MANILA, Philippines ? The Philippines' main business groups on Tuesday declared their support for President Benigno Aquino III's plan to promote birth control, despite strong opposition from the powerful Catholic Church.
The Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry and four other major business organisations issued a joint statement following threats by bishops to mount protests against Aquino's population policy.
"We strongly believe government must encourage responsible parenthood and promote family planning as a direct strategy for poverty reduction and maternal and child healthcare," the statement said.
Although the statement did not mention Aquino, it said artificial contraceptives must be made available to the poor, a policy Aquino has supported.
"We believe such a focused policy of family planning must provide lowest-cost access for the very poor to the services and materials to implement their free and informed choice," it said.
The business groups also said that it was individuals, rather than outside parties, that should decide whether to use birth control devices.
It said that "various parties and interested sectors" ? an apparent reference to the church ? should only provide guidance and advice.
The business groups also stressed their opposition to abortion, which is illegal in the Philippines.
Aquino has previously stated that he supports a reproductive health bill in Congress that calls for state funding of contraceptives.
His position has drawn the fire of the Catholic Church, which counts more than 80 percent of Filipinos as followers.
Some bishops have warned that Aquino could be excommunicated for backing the bill and have warned of civil disobedience to stop the passage of the bill.
In an attempt to ease tensions, Aquino has met bishops and tried to downplay the row with the church.
The Catholic Church opposes artificial contraceptives and has in the past campaigned against public officials supporting them.
The bishops are often seen as providing moral guidance from the pulpit and remain politically influential as well.
Aquino's position has been welcomed by birth control advocates, who have pressed the need to stem the country's growth rate, which is among the world's highest.