Clerics bash President as anti-Christian, not like Cory
MANILA, Philippines—As if making good the resolve of Church officials to use this week’s Lenten observance to push its reproductive health (RH) agenda on the Catholic faithful, two leading clerics have come out with a stinging rebuke of President Benigno Aquino III for the latter’s undisguised support for reproductive health legislation.
Retired Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Oscar Cruz called Mr. Aquino “anti-Christian” for challenging the Church as it were in boldly declaring that he was willing to be excommunicated if that is what supporting the controversial reproductive health bill would entail.
“It’s like he’s taunting us. He’s practically saying, ‘let’s see who wins.’ It’s childish. If you’re a leader, you win people, not alienate them… He has a sense of omnipotence, of arrogance,” Cruz said in an interview with ABS-CBN television late Monday.
In Laguna, Fr. Jerry Oblepias, diocesan director of Laguna’s Family Life Ministry, Tuesday said Mr. Aquino was a “bad Catholic” with a “conscience that is not well-formed,” in his support for the controversial RH bill.
“He is misled. What he is thinking as ways to solve poverty are the easy and lazy ways. He must face the real issue, that we are poor because of bad governance and bad economic policies,” he said.
In a speech at the University of the Philippines (Diliman) graduation rites last Sunday, the President said: “I am aware of those who are opposed to it (RH Bill) but it’s my obligation as a leader to reach out to all sectors and talk and explain this to them calmly—even if some are saying I should be excommunicated.”
Mr. Aquino said he was willing to take that risk because he believed that slowing population growth would reduce poverty in the Philippines.
The Church has made it a crusade to block the passage of the RH bill now pending in Congress, claiming that it endorses abortion.
It has for the past 10 years blocked the approval of the proposed legislation which it said advocates “abortifacients.”
Different from Cory
Oblepias noted that Mr. Aquino’s latest declaration for the RH bill was so far from his election campaign battle cry of “kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap” (where there is no corruption, there is no poverty).
“I am very sad that P-Noy apparently does not know the meaning of [excommunication]… He is really totally different from his mother (the late President Corazon Aquino),” he said in a phone interview.
Malacañang Tuesday decried as “unfair” Cruz’s calling Mr. Aquino anti-Christian.
“I think that’s an unfair judgment of the President. Just because the Palace favors couples to be given information and education (on family planning methods), it is called anti-Christian,” said deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte.
Valte reiterated that Mr. Aquino was against abortion as this was against the law.
What the President has been pushing for is that through a responsible parenthood law, couples will be given access to information about family planning methods so that they can make an informed choice, she explained.
In a phone interview Tuesday, Oblepias said the President has a “falsified conscience” and has an utter disrespect for the “resounding” sentiment of thousands of Catholics around the country who are calling for a complete rejection of the RH bill “which they condemned to be anti-life and anti-family.”
He said Mr. Aquino’s insistence that the RH bill should be approved into law is only exposing his ignorance of his responsibility as President who should lead the country based on the rule of law.
The priest said Mr. Aquino should set an example by respecting the Constitution.
“He should study well the RH bill, [and] whether or not it truly conforms to the Philippine Constitution,” said Oblepias.
The prelate said the President’s latest statements endorsing the RH bill “signals an impending tough battle between the pro-RH bill and the pro-life advocates aggressively fighting it.”
Those opposing the RH bill, the so-called pro-life groups, argue that the main provisions of the bill violate the constitutional provision that says in part: “The state recognizes the sanctity of family life and shall protect and strengthen the family as a basic autonomous social institution.”
The Constitution also provides for “[the protection of] the life of the mother and the life of the unborn from conception,” pro-life advocates said.
They also argue that the bill’s provision promoting the use of oral contraceptives and devices contradict the constitutional mandate “that the state shall protect consumers from trade malpractices and from substandard or hazardous products.”
Oblepias said he would propose another mass action against the RH bill during the forthcoming assembly of Church leaders at the diocesan pastoral council meeting on April 26.
The Church assembled the biggest rally so far against the RH bill on March 25, managing to muster a crowd of 40,000.
Still open to dialogue
But congressional leaders remain confident that the Church remains open to a dialogue on the RH bill even after Mr. Aquino’s infamous dare.
“I think many congressmen have not closed the doors to a dialogue with the Church in the hope of hammering a mutually acceptable bill,” said Aurora Rep. Juan Edgardo Angara.
Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Teodoro Casiño said the President and lawmakers were not out to pick a fight with the Church.
“We’re just pursuing good public policy, in this case better maternal and child health care and providing couples with both natural and artificial options for managing family size,” he said.
Angara said he supports the bill’s provisions on values-oriented and age-appropriate sex education and health services for the poor. But he said he did not agree on some aspects of it such as pegging an appropriate family size and compelling businesses to provide reproductive health services.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson said Mr. Aquino was on the “right track” in pushing population management to curb poverty, and that this should not be viewed as “anti-life.”
“Finding ways to curb our monstrous population growth rate, which has been a major part of our poverty problem, is one sensible approach in poverty alleviation,” Lacson said in a statement.
Far from being anti-life, Mr. Aquino’s advocacy of population management was “pro-country and pro-people,” said Lacson, who filed in a previous Congress a bill seeking to create a reproductive health and population management council to implement an integrated policy on reproductive health.
The House has already passed its version of the RH bill at the committee level, while the Senate is still conducting hearings on Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago’s version, Senate Bill No. 2378. With reports from Gil C. Cabacungan, TJ Burgonio and Christine Avendaño
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