The recent resurgence of the debates regarding the RH Bill had once again left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth. These debates, depending on which side you ask, highlighted either the incompetence of the Catholic Church to listen to its flock regarding important issues, or is an explicit symptom of the moral degeneration of the country’s leaders, institutions, and its population. ”Stupidity” is a word that has become an unqualified, debased currency for RH Bill supporters who wish to insult the various stands made by anti-RH Bill advocates. All of this simply recalls a remark made by Walter Benjamin: “...theology, today, as we know, is wizened and must be kept out of sight”.
We, the Christian Union for Socialist and Democratic Advancement (CRUSADA), believe that there is no contradiction in being both a Christian and a supporter of the RH Bill. Indeed, as we will later argue, to refuse to see the enormous suffering that poverty brings upon the poor, and to refuse to see the weight that the RH Bill (in coordination with further developmental programs) can lift from the shoulders of the poor, is a failure for the Christian to interrogate the teachings of one’s faith with the emergence of the poor as the subject and starting point of theology. Indeed, to continue to privilege the doctrine of the sanctity of life as written, without regarding the quality of life, is a failure to live out the most fundamental commandment of all: to love your neighbor as you love yourself. One cannot love ideas as mere abstractions, one must turn the love for people into a humanizing praxis. In moments where the affirmation of doctrine comes before the love of neighbor, in this case the love of the poor, then one fails to live out the greatest commandment. A true support of the sanctity of life must be done with regard for a good life for all, and not bare life for a majority.
In our support of the RH Bill, we will argue along the following lines:
1. Although the Party upholds the doctrine of the sanctity of life, questions about the beginning of life must not be separated from questions about the quality of life in the midst of which this life is conceived. If life is truly sacred, then one must not only protect the right to life but also defend the right to have a good, qualified life. One must not only defend life, one must also nurture it, and present life with opportunities for life, and not for poverty (which is mere life) or death.
2. We believe that the current arguments against the RH Bill are buttressed by a theology of the human body which is primarily essentialist and ahistorical. While we recognize that these moral arguments are to some degree valid, we recognize that there is a need to move towards a theology which sees God with the poor, which sees God in their struggles, which sees God in the people who live and act in solidarity with the poor. From this lense, the RH Bill, when seen as a valid attempt to alleviate the suffering of the poor, becomes a legitimate form of Christian action.
The Party affirms that the material conditions of people are essential to determining and maintaining the overall quality of their lives. That is, human beings must first privilege the satisfaction of the labor of their bodies before it can fully and wholly participate in activities which are integral to human life. Before one can study, do work, write literature, engage in athletics, build a family, or build a community, the satisfaction of our material needs must come first. The labor of our bodies precedes the works of our hands.
There are situations and societies, however, where the oppression brought about by structural injustices makes it very difficult to satisfy the labor of our bodies, which in turn makes it nearly impossible to perform other forms of human action and interaction. This is the condition of poverty, wherein the demand for bread overshadows all the other pursuits of an individual and of communities. Where there is poverty, life is no longer true life. Poverty degrades people into animal laborans in the most literal sense; poverty turns people into mere biological entities tied to their bodily needs. Instead of living lives that affirm everyday life, every new day in a condition of poverty is instead lived as an escape of impending death. Poverty, therefore, is inhuman, and is against human dignity. It is not until poverty is annihilated, gradually or otherwise, can we call our world truly human. This does not mean that bare life does not deserve to live, but that bare life is an insufficient form of life. We must not be content if a majority of our impoverished population lives by merely living. All affirmations of life must be in regard to better life.
This mere living can be characterized by the severe inequities in terms of the availability of essential care that continues to plague our country. 94% of women in the richest quintile have a skilled birth attendant, while only 26% among the country’s poorest fifth have the same access to that kind of care. Only 77% of the poorest quintile have access to antenatal care, with only 13% delivering their babies at an accredited health facility. 92% of these women have complained of at least one healthcare access problem. Underprivileged women given their circumstances, often still continue working even with difficult pregnancies. Some of these mothers are exposed to unhealthy environments as well as abuse. Most of these women are malnourished. Complications arise from 15% of pregnancies, from 2 million live births, about 300,000 maternal complications develop and 15 women needlessly die from preventable causes every day. Because of the compromised maternal care, women are also more likely to give birth preterm. This can result to Filipino babies suffering various diseases related to short gestation and low birth weight. Those who do survive manifest different congenital anomalies as well as cognitive challenges for life.
