Press Release
August 1, 2011


Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago, principal author of the reproductive health bill, began her three-part co-sponsorship speech by discussing the principle of "primacy of conscience" in the theology of the Catholic church, the leading critic of the bill.

The senator, who has a law doctorate but also studied for her master's degree at the Maryhill school of theology, said that in the country, the Catholic church is the only major religion that opposes the RH bill.

She noted that other major Christian churches have officially endorsed the RH bill, including: Interfaith Partnership for the Promotion of Responsible Parenthood; National Council of Churches in the Philippines; Iglesia ni Cristo; and Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches.

She said that Filipino Catholics are divided on the RH issue, as an aftermath of Vatican Council 2 held in 1962 to 165, which started a revolution in moral theology.

"Vatican 2 immediately unleashed a tidal wave of change. It is now viewed as the most tumultuous decade in the whole modern history of the Church," she said.

She went on to discuss the principle of "primacy of conscience" under a Vatican 2 document entitled Declaration on Religious Freedom.

"Under the Declaration, a Catholic is bound to follow her conscience faithfully in all her activity, and no one should be forced to act in a way contrary to her conscience," she said.

Santiago emphasized the message that: "Conscience is inviolable, and the individual Catholic has a right to follow her own conscience, even when it is erroneous."

Santiago said that the central issue of Vatican 2 was authority, because at that time the Church was authoritarian.

"With Vatican 2, the seeds of a democratic revolution were sown. In the past, Catholics simply obeyed the bishops. But now, many Catholics are no longer willing to give blind obedience to the Church," she said.

The senator said that the anti-RH groups are called traditional Catholics, while the pro-RH groups are called progressive Catholics.

"With authority as the central issue of Vatican 2, the Church reached a state of extreme tension, when Pope Paul 6 issued his encyclical Humanae Vitae. It condemns artificial contraception, including the pill," she said.

Santiago said that a Special Papal Commission submitted both a majority and a minority report on the regulation of birth, but paradoxically, Pope Paul 6 decided to adopt the minority view.

"As a minority report, the encyclical has failed to get majority support from Catholics around the globe. U.S. surveys showed that more than 80 percent of Catholics of childbearing age do not, in fact, obey the encyclical," she said.

Santiago pointed out that the encyclical does not raise the question of infallibility.

She said that like certain other Catholic doctrines, the encyclical should be reformulated, pursuant to recommendations made by bishops' groups in different countries, and by eminent theologians.

In her 33-page speech, Santiago sad that the RH bill is attuned to liberation theology, which she called "one of the most significant developments of the last several decades."

"Liberation theology sees Jesus' message as a call to struggle against the social forces of oppression. The present struggle for an RH Act to protect the health and quality of life of the mother and child in the context of unspeakable poverty in the Philippines is part of liberation theology," she said.

Santiago said that under liberation theology, the Church should exercise a special option for the poor, and show them a loving preference, by not opposing the RH bill.

She said that in the coming weeks, she will discuss the two other parts of her speech, consisting of: constitutional and international law; and socioeconomics.

Santiago proposed that to avoid confusion, there should be interpellation after each topic, instead of interpellation at the end of her three-part series.

"It is unintelligent to ask questions topsy-turvy. Let us discuss the bill coherently, one topic at a time," she said.

Santiago said that instead of using interpellation to make a point, senators should deliver their own individual speeches, under a Senate rule that allows senators to take turns in speaking for and against a bill.

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