It seems that the zeitgeist now calls for legislation that basically challenges the position of the Roman Catholic Church on long held stands.
After the heated discussions on the Reproductive Health Bill, it seems a proposed divorce bill in the House of Representatives will cause another rash of explosive arguments in the online world and beyond.
Word about the divorce bill or House Bill 1799 filed by Gabriela Representative Luzviminda Ilagan trundled into the limelight on Sunday this week after news reports that Malta (a predominantly Catholic country) was legalizing divorce.
As a means of getting some attention from media, I think the divorce bill works on a number of levels.
For one, it rides on the coat tails of the ongoing debacle between Church and State that has been simmering over the passage of the Reproductive Health Bill -- which has somewhat of a good track record in getting attention.
In the months leading up to the 2010 Philippine elections, getting the Reproductive Health Bill passed was one of the advocacies carried by at least one senatorial candidate and, I think, one Presidential candidate.
As a way of putting meat on what were essentially pseudo-platforms of governance, it was a good thing to claim that one was supporting a Reproductive Health Bill for a number of reasons.
One reason was that showed commitment to specific piece of legislation that addressed criticisms that the platform carried by candidates were worded in general terms and carried no weight beyond the glitz of its rhetoric. Another reason was that it helped in connecting candidates to a specific set of voters -- women and gay people -- which some political strategists claimed were valuable in terms of their ability to influence votes because of their social network. Yet another reason was that it was controversial in a good way because it espoused a number of benefits which would certainly draw opposition from the Catholic Church -- which represents another locus of political influence.
Even supposing that it is merely superficial and true only for a few members of the Filipino political sphere, the fact that the advocacy for the passage of the Reproductive Health Bill has persisted is probably a good sign that the Philippine electorate has finally begun to be issues based.
In the weeks leading up to the plenary debates in the lower house on the Reproductive Health Bill a lot of people who didn't talk about the bill before suddenly started talking about their stands on the issue of contraception, sex education, women's health issues, population management, and other issues associated with the bill.
Now, this could either be because they were now in a position where their stands on these issues now mattered or because they had insinuated themselves into the discussion.
And the fact that deliberations on the Reproductive Health Bill was headed for a plenary debate meant that TV networks would be devoting an inordinate number of hours on live coverage.
The live coverage on any hearing in the House of Representatives and the Senate, especially if it is on a controversial issue, can be likened to a "Pacquiao fight" that empties streets and keeps people tuned in.
For the networks, providing live coverage for such hearings or deliberations enables them to gain higher ratings that can later translate into revenues. Networks often justify and leverage their advertising rates on the basis of audience share stats or ratings. Being generally the product of averaging out peaks and valleys in daily audience shares over a period of time, the estimated audience share of networks benefits immensely from the large, sustained audience share spike produced by covering controversial hearings.
This is akin to a high school student who gets graded either using an averaging system. In such a grading system a student can get a failing grade of 65 percent in one quarter, get a 95 in the next quarter, and his average grade for two quarters equals 80 percent.
I am not sure if this was true for the Reproductive Health Bill, but I am sure it's true for other controversial issues that played out in the Senate or the House.
What is clear is that "grandstanding" for politicians can become "higher ratings" for TV networks.
Going back to the divorce bill and its riding the bow waves of the RH Bill controversy, I would like to clarify that I am not at all saying that either bill contains little merit beyond the publicity it is generating.
For one, the divorce bill will actually help our countrymen steer clear from false and erroneous use of annulment to end a failed marriage.
In a conversation, Better Philippines pointed this out about annulment:
here in the philippines the most common reason cited for annulment is mental incapacity
to increase the chances of having the marriage annulled, some lawyers advise collusion between the estranged couple. one, usually the one who didn't file the case, will be designated as the one with mental incapacity. he/she should agree not to contest that claim. if there is no contest and mental incapacity is "proven" usually with a report from a psychiatrist.
you might be surprised to know that there are psychiatrists out there who'd provide these reports without even meeting the subject even once.
isn't it strange that a person whose marriage had been annulled because he/she had been declared as mentally incapacitated can actually re-marry?
Setting the merits of the divorce bill aside, I would like to point out that the attention given to the RH Bill and the divorce bill in ways steals momentum away from the passage of other proposed laws which could bring more substantial changes.
We must remember that various committees in both chambers of congress hold hearings on various bills more or less at the same time. Now, in instances when a hot piece of legislation is getting live coverage from any of the major News TV Channels, you will notice that the large number of senators and congressmen attending the hearing. Congressmen and Senators belong to more than one committee. They can be chairpersons of one committee and a member of another committee, too. And obviously, if they are participating in one committee hearing with lots of media mileage, one can assume that they are not holding hearings for the committees they do chair or are attending hearings in committees that they are part of. The problem with this is that without bills don't move unless they are deliberated in the proper committee hearing.
One good bill that is getting overshadowed is Senator Edgardo Angara's Political Party Development Act.
Here's an excerpt form a Press Release that was sent to me a while back:
Through the Political Party Development Act, Angara seeks to institutionalize the political party system and reorient it toward one based on ideology and platform rather than on personalities, which marks the country's traditional politics.
The proposed bill will create a Party Development Fund which will help finance the party-building activities and development projects of accredited national political parties. It also encourages political parties to raise funds through transparent means to lessen dependence on contributions from illegal sources, such as gambling and drugs.
Angara suggested that 10 percent of the Country Development Fund be earmarked for this purpose.
The Political Party bill will also authorize the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to accredit national political parties that would qualify to receive state subsidy based on a set of criteria. The criteria currently covers political representation, organizational strength and mobilization capability, and performance and track record of the party.
Apart from burying such important legislation, it also steals attention away from the round of consultations that is supposedly being made by Misamis Occidental Rep. Loreto Ocampos, chair of the committee on constitutional amendments, on a proposal to amend the 1987 Philippine Constitution.
A rather short news article appeared on the Philippine Daily Inquirer on May 11 with this much to say about the consultations:
...announced Tuesday that a series of public consultations on Charter change would kick off in Cagayan de Oro City on May 27.
Ocampos said four issues—economic reform, judicial reform, local government reform and the form of government—would be tackled in the consultations to be conducted nationwide.
“We will sell Charter change. We will go around the country and listen to the people first, then we’ll give the positive points of Charter change,” said Ocampos, who added that President Benigno Aquino III himself was open to amending the Constitution.Oddly enough, such an important thing as the revision of the country's fundamental law isn't getting the attention it deserves.
For one, changing just the constitutional barrier to foreign direct investments, the so-called 60/40 limit to foreign capital participation in Philippine businesses could actually spell unprecedented economic growth for the country and at the same time solve some of the problems that the RH Bill as well as the Divorce Bill seeks to solve.
As far as the RH Bill vis-a-vis amending the constitution's economic provision is concerned, you will find that countries with higher Foreign Direct Investments enjoy a higher rate of economic growth and a higher level of economic activity.
In countries with a higher level of economic growth, one often finds people with more income and part of this higher income is spent on higher level needs including health security and education. People in economically progressive countries also tend to have fewer children, often spending for contraceptives and reproductive health care out of their own pockets.
Moreover, what are the major causes of failed marriages anyway? One leading cause of failed marriages is the lack of income or a means to physically sustain the union. This is true in the case of the jobless husband and nagging wife as well as in the case of the husband or wife who must work abroad to provide for their children.
The thing is we could just wake up one day after all the debates on divorce and reproductive health to find out that the consultations on amending the constitution ended with most people saying that it is unnecessary.