Bishops’ presence at RH vote may backfire–lawmakersBy Leila B. Salaverria
Philippine Daily Inquirer
The presence of bishops of the Catholic Church during the vote on the controversial reproductive health (RH) bill would hardly scare the lawmakers into killing the measure, and this could even backfire against the bill’s opponents, its supporters believe.
Akbayan party-list Rep. Walden Bello said the lawmakers were not likely to be swayed into changing their positions on the RH bill. He said that based on his conversations with his colleagues, including those who are against the bill, many of them would not appreciate being made to look like they were intimidated into voting against the measure.
“They don’t want church officials to seemingly threaten them,” he said in a phone interview.
Catholic Church officials, who are staunchly against the bill, said they would go to the House of Representatives and watch how the lawmakers would vote on the measure this week.
Fr. Melvin Castro of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines-Episcopal Commission on Family and Life said the bishops wanted to show their support to the lawmakers opposed to the bill because of the Church’s teachings.
Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez said the presence of the bishops would give “spiritual guidance and moral courage” to the opponents of the RH bill and to those who were still undecided about their vote.
But RH bill sponsor Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman said the bishops should not order the lawmakers around when it comes to deciding the fate of the measure.
Not docile sheep
“Catholic bishops are welcome during the consideration and voting on the RH bill but they are cautioned not to demean Congress (representatives) by treating them like docile sheep to be watched and shepherded,” Lagman said in a statement.
“What (the) bishops cannot achieve by reason and persuasion, they must not pursue through fear and intimidation,” he added.
Lagman noted that the presence of bishops during House deliberations on the bill’s amendments had not succeeded in getting lawmakers to insert drastic changes to the measure.
“The presence of bishops in the plenary during the past session days did not save the ‘killer’ amendments proposed by RH critics from being voted down repeatedly,” he said.
Lagman said that if the bishops had intended to sow fear or intimidation among the lawmakers with their presence, this was unlikely to succeed “because fear is destitute of reason and must be resisted with conviction, and not be allowed to deter or delay legislation.”
Bello said proponents of the reproductive health bill were leaving it up to civil society groups to decide if they wanted to similarly mobilize their forces to show public support for the measure and match the mass movement of the Catholic Church.
He said that he and other authors of the bill were more concerned about ensuring that the lawmakers attend the final stretch of the RH bill amendments period and will be present during the vote.
Texting for presence
Bello added that he and the other RH bill coauthors had taken it upon themselves to constantly send text messages and talk to their colleagues to get them to attend House sessions and to stay until these are over.
The reproductive health bill seeks to distribute contraceptives and make other family planning methods available for free to the country’s poorest families. It however bans contraceptives that prevent the implantation of a fertilized ovum, as some consider this to be abortion.
The bill also seeks to provide age-appropriate mandatory reproductive health and sexuality education among adolescents in public schools, among other provisions.
The President Aquino, who supports the bill, had earlier gathered lawmakers in a luncheon and asked them to put the measure to a vote. But he stopped short of telling them which way to vote.