I grew up in a town that is home to people with different religions. In the middle of the town proper is the Roman Catholic parish. Behind the rundown municipal auditorium is a Protestant church. Another church of the same denomination can be found tucked in an outlying residential village. Further south of our town, along the national highway, rise the mighty spires of the Iglesia ni Cristo.
The Roman Catholic parish, with its bell tower, is adjacent to the town plaza and the municipal government building. Such a setup is familiar to most Filipinos, as it is replicated in the poblacion of almost every town in the Philippines. Interestingly, it is a remnant of our Spanish colonial past, when the church and the state jointly administered the country.
The proximity of the Roman Catholic parish and municipal building, often at the heart of every Philippine town, is a constant reminder of an age-old setup, when the Roman Catholic church was not afraid to impose itself on the affairs of government—and everyone else’s, for that matter.
For 300 years, Spain ruled the archipelago very much like Sauron did Middle Earth. Lest we forget, the Roman Catholic church was an accomplice in the oppressive rule of the Spaniards. You only need to visit your municipal plaza to be reminded of this by the bell tower looming over the town’s lovers and loiterers.
Even after 114 years of independence from Spain, the Roman Catholic church continues to act like a colonizer, to whose whims and caprices the Filipinos and their government must be subservient. The swords may have long disappeared, but the cross has remained.
But just like in my town, which used to be a part of an hacienda run by one family who, incidentally, rebuilt the Roman Catholic parish after it was torn down by the Japanese during the Second World War, the religious landscape has long changed. The Roman Catholic church, while still the biggest in the Philippines, is no longer the only religion in the country.
At present, our country is home to different religious organizations. Other than Roman Catholics, there are Protestants, Muslims, Buddhists and even Hindus. There are also homegrown sects in the country, the largest and the most influential of which is the Iglesia ni Cristo.
This is the religious landscape in the Philippines at the moment—a reality that the Roman Catholic church largely ignores when it throws its weight around to try to influence government policies, especially on the issue of the reproductive health bill.
This landscape must be taken into account by our legislators, who must remember that they are representatives of the entire Filipino people, and not just part of it. They are not elected to their seats by white smoke wafting from a chimney in Rome. The members of Congress should not bow to the pressure of one religion, when doing so would impair the right of other religions in the Philippines and violate the nonestablishment clause in our Constitution.
Succumbing to the threat of the Catholic pulpit favors only the Roman Catholic church. By its sheer number, it can bully its way toward policies that favor only its narrow interests.
By taking an anti-RH bill position, and pressuring legislators through its pulpits and demonstrations, the Roman Catholic church continues a tradition that reaches back to the Spanish dominion of the archipelago. During the Spanish era, the Roman Catholic church also owned sizable haciendas, like the hacienda in Calamba leased by the family of our national hero, Dr. Jose Rizal.
It had considerable economic power then, and was not hesitant to wield it against dissenters. Rizal’s were no strangers to this economic bullying, which today we only see being used by China against us. That power had long been spent, but the Roman Catholic church still have more tricks up its sleeve.
Even with about 80 percent of Filipinos identifying themselves as Roman Catholic, legislators must also mind the remaining citizens who identify themselves as belonging (or not) to religions other than Roman Catholicism.
What if the official stance of the religion to which they belong is to support the RH bill? Must their right to viable reproductive health services be trumped so easily just because they do not have the numbers? Lest we forget, the official name of this country is the Republic of the Philippines, and not the Roman Catholic Republic of the Philippines.
By reducing the vote over the passage of the RH bill into one determined by the approval of the dominant religion, members of Congress do the Filipino people a great disservice, if they don’t downright violate the Constitution. Again, Roman Catholicism is not the only religion in the Philippines. Hence, government must not give it special treatment.
While the bell tower of the Roman Catholic church looms tall over the Batasan, our leaders must not be blind that in the north, east, south and west of every town in the Philippines, different spires also reach up to the sky.