Who is Maria Clara?

IN the raging, oftentimes tumultuous, debate on the reproductive health bill, the role of the subject–the mother, the wife, or the woman–is sometimes glossed over and taken for granted. It is an irony, if telling,  that most of the major protagonists on both side of the recent hullabaloo are men. The president, the speaker, the congressman, the bishops, the activist, are all men.

I do not know if this is the reason why much of their arguments so far–from the sublime to the absurd–had that slant of abstractiveness–on one side, the death statistics of mothers and infants, the poverty equation, and human rights and, on the other side, the sacredness of life, the benefits of procreation, and the fallacy of population growth as retardant of development.

What I found missing is the reality argument of having millions of Filipino women (with or without their spouses, priests, and doctors) making decisions on having babies or regarding their bodies. At the end of the day, they will be the ones to decide.

We can concede–depending on one’s point of view–that arguments of both the state and the Catholic church are correct. I think, however, that we must not lose sight of the fact that the woman–plus her spouse–will decide whether to follow one or the other or to have an entirely different decision. Family planning or reproductive health choices are intensely personal decisions in most cultures, including here in the Philippines.

Both the state and the Catholic church can only influence this decision, but cannot impose its own. Unless, of course, we are living in either a fascist or theocratic state but not in a democracy. Democracy guarantees the freedom of individual choices unless these choices violate the rights of others or of the common good.

In the current debate, both sides actually have common positions. Both argue for family planning and both agree that there should not be coercion or punishment. The state however differ from the Catholic church in other ways. One, in making available more choices other than the “natural” method of contraception. Two, in assisting those who opted for options other than the “natural” one. Three, in the role of the state on making available all information on other methods, particularly  the “artificial” ones.

In my opinion, the state enjoys the more superior argument, arguing as it is for recognizing the freedom of choice by every family, whether Catholic or not,  in their decision to use any available safe method. The Catholic church hierarchy argues for restrictions, even banning (and presumably punishment for practitioners) of other methods.

The Catholic church, following current Vatican doctrines, is basically correct in asserting its position, particularly when framed in morality and religious truth. However, it is limited to its own flock or community. It cannot impose this position on non-Catholics although it is an inherent right, as part of the freedom of religion and of expression,  to preach to all.

Even excommunication, as a church instrument of discipline or punishment, is a valid option within the context of its own church jurisdiction.

The object of excommunication, then, has the option to change religious affiliation.

The state, on the other hand, has a constitutional mandate and responsibility to do good by its own citizens, whether they are Catholic or not. In a democratic setting, it has every right (and duty) to issue and implement policies that would address the needs and welfare of its citizens. If after its proper processes are observed and a policy is decided upon, it is incumbent on the government to implement this policy.

In the political sphere of the State, the Catholic hierarchy or even the Catholic church community is seen as one of the constituencies of the state. In this sense, it can listen to their point of view, decide if these views are valid or not, and act accordingly. At all times, it must decide from the point of view of the interests of the entire people, nation, or country.

One side may or may not agree with the other’s position but they can have an understanding of the opposite side’s context. Then, they can respect each other’s position.

The subject of their debate or discussion–the wife, the mother, the woman–will certainly appreciate the outcome. However, I suspect that they would be more interested if these two can really help them decide.

Maria Clara as the submissive caricature of Filipino womanhood is long dead. As dead as the imposing (and hypocritical) Padre Damaso of the olden colonial days. Both the State and the Catholic church have to recognize the modern times. Mon Casiple


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