By Carolina S. Ruiz Austria

The word "Heresy"

was used by Irenaeus in Contra Haereses to discredit his opponents in the early Christian Church. It has no purely objective meaning without an authoritative system of dogma.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Misogynists in Our Midst: Wishing for Sexist Senators to become an Endangered Species

By Carolina Ruiz Austria

Make no mistake. A handful of men are the reason why Filipino women are not about to get access to reproductive health care services anytime soon.

As former Congresswoman, Risa Baraquel Hontiveros pointed out earlier this year; the proponents of the RH Bill have more than the sufficient numbers to pass the bill. RH advocates in the current Senate, Senators Pia Cayetano and Miriam Defensor Santiago have been at the frontlines of pushing back against the deliberate (phosphodiesterase type 5 inhibitor-like) blockade of the bill instigated by Senate President (and former Martial Law chief to the Marcos dictatorship) Juan Ponce Enrile, Ralph (got-elected-because-of-his-famous-actress-wife) Recto and Tito Sotto of worldwide plagiarism fame.

But consider the irony. Not only do the supporters of RH have the numbers to pass the measure, they also have, as their leaders (past and present), some of the more brilliant women leaders that Congress (and possibly the country) has ever had in politics, on their side.

Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago

Clearly, if IQ, accomplishment and leadership had anything to do with it, the RH Bill (and a host of other measures such as the Freedom of Information Act) would have already been passed into law and we would not be having this standoff during the few critical months before legislative inertia sets in leading to the election in 2013. The Senate’s artificially pumped blockade knows it and the Roman Catholic Bishops who have them in their back pockets know it too. If this was at all a fair fight, they would not have their way and Filipino women would not have to die because of childbirth and pregnancy related complications. If reason had anything to do with it, Filipino women would have the ability to plan their pregnancies. If social justice had anything to do with it, Filipino women would be in a position to take better care of them selves and as a result, also take better care of their families. Yes, if the opposition to the RH Bill were men of sterner stuff, they would let Congress take its vote on this measure instead of holding the legislative process hostage through countless dilatory tactics. You heard Senator Pia Cayetano: “Skip the drama.” Take a chill pill and vote already.

Senator Pia Cayetano

The anti-RH lobby clearly doubts the popularity of their position. This is why they want to avoid a vote at all costs. But if this is their idea of how to lead and conduct the legislative process, they clearly have no business holding public office.

And yes, Senator Sotto, despite whatever you may be feeling right now, the entire issue of plagiarism as an ethical breach is not all about “people ganging up on you” but the public office whose public trust and sanctity you insulted. You can still do the right thing simply by not standing in the way of the majority vote. You do not even have to change your Roman Catholic views on contraception. None of you do. Ask Monsignor Bernas, S.J. He has advanced degrees in both Roman Catholic theology and law. You and the anti-RH bunch should read his stuff. In one column, he makes a good case about ‘not burning the house to roast a pig,’ the analogy here being how the minority anti-RH opposition is running roughshod over the democratic process simply because it wants its way. On the other hand, his choice of metaphor can resonate in other meaningful ways as well. The sexist pigs may be having their way now by burning down the house but there is always the next election to make toast of the lot of you. (Well at least most of you).

In the end what is perhaps most infuriating is how after all these years of fighting for gender equality and women’s empowerment in the Philippines, a handful of men in power (egged on by a few men in robes) can still feel justified in imposing their will on the majority of the Filipino population. I have to disagree with Father Bernas on this one. I do not think this is merely acting irresponsibly; it’s downright wicked. (And I don’t mean that in a positive and empowering Elphaba, wicked witch of the west sense). Surely, hiding behind religious freedom and abusing democratic processes to violate the freedom and bodily integrity of women has to land these law makers no less than the ‘choicest’ seats in the 9th circle of hell by Roman Catholic fire and brimstone standards.

No means no, Senators. Take a hint. Stop all this nonsense now.

Do the honorable thing and accept that you do not have the numbers on this one. For Pete’s sake, give yourselves some dignity (if you have any left) and stop holding the democratic process hostage. I know that this lesson may be tougher for some of you to understand but we can give you the benefit of a doubt and assume you have some sort of learning curve, Senators Trillanes, Honasan and Enrile. Say it with me: Taking hostages: bad, Democratic process: good. You can do it.

As for the clerics who will be displeased and often want to outdo the Pope in Rome, I am sure we can find other things for them to keep busy with apart from constantly obsessing about how to control and interfere with women’s sexual and reproductive decision making. Really they ought to get a life. There are so many worthwhile things for Catholic clerics to do. Ask the nuns who are usually busier doing social justice and charitable work rather than constantly imagining Armageddon when people have sex for other reasons besides procreation. Is it even right for priests who supposedly have a vow of celibacy to be this sex obsessed anyway? How about helping the Vatican take serious steps to address sex abuse cases? Anyway, take a step back and take deep breaths. That ship has sailed. Women have rights and no, you can’t take them back. They are not for you grant nor to take away. You know very well that your days are numbered. And this is why you refuse to play fair.

Somebody should take it easy on the PDE5 inhibitor. Down,  old boy.

Disclosure: I have been trying to figure out a way to write about this issue again for quite a while now. Inspiration struck when I read parts of Senator Pia Cayetano’s speech. Suffice to say; I could feel her rage and infuriation on facebook of all places! My mirror neurons got quite a work out. This one just took all of thirty minutes for me to write (hyperlinking included). And is it just me or is that background music on the Viagra (which is type of phosposphodiesterase type 5 inhibitor) website kind of sleazy? 

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Making Things (and Bodies) Matter: Occupy

"Matter has weight and occupies space." This curious fragment of memory that comes to mind right now (a tidbit left behind no doubt from third-grade science lessons learned by rote) seems to me, to be a fitting way to think about emerging "Occupy" movements around the world. Political acts of "occupation" (along with more fleeting forms like lie ins or die ins, camp outs and strike-blockades etc.) dramatize contests over space both literally and figuratively. To make issues (and bodies) matter, it seems, one of the reliable political acts still holds promise: Occupying "Public" Space - that is places out in the open so "the public" can see/hear the message.

Of course part of the so-called "public space" (that is the lower Manhattan park owned by a Canadian Company) is, technically speaking, now privately-owned. On the other hand, thanks to the proliferation of internet technology and real-time broadcasting, the so-called "public" (and potential publics) that can be reached by occupations and demonstrations has grown exponentially. But rather than just providing a broader "audience," interactive technology also enables "publics" to be both audiences/participants, regardless of where they may be and which "Occupy" movement they are closest too. Just thinking about it makes me dizzy and want to reach for my McLuhan books and geneflect.

