An Open Letter to Archbishop Socrates Villegas

Dear Archbishop Socrates Villegas,

I am writing this with the hope that the media has misquoted you on the statements you made during the Anti-RH Bill Rally in the afternoon of August 4, 2012. I understand that the news may not be completely accurate in its representation of events, as context, tone, and words may be lost in the translation from spoken word to written page. A part of me hopes that this article I came across on Philstar.com is one of those cases where the media simply got it wrong.

You see, Archbishop Villegas, the words attributed to you on this report make you sound like an irresponsible, blithering idiot.

Take this line, for example: “If more babies are the cause of poverty, are we now saying kung walang anak walang mahirap?” No one in their right minds believes babies are the cause of poverty. What I – and I assume a lot of other pro-RH Bill individuals – believe is that having too many kids when unprepared makes the experience of poverty much worse. It’s simple math, really: if you make just enough money to feed three kids, your spouse and yourself three square meals a day, the amount of food allocated per person dwindles proportionally if you have three more kids. That’s five mouths to feed versus eight. Considering minimum wage in Metro Manila is roughly 400 pesos per day, that means each mouth in a five-person family can get a maximum of 80 pesos’ worth of food each day. Eighty pesos distributed equally among three meals gets you a budget of 26.67 pesos per meal. In a family of eight, the allocation for each person drops to 50 pesos per day, or 16.67 a meal. That 10-peso difference is huge to a family living close to or under the poverty line, not to mention that we’re factoring food as the family’s only expense. There’s housing, clothing, and transportation to fit into the budget, too, so that might drop the allocation for meals in a single-earner household to about 2-5 pesos each. Having too many babies won’t make one poorer, but it’ll definitely lower the quality of life for everyone in the family.

Besides, nothing in the bill says that parents aren’t allowed to have as many kids as they want, anyway. While the text suggests that two is the ideal number, it also says “Attaining the ideal family size is neither mandatory nor compulsory. No punitive action shall be imposed on parents having more than two children.” All it wants is for people to be aware of how family size can affect its members’ sustainable growth and quality of life, and encourage a healthy number: “The State shall assist couples, parents and individuals to achieve their desired family size within the context of responsible parenthood for sustainable development and encourage them to have two children as the ideal family size.” The Filipino faithful are free to procreate as they wish.

You are then said to have disputed the (wrong) idea that babies are the cause of poverty simply because “Kung walang anak, walang mahirap” isn’t as catchy a slogan as “Kung walang kurap, walang mahirap.” Your words, as quoted by the article, were “It does not rhyme because it is not correct.” Were we to extend the same faulty logic expressed in the previous paragraph’s quote to this one, are we to assume that the only true axioms are those that employ a clever rhyme? “A stitch in time saves nine,” “An apple a day keeps the doctor away,” “I before E except after C, or when sounding like A as in ‘neighbor’ and ‘weigh’”? Does that also mean that framing the pro-RH Bill arguments like “Safe sex and its education are building blocks for a greater nation” would make you more agreeable to them, on account of the form that gives them truth? I don’t think so.

What about this line – “We can have more classrooms, more food, more jobs if we would be less corrupt.” – can we correctly attribute this to you? Because while the idea itself is true, it’s surprisingly naïve to the state of the country as we know it. Classrooms, food and jobs are all finite resources, with supply unable to match the rapid growth of demand. It takes a few months to build a classroom, yet the Fabella Memorial Hospital alone sees up to 60 births a day. That’s 20 more future students than what can fit in an average classroom; what more when we account for the thousands of other hospitals in the country? Is it feasible to construct 5 classrooms per hour to accommodate the estimated 200 births that occur within the same time frame? The availability of food to underprivileged families is often dictated by the amount of money they have, but too many people are struggling to get the few jobs that pay wages high enough for a decent subsistence.

Are we to seriously assume that this line – “Send out the corrupt official and not the baby.” – is referring to any official who uses contraception, since an earlier portion of your speech is quoted with the lines “My dear youth, contraception is corruption,” and “We are battling against corruption because we know it can harm your soul. Believe me, contraception harms your soul.”? If so, would this imply that the best course of action would be to test all our government officials for contraceptive use and weed out those with positive results? How long does condom residue stay on the penis, anyway?

I am appalled that you are quoted as saying “When contraception fails, a birth control generation will give birth to an abortion generation,” as this exhibits the sort of slippery-slope argument I sincerely hope you would be ashamed of being accredited with. That would be the same as saying cookies will be the death of me, because they’re high in sugar, and since I derive great pleasure from eating cookies I will eventually lose control of myself and eat too many, resulting in diabetes that I will almost assuredly fail to manage correctly, causing my slow and painful death – therefore, I should never eat cookies if I want to stay alive. A man as respected as you would surely be embarrassed to be called out on making one of the most common logical fallacies known to man.

