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Philippines Catholic leadership opposes reproductive health bill
Publication Date : 05-08-2012
The Catholic leadership yesterday denounced President of the Philippines Benigno Aquino III for supporting the reproductive health bill, saying it undermined his promise to the people to stamp out corruption.
“You heard when candidate, now President Noynoy Aquino said during his campaign, “Kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap (without corruption, there will be no poverty),” Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas said in a message read for him by the country’s former ambassador to the Vatican, Henrietta de Villa, to thousands of Catholics at the historic Edsa Shrine who braved the rain and foul weather to protest a proposed law that would provide free contraceptives in a bid to curb population.
“My dear youth, contraception is corruption. The use of government money, taxpayers’ money to give out contraceptive pills is corruption. Contraceptive pills teach us it is all right to have sex with someone provided you are safe from babies. Babies are a nuisance,” said Villegas, whose attack on Aquino was unprecedented as he is a close friend of the President’s family, a confidante of the late president Cory Aquino whom he called “Tita Cory”.
“The use of taxpayers’ money for contraceptives is corruption,” Villegas told the protesters who were mainly dressed in red. Organisers said this was to symbolise the “martyrdom” of the unborn child.
Anti-RH bill politicians, led by Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, attended the prayer-rally. Senators Gregorio Honasan and Tito Sotto arrived to cheers from the crowd.
“We should not politicise the RH bill,” Honasan said.
Asked if the Aquino administration tried to convince him and other opponents of the legislation to support it, Honasan said there were no overtures to him. “In fairness to the president, there was no partisan politics,” he said.
Show of force
The influential Catholic Church, which organised the protest, has consistently opposed various attempts to pass a reproductive health measure over the past 10 years.
The Edsa Shrine rally, which counted students, lay people and priests, was a show of force by the Church ahead of the House vote on Tuesday when representatives will decide whether to close debate on the issue and send the bill for amendments, a shortcut that will speed up its adoption.
The Mandaluyong police estimated that 7,000 people attended the mass action. The Eastern Police District said the crowd reached 10,000 in the afternoon.
The present incarnation of the bill seeks to provide universal access and information on natural and modern family methods and would encourage families to have only two children to reduce poverty. Its supporters say the bill, if carried into law, will cut down the number of mothers and babies dying at childbirth.
The Church maintains that modern contraceptive methods prevent procreation, which should be the only function of sex. Should the bill pass Congress, it will produce an “abortion generation” and encourage infidelity, Villegas said.
The president came out in support of the bill in his State of the Nation Address in Congress late last month. In a statement just before yesterday’s rally, he said that in a situation where couples “are in no position to make an informed judgment, the state has the responsibility to provide”.
The proposed law would use the state-run PhilHealth insurance fund to provide birth control pills, condoms and other contraceptives for free. It would give the poor preferential access to family planning services in state hospitals, while lessons on family planning and sex education would become compulsory in schools and for couples applying for a marriage license.
The House of Representatives, dominated by Aquino supporters, is expected to pass the bill on Tuesday after failing to do so last year. But the Senate must also pass the law and has come out strongly against it.
Church prelates said the Aquino administration seems to regard the RH bill as an easy way out of its economic troubles.
Aquino should not look at the Philippines’ burgeoning population as a problem, Villegas said. Corruption in the government is the reason for the country’s slide to poverty, he said.
“A culture of contraception looks at babies as reasons for poverty. Birth control, they say, means more food, more classrooms, more houses and better health for mothers. If more babies are the cause of poverty, are we now saying "Kung walang anak, walang mahirap (If there are no children, there will be no poverty)?"" Villegas said.
“We can have more classrooms, more food, more jobs if we would be less corrupt,” he said.
The Church hierarchy bristled at suggestions by the bill’s supporters that they are just a group of old men who are out of touch with the plight of women and the poor.
Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Tagle said the Church has always been on the side of the downtrodden.
“It is not true that the Church has no compassion for the poor. If others see the poor as statistics, the Church sees them as human beings,” he said.
“The poor are not numbers,” Tagle said.
RIP to RH bill candidates
Some Church officials did not shy away from reminding lawmakers that their vote could affect their chances of victory in the next elections.
Bishop Gabriel Reyes, head of the Episcopal Commission on Family and Life, said the Church would be issuing guidelines to voters in the 2013 local elections that will tell them to choose a candidate who are pro-life.
El-Shaddai leader Mike Velarde, in his speech before the Mass, said: “Those who vote for the RH bill. You know what will happen. RIP.”
Streamers and banners hung from the walls of the shrine and from the highway railings. One of the banners read: Yes to Saved Sex, No to Safe Sex. Church officials said the availability of modern contraception methods would encourage premarital sex and erode morals.
In a message to the youth, Villegas reminded them that “contraception makes sex cheap”.
“When we teach you that contraception is corruption, we are not being insensitive to the challenge of modernity...We are just being protective of you because it can destroy you sooner than you think,” he said.
“Artificial contraception could open the door for marital infidelity and a general lowering of standards. We, your elders, plead with you. Don’t follow that path to moral corruption. Dare to be different. Dare to be better,” Villagas said.
Aiming for 50,000
Although the skies had cleared by late afternoon, the first part of the program was marked by rainshowers and fairly strong winds.
Senior Superintendent Armando Bolalin, Mandaluyong chief of police who helped secure the rally area, estimated the crowd at 7,000 to 10,000 as of 2:30pm.
His deputy chief, Superintendent Cris Landicho, also the assistant ground commander of the Mandaluyong City police deployed in the vicinity, had a more conservative estimate of 5,000 people as of the same time.
Bolalin said that had it not rained, the 50,000 crowd that the organizers were aiming for would have been met.
He expressed doubt that participants would even reach half of that figure by the end of the prayer rally, which was scheduled at 7:00pm.
The Palace legislative liaison officer merely shrugged off the presence of Enrile, Sotto and Honasan at Friday’s rally.
“We have the numbers. It’s easier to pass the RH bill in the Senate,” said Manuel Mamba, chief of the Presidential Legislative Liaison Office, which acts as a go-between between presidential palace and Congress.