Without denying the revolutionary potential of the ideas associated with it and the dedication (and hopefulness) of many of its participants, the "Occupy movements" sprouting across North America now (with the Wall Street as an informal epicentre of sorts) ride atop the crest of multiple waves of protests and movements born before it (and arguably still flowing alongside of it and possibly in some ways running against it). For many social movements, the occupation of "public space" is not just a strategy or a soapbox from which to preach. For displaced peoples, for instance, occupation is not just a protest but an active retaking of what was taken away from them. (Of course it is rarely, if ever, legally successful.) Indigenous peoples "camp out" not only to "express a sentiment" or to "exercise free speech" but to insist that they have a claim to place and space - that they (and their bodies) matter.

I'm not going to wax sentimental about "second wave" feminism but the "Taking Back the Night" walks (way back when) are a good example of the reappropriation of space and place.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Reforming the Reformers: Sexists, Spinners and other “Sinners" - Deconstructing the "Jesuit Talking Points" on the RH Bill

By Carolina S. Ruiz Austria*

“ A pure and simple faith is as distinct from fanaticism as the flame from smoke or music from discords: only the fools and the deaf confuse them. Between ourselves we can say that the idea of purgatory is good, holy, and rational. It perpetuates the union of those who were and those who are, leading thus to greater purity of life. The evil is in its abuse.

Jose Rizal, Noli Me Tangere, 1887


Unbeknown to most atheists, secularists and heathens of the University of the Philippines, in 2008, individual faculty members of the Ateneo de Manila University made Philippine history by openly supporting the Reproductive Health Bill while at the same time drawing from Catholic Social teaching to support their position. This kind of position from within Catholicism has been called in some circles as “Loyal Dissent,” after the famous (or infamous, depending on your Catholic orientation) work of Father Charles E. Curran.[i] The fact, however, that the Ateneo Faculty were able to issue a public dissent, without loss of tenure (and arguably fear of the same), is also no small matter in Catholic academia. Scores of Catholic academics (most of them Clerics) have lost their teaching positions in Catholic universities for expressing dissent to Catholic teaching.

This essay, however, is not about the independent position of the “Ateneo 14”[ii] but rather about a more recent document issued by two Jesuit institutions, the Loyola School of Theology and the John J. Carol Institute on Church and Social Issues. The three-page document called “Talking Points for Dialogue on the Reproductive Health Bill,” was co-authored by Father Joaquin Bernas, Father James J. Caroll, and Father Eric O. Genilo and issued over two years after the faculty’s dissenting position. And while it may be tempting to assume that the dissenting individual professors and these Jesuit theologians are cut from the same (Ignatian) cloth, it is worth noting substantive differences between these positions. Who is invited to this dialogue? What are the Jesuits willing to exchange ideas on? And what is it exactly that Jesuits (and the Catholic Church) are willing to compromise on? This essay analyzes the “Jesuit Talking Points” in the historical context of Catholic Reformation, official Catholic teaching on sex as well as the more recent phenomenon of Catholic dissent in the Philippines. I argue that by refusing to recognize women as individuals with rights and insisting on the authority of religious hierarchies to speak for their members – all the while using the terminology of freedom and liberty – the Jesuit call for dialogue courts not only criticism of sexism but the equally deadly “sin” of spinning.

It is worth noting that while not supported by the Jesuit University, (this much has been clarified over and over again publicly), the “toleration” of dissent within its ranks also tends to enhance the Jesuit reputation for a tradition of independent thinking. In short, it makes them “cool” as Catholics and also respectable intellectuals. This reputation is not without its basis. (There indeed are a lot of cool true blue Atenean intellectuals and we are proud to have one of them in our own faculty at the UP College of Law) On the other hand, this idea of “Jesuit independence” also has deeper historical roots.

Ignatius Loyola: Soldier, Saint or Spin Doctor?

The Society of Jesus has a checkered past and its founder, Ignatius Loyola (Ignacio) is both worshipped and vilified in various historic accounts. A soldier and Basque nobleman, Ignacio Loyola worked closely with Francis Xavier and Diego Lainez who later led the order’s international missionary work.

All church scholars note the critical role played by Ignatius Loyola and the Society of Jesus in the Counter-Reformation (Catholic Reformation). At a time when it seemed like that the Lutheran led Protestant Reformation would all but destroy Roman Catholic dominance, the Jesuits were able to stem the tide in part by playing a kind of maverick role in the Catholic Church. The strength and rallying call of the Reformation were the abuses of power by the Catholic Church, particularly its clergy (most of all Bishops and Popes). By positioning themselves outside of the authority of local Bishops but at the same time professing loyalty to Papal authority, the Jesuits were able to call for reforms from within the Catholic Church. In substance, some of the reforms by the Jesuits echoed the humanist appeals by Luther but scholars note that their appeals were more emotional. Where the Protestants highlighted “predestination” the Jesuits countered with hope and forgiveness. (Kreis: 2002) Of course this partial account of church history does not focus on the myriad of other strategies undertaken in the “Catholic Reformation” to win back Protestant converts and retain territories. The clash was anything but a non-violent propaganda war.

And while they pledged loyalty and allegiance to the Pope, the Jesuits did not really always have positive Papal relations. While a number of their detractors were Protestants, many of them were also Catholics who accused the Jesuits of arrogance.

John O’Malley notes:

“The Jesuits were only one of a number of new religious orders of men and women founded in the early modern period, but by reason of their size, the influence of their schools and other ministries, their missionary activity, and their ventures into almost every aspect of culture they are the best known and the most controversial. Until recently the historiography of the order fell into two rather distinct camps, refelcetd in the ambiguity of the word Jesuita itself: the first depicted the Jesuits as exemplary followers of Jesus, as saints and savants, the second as the religious hypocrites Jesuita sometimes implied; almost all European languages have the equivalent of “Jesuitical” to mean crafty and devious.” (O’Malley: 2004)

Papal hostility, and possibly insecurity towards the Jesuits culminated in the issuance of the Papal Bull, Dominus ac Redemptor noster by Pope Clement XIV in 1773, ordering the suppression the Society of Jesus. Pope Pius VII eventually reversed the order of suppression through the issuance of the Solicitudo Omnium Ecclesiarum in 1884. The restoration of the order, however, did not necessarily signal the end of controversy for the Jesuits or its clashes with the Vatican hierarchy.

