RH bill redux

"If the SC affirms its earlier decision, Celdran can possibly go to jail for his advocacy for the bill. What a price to pay for being an advocate!"



This is the concluding piece of my mini-series on important strategies used, and events that transpired during the many years of relentless advocacy that led to the passage of the RH bill into law.

This series is aimed at adding on to already existing documentation and publications on the RH law.

The ‘Damaso’ protest of Carlos Celdran was a major turning point for the RH advocacy. Few events in the many years of pushing for the bill can claim to have singularly and significantly positively impacted on the public more than Carlos Celdran’s ‘Damaso’ protest inside the Manila Cathedral on Sept. 30, 2010. Although done alone, unplanned, and spontaneous, Celdran’s act, and the Catholic hierarchy’s response to it sparked public outrage against the church, and became a major turning point in favor of the RH bill.

People knew that Celdran was an RH advocate. When he shouted, “Stop meddling in politics!” as he was being accosted by the Cathedral security personnel, people knew that he was referring to the church meddling in the RH bill congressional process. This protest landed in the front pages of newspapers, was the headline for many days, and extensively covered by international media. Virtually all reports noted that Celdran protested against the Catholic Church’s meddling in the legislative process involving the RH bill. Thus, the incident significantly strengthened the call for the bill’s passage into law.

Social media exploded with criticisms against the Church over the Damaso protest, and against Congress for dilly-dallying on the bill. More and more people, especially among the younger generation, were speaking out in support of Carlos and the bill.

Celdran was charged with violation of the “Offending the religious feelings” provision of the Revised Penal Code, an archaic law that goes all the way back to the Spanish colonial period. All throughout the Court processes, Celdran was supported by my organization, the Democratic Socialist Women of the Philippines (DSWP), Filipino Freethinkers (FF), and Rep. Edcel Lagman who even joined Celdran’s lawyers and became one of his legal counsels.

I remember that as the incident was unfolding at the Manila Cathedral, Celdran (correctly) thought that he was being arrested. He asked his companion to call me, making me the first to know of the incident. I immediately informed Rep. Lagman and other RH advocates. We hurried to the police precinct where Celdran was jailed, and found Rep. Lagman already there. Members of the media were all over.

The support for Celdran’s Damaso protest was the context of another incident at the Manila Cathedral. This time, Pro-Lifers including lawyer Romulo Macalintal shouted at and shooed away members of the DSWP and FF who wanted to witness a public event there.

Since then, Celdran was found guilty by the Metropolitan Trial Court. The verdict was affirmed by the Regional Trial Court, the Court of Appeals, and the Supreme Court. Celdran filed a Motion for Reconsideration with the SC and is now awaiting the High Court’s final decision.

While the RH bill was passed into law in 2012, Celdran still awaits the final verdict on his case because of his protest in 2010.  If the SC affirms its earlier decision, Celdran can possibly go to jail for his advocacy for the bill. What a price to pay for being an advocate!

The mainstream media also played an important role in the advocacy. Pro-RH groups used the media to the hilt, and the media, in turn, highlighted and amplified the advocates’ voices, including the contentions and compromises surrounding the bill. I dare say that without media support, it would have been extremely difficult for this advocacy to succeed.

The fact was, there were many media practitioners who were RH advocates themselves. Rina Jimenez-David, Ces Orena-Drilon, Karen Davila, Twink Macaraig, Pia Hontiveros-Pagkalinawan, Maria Ressa, Howie Severino, Ivan Mayrina, Ricky Carandang, and my friend, the late Christine Herrera were some of the major journalists who showed strong support for the RH bill. Their programs both on radio and TV, columns, and even social media accounts gave space and airtime to the RH cause.

Pro-RH CSOs, on the other hand, were quite creative in the conduct of activities. The media could not afford to ignore these. One activity that landed on the headlines and was extensively covered was the State of the Nanay Address (SONA), a brainchild of the DSWP and co-organized with PLCPD. This event mimicked the traditional State of the Nation Address of then anti-RH President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and was held within days of her real SONA. The activity highlighted the situation of Filipino mothers and made a strong case for the passage of the RH bill.

That pro-RH activities consistently made it to the news was also because of our allies in media.

After the law was passed and signed by former President Noynoy Aquino, the Supreme Court became the next battlefield as opposing groups petitioned the High Tribunal to declare the law unconstitutional.

The book, The RH Bill Story: Contentions and Compromises is the first to come out that includes the battle in the SC. However, while the book mentions the anti-RH position, and quotes from the Supreme Court Justices, as well as Rep. Lagman, the then Solicitor General Florin Hilbay who was the chief defender of the law during the Oral Arguments is excluded. I remember that former SolGen Hilbay brilliantly defended the law before the High Court en banc continuously for at least four hours. He became the rockstar of RH advocates online and offline because of his defense. I think that Hilbay’s appearance before the en banc should have merited inclusion in the book.

These are some of the major RH advocacy-related events/strategies that we miss in the publications on the law.

There were many players who contributed to the enactment of this landmark legislation and we would, as much as possible, want to recognize them.

The thousands of community women from various parts of the country, Carlos Celdran, the netizens and mainstream media personalities, former SolGen Florin Hilbay, in addition to the CSO personalities, legislators, and leading advocates from the Executive then, all came together for one purpose—defend  the RH bill and then the RH law. They all must be celebrated and acknowledged.

The RH bill story as experienced by us needs to be told and retold. It is a story that can inspire those doing advocacy on other issues.

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Topics: Elizabeth Angsioco , RH bill redux , RH advocate , reproductive health
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