How to Win the RH Debate
Posted by butalidnl on 26 March 2011
The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) seems to be “winning” the RH debate. By cleverly manipulating the debate topic, by skilled political maneuvering (note: the threat to excommunicate PNoy, and the threat to support the burial of Marcos at Libingan ng mga Bayani), and by creative name calling, the CBCP is now calling the shots in the “debate”. Even though its pronouncements and moves may seem ridiculous, the net effect is that they DO steer the debate their way. And the pro-RH advocates, who are not “playing dirty”, are losing the fight for public opinion.
RH advocates are fighting from a disadvantageous position. Their opponent, the CBCP, is able to mount an organized and well-funded campaign. RH advocates, on the other hand, are an unorganized group of well-meaning citizens who have a lot less experience than the CBCP, and who seem to believe that the debate will be won by reasonable argumentation.
Unfortunately, public opinion campaigns are quite different from a formal debate. It is not the side who puts forward the best arguments who wins; but the side whose message predominates. Why is this so? Public opinion deals with the public – and most of the public does not have the time, inclination or access to information needed for making a well formed and balanced opinion. Instead, most people rely on images, impressions, the opinion of “authorities” that they trust, etc. for their opinions. This means that in the public opinion campaign, the key is to have good images and sound bites. RH advocates who are fighting with reason may win in the classroom, but lose in the fight for public opinion.
RH advocates are spending so much time engaging the anti-RH activists in debate; and too little time spreading the message to the broad public. The CBCP, on the other hand, is quite good at reaching out to the broad public, and in tying up the RH advocates in all kinds of minor battles.
I think that it is now the time for pro-RH advocates to turn the tables on the CBCP, and also reach out to the broad public. And to use images and sound bites to do this. Only by doing this, could they hope to “win” this “debate”.
Grab the Initiative on Topics
The CBCP, with all its ridiculous charges that RH bill promotes abortion, has actually succeeded in steering the debate to “abortion” and no longer the content of the RH Bill. The CBCP is winning this debate because of this.
RH bill advocates should grab the initiative in terms of the topics under debate. And there are enough of them:
Condoms Against AIDS. Point out that the most effective method of preventing the spread of AIDS is using condoms. And, since the CBCP is against the use of condoms, this means that it is indirectly responsible for the spread of AIDS. (No ifs, or buts, just push this line. After all the Pope himself has conceded on this issue.)
Abortion when Woman’s Life in Danger. While most cases of abortion are not that dramatic, this will present the case that abortion CAN be an option to consider. What will the church say to this: “Let the woman die, instead of the baby”? I think they will be in a bind on this question.
Sex Education saves Lives, Sex Ignorance Kills. This is actually quite logical, but it is also emotive if it is delivered well. Ignorance of sex leads to unwanted pregnancies, and illegal abortions, and probable death. Unguarded sex can lead to AIDS. Teenage mothers’ lives will be ruined, or worse lead to abandonment of babies.
It is a battle for images. The CBCP claims that their image is “pro-life”. And who could argue against that – are you “anti-life” then? We need to develop images of the CBCP that will stick to them, and which they can’t shake away. When it comes to public opinion, the image is everything; so let’s hope our images stick (don’t worry about nuances – nuances are for people actually crafting laws, the rest of us are moved by images).
Damaso. This is the slogan popularized by Carlos Celdran, in which the CBCP is likened to the infamous Padre Damaso from Noli me Tangere. It invokes images of friars during the Spanish times, and how they abused their power. It is powerful, but doesn’t carry enough weight emotively, since most Filipinos don’t know and feel Spanish-era abuses.
Taliban. If we allow the bishops to fully get their way now, sooner or later our women will be forced to wear burqas. This is a bit dramatic, but it is actually quite truthful. The bishops are a Filipino version of the Taliban in that they claim to know the will of God, and interpret it in a socially very backward manner. And the Taliban are quite unreasonable people, just like the CBCP. And if they had their way, they will force women to cover up (there is already a dress code for churches), the more the better.
Sex-Starved Old Men. The CBCP is a group of celibates who since they can’t have any, seek to deprive the rest of us of SEX. All this pro-life talk is nonsense, the main thing is SEX. It’s a matter of the CBCP saying: “Since we can’t have it, the rest of you should get as little SEX as possible.”
SSOM evokes all kinds of images, none of which is positive. And SSOM goes well with Taliban – the Taliban imposes burqas on women, because otherwise they would be a temptation to men. SSOM also points to the fact that priests, who are not supposed to have sexual relationships, don’t have the right to impose their views of sex on others.
Since pro-RH advocates have generally less financial resources than the CBCP, they have to be resourceful. Again, it is not a matter of projecting an image of moderation and reasonableness (these traits lose debates, actually). It is a matter of getting the message through.
The “Damaso” stunt by Carlos Celdran was a very good case of a guerilla action. As a result of Celdran’s stunt, the CBCP was forced to concentrate on him for a few days, and in the process merely popularized his message. The more they painted him as a bad person for what he did, the more Celdran, and the RH bill gained in popularity. Celdran’s new stunt of taking down an anti-RH streamer could potentially do this again, although I think the CBCP will not be so stupid as to again charge him in court.
I think more people could do guerilla actions for RH. If people hold up a small banner saying “Damaso” or “Taliban” whenever there is a homily denouncing the RH bill, and then post this in a blog or website, the effect will be quite big. And that if the one holding the banner is led away, another will unfurl her/his banner; so that during the whole anti-RH homily the attention will be on the Damaso/Taliban banners, and not on the homily.
If a certain color could be associated with these banners – I suggest to use lila (light violet) as the color, since this is the color of the women’s movement – eventually, people would no longer need to put up banners with words: a lila colored piece of cloth will do.
Or, people could simply stick the word “Taliban” “Damaso” or “SSOM”(Sex Starved Old Men) on anti-RH posters. This turns the tables on the CBCP; their financial weight lets them afford more posters, but opponents can easily (and cheaply) negate this advantage.
Pro RH people could even go on the poster offensive, with small stickers everywhere saying “Stop the Taliban” or “Stop SSOM” (reminds me of the successful “BMI Ngayon” – Batas Militar Ibagsak – stickers during Martial Law). This would get people talking; and this would end up as negative publicity for the CBCP and its anti-RH stand.
In the end, sounding unreasonable is not a problem. The idea is to force the issue (or a particular interpretation of it) on the public consciousness. And to put the CBCP on the defensive. The more they are forced to defend, the less they are able to attack the RH bill.
Call for Action
This blog post is a call for action. Let us take back the issue of the RH bill. Let us minimize the time we spend debating with anti-RH activists. Let us reach out to the people.
As few as 20 to 30 people could have a huge impact if they unfurl “Damaso” or “Taliban” banners (in Lila) in as many churches as they can reach, when the priest reads an anti-RH homily. Perhaps a team of 4 or 5 per church will do (holders of banners, and one to take photos).
Other people could maximize the use of Twitter and Facebook (and other social media) to spread the message of the RH Bill. A one or two sentence entry every day on Twitter/Facebook should do the trick – encourage your friends to do the same.