The Party believes that these statistics show that there are obvious circumstances where prohibiting the distribution of essential medicines and emergency care and to withhold the education of our people regarding their reproductive rights and health means that one condones the death of a lot of these people.
And in a majority of cases in the Philippines, children are born into such desperate conditions that they may as well be barely living. Every single child is unique; every child, therefore, embodies the very capacity of all human beings to enact beginnings. That is, by virtue of the unique singularity of every single child, all of them have the capacity to leave their own distinct imprint upon the world. But every newly born child is barely alive as well, dependent upon the care of their mother, their family, and the circumstances in which they live. The family is the primary bridge between the world of labor and the world of human activities. It is the family’s role to provide an environment wherein bare life may become qualified life.
Overall, the question here is whether or not the RH Bill will actually answer the needs of the poor. We, the Christian Union for Socialist and Democratic Advancement, believe that the bill allows for greater solidarity with the poor, by actually providing the necessary steps which will allow them reprieve from the suffering brought about by poverty. It allows them a better life, and anything which makes life better for the poor will always provide more solidarity than those who argue based on misinformation and misunderstanding.
Is there a theological basis for the support of the RH Bill? Is there a Christian defense of the propositions provided by the RH Bill, even when it has been argued again and again that all of the solutions that the RH Bill takes are incompatible with Christian doctrine - the inseparability of the unitive and procreative aspects of sexuality, of its genital and affective parts? We, the Christian Union for Socialist and Democratic Advancement, believe so, and it is found in the fundamental commandment of Jesus Christ: to love your neighbor as you love yourself.
In Margins: Site of Asian Theologies, Felix Wilfred argues that “We just cannot fix centres of God’s presence...What the whole of biblical revelation tells us is that God is someone who journeys to the margins, and is to be found at the periphery”. The eyes of God always see the people of the margins, and his compassion and presence is always “with persons who are without power and protection”. Therefore, the only way to encounter God is to go and be in solidarity with the struggles and sufferings of the people of the margins themselves. In fact, “Jesus was so pained by the arrogance of the religious leaders of his time, and on the other hand, so moved with joy to find ‘non-persons’ radiant in God’s presence”. A genuine theology, in other words, must go to the margins - to those who hunger, to those who thirst, to those who have been abandoned by society to the fetters of poverty.
Gustavo Gutiérrez also argues along similar lines in his “The Option for the Poor Arises from Faith in Jesus”. Faith is not just an individual task, it also implies the task of preaching the good news, which in turn implies a sense of duty towards one’s own community that is within its context. Faith and theology must therefore come to terms with human history and the lives of everyday people. In the context of poverty, theology goes beyond the memorization and affirmation of doctrine, moving towards “accompanying people in their suffering and joys, their commitments, frustrations...”. “A theological language that neglects unjust suffering and does not loudly proclaim the right of each and every person to happiness is shallow and betrays the God of whom it speaks, the God of the beatitudes. In the end, all theology is a theology of hope, an understanding of the reasons we have to hope”.
The question, therefore, becomes: for whom is this theology for? Theology, although it necessarily includes the dimension of the affirmation of faith in God and in the Church, cannot be confined to these dimensions. It is even worse when theology is used only for the affirmation of doctrine. When this happens, an essential aspect of theology is forgiven - that of compassion and solidarity with the suffering of the poor. A theology which does not seek to alleviate these even the slightest is no theology at all. But we, the Christian Union for Socialist and Democratic Advancement, see that the RH Bill is one way by which Christian doctrine can accompany the poor in their suffering. We affirm life, and we affirm the Christian edict to love our neighbor; that is, we support the RH Bill.