Carlo's Think Pieces

Reflections of a Filipino in the Netherlands

Posts Tagged ‘CBCP’

Repeal the RH Law?

Posted by butalidnl on 27 January 2013

The CBCP wants the next Congress (i.e. the one that will be elected this coming May) to file a bill that will repeal the RH Law. This might seem achievable at first; but it is actually an impossible dream. The chance of the RH Law being rolled back is extremely small.

In the first place, the next Congress will probably look very much like the present one. Half of the senators will remain in place, and a number of other senators will probably be reelected. The majority of Congressmen will either retain their seats or pass on their positions to relatives or allies.  There will be no big shift in the composition of Congress.

The political dynamics that got the RH Law passed will remain in place after the elections. Aquino will still be the president, and most lawmakers would want to stay in his good side and not go against a law he supported. Public opinion will remain overwhelmingly in favor of the law.
Then the law would generate its own inertia. There would be organizational changes in the Departments of Education and Health, as well as in LGUs: people will be hired, reassigned, etc, to implement it. This in itself is a pro-RH constituency, and this goes beyond those directly involved in RH.  Reversing the law will mean lay-offs, reorganizations, etc. and will be resisted.

Legislators have a general aversion to reversing laws that they have just passed. Take the Cybercrime Law – although everybody agrees that it is defective, it takes forever to reverse because some would want to change parts of it (and the specific parts they want changed would differ) while others would want to repeal the whole law. And all these options have to go through committee; and this takes a long time.
A law which has so much support will have a lot of difficulty even hurdling the committee level of discusions.

If bills will be introduced to change the RH Law, they will have to give way to a reevaluation of the law itself, and this would mean that the law would then have to be implemented for a time. And when eventually amendments to the law will be considered; there would be as many proposals to strengthen it as to weaken it.

The implementation of the RH Law is sure to demonstrate its benefits, and it will show that the claims of its negative effects were exaggerated. Sex education will become part of the standard education curriculum; family planning advice and cheap contraceptives will be routinely available for poor couples. After a few years, even Catholic high schools will decide to integrate sex education in their curriculum. This is because their students would otherwise be at a disadvantage when they take exams e.g. the NCEE or State University admission tests.

The CBCP call to reverse the RH Law is most probably just a political rearguard action on their part. As long as they keep on screaming about it, they hope to deter lawmakers from passing other laws they don’t like, specifically a divorce law. This may work for a while; but if the CBCP keeps it up for too long, everyone will see how little political power the CBCP actually has. The CBCP case against the Divorce law will be a lot weaker, though. After all, the Philippines is the ONLY country in the world without a divorce law.

The CBCP would be better advised to concentrate on other issues than RH or Divorce. Gun control would a better thing to push. If the church pushed for a stricter gun control law on the basis of its being pro-life, it could regain some of its lost prestige. The CBCP could also strengthen its opposition to Mining (after having ‘dropped the ball’ on this issue in the last years).

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Posted in LGU, Philippine education, Philippine politics, Philippines, politics | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Tax the Church?

Posted by butalidnl on 9 July 2011

There are periodic calls for the government to tax the church. And the church would reply that the government can’t tax it, because their tax-exempt status is guaranteed in the Constitution and the Internal Revenue Code. If we look at the Constitution and actual practice, however, the case is not so simple. The Church is not as tax exempt as they make themselves out to be. They actually pay a lot of taxes: dividends tax,  employee contributions, VAT. But at the same time, there is a lot in terms of property and business taxes that the church should pay, but doesn’t.

Real Estate Tax Exemption
The constitution mentions church tax exemption in Article 6, Section 28(2):
“Charitable institutions, churches and personages or convents appurtenant thereto, mosques, non-profit cemeteries, and all land, buildings, and improvements, actually, directly, and exclusively used for religious, charitable, or educational purposes shall be exempt for taxation.”

