Saturday, November 15, 2008

In the presence of malice

BAITING bishops is a reprehensible pastime in this country, even for a dog like Monsi.

Monsi is not the real name of the mongrel that barks and chases the personal vehicle of a certain priest whenever it leaves the convent of a certain town somewhere near the tip of a certain province.

Although calling his name makes Monsi wag his tail more and give an answering comradely grin, work ethics demand I should withhold his real name.

One must protect the innocent, even canines that, due to a habit of chasing a cleric’s wheels, are at serious risk of losing either their teeth or immortal soul.

Those with malice in their hearts may read anything in Monsi’s barking-mad behavior: from the most uncharitable (“even the dog knows what the priest is up to”) to the simply impatient (“keep it shorter, is what that dog thinks of his last sermon”).

Since no one has ever said this to the face of the man behind the wheel that attracts Monsi’s constant aggravation, I presume no malice exists in the town.

But when I heard my students discuss how a packed crowd hearing novena in one of the historic churches in the city was urged to sign a petition denouncing the Reproductive Health Act, I not only remembered my irreverent wheel-chasing pal but also felt my incisors perceptibly lengthen and my saliva production increase—in Monsi, a sure sign that the priest’s vehicle was leaving the driveway, unholy opportunity for a chase and a chance to sink teeth.

During a chat with my teenage son, I again had this wolfish desire.

We were both reading in bed. While flipping a page of my book, I asked him if he had signed in school any petition on House Bill 5043.

What’s that?, came the mumbled response from behind his book.

I told him that it’s a law some lawmakers are trying to enact. If passed, HB 5043 will provide for population and reproductive health programs to be implemented from the barangay to the national level.

I added that the Reproductive Health bill mandates government agencies to inform Filipinos of the available safe choices about managing the size of one’s family, protecting the health of the mother and children, preventing sexually transmitted infections and other concerns related to reproduction.

Sex education will also be introduced in schools, I concluded.

Yes, was the only reply coming again from behind the book.

Unsure whether it was my son speaking or his book ricocheting sounds from the chaotic jungle of adolescent thoughts, I asked him to explain what the “yes” referred to.

Now recalling what transpired then, I realize that I didn’t ask only one follow-up question at a time, as the tradecraft of interviewing dictates so the source does not feel he’s dropped in the eye of a storm (or being chased by a tire-happy mongrel).

What I actually did was to bombard my son with questions, some of which ended with an interrogative inflection but with an imperative tone: what were you told before you signed the petition? How can you sign a petition for or against anything and not know what the matter is all about? Did you consider not signing that petition?

When my son finally put down his book, I saw that he considered the last question as one of those silly-mother thoughts: Ma, who would do anything against the priests?

I reversed tactics, hid my bared fangs: do you ever discuss sex in your lessons?

The book again went up: No.

Though I know my son sometimes despairs for my soul, my record of bites and misses attests that I am better than Monsi in resisting the lures of baiting bishops, if only because it feels that, as a Catholic, I am trying to bite my own tail.

For the nation is least at risk of impassioned debate, whether for or against the Reproductive Health bill. I cannot say the same for the Catholic form of obedience. 09173226131

* Published in Sun.Star Cebu’s Nov. 16, 2008 issue

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