is the subject of my Trade Tripper column in this Friday-Saturday issue of BusinessWorld:
To those actively participating in the national
conversation regarding the RH Bill, a constant source of frustration is
discussing the same with somebody who keeps shifting ground while one is
in the middle of directly addressing a particular issue. Deliberate
tact or not, it unfortunately prevents intelligent discourse in what is
clearly an important national subject.
That problem again came up when the Catholic Bishops’ Conference
of the Philippines urged "Catholic" universities to adhere faithfully
to Church teachings. It was a logical, reasonable enough request: like
simply telling a history teacher to teach history or a math teacher to
teach math. But that CBCP statement met with almost hysterical reaction
from certain quarters, particularly those advocating for the RH Bill.
Commentators supposedly more circumspect are now seen labeling the
Bishops the "Taliban," or of reviving the "inquisition," or "waging a
But did the CBCP cross the line in making that call as they did?
Religious freedom is a confirmed international human right. As the UN
Declaration of Human Rights provides: "Everyone has the right to freedom
of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to
change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community
with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or
belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance." This is expanded
by the later International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to
include: "respect for the liberty of parents and, when applicable, legal
guardians to ensure the religious and moral education of their children
in conformity with their own convictions."
So the Bishops, like anybody else, had the right to say what they said.
Note that the Bishops were not asking people to obey without thinking or
coercing them to let go of their conscience. All they were asking is
for Catholic universities (or at least those who say they are Catholic
academic institutions) to teach Catholic doctrine correctly.
But doesn’t this violate academic freedom? The answer is no. It’s not
even the issue. Does the Church, through its Bishops (mandated, as
declared in the Catechism, as the "authentic teachers of the apostolic
faith"), have the right to determine what is Catholic doctrine from what
isn’t? Of course it does. And our Supreme Court recognized this right
through a long line of cases: from the right of the religious to
"proselytize" (American Bible Society case) to the fact that the State
should not interfere with any religions’ beliefs, creeds, or doctrines
(see Islamic Da’wah, Seventh Day Adventists, and Ebranilag cases).
The Catholic Church’s teachings are succinctly and widely available in compiled form in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
Do the Catholic Church and Catholic universities have the right to have
that taught to its students? Yes. It’s a constitutional and human right
as mentioned above. Do Catholic universities have the right to direct
how that particular subject is taught, who teaches it, and retain who it
thinks is fit to teach it? Yes. Again a constitutional and
international human right; further discussed in Article XIV of the
Constitution and elucidated by the Supreme Court in cases such as Miriam
College Foundation and Alfredo de Torres.
And let’s not forget: nobody is forcing anybody to study or teach in those schools.
As mentioned above, academic freedom is not even actually the issue. It
is academic or intellectual honesty, and respect for the contractual
rights of the university and of the parents who enrolled their children
in a Catholic school expecting a Catholic education. Again, nobody is
telling anybody not to teach what he or she doesn’t want. But it’s
simply dishonest and wrong for one to teach against Church doctrines and
then pass that off as Catholic doctrine. Teach that if you want but
call it something else. Call it "Liberation Theology" or "Critique of
Church Teachings from the Marxists Perspective." Anything. But don’t
call it "Catholic." In short, if a teacher was asked (and he agreed) to
teach Catholic doctrine, then that teacher is contractually obliged
(either to the school administration or to the students or to the
students’ parents) to teach it. Not doing so could simply result in
civil (or possibly even criminal) liabilities.
Contrast that established right to religion with that oft-repeated claim
that access to contraceptives is an international human right. It is
most definitely not. There is no treaty that ever mentions contraception
nor is there any binding international norm that requires States to
supply contraceptives (see White Paper on Family Planning by the World
Youth Alliance). "Reproductive Health" is a right but that term is not
synonymous with contraception. And international law clearly does not
require the need for reproductive health to be fulfilled merely through
In the end, it’s good to remember Cardinal Newman’s dictum: our
"conscience has rights because it has duties." For our students’ sake,
lessening our egos and developing rational thought would be quite