Jose Rizal: new symbol of reproductive health rights?
MANILA, Philippines - If Rizal were alive today, would he support the controversial Reproductive Health (RH) bill?
Yes, at least according to advocates of the said bill, which promotes access to sex education and the use of artificial contraceptives in the country.
Carrying posters of the national hero, a number of women and youth organizations trooped to the Batasang Pambansa complex in Quezon City on Wednesday. They rendered songs and read Rizal's poems as they called on legislators to pass the RH bill.
Akbayan party-list Rep. Kaka Bag-ao and the others see Rizal, known for exposing various problems in the Spanish colonial society through his written works, as an ideal symbol of reproductive health rights.
"Rizal's legacy of advancing the importance of education, knowledge and progress is very much alive today. In fact, they are the same values being promoted by the proposed RH bill," Bag-ao said in a statement.
"Huwag natin biguin si Rizal. We must not let people with tunnel vision lead our people. Patuloy tayo magbigay-liwanag sa pamamagitan ng edukasyon sa ating mga kababayan."
The RH bill has been blocked by the Catholic Church and some lawmakers in Congress, saying that some contraceptives are considered abortifacients by medical professionals.
They added that modern family methods will only promote amorality and selfishness.
But Bag-ao begs to differ.
"Certainly, history repeats itself. Maybe our friends in the Catholic Church hierarchy should brush up on theirs. More than 50 years ago, they said the Rizal Law violates the Catholic's right to conscience and religion, interestingly, the same line of reasoning they use to oppose the RH bill. They said it would lead to the degradation of Catholic values and morality. But has it?" she said.
"Truth is, Rizal became an indispensable pillar of our national identity embraced by both Catholic and non-Catholic Filipinos. We did not lose our faith in God. I believe the same thing will happen with the inevitable passage of the RH bill."
Bag-ao was referring to Republic Act 1425 or Rizal Law, which mandates public and private schools to offer courses about the national hero and his works.
The bill was passed into law on June 12, 1956, the country's Independence Day celebration.
This is not the first time that Rizal was closely associated with advocates of the RH bill.
Last year, artist and tour guide Carlos Celdran dressed up as Jose Rizal and held up a placard with the word "Damaso" inside the Manila Cathedral as a form of protest against the Catholic Church's stand on the controversial measure.
"Damaso" refers to Father Damaso, an abusive priest who is a character in Rizal's novel Noli Me Tangere.
Celdran was brought to jail for reportedly violating Article 133 of the Revised Penal Code (offending religious feelings), but walked free after posting a P6,000 bail.
He has formally apologized to Church authorities, but stressed that what he interrupted was not a mass, as was previously reported.