In contemporary church history, the Society of Jesus also caused a stir in the late 60s under the leadership of Father Pedro Arrupe y Gondra the 27th Father General of the Jesuits. Under his leadership, the Society of Jesus began integrating the notion of “class struggle” into Catholic teaching, particularly making use of a 1968 Catholic Bishops Conference document that mentioned a goal of “exercising a preferential option for the poor.” (Martin: 1987) Indeed the popularity of Liberation Theology in Central America in the 1970s-1980s owed much to the Jesuits who not only participated in guerilla training but also reportedly at times became guerilla fighters themselves. This take on Marxism of course did not sit well with Pope John Paul II who had his own experience of the excesses of state backed communism in Poland. Indeed so much has been published about the paradoxical reputation of Jesuits within the Catholic Church that portrays them as either heroic or at times even demonic. (Such publications are a regular cottage industry in Catholic publication. Let’s just say that Dan Brown’s stuff is no match for the cloak and dagger tales about Jesuits and give Mario Puzzo’s Godfather III a run for its money.)

The point of course is to illustrate how despite its enduring reputation and posturing as a monolithic institution, the Jesuits, like most Catholics, are also as diverse in their Catholicism as the rest of us.

The “Jesuit Talking Points on RH” is a short document divided roughly into six sections specifying six issues:

•When Life begins (Debating the Constitution)


•Sex Education

•Religious Pluralism (or a version thereof)

•Conscientious Objection (or a version thereof)

•Freedom of Speech (Whose freedom/Whose Speech?)

The first two, the issue of when life begins and contraception are of course intertwined in Catholic teaching and based largely on the Humanae Vitae (1968) and other supporting declarations and issuances such as the Acta Apostolicae Sedis (1976). The Humanae Vitae (1968) basically condemned artificial contraception. The official teaching rests on the following view:

The innate purpose of the sexual faculty is twofold: procreative love and union and that every sexual act must be open to procreation, and must be expressive of love -- hence the condemnation of homosexual sexual acts, masturbation, contraception and sterilization. (Curran: 1987)

Note, however, that by acknowledging the difference between the Catholic church position on contraception/human conception and the legal meaning of the 1987 Constitutional provision as it stands, the Jesuit document strategically distances itself from the otherwise uncouth and unscholarly positions of other conservative Catholics that up until this time, have categorically argued that the Constitutional meaning of the provision on “protecting the unborn from conception” has already been fixed and that it means fertilization. The key move here to take heed of is the “distancing” approach that is employed.

The same section also includes a claim that “the Constitutional Convention seemed to favour fertilization.” This claim is not only debatable but is actually easily demonstrated as bereft of basis, as every good law student knows, by reading the Journal of deliberations to the 1987 Constitutional Convention. On the other hand, the way the claim is articulated also reflects a sense of “good faith” in presenting its differing take on the Con Com debates because unlike the usual rabid Pro-Lifers who specialize in immutable claims, the Jesuit choice of words here includes a diplomatically deployed “seems.”

Hence the Jesuit’s “critical” position is achieved in two moves: distance and diplomacy laying down the epistemological trap of “science” and “law” ever more subtly with much more sophisticated slight of hand.

Without much explanation, the same section of the talking points introduces the crafting of “legal definitions” and collaboration between scientists and lawyers is offered as a way out of the dilemma.

It may be argued of course that this public discussion can use huge doses of science once and for all. It will certainly be a welcome change to the discourse of “sex as sin” that has so far pervaded the Filipino public discussions on human sexuality, reproduction and reproductive technologies. I have no argument with this point but I do have issues with how it pulls the democratic rug from under our feet --- in other words, I wish to question the theory and hierarchy of knowledge and power that such a call is based on.

First of all the recourse to “legalese” and fixed definitions on this matter was precisely something that the Constitutional Commission avoided. Con Com knew then as most of us know now that the “science” behind when life begins is inconclusive. The debate on what “life” constitutes not only involves embryos in utero but also covers the debate on euthanasia and brain death (a very familiar law school experience). And even if contraceptives were classified according to their mechanisms of action (whether preventing ovulation or implantation of the fertilized ovum), as the Jesuit document itself acknowledges, different faiths have differing views on what constitutes “abortion” in this case.

Yet the epistemological stakes I wish to lay bare here are deeper and certainly not a monopoly of the Jesuits. The trouble with “trusting science” to tell us what sex is and what it means is a problem which feminism has faced in various incarnations. Socio-biology and its more rabidly evolutionist/determinist tenets which to this date preach immutable sexual characteristics, identities and orientations into the binary of “male” and “female” is neither an exclusively Catholic proclivity nor a Jesuit invention.

Father Charles Curran notes that the Vatican’s Declaration on Sexual Ethics reduces sexuality to the physical act, if not exclusively in the light of the physical structure of the sexual act itself. (In other words, penile penetration) (Curran: 1978) And while it couches the discussion of exclusively procreative sexual acts within the context of “marital love and union,” the Humanae Vitae also banishes all other sexual acts as immoral and “unnatural.” Indeed Science (like law) may be invoked in more ways than one.

By narrowing down the way the debate is framed to “science/law,” the Jesuits document simply does as the Vatican has since Humanae Vitae – that is confine the discussion of sexual morality to the level of the physical act with little room for the relational, psychological and transcendent aspects of human sexuality. (Curran: 1978)

What would a legal definition of a something science cannot even categorically pinpoint (moment of fertilization) achieve? Who does it serve? Who will it harm the most? I can give you a clue: the people who get pregnant.

Another aspect of the document that is the subject of this critique is its notion or version of the principle of “Religious Freedom.” In many secular jurisdictions albeit with a myriad of permutations, the legal guarantee of religious freedom is composed of free exercise and non-establishment. Some secular states emphasize religious pluralism more than others who may be more concerned with keeping dominant religions out of state affairs and coffers.

In very recent history a new interpretation of “conscientious objection,” a term which originated in the context of dissenters of the war draft, has been parlayed around discussions in relation to claims of religious freedom by anti-choice health service workers and professionals. The Jesuit document builds on this discussion by extending a Catholic “conscience” to institutions and various Catholic individuals/professionals in charge of the care/custody and education of others (who may not be Catholic or subscribe to the Catholic teaching, which is, after all, not dogma) – And because this matter concerns the use of reproductive technologies, specifically contraception, these conscientious objectors are likely to discriminate and impose their beliefs on mostly women’s and girls’ bodies.

