March 13, 2011

To be understood as to understand

(The bullies in the pulpit - St. James the Great Parish in Ayala Alabang. Photo from

REGULAR readers of this space know I am a keen supporter of the consolidated reproductive-health (RH) bill still pending in Congress. Unfortunately, the House of Representatives again failed to take it up it in the plenary session on Tuesday, ironically the 100th year of International Women’s Day.

The anticipated heated debates on the pending bill has already been foreshadowed by a controversy earlier this month in, of all places, barangay Ayala Alabang. As per news reports, the barangay council, chaired by businessman Alfred Xerez-Burgos Jr., issued an ordinance banning pharmacies within the barangay from selling contraceptives to customers who don’t have a doctor’s prescription. Frequent readers of the BusinessMirror probably know Xerez-Burgos Jr. as the founder and vice chairman of Landco Pacific Co., which built the Punta Fuego properties.

Many of the privileged residents of the barangay have found the ordinance an “invasion of one’s privacy,” as one friend put it on Facebook. Also laughable. Because if one just crosses the Alabang-Zapote Road away from AAV, a resident can already purchase contraceptives from a gasoline station and nearby drug stores. Residents also joked that the security guards at the village entrances would now be inspecting their cars to check if they were smuggling in condoms.

Kidding aside, while the Muntinlupa City Council’s Committee on Health and Sanitation has already shot down the controversial ordinance, the barangay officials and the Catholic clergy that support it are not giving up.

Last Sunday some priests at the St. James Parish Church in AAV “condemned” parishioners who didn’t support the barangay ordinance. According to friends who attended Mass at different times, the priests “abused” the Homily to promote the ordinance, and asked parishioners to sign a petition papers supporting it.

Allegedly in some Masses, there was even a PowerPoint presentation outlining the fine points of the barangay ordinance, pressing the use of the term “abortifacients”. Apparently, the barangay council members equate “contraceptives” as “abortifacients.”

(An abortifacient terminates a pregnancy by ridding a fertilized egg from a woman’s uterus. A contraceptive, on the other, prevents the female’s egg and the male’s sperm from meeting, or prevents a woman from ovulating. There is no “life” created, so there is no abortion. Many Filipinos understand this distinction so unsurprisingly; in a Pulse Asia Survey published in December 2010, 7 out of 10 respondents approved of the RH bill and favored contraceptives.)

After the PowerPoint presentation, some speakers were paraded in to give testimony to the value of being “pro-life.” During one Mass, I am told, a young woman said her mother had been told to abort her baby because there was a chance it would be born with an abnormality. Her mother rejected the doctor’s advice, and that baby turned out to be normal—it was the young lady giving the testimonial. But as one parishioner told me, “I didn’t really see the point of her testimonial, since nobody is calling for legalizing abortion anyway.”

Needless to say, many parishioners were upset that the Mass was used to perpetrate what appears to be an illegal barangay council ordinance. It was bad enough that the ordinance was forced down the throats of AAV residents without even the benefit of actual consultations with them.

One friend protested on his Facebook status: “[I] can’t believe that the Mass was used to promote the barangay ordinance banning the sale of condoms without prescription during the homily, then a petition asking for signatures was distributed to the people. Most didn’t sign and...most seemed irritated. In another Mass, I don’t know if it’s true, but word has it that the priest said that if you did not agree with the ordinance, you are cursed. Unbelievable.”

Apparently, this really happened. According to the blogger Gela, who publishes Lorem Ipsum and goes to the said church: “An hour had already passed, thanks to the long, highfalutin speech of the priest who insisted that if you did not agree with that ordinance, you are ‘cursed’. Yes, those were his words. He was even so defensive at first, saying that he wasn’t twisting the homily to fit a discussion on the ordinance.”

Another churchgoer told me that during the 7:30 pm Mass she attended, “a good number stood up to go to the toilet. And a lot [of parishioners] just left the petition paper on the pews without bothering to pass it on.”

From another resident: “I also didn’t agree for them to use the Mass to push what is now, because of their action, a political issue. I also resented them asking us to sign in the middle of the Mass, what in effect was a CYA [cover your ass] document for them.” It appears the barangay council didn’t conduct any public hearings on the said ordinance, or if they did, there were not many residents who knew about them.

One friend who serves at the church added: “My point is that it shouldn’t have been done in church and during the Mass. If they wanted to discuss it, do it at town hall meetings, wherein all parties can talk and give feedback....For me, I just wanted to serve [in the Mass], but instead, I get condemned for having a different point of view. It was really done in bad taste and bad faith.”

All these reactions show just how distant some Catholic priests have become from their flock. They don’t know their parishioners well, otherwise they wouldn’t have even tried manipulating the homily to suit their purpose, which was, in effect, to oppose the RH bill. (The Catholic clergy only endorses natural family-planning methods, which has already been proven unreliable especially for women whose menstrual periods are irregular.)

It is during times like this that Catholics like me become disappointed with the Church and the religion we love, because its representatives seem far removed from the principles and values espoused by Jesus Christ, which are love, charity and faith. Love your enemies. Be charitable to people who don’t see your way. And have faith in your fellow men, because the Lord understands each one’s choice in life.

I completely understand where the Catholic clergy is coming from. They have a job to do, and I respect their beliefs. I just wish they respected ours. To curse their flock for not supporting their viewpoint, however, is not exactly being Christ-like.

(My column, Something Like Life, is published every Friday in the Life section of the BusinessMirror. This piece was published on March 11, 2011. Photos from various sources on the web.)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Gives new meaning to the term "Saradong Katoliko", don't it?