Catholic bishops are expected to troop to Congress on Wednesday to watch how the lawmakers will vote on the controversial reproductive health (RH) bill and to show their support for those who stand by the Church’s position.
According to Fr. Melvin Castro, executive secretary of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines-Episcopal Commission on Family and Life (CBCP-ECFL), the presence of the prelates in the gallery would be an expression of support for lawmakers who would vote against the family planning measure in line with Church dictates.
On the other hand, President Aquino had earlier called on his Congress allies to finally vote on the measure, which he has endorsed.
All the lawmakers are now in the “pressure cooker” because of the interest groups watching and trying to influence the outcome of the measure in the House, said Ifugao Rep. Teddy Baguilat, a coauthor of the bill.
These include Catholic Church officials and church groups, as well as Malacañang, Baguilat said, adding that both sides were expected to mount their own pressure tactics to attain victory.
Nonetheless, Baguilat urged his colleagues to take a stand and not shy away from the voting.
He said it would do the lawmakers good to listen to their constituents when they decide on how to vote on the bill. And as a coauthor of the measure, he believes they are on his side.
The majority of the population, particularly women, are in favor of family planning, surveys have shown.
Listen to the people
“It’s best to listen to what the people, the final arbiter in this debate, have to say,” he said. With this, no lawmaker should be afraid to take a stand on the bill, he added.
The RH bill mandates age-appropriate sex education in the schools and the promotion of birth control methods—both natural and artificial—by government health center. The measure is in line with women’s rights to information and access to reproductive technology. It also supports a more vigorous campaign against the spread of HIV-AIDS.
The Catholic Church, which is against artificial contraception, launched an all-out campaign against the passage of the bill.
In an interview with reporters, Castro said anti-RH legislators had urged the attendance of the bishops at the House gallery, saying they “need moral, spiritual [support] and the physical presence of the bishops.”
Prayer the main thing
“But the main reason the bishops will be there is to pray for the lawmakers,” the priest said.
While he couldn’t say how many bishops were expected to observe the crucial voting, Castro said he was hopeful there would be more of them on Wednesday than at previous deliberations on RH measure.
Before proceeding to Congress on Wednesday, anti-RH supporters, together with the bishops, will attend a noon mass at St. Peter’s Church on Commonwealth Avenue in Quezon City, Castro said.
“After, there will be a procession all the way to the Batasan. If all of us cannot be accommodated inside then we’ll just stay outside to pray,” Castro said.
Many other religious groups in the Philippines, however, are not against the measure.
Majority Floor Leader Neptali Gonzales II said the important thing was to get the lawmakers to attend the session and vote.
The House had been beset by attendance problems since November. But following the meeting with President Aquino last Monday, a quorum has usually been attained.
Gonzales said he hoped the lawmakers would participate in the actual voting and not stay away to avoid having to take a stand.
“I prefer that all members cast their vote one way or the other, or even abstain if that is their position, rather than not attend sessions or skip the actual voting round,” he said in a text message.
Each side has numbers
Supporters and opponents of the controversial bill both say they have the numbers on their side.
The reproductive health bill only got moving again last week with the opening of the period of amendments after a personal call from President Aquino to finally put the measure to a vote.
Since August the bill has not moved forward because of quorum problems and because opponents of the bill had been making lengthy privilege speeches.
The period of amendments has been moving relatively slowly as well because opponents have introduced nearly line by line amendments to the measure.