MANILA, Philippines?The president of the Catholic Bishops? Conference of the Philippines on Wednesday reminded President Aquino III that providing contraceptives to poor couples who opt for artificial birth control face excommunication from the church.
Speaking on the Church-run Radio Veritas, Bishop Nereo Odchimar of Tandag, Surigao del Sur, the current CBCP president, said that even Mr. Aquino may be covered by excommunication. Mr. Aquino, a practicing Catholic, has stood by his position that Filipino couples who choose to use artificial contraceptives should be allowed to do so.
"Well, being the President of all, you must consider the position of the Catholic Church because we are approaching these issues from the moral aspect like the unborn. Abortion is a grave crime. Excommunication is attached to [it]. That is an issue of gravity, that is a violation of God's commandment," Odchimar said.
When asked if Aquino might be excommunicated if he insists that government should distribute artificial contraceptives, Odchimar said: "That is a possibility.... Right now, it is a proximate possibility."
The Church reserves excommunication, its highest punishment for erring members, for those who assault the Pope or are involved in abortion. Catholic groups claim that some artificial contraceptives are abortifacients.
"But right now, we are open for dialogue," Odchimar said.
Unfortunately, according to the CBCP president, there has been no reply from Malacañang to the bishops' call for a dialogue.
"As a matter of fact we opened that already before his (State of the Nation Address). The CBCP issued an open letter stating our position that there should be a dialogue," Odchimar said. "We do not have any feelers. We don?t want to be confrontational. We want a dialogue. We are just waiting,? he said.
Odchimar said he has talked to bishops in Mindanao and the Visayas and they were supportive of calls by lay Catholic groups to hold protests against the government?s plan to distribute artificial contraceptives.
When asked if he still trusted Aquino, Odchimar said: "Aahhh... we will exhaust all peaceful means. I mean for means of dialogue. We will be discussing that when I go to Manila."
But the bishop added that the President's rallying call for Filipinos to take the "straight path" should be taken "with a grain of salt" because of his position on the use of artificial contraception.
"Because the position of the Church (is) that human life is conceived at the beginning of the conception, with contraceptive pills that are abortifacient, that is killing of the fertilized ovum," Odchimar said.
He reiterated the Church?s opposition to the passage of the reproductive health bill, which has been re-filed in Congress.
"We have been consistent with our position that we are against it. Because if the reason is the population problem connected to poverty alleviation, I don?t (think population increase) is a problem. (That) is not an issue," Odchimar said.
"There are also other things to be considered like the migration of people flocking to the cities and they cannot find work. Ours is an agricultural country. Agriculture should be enhanced," he said. "But it is ironic that the (International Rice Research Institute) is in the Philippine but we are importing rice from Vietnam which was ravaged by the Vietnam war. Vietnam is exporting rice to the Philippines."
Odchimar said the bishops were "aware that there is much money (for the) lobby for the passage of the reproductive health bill."
"It's an open secret that the pharmaceuticals and laboratories will be the ones who will benefit, because they are the ones supplying the pills and other contraceptive devices," he said. "We will be planning our next move....We do not have police power, we don?t discount the possibility of mobilizing the lay organizations," he added.