MANILA, Philippines?A network of Catholic lay organizations across the country is gearing up for protest actions after President Benigno Aquino signified his government might provide assistance to couples who want to limit their children even with the use of contraceptives or other means of their choice.
Preliminary consultative meetings among lay leaders, most of whom supported Aquino during the elections, were to take place in the capital within the week, said Fr. Melvin Castro, executive director of the Catholic bishops' Episcopal Commission on Family and Life.
Castro said the Catholic clergy, including the bishops, would back such protests, which would later trickle down to the provinces.
"Our lay leaders, who have their own families, see the need to be very visible in this protest and we respect their freedom," Castro told the Inquirer over the phone on Tuesday. "On the side of the clergy, we will simply support them in this initiative."
The protest would initially take the form of letters to legislators and national leaders and, later, members will take to the streets to send a stronger message to Aquino.
"This is not to be confrontational with the President, but among them are people who really supported him during the elections, so I hope he would listen to them because these are the people who elected him into office," said Castro.
"We have to react no matter how we respect the President because this is a serious matter... it is the Filipino family at stake here," he added.
During a satellite television interview with members of Filipino communities around the world while in San Francisco on Monday, Aquino declared that he may provide contraceptives to poor Filipino couples who want to limit the number of their children through their method of choice, including contraceptives.
Such statement "deeply hurt" the Catholic Church, which firmly opposes artificial means of family planning, such as the use of condoms and birth pills. It prefers the so-called natural method, such as the rhythm and abstinence.
Castro said that Church and the faithful had anchored hope on Aquino that as a son of a pro-life champion, the late former President Corazon Aquino, and being surrounded by four sisters, he could be "influenced" to address poverty through economic means, not by population control.
The Church also feared that Aquino's pronouncement would not only revive but reinforce the reproductive health bill, whose passage it blocked in the 14th Congress.
"We fear that it (Aquino's statement) will not end here but hopefully and we are praying that we are wrong," said Castro.
But the Church, he added, was gearing up for future government moves on the matter, including the mobilization of lay groups and the faithful, and intensifying values formation and catechism down to the barangay chapels.
"So whatever the government would do in the near or far future, our faithful will have a well-formed conscience," he said.
Meanwhile, Antipolo Auxiliary Bishop Francisco De Leon perceived Aquino's statement as a "passive stance" on birth control. "But what is happening on the local level is more aggressive," De Leon said over the Church-run Radio Veritas.
He said local health officials were the ones telling couples what should be done instead of letting the latter decide. The prelate added that the Church would continue to advocate for "pro-life" rather than Aquino's "pro-choice" stance.