Thus, it is clear: church buildings are exempt from real estate tax. Note that this doesn’t refer to “the church” as an institution, or its constituent dioceses, parishes and congregations, which are entities that are much more than mere buildings. If we go by the above provision, other church property should be taxed if they are not ‘exclusively’ used for religious purposes. Convents, for example, are subject to property tax. School buildings with a dual purpose – as residence for priests/nuns and as school, since this is no longer ‘exclusive use’ should also be taxed.

The presence of a chapel in a convent does not make the convent a religious building; it is just an ordinary residence with a chapel. It is similar to a chapel in a mall – the mall remains a commercial building.

Schools and Hospitals
There is a constitutional provision covering non-stock, non-profit schools. This is found in Article 14, Section 4.
“(3) All revenues and assets of non-stock, non-profit educational institutions used actually, directly, or exclusively for educational purposes shall be exempt from tax and duties…”

“(4) Subject to conditions prescribed by laws all grants, endowments, donations or contributions used actually, directly and exclusively for educational purposes shall be exempt from tax.”

Under this provision, all income raised by a non-stock, non-profit school should be used for educational purposes. Withdrawals from school funds for use by congregations should be prohibited. If they did this, the school should be stripped of its tax free status; or the congregation should be charged with (technical) theft of the school’s assets.

You would then say: “the school could simply pay the nuns/religious who have school-related functions, and they could donate this to their congregation. True. Actually, this is what they should do. But the salaries of these nuns/religious should be comparable that of to the other teachers or administrative staff in the school. Paying them higher salaries would constitute a ‘withdrawal’ of profits by the congregation, which should not be allowed for a non-profit, non-stock educational institution.

Note that ‘non-profit, non-stock’ covers also schools that are run by private foundations. It would not be right for the head of the foundation running a school to build his residence on school premises, and then get paid a very high salary. So, why should a church congregation be any different?

Then, there is the case of hospitals. Are hospitals included in the term ‘charitable institution’?   For me, charitable institutions would include orphanages, battered women shelters and the like; but hospitals are at best a border line case. There should be clear guidelines made by the Department of Finance to define when a hospital can be classified as a charitable institution. Perhaps it should require that the majority of its patients are poor and that they pay below market-based hospital fees.

It should not be the case that any religious group could simply put up a hospital, run it in a regular manner, collect high fees from patients, and then claim to be a ‘charitable institution’ exempt from real estate and income taxes.

Political Clout
But in the Philippines today, church run institutions often get away with not paying taxes. Mostly, this is due to the church’s political clout; most politicians are afraid of going after the church for back taxes. And there is also the bias in favor of the church by judges. In a recent case filed by the Cebu City government against Perpetual Succour Hospital (run by religious nuns), the city wanted to collect taxes on the pharmacy and real estate leasing operations done by the hospital, because these are not covered by the tax exempt status of the hospital. But the Regional Trial Court ruled that the accounts for these activities are not separate from that of the hospital, and thus no tax could be collected. Actually, if we were to follow the Constitution, it should be the other way around: since the hospital is no longer exclusively used for ‘charitable purposes’, it should be taxed as a whole.

The government, through the Department of Finance,  could and should implement the law when it comes to the income and assets of religious institutions.  The church should not be allowed a creative  interpretation of the tax laws to make themselves tax-exempt. This is especially so when they operate as non-profit and non-stock institutions. There may be some laws that need to be amended, but mostly it is just a question of political will. If the Department of Finance decides to go after the church for back taxes, they will have the Constitution and most of the laws on their side.

I believe it is high time that the government fully collect the taxes due from dioceses, congregations and the like. We should not continue with the myth that the church as a whole is tax exempt. This is effectively tax evasion by the church, and in the present framework of pushing for full tax compliance by everyone, the church should not be an exception. Otherwise, that will be the same as condoning corruption (in this case, tax evasion), and we don’t want that to happen. Or do we?

Posted in Philippine economics, Philippine politics, Philippines, politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

For CBCP, sex education or abortion?

