Bishop sends gifts to solons; CBCP sticks to guns on RHBy Gil C. Cabacungan, Kristine L. Alave
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Archbishop Ramon Arguelles has taken a different tack in the Church crusade against the population control bill, sending congressmen gifts of religious trinkets and images of the Blessed Virgin Mary hoping those pushing for the measure would have a change of heart.
“Forgive me if in the past, due to the issues I as a Church servant have to uphold, I might have spoken uncharitably even to and about some of our government leaders,” Arguelles said in a letter that accompanied the gifts.
“Hoping and pleading for your kind understanding for this little attempt to reach you and humbly assuring you of our great respect and great expectations,” he added.
But not so the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP). It maintained its defiant stance against the reproductive health (RH) bill.
In a strongly worded statement, the CBCP on Tuesday slammed the Aquino administration’s display of “naked power” and “unbridled resort to foul tactics” in a surprise vote on Tuesday last week to stop debates on the bill. The CBCP likened the move to the blitzkrieg fashion in which the lawmakers impeached Chief Justice Renato Corona.
Lack of quorum
The lack of quorum prevented the House from starting the period of amendments Tuesday. “If there are no people, it means they have no support,” Parañaque Rep. Roilo Golez said of the proponents of the measure.
Arguelles had criticized President Aquino’s endorsement of the RH bill as “selective ‘matuwid na daan (straight path)’ program” and his push for Congress to speed up action on the measure as a “bad omen.”
“Aquino declared an open war, a head-on collision against us and against the Catholic Church. So terrible, so blatantly Aquino missed the point,” said the archbishop of Lipa a week before Congress abruptly voted on Aug. 6 to end the debates and proceed to the next battleground—the period of amendments.
“Of course not all our lawmakers are Catholics. But I appeal to Muslim legislators to accept this image of the woman they also look up highly in the Holy Book. To others, please, do not be offended but feel free to return the gift to us. This is just a sign of our assurance of prayers that Congress will do what is truly right,” Arguelles said in his letter.
Malabon Rep. Josephine Lacson-Noel on Tuesday said that she and other lawmakers were surprised by Arguelles’ gifts, which were ostensibly meant to sway their stand on the RH bill.
She said all the lawmakers received the gifts, including her husband, An-Waray Rep. Florencio Noel, who is opposed to the RH bill, and those belonging to other religious groups.
Pangasinan Rep. Kimi Cojuangco said she would display her gift in her office “as a reminder of my resolve to help pass the RH bill so that Filipino women, just like the Virgin Mary, will be given a better chance for a better life.”
Diwa Rep. Emmiline Aglipay, who received a pendant with an engraved image of the Virgin Mary, said her support for the bill was not about personal beliefs but about the obligations of the state.
“I am a Catholic congresswoman not a congresswoman of the Catholic Church,” Aglipay said in a text message.
Akbayan Rep. Walden Bello said: “I’m returning it, like I would return a monetary bribe. What does Arguelles think this is—the Middle Ages, when the Church could buy souls with indulgences?”
The CBCP, which declined to comment on the bill last week to focus on helping the flood victims, blasted the Aquino administration and its allies for abruptly ending the debates on Aug. 6, a day ahead of schedule.
When no one was looking
The CBCP said the move was “remarkable in its stealth and swiftness.”
“It came a full day too soon, just when no one was looking,” it said, referring to the preoccupation with the monsoon flooding.
“We are dismayed by the display of naked power. We lament the unilateral disregard of prior agreement in the pursuit of selfish goals. We detest the unbridled resort to foul tactics.”
The CBCP also called pro-RH bill legislators as “schemers” and described Mr. Aquino as an “intrusive” President. The CBCP said Aquino’s hand was clearly seen in the House, given the haste at which the bill was deliberated.
The prelates said the tactics used by the administration were “reminiscent of the events leading to the impeachment proceedings” against Corona, who was later removed.
Pork as bait
In a forum on Tuesday, CBCP president Jose Palma said there were reports that the administration dangled the pork barrel to lawmakers to gain their support.
He warned the administration against using the pork barrel to get the votes for the bill.
“This is owned by the people,” he said. “It should be given whether you are pro or anti-RH bill.”
Also Tuesday, an 11-page declaration signed by 160 faculty members of Ateneo de Manila University was released to reporters.
It called on lawmakers to “muster the courage and wisdom to vote (for the RH bill), not on the basis of vested interests, but in the service of the Filipino people and especially the poor from whom they derive and to whom they owe their mandate.”
“We believe that the key principles of the RH bill are compatible with core principles of Catholic social teaching, such as the sanctity of human life, dignity of the human person, the preferential option for the poor, integral human development, human rights, and the primacy of conscience,” the paper said. With reports from Jeannette I. Andrade, Leila B. Salaverria and Christian V. Esguerra