MANILA, Philippines—Advocates of the reproductive health bill are no better than terrorists because the measure could lead to the death of innocents, according to an official of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP).
Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma, CBCP vice president, reiterated the Catholic Church line that lumped condoms and other artificial contraceptives as abortifacients that would snuff out innocent lives.
The Catholic Church, led by the CBCP, opposes the bill because it believes the measure will give couples easy access to condoms and other methods of contraception that can cause abortion.
Palma expressed dismay with lawmakers supporting the RH bill, which the government believed would allow couples make the choice of what family planning methods to use in managing their family sizes.
Reacting to reports that the bill was gaining adherents even from other religious groups, Palma said on Radyo Inquirer: “I hope that it is not true. If it is, we can only pray.”
“If people vote because of money, then it’s almost like becoming Judas,” Palma said.
He said he wished the President would recall the “walang mahirap, walang corrupt” campaign promise “because threatening legislators that they will not receive their pork barrel if they will not support RH bills is a form of corruption.”
Malacañang has not issued a statement that the President will not release pork barrel to legislators against the bill.
Aquino has expressed opposition to abortion but said he favored giving couples “the right to choose how best to manage their families.’’
Cebu Archbishop Emeritus Ricardo Cardinal Vidal said on Monday that it would be futile for the Church to continue holding talks with Malacañang because the President had already made up is mind on the issue.
Malacañang refused on Tuesday to be painted as “the enemy” of the Church in the debate on the RH bill.
Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said Aquino wanted the government to serve as a “referee” to those for and against it.
Lacierda said the Palace has always been ready to resume its dialog with Catholic bishops despite Vidal’s call for the Church to back out from it.
“The Church should not look at the government as an adversary,” he said at a briefing.
He said the President would be “very open to a dialog.”
Lacierda noted that in late March, Palace and Church officials agreed to resume their dialog after the Holy week.
“Let’s focus on the common ground … We’re not the enemy here. We’re trying to bring all the forces together and arrive at commonalities. And let’s agree and to disagree on certain areas, but let’s explore our agreements more, and if it’s possible, put that into the bill,” he said.
He said that was the reason “the President continues to believe in the dialog with the Church as well as those who are pro-reproductive health bill.”
The Palace earlier initiated the dialog with the Church in an effort to to include its inputs in the bill.
After four meetings, the Church backed out and helped mount a protest rally last month to protest the RH bill.
Catholic bishops agreed to resume talks with the Palace upon Mr. Aquino’s invitation after the big anti-RH rally in Rizal Park in Manila.
Senator Gregorio Honasan II said the RH bill has become “too critical’’ an issue for the Church or any sector to give up on consensus-building dialogue.
He said a “comprehensive national dialogue’’ among all sectors would guide both the House of Representatives and the Senate that would eventually vote on the legislation.
“I disagree with the good Cardinal Emeritus [Vidal]. We can’t give up on dialogue. If we presume that there is a stalemate and the positions have hardened, public interest will suffer,’’ he said in an interview.
Honasan observed that since the dialogue among the Church, Malacañang, Congress and other sectors stopped, the stakeholders in the issue have resorted to a “media war.’’
While the Church is against the RH bill, other Christian groups like the Iglesia ni Cristo (INC) support it.
Lacierda said the Palace welcomed the move of other Christian groups to support the bill.
The INC, which endorsed President Aquino during the May 2010 elections, said it has been supporting modern methods of contraception “as long as these methods are empirically [not] abortifacients.”
Unlike the Catholic Church, which promotes natural birth methods, the INC views them as “ineffective” and “immoral” since they counter “the commandment that God has given to married couples.”
Protestant churches, including the National Council of Churches in the Philippines, United Church of Christ of the Philippines, the United Methodist Church, have also declared their support for the passage of the RH bill.
A priest said the Church would not argue with other religious groups promoting the measure to avoid religious conflict.
“The reproductive health bill is a moral issue so everybody has the right to speak on the matter regardless of religion,” said Fr. Melvin Castro, executive secretary of the CBCP’s Episcopal Commission on Family and Life on Tuesday.
He has appealed to the advocates of the bill to extend the Church the same treatment given to other Christian groups when it expresses its views on the bill.
“When the Catholic Church speaks against the measure, they invoke the separation of Church and State but when other churches speak in its favor, they don’t invoke it… let us be consistent about it because we are all stakeholders in this issue,” he said.
Former senator Francisco Tatad, a board member of a pro-life group, International Right to Life Federation, warned against using the RH bill to promote religious conflict.
“There need not be any religious conflict arising from this,” Tatad said at the weekly forum hosted by the Catholic Media Network in Intramuros, Manila on Tuesday.
But he noted that the varying views on contraception held by the Catholic Church and other religious groups “are real conflict of positions.”
“But the Church is not asking the State to enforce its teaching on population. It is simply saying that… if you pass the bill, you are trampling on the basic beliefs of Catholics,” Tatad said. With a report from TJ Burgonio