Posted by butalidnl on 8 June 2011

(This post was published in BusinessWorld on  5 June 2011, as an opinion column. )

The Catholics Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) objects to sex education because they say that it encourages promiscuity. In other words, if teenagers don’t have sex education, they won’t engage in sex before marriage.

In this era of speedy communication, mass media and Internet, it is naive to think that we can “shelter” teenagers from sexual knowledge by not teaching it at school. As things are, teenagers will learn about sex from the mass media, Internet, or peers — and this information is often incomplete and incorrect. It is better to teach teenagers about sexuality in schools to ensure that the information that they get is more balanced and complete.

The argument that sex education is mainly the parents’ task is also wrong. In the first place, parents find it quite awkward to teach their children about sex. And there is the question of what they will teach them. There would need to be sex education courses for parents for this to work. I think that parents have a role in sex education, but this will be secondary to the role of schools.

I believe that an information campaign on human sexuality for adults would also need to be undertaken, as part of the sex education campaign, since there are so many married adults who know too little about sexuality, especially on how to prevent pregnancies.

The CBCP says that the government proposal for sex education is more about the technical aspects of sexual behavior. They want sex education to teach “values” instead. They would rather have something similar to the US “abstinence-based” sex education program — which teaches about the ideal of abstinence before marriage, and which does NOT teach about how to avoid pregnancy in case you don’t abstain.

The US abstinence-based sex education and movements like “Say No to Sex” and “True Love Waits” and abstinence pledges simply don’t work. They may have the short-term effect of delaying the age of first sexual encounter, but when these teenagers do have sex, they won’t know how to avoid pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases. Studies show that their sexual behavior is the same as that of teenagers who have not had sex education. The US government poured $15 billion in the last 10 years to promote abstinence-based sex education; and as a result, the US has the highest rate among developed countries of teen pregnancies and abortions (combined rate is 86 per 1,000 teens), which is up to four times the rate of other countries.

It is all quite logical. If people are taught about sexuality, including how to avoid pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, there will be less unplanned pregnancies, and consequently, there will be less need for abortion.

Estimates of illegal abortion in the Philippines vary from 400,000 to 550,000 per year. And 1,000 women die every year while having abortions. Compare this with the Netherlands’ abortion rate (note that abortions are legal in the Netherlands) of 28,000 per year. If we correct for population size (and taking the figure of 400,000 Philippine abortions/year), the Netherlands’ figure is about 1/3 that of the Philippines. Comprehensive sex education is given in the Netherlands, and not in the Philippines.

If the Philippines had a comprehensive sex education program (but retains the abortion ban), there could be up to 270,000 less abortions, and that the number of deaths will drop to 330 from the present 1,000.

The Dutch system also teaches “values” together with the technical aspects of sex education. They promote the value of love and commitment in relationships, that teenagers who become mothers are ruining their lives, and that children should grow up in loving families. The Dutch have one of the lowest rates of teen pregnancies in the world, and have low rates for HIV and sexually transmitted diseases.

The question then comes: if the CBCP is really against abortions, they would be well-advised to promote comprehensive sex education. It would radically reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies, and thus the number of abortions. If the CBCP is against comprehensive sex education, then they have to accept that this would result in more abortions, and more deaths of mothers during those abortions. There is no middle ground, the church needs to choose.

I suggest that they agree to a program of comprehensive sex education. This way, they would indeed be decreasing the number of abortions. And if this is not being “pro-life,” what is?

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Divorce Law for the Philippines

Posted by butalidnl on 2 June 2011

The Philippines is now the only country in the world without a divorce law. Well, technically, the Vatican also doesn’t have one; but they don’t have married couples either! Malta had a referendum on 28 May about divorce, and they approved the law, we are now the only country left.

Should the Philippines follow the rest of the world? Well, why not? It is a good idea to have divorce as a way out for people trapped in failed marriages.

