Unfortunately, Christ’s Church in the Philippines (by this, I do not mean the Iglesia ni Kristo which has shown remarkable dynamism in its endorsement of the RH bill) is more concerned with sex and women’s bodies than it is with anything else – a curious fact given their lack of experience in such matters. In this country, farmers are denied land, activists get murdered, politicians steal millions, children starve, families live on mountains of trash, etc. You get the picture—assuming you’re not a bishop of the dense order. Amidst this, the CBCP devotes its energies to preventing couples from choosing artificial contraception. The last time I was that obsessed with sex was when I first hit puberty. Seriously CBCP, it’s time to grow up too.
In the late 1950s, as with now, the Philippines was undergoing a period of reconstruction: the Huk rebellion had been crushed without the resolution of the tensions that caused it, and Magsaysay had to contend with the aftermath of Quirino’s corruption (a bit like Noynoy to GMA). Like today, the Church was more concerned with its pride than the betterment of society. In a blatant attempt to obscure the colonial sins of the friar orders, they mustered the power of the pulpit to prevent Filipino students from reading the two most important novels in Philippine history: Noli me Tangere and El Filibusterismo.
Republic Act 1425 (Rizal Law), which mandated the teaching of Rizal’s works and life, was the Reproductive Health Bill of the 1950s. In a 2007 Inquirer column, celebrated Rizal scholar Ambeth Ocampo narrates the extent to which the Church was willing to oppose popular sentiment:
“Going through the novels with a fine-tooth comb, specific passages were deemed offensive to the Catholic faith. Church spokesmen argued that Catholics could read selected passages from Rizal’s work, but to compel Catholics to read Rizal’s novels in its “unexpurgated” or uncensored version was to force heresy on them and violate their freedom of conscience. Catholic schools put up a good fight and even threatened to close down if the Rizal bill was passed. Claro M. Recto calmly told them to go ahead so the state could then nationalize all the schools and teach what it wanted. The Church retreated but threatened to “punish” erring legislators in future elections. Recto was undaunted.”
Their rhetoric in the 50s mirrors their present threats to engage in acts of “civil disobedience” against the RH bill. Although, I must say, the scare tactics have become lamer over the years. I don’t really know what they mean when they talk about civil disobedience. But that’s the thing with the Church hierarchy; its rigidity prevents it from learning its lessons.
History is haunting the Catholic Church. In a Philippine Free Press article by Teodoro M. Locsin from May of 1956, he describes the public backlash against the Church’s opposition to the Rizal Law:
“It was all very surprising. A month ago, one could not have imagined a Filipino politician speaking in any but the most respectful terms of the prelates of the Church; he would have considered it political suicide to express himself critically of them. Now all caution seems to have been thrown to the wind.”
The passage could have been about contemporary Philippines. We feminists, freethinkers, and defenders of liberty are now willing to throw caution to the wind. Our opponent has proven itself unreasonable, leaving no room for compromise and denying us our humanity by calling us names. Fine, we might have called them Damasos as a means to revive the spirit of the national hero whose legacy they sought to tarnish. But to call us murderers and terrorists crosses a line. It denies us our morality, and as I’ve said before, how can a democratic debate begin when we assume the worst of the other?
According to Locsin, the Church’s opposition to the Rizal Act made aging revolutionary Emilio Aguinaldo recall “how Rizal’s Noli was banned by the Spanish authorities who had kept Filipinos subject for more than 300 years under ‘the guise of Christianity.’” Today, the CBCP is subjecting women’s bodies to their domination under that same guise. This is a turning point, and it’s time the public teach these arrogant men a lesson.
So when you get the chance, pick up Noli and Fili (the hipper ones might prefer the Penguin Classics editions). If you find that Rizal is a good aphrodisiac and end up in the sack with your partner, use a condom. Condoms and anti-colonial novels are, after all, eerily similar: they piss off the powerful because they liberate.
Lisandro Claudio (“Leloy”) is a PhD Candidate at the School of Historical and Philosophical Studies, the University of Melbourne. He is the national chairperson of Akbayan Youth