The article claims you said that “if the contraceptive pill is considered an essential medicine, it may appear that it is intended to cure the ‘disease’ of pregnancy.” I’m sure that an educated man such as yourself would have read the RH Bill in its entirety and understood it, and that you know that nowhere in the bill does it say that individuals will be required to take the pill, negating the “essential” status invoked by the quote. The third item under Section 3, “Guiding Principles”, also implies that pregnancy is not regarded as a disease, but a valued asset to be protected: “Since human resource is among the principal asset of the country, maternal health, safe delivery of healthy children and their full human development and responsible parenting must be ensured through effective reproductive health care.”

I must be honest, Archbishop Villegas, and admit that a large part of me wishes you really did say these things. I want so badly to expose the irrationality being promoted by figureheads of the Anti-RH Bill movement. I want their irresponsibility to be seen by a world that will judge them for over-simplifying the matter and plunging the country’s faithful into a medieval way of thinking.

But the better part of me hopes you didn’t because whether I like it or not, people believe you. They trust your word more than they trust mine because of your power, authority, and image as a high-ranking member of the country’s Catholic Church. You are far more influential than I am, and the thought of these misconceptions and outright falsehoods being accepted as truth by thousands of people terrifies me. The better part of me hopes that these quotes didn’t come from your lips, and that the article was all a farce meant to muster more support for the RH Bill.

For the love of God, Archbishop Socrates Villegas, I pray that you never spoke any of this.

Sincerely,

Marco Sumayao

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2 Responses to An Open Letter to Archbishop Socrates Villegas

  1. alexx says:

    Honestly, Mister, I find this article very limiting. First of all, don’t be mistaken that the Anti-RH bill people do not advocate contraception. They do, only natural.. The problem is, most people rely on what would be very easy for them.. One piece of advice I can give you, do not dwell entirely on what this bill promised to give you the after it was implemented. Look on its implications in the far more future. I need not to explain. You’ll see how China might be doing years later. Well, at least I am hoping.

    And please, if you know how to read between the lines, please do. Don’t take everything literally. I find this too shallow.

    If you think I would actually believe him because of his power, authority, and image as a high-ranking member of the country’s Catholic Church, think again! By stating this, I find it tantamount to saying that most of us don’t think and people just go with the flow. Even as a Catholic, my head’s not twisted to believe him just because he can be influential as you may have inferred. I have my own conviction, thank you.

    • Hi alexx!

      Thanks for the feedback, but I feel I need to clarify the entire point of this post, which I encapsulated in the final paragraph:

      “But the better part of me hopes you didn’t because whether I like it or not, people believe you. They trust your word more than they trust mine because of your power, authority, and image as a high-ranking member of the country’s Catholic Church. You are far more influential than I am, and the thought of these misconceptions and outright falsehoods being accepted as truth by thousands of people terrifies me.”

      While you may be enlightened enough to take Villegas’ words with a grain of salt, let’s also address the fact that his words directly reach thousands – maybe even hundred of thousands – of people. There is a significant likelihood that a good number of those people take his words literally. That’s just how influence works. I’m relieved that you’re not one of those affected by Villegas’ irresponsibility with that influence, but you and I will have to accept that not everyone will be like us. Others, whether you like it or not, will be swayed.

      Regarding your points on contraception, I think I need you to define what you mean by natural contraception. If you mean contraception made from natural materials (sheepskin condoms, for instance), then I have no issue with that. If you mean contraception by means of working within a woman’s monthly cycle or pulling out at the point of ejaculation, research has shown that these methods are significantly less effective than artificial means. And at least with artificial contraception, the products have been tested thoroughly for effectiveness and safety, unlike herbal solutions that have “no approved therapeutic claims”.

      Regardless of which method is more effective, the point of the RH Bill is to present the choice – no one is shoving birth control pills down anyone’s throat. It will be made available to people, and the pros and cons of using them will be taught. That’s all. If you have any reason not to use them, religious or otherwise, you are completely free to not take them. The law cannot do anything to you. It says so in the bill.

      I’m afraid the comparison to China is invalid. For one thing, China enforced a one-child policy, whereas the RH Bill makes no imposition on family size. It will suggest that two children is an ideal number, but those who choose to have more will suffer no penalty. Again, it’s all in the bill.

      Lastly, I do want to stress that this is not a religious matter to me. There are both pro- and anti-RH Bill Catholics out there, and countless religious and non-religious reasons for supporting or railing against the RH Bill. What I took issue with, and why I wrote this post, is that someone as influential and as learned as Villegas would stoop to misinformation (again, read the paragraphs about family size) and logical fallacies (read the paragraph about rhyming and the one about an abortion generation). It was irresponsible for him to make arguments like that precisely because of his position of influence. He could’ve made better arguments; I know because I’ve read them.

      I hope that clears things up for you. 🙂

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