The Philippines has long been known as the Catholic Church’s Asian stronghold, but a new birth control law highlights an increasingly liberal shift that could next see divorce legalized, activists and religious leaders say.
A 15-year battle by the church to thwart state-sanctioned family planning ended last month when the Philippine Supreme Court approved the law, allowing the government to begin distributing free contraceptives to millions of poor Filipinos.
It was a rare loss for the church, which has for centuries been one of the nation’s most powerful institutions and continues to count more than 80 percent of the nation’s 100 million people as Catholics.
The church helped lead revolutions that toppled two Philippine presidents in recent decades and has been a constant voice in the nation’s modern political discourse, placing pressure on legislators to adopt conservative social policies. The Philippines is the only country where divorce remains illegal, while abortion is also outlawed and marriage is strictly defined as a union between a man and a woman.
Advocates say the introduction of the birth control law, accompanied by widespread community support, shows that Filipinos are increasingly ignoring the conservative teachings of the Church, while maintaining their faith.
“The Filipino Catholic mindset is evolving,” Elizabeth Angsioco, a leading feminist who helped galvanize support for the birth control law, told reporters. “The Catholic hierarchy is trying its best to keep their claim that the Philippines is the bastion of the faith in Asia. However, I feel that such a position is no longer as popular or widely accepted as it used to be.”
Many modern Filipino Catholics have already embraced customs that were once considered taboo and are still illegal or frowned upon by the church.
There are 500,000 abortions each year in clandestine clinics, according to the government, many of them by poor women or teenage girls who say that they cannot afford to bring up another child.
Contraceptives have also for many years been in high demand in poor communities.
In slums across Manila, reproductive health centers run by charity groups have long struggled to meet the demand for contraceptives and family planning lessons.
Filipino Catholics have also showed that they do not want to accept the church’s insistence that the “sanctity of family life” must be preserved or, in other words, to remain in an unhappy marriage.
Legal separations, which settle property and assets issues without legally dissolving a union, are common.
Estranged partners can also have their marriages annulled, although this requires a lengthy and expensive court process that is not always successful, so typically only the rich decide to try that option.
Following the birth control decision, a broad coalition of women’s groups are now looking to build momentum for a law that would legalize divorce.
A women’s rights party had already introduced a bill into the Philippine Congress in 2010 seeking to lift the ban on divorce.
The bill has not progressed beyond committee hearings.
Its proponents say they will now seek to revive debates in congress, and at least one female senator has said she will work to craft a counterpart bill in the Philippine upper chamber.
“The public conversation on divorce must now begin,” said Risa Hontiveros, a former legislator who is part of the pro-divorce lobbying network. “The Philippines being the last country in the world where divorce is illegal is a sign of immaturity.”
Proponents of divorce are aware it will still likely take years to have their legislation passed. One important reason for the success of the birth control law was that it had the full support of Philippine President Benigno Aquino III, who comes from a family of devout Catholics, but is a bachelor with a reformist agenda.
However he has been far cooler on the divorce legislation, meaning it will be harder to win support from members of his ruling coalition in the Philippine Congress.
Nevertheless, even senior church figures acknowledge large chunks of Catholic Philippine society are adopting more liberal social philosophies, and the nation’s laws will inevitably reflect that.
Philippine Bishop Oscar Cruz, a former president of the Catholics Bishops Conference of the Philippines, said he expected divorce, abortion and even same-sex marriage could eventually be legalized in the Philippines.
“Because the world is becoming more one ... to play blind to these factors is like a bird hiding under the sand. The thing is to be open about it, to be frank about it, so that we will know what to do,” Cruz said.
Cruz also signalled that the Philippine Catholic Church was less likely to focus so much energy on slowing the liberal tide, taking their queue from the pope.
Cruz said local Church leaders had followed closely Pope Francis’ comments calling for the church to end its “obsession” with divorce, gays, contraception and abortion.
“The hierarchy is more conciliatory, especially now with Pope Francis,” Cruz said.
Since her personal telephone number was posted online, Hong Kong democracy advocate and Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions chairperson Carol Ng has received menacing calls from strangers and been bombarded with messages calling her a “cockroach.” She is not alone. A sophisticated and shady Web site called HK Leaks has ramped up its “doxxing” — where people’s personal details are published online — of Hong Kong democracy advocates, targeting those it says have broken Hong Kong’s National Security Law. Promoted by groups linked to the Chinese Chinese Communist Party and hosted on Russia-based servers, HK Leaks has become the most prominent “doxxing”
A Malaysian student whose cellphone was stolen while he was sleeping has tracked down the culprit: a monkey who took photo and video selfies with the device before abandoning it. Zackrydz Rodzi, 20, on Wednesday said that his mobile phone was missing from his bedroom when he woke up on Saturday. He found the phone’s casing under his bed, but there was no sign of robbery in his house in Johor state. JUNGLE When his father saw a monkey the next day, he searched in the jungle behind his house. Using his brother’s cellphone to call his own device, he found it covered
‘CONFESSED’: A court in Beijing said that former CCP member Ren Zhiqiang abused his power at a state firm and embezzled almost US$7.14 million of public funds A Chinese tycoon who called Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) a clown and criticized his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic was yesterday jailed for 18 years for corruption, bribery and embezzlement of public funds. Ren Zhiqiang (任志強) — once among the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) inner circle — disappeared from the public eye in March, shortly after penning an essay that lambasted Xi’s pandemic response. His outspokenness had earned the former chairman of state-owned property developer Huayuan Group the nickname “Big Cannon.” Yesterday’s verdict said that Ren embezzled almost 50 million yuan (US$7.4 million) of public funds and accepted bribes worth 1.25 million
Australia is notorious for its venomous spiders, snakes and sea creatures, but researchers have now identified “scorpion-like” toxins secreted by a tree that can cause excruciating pain for weeks. Split-second contact with the dendrocnide tree, a rainforest nettle known by its Aboriginal name gympie-gympie, delivers a sting far more potent than similar plants found in the US or Europe. A team of Australian scientists said that they now better understand why the gympie-gympie’s sting haunts those unlucky enough to brush up against its leaves. Victims report an initial sting that “feels like fire at first, then subsides over hours to a pain reminiscent