–Catholic Schools

–Catholic Educators

–Catholic Parents

–Catholic Hospitals

–Catholic Employers

–Catholic Health Service Providers

The problem with this version of the notion of “conscientious objection” is that it uses religious freedom in the service of religious imposition or the violation of the freedom of others. In its various versions as a draft piece of legislation, the new terminology of “conscience” is not only legally problematic but also ethically so. Elsewhere I noted that While there is no doubt that the same Constitutional principles give ample protection to health professionals in their own personal exercise of their faith, past proposed Bills was premised on a narrow definition of free exercise as "non-participation," and not inclusive nor supportive of the democratic ideal of protecting a plurality of faiths. Likewise, it over extends a concept of "conscience" to corporations such as clinics, hospitals and Insurance companies, dangerously pitting the individual with collectives including corporations.

But can’t a medical or health professional also claim that to opt to participate in a medical procedure sorely needed and requested by a patient is also an act of conscience? In case of conflict, whose conscience in such cases will get protection?

This reduction of conscience to blind obedience (to Catholic teaching) robs “conscience” of its rich and deep philosophical import in moral theology and philosophy. In fact this legalistic approach to moral reasoning has been the subject of critique within Catholic theology as well as within the broader Christian Philosophical traditions. Father Charles Curran’s critique of the Acta Apostolicae Sedis (1976) is one such example.


Rather than end with a scathing criticism of the Jesuits and their cleverly worded discussion points, I would rather leave things on an open-ended note and ask whether there is still a possibility for what the Jesuits themselves termed as “critical and constructive engagement.” On one hand, the Catholic hierarchy is no longer in a position to call the shots. Their ally is now only a Congresswoman (albeit a pesky one to be sure) and no less than the current President, himself from a strong Catholic family, has openly criticized their narrow-mindedness on matters of reproductive health. Of course this is not to say that just because the tables have somehow turned, the Jesuits and the Bishops no longer deserve our attention although they certainly deserve less of it now. (Just this morning the RH Bill’s third Committee hearing ended. This lecture was the official announcement about that).

On the other hand, the public and the marginalized others (mostly women and other sinners of non-traditional genders and orientations who more often than not are the Jesuits’ very own “poor”) deserve an intelligent public discussion, which will no longer be monopolized by robed men who are not supposed to have a sex life anyway (despite evidence to the contrary).

Besides this opposition to something as prosaic as basic health care ought not to be the focus of Catholic-inspired panics on sexual morality – I don’t know about you but I’m more worried about the clerical sexual abuse of women and minors past and present.

Michael Higgins, author of the book, Suffer the Children Unto Me: An Open Enquiry into the Clerical Abuse Scandal recently wrote that we need a new Catholic Reformation:

“Damage control, legal gamesmanship, moral posturing and institutional denial won’t work…To put the horror behind them, Catholics must do more than lament their Church. They must reform it.”

So in good conscience I challenge the Jesuits (especially the left leaning ones and legal savvy ones) to face the music once and for all and deal to with the sexism, which plagues the institutional church. They are already in good company if they do. Father Karl Rhaner, S.J. in his last book, Unity of the Churches: A Actual Possibility (1984), already laid down some specific proposals among them rethinking/reconsidering papal infallibility and dogma. Now that is one Jesuit body of work worth revisiting.


John J. Caroll, Joaquin Bernas and Eric O. Genilo, Talking Points for Dialogue on the Reproductive Health Bill (HB 96; filed July 1, 2010)

Romanus Cessario, Introduction to Moral Theology, The Catholic University of America Press, (Washington: 2001)

Charles E. Curran, Sexual Ethics: A Critique, Issues in Sexual and Medical Ethics, University of Notre Dame Press, (London: 1978)

_________________Roman Catholic Sexual Ethics: A Dissenting View, Religion Online, Ted Brock and Winnie Brock (Eds), []

Catholics Can Support the Bill in Good Conscience, Position Paper on the Reproductive Health Bill, Individual Faculty of the Ateneo de Manila University, October 15, 2008.

Michael Higgins, “We Need a New Catholic Reformation,” The Globe and Mail, 9 December 2010

John O’ Malley, “The Society of Jesus,” A Companion to the Reformation World, Blackwell Publishing, R. Po-Chia Hsia, (ed), 2004

Malachi Martin, “The Jesuits,” The Society of Jesus and the Betrayal of the Roman Catholic Church, Linden Press, Simon & Schuster, (New York: 1987).

David Mitchell, The Jesuits: A History, Macdonald Futura Publication, (London: 1980)

R. Po-Chia Hsia, (ed), A Companion to the Reformation World, Blackwell Publishing, 2004

Thomas F. Schinder, Ethics: The Social Dimension: Individualism and the Catholic Tradition, Theology and Life Series Vol. 27, Michael Glazier, (Delaware: 1989)

* Senior Lecturer, College of Law, University of the Philippines and SJD Candidate/Women’s Rights Fellow, Faculty of Law, University of Toronto. This Lecture was prepared for the University of the Philippines College of Law, Legal Perspectives Lectures Series No. 8, 1st Semester, AY 2010-2011. This very rough version contains most of the actual references and “humour” I used for the talk but not all of them. Some of them were perhaps too UPLAW oriented to be of any use to other audiences interested in this paper. I want to express my deepest gratitude to Leloy Claudio, Doctoral Candidate of History from the University of Melbourne and in a former life, a True Blue Atenean, for being my panelist/discussant during the forum.

[i] Charles E. Curran, A Loyal Dissent: Memoir of a Catholic Theologian, Georgetown University Press, 2006.

[ii] To date there have been additional signatories to the Position Paper from the Ateneo Faculty bringing the total to about 66 in late 2008. Students of Ateneo have also backed their Faculty’s position. The original fourteen faculty members who signed the Position Paper were: Marita Castro Guevara (Department of Interdisciplinary Studies), Raymond B. Aguas (Department of Theology),Liane Peña Alampay (Department of Psychology), Fernando T. Aldaba (Department of Economics), Remmon E.Barbaza (Department of Philosophy), Manuel B. Dy, Jr. (Department of Philosophy), Elizabeth Uy Eviota (Department of Sociology-Anthropology), Roberto O. Guevara (Department of Theology), Anne Marie A. Karaos (Department of Sociology-Anthropology), Michael J. Liberatore (Department of Theology), Liza L. Lim (Department of Sociology-Anthropology), Cristina Jayme Montiel (Department of Psychology), Mary Racelis (Department of Sociology-Anthropology), and Agustin Martin G. Rodriguez (Department of Philosophy)

Friday, June 25, 2010

My Life and Times as an "Evacuee" (Or How I missed observing the G-20 protests while I was in Toronto)

It is an exaggeration of course. Being transferred from one campus to another to spend four nights at a very new student residence in the first world does not quite cut it as far as most people's conventional idea of what an evacuation (or being an evacuee) is like. I should know. I'm from a third world country. The only other time I remeber having to leave home was because of a huge flood in 1977 because of a major typhoon that hit Manila (I was 8)and I actually found the boat ride quite "fun."

