reach the issue of artificial contraception. What the CBCP reps were trying to inject was a more nuanced and clarified stand of the senate bill on two basic matters: following the constitution and the anti-abortion provision of the bill, something which the bill's proponents have repeatedly used to claim pro-life groups got them wrong. But this never merited even a passing mention in the news report. The CBCP reps complained of not being heard, the report says. But what was it that the TWG refused to hear from them? The reason for the walk-out was lost in the reporting.

To add a semblance of fairness, Sen. Biazon extended an almost hollow offer of continuous invitation to the next hearings. At least, Cong. Lagman was consistent in his Church-bashing: "The Catholic Church will be isolated, sooner or later." On the matter of defending the constitution and upholding RH bill's much-publicized anti-abortion stand? Come on!

The email below is most likely from Atty. Jo Imbong, CBCP's Legal Counsel. I got it from the ECFL Luzon egroup.


[ECFL_LUZON] Thoughts before the walk-out (Senate Hearing)
Fr. Ric Eguia

- On Fri, 2/20/09, fides vera wrote:
From: fides vera
Subject: [buhayatpamilya] Thoughts before the walk-out
To: buhayatpamilya@ yahoogroups. com
Date: Friday, February 20, 2009, 11:43 PM

Hi everyone,

The Senate Subcommittee on Population invited the CBCP to a Technical Working Group to do a line-by-line study of the RH substitute bill last February 19. CBCP had registered three representatives: Fr. Melvin Castro, Exec. Sec. of ECFL, Atty. Jo Imbong of the Legal Office, and Dr. Zenaida Rotea, Exec. Sec. of the Office on Women. Ms. Marita Wasan of Prolife Philippines, and Atty. Dindo Garciano, President of ALFI and former Mayor, were both there, having also received an invitation.

Arrayed against us were at least ten (10) pro-RH advocates, the likes of which we have confronted during the hearings on 4110, 3773, 17, and 5043. That count includes about 3 from government line agencies.

And so CBCP pushed for amendments based on purely legal grounds.

I invite each of you to ponder how it went:

#1. To Section 2 (b) which speaks of "protection of women's human rights", CBCP proposed modifying the phrase by inserting , "in acordance with Philippine law" so that any such rights of women will not be against our Constitution. Can anything be more reasonable than that? If adopted, the entire sentence would then read as follows:

The advancement and protection of women's human rights in accordance with Philippine law shall be central to the efforts of the State to address reproductive health care.

After all, the Philippines is a sovereign nation. And the Constitution is the highest law of the land, and this highest law protects life, parenting, family, children. Right?

Wrong! They objected to that phrase. They said that the Philippines is bound to obey the terms of CEDAW in everything, including the funny definition of "reproductive health" that we have repeatedly challenged.

Question: Isn't national sovereignty the paramount consideration in our foreign policy decisions? Isn't national interest another paramount consideration? (See Article II, Section 7, Constitution) .

What is it then in the pro-RH agenda that disowns these constitutional principles; what lurking RH agenda would be endangered if the phrase is inserted in Section 2? What women's 'right' would be hindered by our Constitution? That should be easy to figure out, friends.

#2. Since Section 2 already speaks of reproductive health care, CBCP proposed that the group tackle Section 4 on the definition of reproductive health. From hereon, the discussions became contentious. The RH agenda was adamant in insisting on the present definition, which is lifted from ICPD.

CBCP maintained that health as written in the Constitution by those who drafted it in 1986 simply meant, well . . . health! And reproductive health was not among their noble intentions at all Hence, RH as it is defined in ICPD is alien to our legal system. I don't seriously think that ICPD amended our Constitution

But the RH proponents stuck to their position that since the Philippines is a signatory to ICPD, any reference to the Constitution will be powerless to overturn the ICPD "commitment" . Really now. Any student of public governance knows otherwise.

The group took a brief lunchbreak, a 'timely' excuse welcomed by everyone, more to defuse the tension that was slowly building up.

But as the working committee resumed, CBCP figured out that majority of the participants of the TWG were bent on finishing their task that afternoon along the language of the substitute bill.

At this point, CBCP asked to read its Statement, placing on record its refusal to have any further part in the deliberations and disclaiming any hand on the part of CBCP in the group's final output which would contain provisions that assault inherent and inviolable human rights—of the unborn, of parents and of families. Then we walked out.

#3 Even as we did, Jo had made sure earlier that another amendment be introduced by an ally who remained at the meeting. . What was that amendment?

Remember that phrase in the House version to the effect that "nothing in this Act changes the law on abortion" ? You will recall, this sentence is their shield against a charge that the bill prepares the way for abortion.

The proposed amendment is a test of the sincerity of that disclaimer. It goes this way:

"Nothing in this Act changes the law on abortion. Abortifacient devices and substances shall not be a part of reproductive health services."

Anyone will see that the above amendment naturally flows and follows from the disclaimer on abortion and that therefore it is a logical consequence of it.

The amendment was outvoted. The defeat of that proposal affirms our long held suspicions. Go figure the implications.

Finally, #4. Hear this, good Fr. Joe- According to a witness, as the discussion approached the part on "Prohibited Acts", a proposal was heard to penalize any priest or religious who speaks against everything on reproductive health in the bill. The crime of "malicious disinformation" punished in the House version does not appear in the Senate version.

Luckily, another lawyer ally in the meeting mercifully reminded the proponent that there is still such a thing as freedom of speech and expression, and freedom of religious belief in this country.

Folks, as of this writing, we are awaiting a copy of the final output of the February 19 TWG meeting. I have the feeling you will not surprised when you read it.

By the way, before our group left earlier, the Chair of the meeting asked CBCP to submit its point-by-point position on the substitute bill. I said we will.
Allow me to acknowledge all your prayerful intentions and vigils. We all must continue because to tell you the truth . . . it all works!

Have faith,

- JO

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