Church leaders tell lawmakers: Listen to God’s wordBy Jocelyn R. Uy, Leila B. Salaverria, Michael Lim Ubac
Philippine Daily Inquirer
The Catholic Church hierarchy on Sunday urged lawmakers to listen to God’s word and remain steadfast in the face of President Benigno Aquino’s last-ditch attempt to mobilize support for Tuesday’s vote in the House of Representatives on the reproductive health (RH) bill.
“President Aquino will insist on it. He will convince them, but I hope they won’t be convinced,” Lipa Archbishop Ramon Arguelles said, referring to a Palace meeting over lunch with congressmen Monday.
“Let us pray that the Philippines will not be given to him on a silver platter,” Arguelles told reporters a day after a prayer rally against the bill at the rain-drenched Edsa Shrine.
“We are praying that they withdraw their support for the RH bill,” he said. “We need prayer to listen to God’s word and abide by whatever be the price, including contradicting the worldwide disastrous trend and redirecting the whole planet toward the goal God intends it to aim for.”
Fr. Melvin Castro, executive secretary of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines-Episcopal Commission on Family and Life, said Mr. Aquino had the right to invite lawmakers to a meeting on the RH bill.
“It’s his prerogative [but] we appeal to the prolife legislators to be steadfast,” Castro said.
The Catholic Church has staunchly opposed the passage of the bill over the last decade, saying that the use of artificial contraceptives was “antilife” and promoted promiscuity and a culture of marital infidelity.
Transportation Secretary Manuel Roxas told the Philippine Daily Inquirer that Liberal Party stalwarts would discuss “responsible parenthood” with the President in the caucus at Malacañang’s Heroes’ Hall on the eve of the House vote on whether to close debates and move forward action on the RH bill.
House Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales II said at least 160 lawmakers had confirmed attendance at the Palace lunch. He said minority congressmen were likewise attending the affair.
Palace officials insisted that they had the numbers to get the measure approved in the House. Proponents in the Senate were complaining, however, that the leadership in the House was delaying action on the bill, effectively putting the measure in limbo.
In a text message, Presidential Adviser on Political Affairs Ronald Llamas described as “unfair but not unexpected” the claim by Dagupan-Lingayen Archbishop Socrates Villegas in a statement issued at the rally that drew some 10,000 people despite stormy weather on Saturday that “contraception is corruption.”
“From the start, the anti-RH campaign has been characterized by false claims and misinformation. And while we respect the right of bishops, as ordinary citizens, to express their opinions, when they use their ecclesiastical office to mislead the public and to bully elected representatives, it crosses the line into impropriety,” Llamas said.
“Still, we remain confident that the proponents of the bill retain sufficient support in the House. The President, of course, maintains his firm support for the measure, as he made clear in his Sona (State of the Nation Address).”
Herminio Coloma, chief of the Palace communications operations, said the Church was “oversimplifying” the issue by focusing on contraceptives and abortion, which he added remained illegal.
“So, perhaps, they could calm down a little bit and search the truth from the real contents of the RH bill,” Coloma said.
He said the measure was part of the administration’s commitment under the Millennium Development Goals to provide “universal health care, with a specific attention to maternal health, and decreasing infant and maternal mortality rates.”
Coloma said a “uniform assessment” in the House showed “enough numbers to support the RH bill.”
Right to life
Albay Representative Edcel Lagman, one of the principal authors of the RH bill, said “it is the denial to women of access to medically safe, legal and effective contraception which corrupts their inalienable right to health and which could lead to maternal death.”
In a text message, Arguelles cited Pope Paul VI prophecy in his Humanae Vitae in 1968: “The man, growing used to the employment of anticontraceptive practices may finally lose respect for the woman, and no longer caring for her physical and psychological equilibrium, may come to the point of considering her as a mere instrument of selfish enjoyment, no longer as his respected and beloved companion.”
The prelate said the late Pope’s prediction was already happening. “The pill was approved in 1968 in the United States; divorce went up 200 percent, unmarried birth by 600 percent,” he said.
“In 1973, abortion was legalized as extension of contraception and on Internet pornography, women are now cheap commodities … the world failed to listen [but] the Filipino people listens,” Arguelles said.
He exhorted the faithful to continue praying for lawmakers in favor of family planning so that they would change their mind.
Despite the rains on Saturday, students, lay people, priests and nuns thronged the prayer rally to show Congress that the majority of Filipinos opposed the bill.
Castro said the rally was successful and added that “it was just the beginning.”
“I was very worried at first that many will leave early because of the rain, but they didn’t. It’s a powerful signal that the people are standing firm [against the RH bill],” the priest said. “I hope and pray that Congress and the President listen.”