This was the school bus we rode to the University of Toronto Mississasuga campus with the few essentials students need to get by : a change of clothes (4 days worth), books, laptop (and for those who are not quite the same person without the daily dose) your old reliable coffe mug.

As a grad student living in a student residence at the U of T St. George campus, I had to relocate to the UTM campus (just 33 kilometers West of the St. George campus downtown) because the University decided shut down the campus as a precaution/security measure for the G-20 summit happening in Toronto during the weekend. A lot of people think its too much and that treating protesters as a major security threat borders on paranoia. Personally it actually worked well for me. I had an appointment here at UTM this week.

I have to admit, however, that I would have been curious to see the protests up close. Everybody makes a big deal of the "Seattle battle" and it has actually become a sort of short hand-symbol on both sides (naysayers and romatics of the protest movements). I don't necesarrily agree with people who justify an all out state performance of what almost looks like a padody of state machissmo. But neither do I let my left leaning brethren off the hook for not taking care to dispell misinformed justifications of violence.

When I was a student activist I remember how much I detested those macho boys who made up the violent fringe of protest actions. Sure we were up against a dictator and it was police/military violence we faced but those thugs (boys of sixteen or eighteen really) who showed up during rallies with their pill boxes and home-made molotov bombs didn't usually consult the masses of rallyists let alone the contingent from the state university (your motley crew of "student leaders") they always insisted should be leading the pack in front of the truncheon police. Unlike the rest of us who observed the buddy system (pairing up to make sure each had somebody looking out for them), coordinated with paralegals (vounteer law students and human rights lawyers), and made sure "agents" from the militia would not infiltrate our ranks, they usually lingered literally on the fringes of the march and let loose (throwing stones and pillboxes) at will and run like hell afterwards.

But it is never easy. I guess looking back, I wouldn't have wanted those clueless macho boys arrested by the militia anyway. As a student paralegal even then (and sometimes as part of the negotaition panel that actually approached the police officers to bargain about dispersal), I was sworn to defend them and make sure their rights were respected. In this sense I can understand the ambivalence protesters feel towards the most unruly among them.

Yet it is also hard to compare. It was a dictatorship we were up against. One with a twenty-year human rights violation record of torture, illegal detention, disapperances (many of which were never really resolved), executions and unfathomable corruption. (Oh yes, we still had that with our last outgoing President and it was not technically speaking --- a military dictatorship.)

As a foreigner I do not know much about the Canadian police but honestly speaking, the women and men in blue of Toronto seem so NICE and most of them seem approachable to me. (Is Canadian niceness infectious or what?) I'm not saying we don't have those sort of police officers back home. We do. There are a few of them I actually learned to respect in the course of my NGO work but I guess being in the thick of it does colour one's perceptions very much. At the back of our minds when we faced truncheons we knew the police feared protesters as much as we feared them --- especially when there were more of us.

I guess your only real clue is checking the community pulse. Many eruptions of violence under conditions of overwhelming oppression are genuine expressions of righteous anger and thus the toleration and acceptance (even approval) of the community at large is usually what comes after such eruptions.

As advocates I remember that a major concern was always whether we were making that huge a difference by reaching people and connecting with communities about the causes we held near and dear (social justice, democracy, freedom of speech). As student activists we constantly grappled with apathy and the lack of student interest in politics. It was the 1980s when I was a student activist and even then we came to question our own "romanticism" of 1960s and 1970s style activism (we had local versions of campus communes and the shorthand for it is "FQS" or the "First Quarter Storm") all of which had their sense of legitimacy and public sympathy in their day but were becoming extremely problematic by the time we were in the student movement. We debated about the underground left's identification of the "primacy" of armed struggle/guerrila warfare which was called the "people's war." (I always thought of it in the late 1980s as the left underground movement's continuing phallic obsession. I actually said so to some effect and got into really nasty shouting matches with really sexist "comrades") Sigh. I'm glad to say some of them actually turned out to be good fathers and are not so sexist now. I'm also a more agreeable feminist now and not as big a b**** as I was (to them at least). So there.

Where was I? Community and public support and public engagement. Events this big usually open up a space (or opportunity) for getting the public interested and informed about the world outside our own homes, offices and schools. But if you really think about it, overkill (whether by state police and military performance or unpopular and violent tactics of protest) is also enough for people to tune out of it. And in places where many can comfortably wall themselves in by all sorts of diversions (blogging included ;-P), it does not get easier. Get with the program people, we are competing with no less than FIFA World Cup matches both for airtime and popularity.

Yesterday's clip from the Daily Show actually had something very interesting about perceptions of anger (particularly social stereotypes of the "angry black man" - the Samuel L. Jackson scale of anger was very funny check it out.) It got me thinking about how the public discussion about protests is also being influenced in a huge way by the labelling of activists as "militants" and summing up all sorts of disturbances as "terrorism."

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Mourning Cory's Passing: Confessions of a 'Leftie' with a Soft Spot for Corazon Aquino

"The greatest paradox of our existence consists in this: that, in order to understand, we must first encumber ourselves with all the intellectual and emotional baggage which is an impediment to understanding." Aldous Huxley, 1956

On Thursday this week, while a brilliant colleague of mine (a law professor) spoke about the Constitution, I was struck about what he said about (in essence) coming from a generation that does not have any sort of ties, involvement, let alone affective historical links with the flawed 1987 Constitution. He's a young man and still is and I guess his point was - why should the flawed 1987 Constitution bind him as if its dogma when clearly it no longer remains relevant nor effective in framing the socio-economic and political consciousness of the current generation and the present time? Of course when it comes to the issue of charter change, his views do not necesarrily differ from the rest of the Faculty of the College of Law who recognize the current incessant charter change lobby in Congress supported by the President and her minions as nothing but bare-faced and brazen power grabbing. So like many of us, he thinks charter change under the present administration is pointless.

Nonetheless, his provocative point about his lack of ties with the 1987 Constitution reminded me of a comment by Aldous Huxley where he affirmed Simone Weil's essay, "Need for Roots" while at the same time emphasized that there is an equally urgent need, on occasion, for total rootlesness.

I'm a little bit older than my colleague. I'm not old enough to remember when Martial Law was declared on black and white TV (although I have seen the grainy footage dozens of times) but I do remember growing up around my parents' fear of the military and the police. My parents were not even political in any sense of the word - except that my mother marched with thousands of Filipinos when Ninoy Aquino was assasinated. My father started out as a clerk for an airline company and my mother was a public school teacher who taught English and Arts. I was young then but old enough to remember how my mom watched the clock nearing midnight, looking out the window crouched in fear while waiting for my father to get home from doing overtime. There was a national curfew and anybody caught outside after midnight could get in trouble with the "Metrocom," the military police. They never told us anything of course but I remember those moments well.

