Bernardo M. Villegas
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The Sanctity of Family Life (Part 1)

 The Philippine Constitution of 1987 is crystal clear about the sanctity of the Filipino family.  This reverence for the family is at the same level as the respect for human life from the moment of conception.  After all, it is within the family that human life is born, nurtured and reared to its full flowering.  In addition to a whole Article on the Family (XIV), Section 12 of Declaration of State Policies (Article II) explicitly states that “The State recognizes the sanctity of family life and shall protect and strengthen the family as a basic autonomous social institution.”  Besides the pro-life statement contained in this Article, there is also an affirmation about how the Government shall support the “natural and primary right and duty   of parents in the rearing of the youth for civic efficiency and the development of moral character.”

Article XV expounds on the exact meaning of the “sanctity of the Filipino family.”  Section 1 declares that the State recognizes the Filipino family as the foundation of the nation.  Accordingly, it (the State) shall strengthen its solidarity and actively promote its total development.”  It is clear from this declaration that the family is prior to the State.  Section 2 then makes it clear that the family cannot be strengthened unless the State recognizes the natural truth that marriage is an inviolable social institution, the very foundation of the family.    Section 3 of this Article makes it clear what the duties of the State is in its obligation to strengthen the family.  It has to defend: (1) the right of spouses to found a family in accordance with their religious convictions and the demands of responsible parenthood; (2) The right of children to assistance, including proper care and nutrition, and special protection from all  forms of neglect, abuse, cruelty, exploitation and other conditions prejudicial to their development; (3) the right of the family to a family living wage and income; and (4) The right of families or family associations to participate in the planning and implementation of policies and programs that affect them.

Very much in keeping with the principle of subsidiarity (what can be effectively accomplished by  a lower unit of society should not be taken over by a higher one), Section 4 of Article XV mandates that the family has the duty to care for its elderly members.  In instances, however, when this is not possible the principle of solidarity provides for the   State to care for the elderly through just programs of social security.  It is commendable that there is still the strong tradition in every Filipino family, whether rich or poor, that the younger members take care of the elderly.  Putting them in a home for the aged is always the last resort.

As discussed in the IBP Journal article of constitutionalist and Palawan Governor Dennis M. Socrates entitled “The Sanctity of Family and Life:  Natural Law Thinking in the Constitution”, it is part of the natural law imprinted in every human being that a society is a union of wills (formal cause) of individuals through families (material cause) brought about by love (efficient cause) and ordained towards the common good (final cause).  It is the family, rather than the individual, who should be considered the “immediate” matter of society.  The individual stands as the “remote” or mediated material cause (mediated by the family) since the family is an entity simultaneously distinct from the individual (the family is a group) and from society itself (the ties that bind members of the same family are different from those that bind in society). 

It is obvious that, from his birth until he reaches the age of majority (when he can vote, enter into contracts, etc.) the individual person participates in social life mostly through his parents and family; and even in adulthood, man’s participation in social life is heavily influenced by family considerations (his concern for spouse and children).  This natural law considerations explain why the family is “the basic cell of society” as provided for by Section 12, Article II of the Philippine Constitution of 1987.

The truth that man is a political or social animal was already discovered by human reasoning by the ancient Greek philosophers.  Man cannot fully attain his human perfection without associating with other human beings.  To be a hermit is not natural to man.  As Governor Socrates observes, even in his material dimension, man finds himself driven towards association with others.  He comes into existence through his parents; he survives to adulthood within the family.  Moreover, even on his own, there seems to be in man an “instinct” for association, alongside the instinct for self-preservation or self-assertion.  This human instinct is analogous to what drives birds to flock together or ants to form colonies.  As Governor Socrates explains, these two basic instincts of self-assertion and association have given rise to two opposing ideologies, i.e. individualism (assertion) and collectivism (association).  In politics, individualism translates into liberalism while collectivism into totalitarianism.  In economics, there is free-market capitalism at one end and socialism on the other. 

The tension between these two extremes is increasingly being resolved by the application to modern societies of the complementary principles of subsidiarity and solidarity.  In the field of economics, the primary responsibility of attaining the common good rests on the smallest units:  the family, the business sector and civil society.  This is dictated by the principle of subsidiarity, i.e. the State is only subsidiary to the family in the pursuit of the common good.  Only when the family and the smaller units of society reach their limits of attaining their welfare will the State come in to help them, i.e. the State is “subsidiary” to the family and the lower units of society.  However, the principle of solidarity makes a demand on both the smaller units of society and the State.  Each component of society, starting with the individual and the family, must always find ways of contributing to the common good in the ordinary circumstance of their lives.  They must live solidarity with society.  On its part, the State must express love or solidarity for society by first promoting justice (giving everyone his or her due), the first principle of which is establishing order in society.  Justice is the minimum of love, and while love itself cannot be a matter of compulsion, justice can be.

It is the responsibility of the State to make sure that the Filipino family is protected from harmful influences that are products of what can be called “ideological colonization”, attempts of other countries to import into our society such practices as absolute divorce, same-sex unions, and population control through the widespread practice of contraception.  As Governor Socrates wrote, these practices, like abortion, should be understood as proscribed by Section 12, Article II of the 1987 Constitution.  If the provisions on the sanctity of life and of the family are to be read, as they should be, in their natural-law context, such actions would really be seen as repugnant to the fundamental law.  Divorce, same-sex unions, and contraception are in a direct conflict with the natural-law philosophy behind Section 12, Article II of the Constitution.  It can also be legitimately argued that government efforts through propaganda, financial assistance and other incentives aimed at motivating families to reduce the number of their children, and mostly targeting and victimizing the poor, run counter to the concept of the family as “basic autonomous social institution” protected by the Philippine Constitution.  To be continued.