01 February 2009

Philippine Bishops' Statement and Letter on Magna Carta for Women

Statement on the proposed Magna Carta of Women by the Episcopal Commission on Family and Life and the Office on Women of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines. (January 25, 2009)

Most Rev. Angel N. Lagdameo, Archbishop of Jaro, President of CBCP

MAN and woman share fulness of equality in dignity and rights, which should permeate all forms of human activity in all aspects of social life. Both are created in the likeness of God: “in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them” (Gen 1:27). That one is male and the other female does not put the one in conflict with the other; it simply underscores their mutual need and capacity to complement each other.

In the greatest divine enterprise after the creation, however, God asked a young woman rather than a man to be His distinct collaborator. He asked the young Virgin Mary, of her own free will, to become the Mother of His only begotten Son. It was upon the Virgin’s Fiat that the Word became flesh, and the Redemption of sinful man began. There is no greater proof than this of how high the woman stands in the eyes of the Most High.

For this reason, we welcome the present efforts of members of the two Houses of Congress to enact An Act Providing for a Magna Carta of Women. We pray that they succeed in enacting a good law that would not only eliminate all forms of discrimination against women and reaffirm their fundamental equality with men but above all enhance their ability to contribute to the highest common good, according to the light of the Gospel.

However, certain ideas and innovations in language threaten to put the common good at risk, despite the many unquestionably good things in the present Bill. One such word is “gender”, or “gender development.”

From the dawn of time, a person’s sex has always been determined by nature. And a person is either male or female, according to that nature; nobody is neuter. The new concept of gender, however, argues that a person’s sexual identity is not limited to male or female, but may be expanded by personal choice and social construction. Thus, one could be either a male or a female heterosexual, a homosexual, a lesbian, a bisexual, or a transgendered individual, depending on one’s sexual preference or orientation.

This is an avoidable disorder which needlessly distorts a divinely instituted truth about man. We need to pray and work individually and together so that everyone may realize their full potential as men and women, regardless of any psychological and other differences which culture may induce or bring about. But while Christian charity encourages us to be understanding and compassionate to those whose physiologico-social qualities may not be the same as everyone else’s, we have to take exception to a Bill which, despite its obvious merits, seeks to replace a person’s divinely ordained sexual identity with a self-constructed gender arising from one’s sexual preference or orientation.

We humbly propose that in opening unlimited opportunities for the development of a woman’s personality and profession, a Magna Carta of Women, to be worth its name, must first of all protect and uphold her natural calling to marriage, family life and motherhood.

The law would be a sham if one of its purposes is to discredit the work of women in the home, as if the time spent in bringing up children and attending to the family’s basic human needs were time unjustly taken away from the work women should be doing in some office, some factories or elsewhere.

A Magna Carta of Women should, in our view, recognize household work as professional work and should encourage its further professionalization, while promoting various other professional skills for women.

Our legislators seek to anchor their proposed Magna Carta of Women on the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1979. This, we believe, must be approached with an abundance of caution.

In principle, our government is bound to implement all international documents adopted by the UN, which are not in conflict with our Constitution. But not every provision of CEDAW is in accord with our Constitution. The Holy See itself has expressed certain reservations about certain provisions of CEDAW.

While our Constitution is unabashedly pro-life and pro-family, CEDAW tends towards the opposite direction. In fact, the CEDAW Committee has tried to pressure our government to modify its laws on reproductive health. It has – in many cases successfully --- pressured various other governments to abolish “Mother Day” celebrations, decriminalize prostitution, legalize abortion where it remains illegal, and improve access to abortion where it has been legalized.
It would seem to us not right or prudent to let in all of CEDAW’s initiatives through the front door or even the back door. The most prudent course for our legislators, it seems to us, would be to safely anchor their Magna Carta of Women on the letter and spirit of our Constitution, and refer to CEDAW only when necessary, to the extent that it is in full accord with the Constitution. This would serve to assure our people that our legislators are legislating for Filipinos rather than for an external audience.

One last-minute amendment to the Senate version of the bill reads: “No one shall invoke religious beliefs or customary norms as a means of evading compliance with this Act or preventing another person from exercising her rights.”

This is an unnecessary and regrettable assault on religious freedom. Article III, Section 5 of the Constitution provides: “No law shall be made respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. The free exercise and enjoyment of religious profession and worship, without discrimination or preference, shall forever be allowed.”
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights provides: “Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.”
Under that Senate provision, religious belief and practice will now have to bend to the Magna Carta; the State will now decide what religious beliefs the people can practice, which are not in conflict with this proposed Act. This is unconstitutional and unnecessarily diminishes the merit of the Bill.
We humbly submit that women’s dignity and equality with men cannot and must not be procured at the expense of God, or anybody’s right and duty to worship God. We therefore call on the members of Congress to enact a law that recognizes first and foremost the Divine mystery as the first and ultimate source of the true dignity of every man and woman.
May Holy Mary, our hope, seat of wisdom, guide our legislators in their deliberations.

- E N D -

26 January 2009

Honorable Juan Ponce Enrile
Senate President
The Philippine Senate Pasay City
Dear Mr. President:

We have the honor to transmit to you herewith a copy of our Statement on the proposed Magna Carta of Women, issued by the Episcopal Commission on Family and Life jointly with the Office on Women of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference. Like all statements of this nature, this will be disseminated for the information and guidance of the Catholic faithful. We trust that you and your distinguished colleagues will find it both constructive and helpful in your effort to come up with a genuinely good legislation for women.

With renewed assurances of our highest esteem, we remain

Sincerely yours in Christ,

Archbishop of San Fernando, Pampanga
Chairman, Episcopal Commission on
Family and Life

Bishop of Lucena
Chairman, CBCP Office on Women


Archbishop of Jaro
President, CBCP

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