When I was a 5th grader, I remember asking my parents at the dinner table what "LABAN" meant and how they went silent and looked at each other. I swear - it was a classic "where did she get that idea" moment for my parents and I can still remember how my question stopped the conversation. I was totally intrigued. LABAN in Filipino is literally "fight" but it in the social movement, it also connotes "struggle." In the late seventies and early 80s, it was also the political party of Benigno "Ninoy" Aquino, the late Senator and husband of our former President, the late Corazon Aquino.

I asked because on the way to school that morning, I noticed that posters bearing the word in black letters(not a lot of them) were all over the length of Pedro Gil in Paco, the street where my school, Colegio de la Imaculada Concepcion de la Concordia was. Later that day, they were all gone and you could even see how some of them looked like they might have been quickly ripped off the posts and walls where they were glued on earlier. This made me curious although I was surprised none of my classmates knew (or seemed to care about) what I was talking about when I told them. So I had to ask you see. Not surprisingly my parents spoke to me in hushed tones and simply told me never to say the word again. This made me even more curious. Who did they think could listen in on us at the dinner table? The only other people around were my 8 year old sister and my brothers, aged 5 and 3 and in all probablity, at that time, slobbering their way through dinner. All they told me was that the word was "BAWAL" or prohibited/outlawed and they made me promise never to say it. I found that confusing of course. How could a word be outlawed? I knew it was inappropriate to swear, for instance, but my parents (like many others) did it at times in anger or frustration. I knew the sisters at my school would never tolerate it but there still seemed for me, a totally different reason for not tolerating swearing among children and saying a verb like "Laban" out loud.

By the time I was a freshman in college at the University of the Philippines, Ferdinand Marcos was still in power. At that time, he had been in power for almost twenty years. The social unrest and political opposition to Marcos was also twenty years in the making. On the other hand, the assasination of Senator Benigno Aquino three years earlier literally stoked the fire of social unrest and the otherwise unpolitical middle class, white collar professionals and even the old elites politically and economically marginalized by Marcos and his cronies were starting to mobilize. Makati, the business and financial district (particularly Ugarte field) literally became the "haven" for huge political rallies.

Unlike the throng of working class, peasant and urban poor marchers that the military and police would normally disperse with tear gas, water canons, truncheons and sometimes, bullets without a moment's notice or much second thought, these rallies included motorcades awash with yellow ribbons and yellow confetti (so much of it made out of PLDT* yellow pages)cascading like a torrent of yellow snow and rain from the top floors of the tallest buildings in Makati. It also started including groups of popular musicians, actors, artists and Catholic clergy in full battle gear - that is, in their clerical garb. Tear gas, water canons and truncehons - while still very much in use were becoming less and less of a viable option as the rallies grew to resemble prayer rallies and concerts.

On hindsight that singular event - the assasination of an oppositionist, who despite his committment to social justice was essentially an upper middle class intellectual married to a member of the landed class was not exactly the stuff of the perhaps preferably Marxist-Leninist proletarian-led prophecy nor even the peasant-led revolution of Maoist lore. The grassroots social movement and resistance to military rule was certainly very actively "being fought" in the countrysides but even the aging (the then fifteen year old) left-led "armed resistance" was growing worn and weary. Cadres and sympathizers were still being killed off by the military and para-military units but even within the underground movement, questions were already being raised about the primacy of armed struggle. (Asking this question by the late eighties became even more dangerous when the party leaders initiated a purge but I digress. Maybe another post?)

The phenomenon which was more visible because it was in the city, was not a proletarian revolution (while it certainly included them), nor was it a peasant-led revolution from the countrysides.

Ninoy Aquino's assasination brought an erstwhile quiet housewife and mother, Corazon C. Aquino, into the spotlight. Cory Aquino of the landed Cojuancos of Tarlac, convent bred with backgrounds in Math, Arts and one year in law school, was placed at the center of the mounting popular resistance to dictatorship. You can see why it was in some respects a nightmare for many of the self-proclaimed Marxist-Leninist and Maoist sections of the local social movement.

By the time I joined the Kabataang Makabayan (KM), the "underground" student organization in 1987, the Aquino government was already battling criticism for its proclaimed "total war" against the communist insugency. I was one of many students recuited to join the "militant" League of Filipino Students (LFS) on the day pesants and farmers were shot and killed in Mendiola by police and militia as they conducted a rally asking for Land Reform.

Earlier that day I sat on the asphalt speaking with some of the farmers outside the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) before their march to Mendiola, that street leading to Malacanang which has seen many a bloody and violent dispersal. I had decided that I missed too many classes and could not afford to attend this particular rally. We exchanged pleasantries. They said they were very impressed with my background since locally, state university students are usually referred to as "Iskolar ng Bayan." (Scholars of the People)I felt conflicted about not going. At this point of my student activist life, missing major rallies always gave me a sense of missing out. Many undergrads attend parties (no doubt) but I was into rallies, dodging tear gas and water canons. That was my crowd. I was all of sixteen years old.

Its always hard to describe things as they were in the past to the current generation. Many of my students were not yet even born during the famed EDSA people power uprising. While we all color our narratives of past events with our own subjectivities, some of those biases and sympathies are often shared and can resonate with others' sense of history and recollection of past events.

I remember how my kasamas (comrades) student activists cringed whenever I waxed lyrical about what I suspected was Cory Aquino's good intentions as well as the continuing significance of the popularly backed people power uprising. Those were times I felt, I was not only very unpopular, but also derided. It was as if one could not be properly cynical with and critical of the administration's politics (Congress was still dominated - as it is to this day- with the landed elite) without likewise denouncing the people and personalities in government in their totality. In other words, the only way to oppose the state (with a capital "S") was to hate it and all its members totally and to the core. I don't exactly know how I remained in the movement but like many others, I grew sick and tired of it. It was so much like my Roman Catholic background. I got over it - well some ot it. (I'm still into GUILT)

While I still find myself politically left-leaning, I don't blindly support any old self-proclaimed "left" parties or candidates. I don't even know how a lot of them justify their electoral politics (legally or ethically) given what I know about the background of left politics and continuing support for and funding of armed resistance. I have also come to terms with my Roman Catholic background and maintain my respect for many individual Catholics (many of them from the clergy but one of them of course, Corazon Aquino), who despite our clear political differences, have always been decent and compassionate human beings.

