Under the afternoon sun, a number of bishops marched on the House of Representatives with other red-clad opponents of the reproductive health (RH) bill and came face to face with the measure’s purple-clad supporters who were camping out at the south gate of the Batasang Pambansa.
The opponents of the RH bill, holding each other’s hands, had to march a few more meters to the north gate at the other end of the compound.
“Pass the RH bill,” the pro-RH group shouted in Filipino as opponents of the bill filed past them while holding hands and singing “Ave Maria.”
The prelates who joined the march were Archbishop Ramon Arguelles and Bishops Teodoro Bacani, Broderick Pabillo, Jesse Mercado, Honesto Ongtioco, Romulo de la Cruz, Gabriel Reyes and Msgr. Clemente Ignacio.
With them were Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, Palawan Rep. Dennis Socrates, Quirino Rep. Dakila Cua and Davao City Rep. Karlo Nograles.
The bill provides that the State will prioritize the needs of marginalized households when it comes to providing reproductive healthcare services and devices.
Before the march of thousands to the Batasang Pambansa complex, a Mass was held at noon yesterday at the St. Peter Parish church on Commonwealth Avenue.
Height of insult
Some 20 prelates led the Mass, which was attended by 22 anti-RH bill representatives and celebrated by Antipolo Bishop Gabriel Reyes, chairman of the Episcopal Commission on Family and Life.
The church was packed with supporters all clad in red and sporting round stickers marked “Pass no bill” across the letters RH.
Msgr. Joselito Asis, Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines secretary general, told the Philippine Daily Inquirer that the Mass was to ask for the intercession of the Virgin Mary on whose feast day the congressional vote for the RH bill fell.
“We need her intercession to totally scrap the bill. We do not agree with the measure. We have to give a chance to the unborn,” he said.
Asis quoted Cotabato Archbishop Orlando Quevedo, who sent him a text message which said that Blessed Pope John Paul II had declared Dec. 12 the feast day of our Lady of Guadalupe. The text read, “It would be the height of insult to our Catholic faith to approve RH bill on this day of the Blessed Virgin Mary.”
In his homily, Lipa Archbishop Ramon Arguelles described the vote in the House as a “great battle.”
Praying for the Lady of Guadalupe’s intercession, the prelate said, “Great are the forces [set] loose to destroy our Filipino culture, eliminate our race from the face of the earth and destroy our religion.”
He asked the faithful gathered in the church to pray hard for the country’s leaders. “Let us pray hard for our President and ask him, ‘Mr. President please do not dangle the pork barrel before our representatives.”
The prelate likewise addressed lawmakers and said: “My dear legislators, especially those who are not here today, we pray for you. Please do not sell your souls for P280 million. You are worth more than that. Your eternity is at stake and the eternity of so many others.”
He further said, “Dear legislators please do not legislate what is immoral … Do not say the fetus is not yet a human being … They are people. They are body and soul …. Do not be Herods.” The archbishop was referring to King Herod, who in Matthew’s Gospel, had innocent babies slaughtered.
At the National Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Makati City, Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle urged lawmakers to listen to their bishops on the RH bill, saying Church prelates were speaking out of their duty as shepherds of their flock.
Tagle also appealed to all sides—Church people, lawmakers and the Aquino administration—not to let the heated debates on the RH bill cause hatred and irreparable divisions in the country.
“We are speaking because we are also seeking the common good as pastors and as citizens. Our voices are the voices of spirituality and morality,” Tagle said in his homily during a Mass
Tagle said the bishops were admittedly not experts on economics, sociology or finance but they would like to contribute to the national dialogue on the RH bill by speaking about its spiritual or moral aspects.
“We are not pretending to be economists or sociologists. We are pastors of our flock. We want to contribu te to the spiritual and moral aspect of this very complicated issue,” Tagle said.
“I’m also appealing to everyone—Congress, the Senate, the administration, Church people—I know this has been a hotly debated issue and the discussions have really become emotional. Tagos na tagos sa puso at buto,” Tagle said.
“But I’m asking that as we stand by our beliefs, let us not lose our respect and love for each other … (for) decency, respect and above all charity. Whatever is the outcome, if we lose respect and love (for each other), we will remain wounded,” he said.
“That’s why I’m asking everyone to let love rule our hearts as we stand firm in our convictions and principles. To stand by one’s principles does not mean losing trust on those who hold different views,” he added.