Annulment?
Some people think that annulment is the same as divorce. It is not, and it does not address the question of failed marriages as well as divorce does. Why? In the first place, only a few people could avail of annulment. In 2010, a little over 7000 couples were granted annulment; most of these are well-to-do, because it takes a lot of money to have an annulment (an estimated P300K).  Most people would just simply leave their marriage partner, and then live together with a new one, without resorting to any of the legalities.

But the main problem with annulment is in the basis for having one. Annulment is not granted for physical abuse, attempt on one’s life, sexual infidelity or abandonment. However, one can still sue for legal separation on these bases. But legal separation still means that you remain married, and that you supposedly still share in conjugal property and obligations, even if you live separately. And that you can’t remarry.

Divorce Bill
Gabriela (women’s party list group) has filed a divorce bill (HB 1799) in the House of Representatives. In it, they propose that divorce may be filed “when the couple have been estranged for at least five years, or legally separated for at least two years, with little hope of reconciliation; when any of the grounds for legal separation has caused the irreparable breakdown of the marriage; when either or both people are psychologically incapable of complying with the essential marital obligations; and when the spouses suffer from irreconcilable differences which cause the breakdown of the marriage.”

Gabriela’s proposal doesn’t make divorce “easy”. It only makes the logical conclusion: that if a couple have been legally separated for at least two years (meaning that there was enough basis, in the first place, for a legal separation) and that all attempts at reconciliation have failed, that they be granted divorce. Or, alternatively, that the couple had been estranged for at least 5 years.

End of the Family?
The church claims that a divorce law will spell the end of the Filipino family. This is obviously alarmist and not based on fact. Divorce has been around for some time in many countries; and the family still seems to be going strong.  On the contrary, divorce may actually promote marriage and the family.  Now, without divorce, many people simply “rearrange” their familial relations without legal sanction. So, even though they may be technically married to someone else, they live together with new partners, whom they couldn’t marry. If divorce was possible, this people would simply divorce their old partners and marry their new ones.

When a couple is divorced, the children will still have both parents, who will both have an opportunity to participate in their life. The ex-couple become co-parents, and they have a new set of shared responsibilities. If they arrange things well, the children will feel at home in both their parent’s homes. They will be much better off than when they were in one home and their parents were always fighting. When a couple’s marriage is annulled, the parent who doesn’t have custody to the children has less rights to participate in their upbringing.

The family and marriages will also gain from divorce since partners will be discouraged from straying by the threat of divorce, and the need to make alimony or child support payments.

Gay marriage, Abortion Next?
Another thing that the church says is that approving the RH and Divorce Bills will open the flood gates to all sorts of laws, such as gay marriage or abortion. I beg to disagree: there is a wide consensus in the Philippines in favor of both the RH and Divorce bills, but none for abortion or gay marriage.

The RH and Divorce bills address pressing social problems, and need to be passed immediately. There is no such urgency for either an abortion bill or the legalization of gay marriage. Perhaps their time will come, but not for a couple of decades at least.

I would imagine, that after these two bills get passed, one thing that the government could do will be to tax church properties (of all churches, of course). The likelihood of this happening is probably more than having an abortion bill or legalizing gay marriage. And this should be more interesting. Of course, from the church’s point of view, this will be “demonic” or something similar.

Posted in Philippine economics, Philippine politics, Philippines, politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 17 Comments »

on Objections to RH Bill

Posted by butalidnl on 26 May 2011

The RH Bill debate is going strong. Anti-RH bill advocates are raising a lot of questions about the RH bill; some of which are valid questions (and some quite invalid).  I have listed down some of these questions, with some kind of response to them.

The RH Bill is against the will of God.
This is one of the more popular lines of attack of the CBCP. It is also the most flimsy. Because, if the RH bill is against the will of God, then why is it that it is supported by the Iglesia Ni Kristo and various Protestant churches? These groups even cite scripture as the basis for their position.  From this, we can say that the RH Bill is merely against the will of the CBCP, or at most the Vatican. This is much less than the will of God.