A few years ago one of President Aquino's former cabinet appointees disclosed that when Maria Theresa Carlson (the popular 80s actress, a battered wife, who leapt to her death in 2003) once wrote to her, asking for the President's intervention in her marriage. She was married to a long-time traditional politician from the north and she had, in the past, attempted to sever her ties with her husband. Like many battered women, she often found her way back to him and reconciled. According to this former cabinet member, Cory referred her to the bishop of the province. He promptly told her to return to her husband.

Yet we also know how Cory often came to the defense of her daughter, the media superstar, Kris Aquino, despite her very obviously different beliefs about love, life and relationships. Her first openly non-traditional love affair was with a married older actor but the former President doted over her grandson (like she did her other grand children). She was also the protective mother to Kris when she opted to make a very public accusation of violence against another long-time partner, another married former basketball player. To be sure, one can argue its a double standard - Kris is her daughter after all. And maybe it is but I find it a comfort that Cory, no matter how devout a Catholic she was could always make room for uncatholic behavior, even if it was her own daughter.

Relative to the current President, Cory was more respectful of the separation of church and state. Unlike GMA, Cory never went as far as outlawing nor banning contraceptives as the Catholic lobby would have had her done in 1987 after the RC lobby felt it did not get everything it wanted (a total ban on contraception as abortion) in the 1987 Constitution.

Cory Aquino didn't solve the problems of the Philippines after her six-year term. Many argue we were worse off after her term. At the height of Cory's term, globalization was on the rise and the pressure was high to open up the erstwhile protectionist and "nationalist" economies.

I was never a political detainee. I did not have relatives or close freinds kidnapped, jailed, tortured or "salvaged."** But I know a handful of survivors who have allowed me to listen and have shared their experiences. But I still remember the feeling of breathing in freedom for the first time. It was silly really, my memory as a sixteen year-old and realizing that the dictatorship had ended. I even kept a journal (which I no longer have) in which I am sure I blathered incoherently (like I still do now? )

My mum was in the hospital having a gallbladder operation and I was watching over her so I never quite made it to the EDSA uprising. On the third day when my mother told me she was giving me permission to go and join the historic march/rally, we all heard the announcement on the suddenly "free" media: Marcos had fled and we were no longer under a dictatorship. While my hopes to be part of "history" were dashed, I was also elated after all by this time, the revolution was already being televised. BBC in its coverage of Cory's death said it well - "For three days, the world watched as the Filipino people toppled a dictator..."

While the 1987 Constitution is not perfect and while the motley crew of Constitutional commissioners we ended up having may have not been the ideal band of experts, (some of them were truly bigoted and I'm not even complaining about the clergy members) the fact that the Constitution was amended during such a high point in Philippine history and in the overall state of the Filipino people's consciousness, one could argue that the conditions had a huge impact on the character of the provisions, which perhaps even to the then eagerly waiting market economists, was not nearly liberal enough.

One can only hope that when the time comes for us to amend the Constitution, we will not only have better qualified people in the Commission (or Congress in case of a Constituent Assembly), but also compassionate people who are able to respect difference (especially religious ones).
*Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co.
**"Salvaging" is the term used to describe political killings and executions.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Listen up, single ladies

An unlikely conversation on gender through an annoying pop song

I don't have anything against Beyonce Knowles and happen to think she is both very beautiful and talented but the first time I heard her song "Single Ladies," I thought it sucked. How do I explain my almost visceral reaction to having endured the song being played by the hour in almost all public spaces (e.g. public transport, malls, blaring on the street where we live as it blasts from the neighbor's stereo?) The song dominated the local airwaves (as aggressively promoted pop songs usually do)for many months and I have no doubt it will continue being a favorite among many Beyonce fans.

"If you liked it, you should have put a ring on it..." is what irritates the hell out of me in the song. Just in case you are lucky enough not to be familiar with it, here is the link to the lyrics. I'm married and I don't have anything against people wanting to get married but I'm more of a Pink fan and "So What" is my preferred anthem for break ups. Its totally subjective so I guess to each her own.

Like a generation of old fogies who have found their facebook nook, I later chanced upon the SNL clip when the link was posted by a friend. In the sketch, the SNL crew and Beyonce poke fun at the song and MTV with a little help from Justine Timberlake clad in black leotards and matching pumps. I have to admit that I found it funny just like everyone else. I also hadn't seen the original MTV of Beyonce before that so I looked at that before watching the entire SNL spoof, wanting not to miss the punchline.

A couple of days ago I heard about "Single gaydies" themed spoofs and interpretations of the MTV sprouting all over You Tube and the Internet. The most popular here of course is the one by Filipino school boys who do a very good rendition of Beyonce's dance moves. Indeed many Filipinos can dance (and sing) well. There are of course those of us who are the exception more than the rule but I digress...Of course frat boy versions like this one are all over the place, where college boys horse around in hopes of internet stardom? Here is yet another one. They get judged of course (like everybody else who takes the same risk when exposing themselves on these public and social network spaces). Comments on You Tube can range from the truly funny, respectful, cheerful, thoughtful, incomprehensible to the really vicious and downright mean ones. I've made the observation elsewhere before but the anonymity of the internet when coupled with real-time reaction/commentary seems to have given birth a particular breed (and culture) of internet hot-heads who jump in and attack others' views, posts, ideas and appearance without as much as a second thought.

The "gaydies" variety of clips were most exposed to these sort of attacks. Gay bashing, sexist and comments expressing racial hate keep these online public spaces burning. So at one point, I started skipping the comments and just surfed to see the variety of clips on Beyonce's unlikely contribution to a discussion of gender and mind you I said that with a straight face. No sexual orientation pun intended.

No less popular are direct sexist responses to the song addressed to "Single Fellas" admonishing the boys to "smash that ass but to never put a ring on it."

I soon found myself surfing You Tube and discovered a treasure trove of "Single Ladies" spoofs, interpretations and surprisingly brilliant commentary. My favorite is not the one with the most hits but I think its rather well done (with original vocals) and its called "Married ladies." Yes, if there is anybody single ladies ought to listen to when it comes to these things, its the married ladies. Duh. The talented composer/performer of this version is Melanie Fontana who is a musician on MySpace where she has several songs available on-line. Its certifiably "I Laughed My Ass Off" (LMAO) stuff but just maybe its "I laughed my married ass off." Check it out. She redid the entire song's lyrics but the coup de grace to the irritatingly popular ditty comes with:

"When he liked it and I made him put a ring on America's seeing that I don't want it."

Other less profound though no less amusing takes on the MTV go as far as merging clips of Mr. Bean dancing with Ms. Knowles. The result, while certainly meant to be a parody of sex just ends up nowhere near salacious or sexy. Yes, he is pumping his hips upon Ms. Knowles' famously voluptuous behind but its Mr. Bean. As they say: "nuff said."

Perhaps without meaning to, this animated clip most probably created on macromedia flash creates a surprisingly "gender neutral" version of the MTV. It follows the lyrics (quite literally) but all the stick figures look the same and in this stick figure MTV, the usual visual representations of femaleness and maleness are absent. Try to put a ring on that. While you're on it, go figure this out too. All you single puppets. If you liked it then you should have put a string on it? But gender benders are not confined to toons or puppets as this clip proves.

When a dance craze "sweeps a nation," however, its unlikely that it can ever reach the epidemic proportions that it can reach in these here tropical isles. This clip is not so out of the ordinary. In fact it is so ordinary to see preteen and even younger Filipino girls bump, grind and gyrate to the latest pop tunes both in public schools and Catholic run private schools for girls. I have witnessed first graders gyrate to "Its raining men." Hallelujah. But if like me, you have seen "Little Miss Sunshine," it always helps to keep a sense of humor about it. A sense of humor is what these er "grace challenged" boys have. They do their Beyonce inspired ad promoting (of all things) a college ministry!

Now it may not be a pandemic (yet) but here we see why they say Brits got talent too. Sure it has a pitifully low number of hits (compared to Filipino clips) but you gotta admire these ladies for braving the cold in their leotards. Check out the passers by in their frigid weather wear. That tiny UK flag color inspired car pulling out towards the end of the clip was also cute as a button. Very Austin Powers.

Want to see a Barack Obama inspired clip? President Obama who has been quoted saying that he knows how to do the dance, or at least the hand gestures, is parodied here.

In the beginning Beyonce may have intended the song to be some sort of anthem for the single ladies out there but Justin's good humor coupled with the more fluidly gendered generation (Z?) and fandom behind this song (and THE dance because the dance I think is what made the song a hit) made this song an all around anthem for the courageous generation of internet users who are so used to posting clips and pictures of themselves. She called out to all the single ladies but the most overwhelming response Beyonce has gotten is definitely from the gay community. Shane Mercado whose You Tube post was so popular he got to meet Miss Knowles knows this only too well. Even as the lot of these internet denizens risk ridicule, a number of them actually earn their own internet fandom. Say what you will about supermodel figures, pear bottomed girls or stick figures (oh I forgot I said supermodel already) but these clips prove one thing. The Chubby and Cubby can dance.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Doctors and Lawyers

I spoke before a group of health practitioners today. While many of them were nurses and midwives, many more were doctors of obstetrics and gynecology. The topic I was assigned was the reproductive health bill but since the main sponsor of the bill was also an invited speaker, I decided to talk about only one thing in the bill: "conscientious objection." But before I could even begin my short talk, there were medical updates from doctors practicing in the field. Two doctors lectured on medical assistance during labor and new-born screening. Instead of reading my notes or reviewing the bill, I decided to listen. In fact it was not hard not to listen since the lectures were very accessible and quite interesting. The two doctors knew they would be addressing health practitioners with different roles in the health care system and varying levels of health education and training. So since I did not come prepared with a written speech or lecture save for some notes I made last night about the ethical guidelines on conscientious objection, I took a moment to reflect about the similarities and differences between doctors and lawyers.

Number #1 Similarity: If we were to go by the popularity of soap operas and TV shows, people have always been fascinated with the lives of doctors and lawyers. Like everyone else doctors and lawyers have failed marriages, dysfunctional families, steamy affairs and although perhaps to a lesser degree, money problems. But people seem to think the lives of ordinary doctors and lawyers make great prime time TV fare. This may be partly because doctors and lawyers are powerful professionals and gatekeepers. Both often wield power over their patients and clients.

Perhaps another reason why doctors and lawyers or at least their professions seem to be regarded in high esteem, is because their professions relate to a lot of the things we value - justice, liberty, autonomy, and well-being. Certainly not all doctors and perhaps even fewer lawyers, are "good guys," and working to promote and protect those ideals. But in their professional and technical capacities, and in the context of the highest ideals reflected in each profession's codes of ethics, they can actually be a great source of good.

Number #1 Difference (and this I observed from having attended the forum). Doctors are more used to working in tandem with a set of others on a collegial basis. Arguably lawyers do have law partnerships and justices in appellate courts are a collegial body. However, in huge part, recognition in legal practice is usually more individualist and focused on the lone legal practitioner. This is even more apparent in litigation, which is primarily adversarial.

I did note, however, that in terms of engaging the abstract principles of the professions and applying them to concrete cases, the current state of medical ethics (esp. obstetrics and gynecology) are far more advanced than our sadly archaic legal canons of professional and judicial responsibility. (I am referring to FIGO guidelines for the most part) On one hand, this could very well be a consequence of the advances in medical technology. New technology always raises new medical and ethical issues. On the other hand, some of the issues like conscientious objection are not exactly new but rather it is the way they have been invoked in the context of health practice that has led to new ethical questions in the context of health care.

In legal parlance, "conscientious objection" traces its roots in dissent against war. In moral philosophy, invoking conscience is at the core of the freedom of thought. But while conscience has usually been invoked in particular relation to the exercise of the freedom of religious practice and religious beliefs, invoking conscience is by no means an exclusively religiously based notion. The notion of having a conscience is embedded in the notion of human beings having the faculty (or capacity) of rational thought (reason). Yet rather than debate about the specifics of rational thought (the seat of reason, judgement), I’d rather talk about the more mundane question of what enables rational thought and thereby facilitates the exercise of conscience. As embodied humans in an imperfect society, the very things that enable rational thought and agency often come at a price. (And no, I’m not talking about a Kindle 2 or even a an imac pro)

In rather plain and simple terms, basic needs facilitate and enable rational thought. We are bodies after all and while we do not live by bread alone, the basic stuff including some education (language and communication), goes a long, long way. On the other hand, having more than enough (food and education) does not necessarily induce brilliance either. Many of the most prolific thinkers and authors were paupers in their day. (Some even produced their best work in prison). The point is, one's capacity to will, deliberate or exercise conscience is contingent on a myriad of things, not the least of which is a material basis. In order to think and decide freely, however, information must also be available or accessible. And whether censorship takes place by virtue of totalitarian state policies or by self censorship induced by narrow biases (religiously based or otherwise), the absence of information hinders the formation of understanding. Incomplete information makes deliberation an impossibility.