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Private initiatives fostering marriage inviolability

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(Part 1)

Some of those Catholics who are in favor of absolute divorce in the Philippines wrongly maintain that there is not enough being done by the Catholic clergy and laity to foster the sanctity of marriage and that of the family. They could not be more misinformed. In this series of articles, I will feature the numerous groups organized by Catholic lay people on their own or under the mandate of their respective bishops that have been working tirelessly on living and teaching the doctrines of the Catholic Church on human sexuality, the institution of marriage, and the sanctity of the family. It is unfair for those supporting the Absolute Divorce bill passed by the Lower House and now pending in the Senate to claim that the Church (which includes both clergy and laity) has been remiss in inculcating, especially among the lower-income households, the truths about the natural institution of marriage, the Sacrament of Matrimony, the role of parents in the upbringing of their children, and the legitimate use of human sexuality.

Actually, it is the State that can be faulted for not doing enough to respond to the very clear mandate found in the Philippine Constitution of 1987 to “protect and strengthen the family as a basic autonomous social institution. It shall equally protect the life of the mother and the life of the unborn from conception. The natural and primary right and duty of parents in the rearing of the young for civic efficiency and the development of moral character shall receive the support of the Government.” In fact, the Constitution is even more explicit in Article XV on The Family when it mandates that “the State recognizes the Filipino family as the foundation of the nation. Accordingly, it shall strengthen its solidarity and actively promote its total development.” There is also the very explicit constitutional mandate that “marriage, as an inviolable social institution, is the foundation of the family and shall be protected by the State.” It is understandable that the State is hard put to implement these very clear mandates when it cannot even guarantee high-quality basic education as shown by the very performances of Filipino youth in international achievement tests in reading, mathematics, science, and creative thinking.

That is why it is the private sector that has devised countless means of fostering the inviolability of marriage and sanctity of the family. It is ironic that the State, in the face of its failure to comply with these constitutional mandates to strengthen the Filipino family, is now trying to weaken the institution of marriage through the attempt of the House of Representatives to introduce an Absolute Divorce law. It is hoped that the Senate will reject the bill or, as a final resort, that the President veto the bill if it reaches Malacañang. Meanwhile, as in many cases of the default or negligence of the State in performing its duty to the common good, it is the private sector that is very active in strengthening the institution of marriage and the family.

As reported in a document published by the Asian Development Bank (ADB), entitled “Overview of NGOs and Civil Society in the Philippines,” our society is well known in the world as a leader in the establishment of Non-Government Organizations (NGOs) and People’s Organizations (POs) that render public services which in countries with more competent and efficient governments are usually provided by the State. Because it is obvious that over the years, the Philippines has not generally been endowed with government leaders who were as competent as those of countries like Japan, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, and territories like Hong Kong, the private sector often had to take over these public services by organizing NGOs and POs, the Filipino equivalent of what in other countries are commonly called community-based organizations as commented in the ADB report.

On a lighter vein, in a road show in which I participated recently in Tokyo in cooperation with some top executives of Mitsui, I tried to explain the difference between the cultures of Japan and the Philippines in this regard. I wanted the potential investors from Japan to be ready to understand the complex dynamics between the State and the private sector that prevails in the Philippines. The quickest way I found to deliver the message of the primordial importance of civil society in the face of a generally ineffective State (unlike what prevails in Japan) is to refer to the recent blockbuster film entitled Godzilla Minus One. As anyone who has seen this film would remember, the plot involved a traumatized former Japanese fighter pilot who joins a civilian effort to fight off a massive nuclear-enhanced monster (Godzilla) attacking the shores of Japan. Because at that juncture of Japanese history, exceptionally the Japanese Government was incapacitated from being at the forefront of preventing Godzilla from destroying their shores, a group of private citizens joined forces to do the fighting. This, I told the Japanese audience, was what happens very often in the Philippines.

To expose the misinformation that was being spread by the pro-divorce Catholics, let me enumerate just a few of the outstanding initiatives of both the Catholic clergy and laity in educating their fellow Catholics and others who may care to listen about the inviolable institution of marriage and the sanctity of the family. This information was shared with me by one of the leading Filipino educators who have specialized in values education and character formation among parents, teachers, and students, especially in the public schools. He is Dr. Antonio Torralba. He has first-hand knowledge about the organizations which I describe here because of his work of more than 50 years in the field of values education, especially related to the strengthening of the Filipino family.

First, there is the Marriage Encounter Foundation of the Philippines. Before the pandemic, the Foundation conducted nationwide research on the status of family life and teenage lifestyle in the Philippines, which dealt with the perceived major issues facing families and the youth of the country today. The findings, conclusions, and recommendations were submitted in person and in writing to the Catholic Bishop Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), which mobilized the Commission on Family and Life, then under Archbishop Gilbert Garcera of Lipa, to carry out the recommended development programs in all dioceses. Lay leaders in major archdioceses in the country were encouraged to attend courses on marriage and family life which combined Catholic doctrine on these topics, enriched by empirical data that were the results of the research sponsored by the Marriage Encounter Foundation.

Then there is the Focolare Movement, an Italian-origin movement of lay people and clergy whose aim is to build a more united world in which people value respect and diversity. The elements upon which the movement bases its programs are the art of loving, community, and dialogue — which invariably apply to family, community, and society, especially among the married members. A branch of Focolare is called New Families Movement catering to engaged and young married couples through talks, shared experiences, congresses, regular meetings, family fests, and “schools,” some held in Italy, whose purpose is to develop the minds especially of young people towards the basic principles and nuances, as well as the reality, of life-long marriage, very much in keeping with the constitutional principle of the “inviolability of marriage.”

(To be continued.)

Bernardo M. Villegas has a Ph.D. in Economics from Harvard, is professor emeritus at the University of Asia and the Pacific, and a visiting professor at the IESE Business School in Barcelona, Spain. He was a member of the 1986 Constitutional Commission.


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