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MANILA, Philippines - (UPDATED 7:06 PM) Lawmakers pushing for the passage of the Reproductive Health bill in the House of Representatives defended teachers of the Ateneo de Manila University being "persecuted" by Catholic bishops for supporting the controversial measure. And Sen. Miriam Santiago, who took post-graduate studies in theology, said the local church leaders send a 'backward message' that returns the faithful to the years before the issuance of Vatican II.
“Gabriela Women’s Party stands in support of the members of the Ateneo de Manila University faculty now being unjustly persecuted for their expression of support for the Reproductive Health bill,” Representative Luzviminda Ilagan said.
At least 160 Ateneo teachers signed a petition calling for the urgent passage of House Bill 4244, or “An Act Providing for a Comprehensive Policy on Responsible Parenthood, Reproductive Health and Population.”
The Catholic church opposes the passage of the measure, which it claims promotes abortion and immorality.
Certain Cathlolic bishops called for the faculty members of the university, which is run by the Jesuits, to be investigated for taking a position contrary to that of the church.
But Ilagan said the teachers “are living out the Ateneo Mission Statement of social concern by being men and women for others. We laud their fortitude in the midst of this adversity. We shall continue to emulate their pursuit of the Ignatian spirit manifested in their preferential bias for the poor.”
Ilagan graduated from and eventually taught at the Ateneo de Davao for over four decades.
ACT Teacher Representative Antonio Tinio, while acknowledging the right of the CBCP to strip schools of their Catholic status, said the bishops’ threats against the teachers proved “how Catholic dogma and values are in conflict with modern, secular and democratic values live women’s rights and academic freedom.”
Albay Representative Edcel Lagman said the Ateneo faculty members are protected by the principle of academic freedom, quoting the Supreme Court, which ruled that a university professor is a “tiller in the vineyard.”
“The Catholic hierarchy cannot conscript and compel Ateneo University professors to be docile adherents to intransigent church orthodoxy against voluntary modern family planning and contraception by choice,” Lagman said.
“It has been declared that ‘academic freedom involves a responsibility towards society -- towards the public good,’ and the support of the Ateneo professors for the RH bill is consistent with this responsibility,” he added.
The veteran lawmaker said in the same manner the bishops and their lay allies invoke the freedom of expression to air their differing views on the RH bill, the Ateneo faculty should be accorded the same right to support the RH bill “in good conscience as Catholics.”
Ifugao Representative Teddy Baguilat said the CBCP warning was “irrational and exposed the bishops’ hypocrisy.”
“How come they chastise President Aquino when he expresses his opinion about RH to congressmen … and yet threatens to censure educators for expressing free will?” Baguilat asked.
Citizens Battle Against Corruption Representative Sherwin Tugna said the professors were only taking a position on the issue when they signed the statement of support for the measure.
“It does not mean that they are teaching their position on the RH to their students,” he said.
Akbayan Representative Walden Bello added that threatening sanctions against those who disagree with the CBCP is “wrong” and “really medieval.”
Blacklisting sends backward message - Miriam
Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago said on Wednesday the Catholic Church has no right to blacklist members of the Ateneo de Manila University faculty for favoring the passage of the Reproductive Health bill now pending in Congress.
“The threat of the Catholic Church to blacklist the members of the Ateneo faculty just because they took a position in favor of RH is an infringement of a constitutional right—the right to academic freedom. You cannot dictate to a professor what to teach,” Santiago said in an interview before the session began.
And, she said, blacklisting Catholics who favored passage of the controversial bill is a backward-looking message after the issuance of Vatican II.
“I have insisted many times that after the ecumenical council called Vatican II, the role of the Church in society has changed. You can no longer punish Catholics for their freedom of conscience. Freedom of conscience is now enshrined within the Catholic Church itself. It is called an ecumenical council because it abandoned all its previous strict, conservative ways, and is now more open to what is called, ‘questioning concerns’,” Santiago said.
Santiago said a Catholic is not supposed to just swallow everything that is recited by a cleric, whether he is a parish priest or a bishop. “Only the Pope can dictate, and that is when he categorically claims that he is speaking ex cathedra, in his role as Supreme Pontiff.”
“Meaning to say, if you don’t follow that dogma, then you are no longer a Catholic. But the Pope never exercised that power with respect to reproductive health, or population control, or responsible parenthood. So we are all agreed among the Catholic theological community that this is not a dogma, that this is not a required position for a Catholic. Therefore, it is open to the exercise of the freedom of conscience of every Catholic,” Santiago explained.
“I humbly submit that this is wrong theology, because there is no dogma involved here. There is no specific dogmatic principle that has emanated from the Pope. They have never declared that when they are talking about the RH Bill, they are speaking ex cathedra, whether we refer to the incumbent or the prior popes. So that is the danger with that statement from the Catholic Church. Are we going back to the Middle Ages? Is this again the clericalism we knew from the Spanish regime? I don’t think so. The Catholic Church will make itself obsolete from the mainstream if it adopts this attitude,” Santiago concluded.