“Go forth and multiply…” This is supposed to be the basis for the Catholic position, if Manny Pacquiao and some others are to be believed. But if we look at the Bible, God only used such a formulation twice, both in Genesis. This was addressed first to Adam and Eve, and then to Noah’s family after the flood. In both occasions, the earth was empty, and needed to be filled in by humans. God did not repeat this statement at more recent occasions, particularly not during the New Testament.

RH Bill Won’t End Poverty.
Of course it won’t, it wasn’t meant to. The RH Bill addresses the problem of poor people getting even poorer because they bear too many children; or of families who become poor because they have too many children. The RH Bill is aimed at providing a basic service to society. It is similar to vaccination campaigns, or a firefighting service.

Too Expensive, No Money in Budget
The RH Bill is estimated to cost about P3 billion/year. This is not much, if compared to things like Congress’ pork barrel allocations, or GOCC bonuses. The RH Bill is only “too expensive” if your starting point is that it is not important. However, since reproductive health is a basic government service, money must be provided for it. In addition to RH being a basic service, it also protects basic women’s rights. It is essential.

It is actually cheaper, from the perspective of the national budget, to fund contraceptives and sex education, than to spend for having too many children. Children of the poor go to public schools (and some even go on to state universities); they would need health services, and some poor families get subsidies on rice and other things. These cost much more than the RH bill will.

Sex Education will Encourage Promiscuity
The experience in other countries show that sex education actually delays the age when a teenager has his/her first sexual act. Perhaps this is because if they have had sex education, they know the consequences of sex, and are less curious about it.  “Sex Ed” from porn is not sex ed; porn doesn’t explain sexuality at all. If we deprive teenagers of sex ed, they will resort to porn for whatever information on sex they can get from it.

Some parents are afraid that teachers would explain “too much” or be “to eager” when they give sex ed. I disagree.  In 1972, when I was at my 2nd year in high school in Cebu, we had lessons on the human reproductive system. I remember that our teacher taught it as if it was just another topic. For teachers, sex ed is just another topic – they will teach it in a matter-of-fact or even boring way. Parents have nothing to worry about.

RH Bill Promotes Abortion
This is easy to answer: it does not. In fact, the RH bill categorically states that it is against abortion.  Any abortifacient contraceptives (e.g. “morning after” pill) can be designated as such in the Implementing Rules and Regulations of the RH Bill and prohibited. And if needed, the CBCP could sue in court to remove a contraceptive from the list of approved contraceptives if they are proved to be abortifacient.

In a way, those who oppose the RH Bill are the ones promoting abortion. Because many women don’t know how to avoid pregnancy, about 100,000 a year abort their pregnancies. And 1000 Filipinas a year die of abortion-related complications. If  these women had sex education, they wouldn’t have gotten pregnant in the first place, and thus they wouldn’t have been forced to resort to abortion. Sex Education reduces the number of unwanted pregnancies, and thus of abortion.

Why not include a list of Contraceptives which are not Abortifacient?
Contraceptives in general do not cause abortion. Almost by definition, since they prevent pregnancies, they have nothing to do with abortion. If there are contraceptives that do cause abortion, these should be specified and prohibited, but in the law’s Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR). Including them in the IRR would make it more flexible – so that the list could be expanded (or shortened) based on further developments and research, without having to amend the whole law.

Sex Education Should Teach Values

I agree. But the question is: which values would that be? In some places in the US, they experimented with teaching sex ed using the “abstain from sex” approach. In other words, they taught teenagers merely not to have sex. And since they shouldn’t have sex, they didn’t teach birth control. Well, the result was that these teenagers ended up having as much sex as those without sex education, and they didn’t know how to avoid pregnancy. This shows that a “no sex” approach to sex education doesn’t work.

On the other hand, the approach could be what is called the “ABC” approach. A, for abstinence. B, for “be faithful” (hopefully, referring to married couples). And C, “use contraceptives”, for those who can’t abstain nor be faithful. There are still values taught here: children are taught to abstain or be faithful as earlier options to having sex.


Posted in Philippine economics, Philippine education, Philippine politics, Philippines, politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »