Time to Speak Up, Time to Be Counted

By Ramon J. Farolan
The Inquirer
October 11, 2010

THIS IS a difficult subject to address and I am at a loss where to start.

But let me try.

My mother passed away when I was still an infant. Close relatives and family friends described her to me as the prettiest of seven sisters. Her eldest sister was married to a ranking official of the Aglipayan Church, a breakaway faction from the Catholic institution during the revolt against Spain. Led by Gregorio Aglipay, the movement mainly in the Ilocos region, was partly a response to the abuses of Spanish friars and their treatment of Filipino clerics as second-class members of the Church.

Family relations determined that I be baptized in Aglipayan rites with an uncle, Bishop Santiago Fonacier, officiating. My baptismal sponsors were Sen. Quintin Paredes and Ms Alicia Syquia-Quirino, the wife of President Elpidio Quirino.

On being widowed, my father decided to send me to live with his sister Cristeta in Baguio City. While she may not have been my biological mother, she was for all intents and purposes, the woman who raised me as her own son, providing me with a sense of security so necessary for a child.

My aunt was a very devout Catholic, with membership in a number of Catholic lay organizations with a particular devotion to our Lady of Mt. Carmel. Upon taking me up to Baguio, her first and immediate concern was to have me baptized again, this time in the rituals of the Catholic Church. In later years, I would vaguely recall her mentioning to some relatives that the priest who baptized me admonished her for consenting to the earlier baptismal rites.

Since then, I have always considered myself a Catholic and at the Holy Family School (now St. Louis High School) in Baguio City, I was indoctrinated into the teachings of the Church by Belgian nuns with their Batman-like headgear. From time to time, if we misbehaved or didn't do as we were told, they threatened us with eternal damnation in the fires of hell. In fact, as an altar boy, I would be reprimanded for looking around and smiling at my partner. This meant extra time kneeling before the altar after Mass for 10 minutes—a period that seemed more like an hour.

For many years, perhaps partly out of a lingering fear concerning the "fires of hell" as promised by our Belgian missionaries, I accepted without question what my Church would say on all matters, spiritual and temporal. This is not to say that I was always the perfect child of the Church.

It has been a long time coming, but today I cannot support every position that the Church takes, especially on matters that are not in line with their particular expertise. For one thing, the continuing reports of sexual abuse of young people by priests and nuns in so-called Catholic countries around the world, have seriously eroded much of the moral high ground that the Church used to occupy in the past.

How can any organization compel its followers to abide by its teachings when its own officials and leaders are shown to be abusive of those same teachings, picking on the most vulnerable of the flock? And these are not just isolated incidents. They are so widespread, mainly in religious communities in Ireland, Belgium and the United States. I fear our own clergy may not be totally spared of similar scandals.

Today the reproductive health (RH) issue is very much on the minds of our people who are concerned about the future of the country. Too much is at stake not just for individuals, but for the nation as a whole. With population growth rates among the highest in the region, we must undertake population management measures to slow down our numbers. Otherwise, with so many mouths to feed, we may not be able to lift our people from the quagmire of poverty that they find themselves in, no matter how much the economy grows.

Brilliant thinkers and distinguished writers have discussed the population issue. I respect their views but in the final analysis, I must rely on my own conscience.

My position is clear and simple. We must support the education of our people in all forms of family planning methods to include the distribution and use of artificial contraceptives.

If all of us who support the RH proposals remain silent on the issue, possibly out of respect for our parish priests and friends in the community or for fear of antagonizing the bishops, the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) might interpret that silence as support for their position. That would be a serious mistake. In the event the Church hierarchy decides to call for civil disobedience in the face of RH proposals, that would be an even greater miscalculation.

It is my hope that P-Noy holds firm on this issue. If he does and the RH bill becomes law, it could be the greatest achievement of his entire presidency.

* * *

Multiple choice: Robredo, or Puno, or both, or none of the above—who goes?

The President's decision on the hostage crisis report is supposed to come out on Monday. There are conflicting stories, particularly on the fate of Interior and Local Government Undersecretary Rico Puno. Some reports say he is staying on; other reports indicate that the President is having a difficult time deciding what to do with him. What is clear is that he apparently retains the trust and confidence of the President.

Last Saturday, Puno was quoted as saying that five groups were out to get him with one group being led by Interior and Local Government Secretary Jesse Robredo. He added that those five groups were responsible for feeding Archbishop Oscar Cruz with information that he was on the take from jueteng operators. Personally, I don't believe he is on any jueteng payroll. In fact, Puno happens to be the baptismal godfather of one of my nieces. They all vouch for him. My reason for saying that he needs to go is that he flunked the test that was presented to him by the hostage crisis.

How can the President possibly keep both Robredo and Puno in the same department, considering the atmosphere of mistrust and ill-feelings between them? The test of leadership is whether you can put the interests of the country ahead of your own political and personal concerns. Perhaps, it is best to start with a clean slate by providing the department with a new administration at both the Cabinet and sub-cabinet levels.


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