Bernardo M. Villegas
Articles  >> more topics
A Dialogue with the Presidentiables (Part 3)

             In the first two parts of this series, I engaged the Presidentiables in a dialogue about economic policies and strategies they will pursue if they are elected.  In this series, I will focus on some very critical issues which I consider of paramount importance for the survival of Philippine society in a rapidly changing world that seems to be questioning some of the very basic principles found In our Constitution.  I am especially referring to public policies affecting the institution of marriage, the family and the right to life. Before I focus on analyzing some of the views publicly expressed by the Presidentiables on these issues, let me remind all potential national leaders to be thoroughly familiar with what the basic law of the land, the Philippine Constitution of 1987, clearly provides for the respect due to the sanctity of family, the inviolability of marriage as an institution, and the right to life of every person “from the moment of conception.”  I feel very strongly about these issues, much more than the changeable economic opinions I hold, not only for moral and practical reasons, but also because I was part of that small committee within the Philippine Commission that drafted the Constitution in 1986 that was assigned to formulate the basic principles for the protection of marriage, the family, and human life.  The Committee was headed by none else than the very President of the Commission itself, the late Justice Cecilia Munoz Palma.  I owe it to her to make sure that no Philippine President, or for that matter any government official, will pursue social policies that go against the spirit of the Constitution on these issues more important to Philippine society than economic well-being.

            As a starter in this dialogue, let me remind the Presidentiables about the key provisions in the 1987 Constitution about the family and the right to life.  At the very start of the Document after Article I which describes the National Territory of the Philippine Archipelago comes Article II on the Declaration of Principles and State Policies. Section 12 of this Article states: “The State recognizes the sanctity of family life and shall protect and strengthen the family as a basic autonomous social institution. It shall equally protect the family as a basic autonomous social institution.  It shall equally protect the life of the mother and the of the unborn from conception.  The natural and primary right and duty of parents in the rearing of the youth for civic efficiency and the development of moral character shall receive the support of the Government.”

            The 1987 Constitution specifically provided that the family is the very foundation of Philippine society.  Article XV (The Family) has four sections.  Our national leaders and policy makers should frequently reread these provisions because all other concerns about promoting the common good of Philippine society are not as important as these state policies that protect the very foundation of a strong society.  Section 1 states that the “The State recognizes the Filipino family as the foundation of the nation.  Accordingly, it shall strengthen its solidarity and actively promote its total development.  Section 2 provides that “Marriage, as an inviolable social institution, is the foundation of the family and shall be protected by the State.  Section 4 mandates that the State shall defend:  (1) The right of spouses to found a family in accordance with their religious  convictions and 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 and family associations to participate in the planning and implementation of policies and programs that affect them.  Finally, Section 4 addresses the inevitable demographic trend of the increasing ageing of society: “The family has the duty to care for its elderly members but the State may also do so through just programs of social security.”

            Let me now dialogue with those Presidentiables who have publicly declared their support of a law that will allow abortion in special cases like those of rape or incest within certain prescribed periods from the time of conception.  I understand their sympathy for the aggrieved mother.  The Constitution, however, is unequivocal.  There are no exceptions.  The moment there is a fertilized ovum (the moment of conception), the fetus is already considered a person by our Constitution.  Unless the 1987 Constitution is repealed, there is now way we can ape the Roe vs.Wade jurisprudence in the U.S. that opened up the possibility of abortion at first  in very restrictive cases but eventually opened the flood gates to the killing of babies even when they are already being born.  The vast majority of babies who have been killed in the wombs of their mothers were not conceived through rape or incest.  To prevent the slaughter of innocent human lives, who are the least able to defend themselves from aggression, we should take the hard line advocated by the President of the Alliance for the Family Foundation Philippines, Inc., Atty. Maria Concepcion S. Noche in a letter she sent to the Inquirer.

            In that letter, using her legal mind, she categorically states that abortion is illegal under any and all circumstances under the Philippine Constitution statutes, as we reviewed above.  Abortion should not be allowed even when the life of the mother is in danger, and for that matter, even when the life of the unborn is threatened.  As clearly stated in the Constitution, the life of the unborn and the life of the mother shall be equally protected because they are equally valuable.  But what about specific situations in which the fetus is threatening the life of the mother.  Atty Noche has the answer: “In a conflict situation between the life of the unborn and the life of the mother, the doctor is professionally and morally obliged to try to save both lives because both are his patients.  However, he can act in favor of one (not necessarily the mother) when it is medically impossible to save both, provided that no direct harm is intended to the other.”  The direct killing of one or the other is never justified to bring about a “good” effect.  Here, Atty. Noche is applying the principle of double effect which has been recognized by the Philippine Supreme Court.  A typical example of this is the case of the doctor having to remove some cancerous cells in the womb of the mother, resulting in the unintended death of the baby.  This is legally and morally permissible.  It is not permissible, however, to directly kill the baby in order to save the life of the mother.  So-called “therapeutic abortion” is illegal and a crime under Philippine laws. Fortunately, medical technology has advanced so much that these hard choices to make are far and few between these days.

            One Presidential candidate defended abortion by attributing an absolute right to a woman to do whatever she wants with her own body.  Atty. Noche  has a very lucid response to this erroneous thinking.  She maintains that the right to life of the unborn is more basic and superior than the right to privacy of the woman.  This principle should restrain a woman from doing whatever she pleases with her body by evicting an unwanted unborn from her womb.  It is  scientifically obvious that the unborn, while totally dependent on the mother, is already a separate body—and a new life distinct from that of the mother..  We should never pit the unborn against the mother because both are human beings whose lives are equally precious.  The law clearly states that no one should be deprived of human life without due process.  A fetus, just like any other human, must be presumed innocent until proven guilty.  It is obvious that the fetus has done no wrong except to have resulted from an unwanted pregnancy. 

            These legal and moral arguments against abortion can be reinforced by the clear economic harm that has resulted from the widespread use of abortion in countries that killed millions of babies under the name of population control. These countries, the most notorious of which is China, is now suffering from demographic suicide, with the consequent rapid ageing of the population and the scarcity of a young work force, which is already wreaking havoc on the Chinese economy.  The Chinese Government over the last few years have been frantically trying to reverse the very low fertility rate that has become a liability to continuous economic growth, which China still needs because they still have more than 400 or more million poor people.  Despite, however, their trying to encourage Chinese couples to have two or even three children each, there has been no positive response.  Easy recourse to abortion (and not to mention contraception) has embedded a contraceptive mentality in the women, making it almost impossible to reverse the falling fertility rates.  To be continued.