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Population bill advocates turn to Iglesia for support

By Marlon Ramos
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 05:20:00 09/24/2008

Filed Under: Population, Family planning, Churches (organisations), Legislation, Religion & Belief

MANILA, Philippines?Health advocates pushing for the passage of the controversial reproductive health bill in the House of Representatives are banking on the support of the highly influential Christian sect Iglesia ni Cristo (INC) to counter the firm opposition of the Catholic bishops.

RH Advocacy Network (RHAN) and Forum for Family Planning and Development Inc. (Forum) said the support of former president Fidel Ramos and other business and political leaders would be critical in their campaign to gather enough House votes in support of the bill drafted by Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman.

In a press briefing in Quezon City Tuesday, Elizabeth Angsioco, RHAN secretary general, said they wanted to meet with senior ministers of INC to discuss their crusade to have Lagman?s proposed House Bill 5043 or ?Reproductive Health and Population Development Act of 2008? passed.

She said RH advocates were delighted with INC?s declaration of support, saying it was a ?pleasant surprise.?

?The support of INC is very crucial. They have a solid block vote as proven over time. Many of those in the House listen to leaders [of INC],? Angsioco said, referring to the religious group?s influence on lawmakers.

?Enlightened position?

INC?s stand on the issue, she said, was a ?good indication on how they process things. They really consult their members.?

After keeping mum on the matter for years, INC broke its silence last week by announcing its official stand on issues regarding family planning and contraceptives.

In a statement, the group said it would support the use of modern family planning methods ?as long as they are not abortifacient (a substance which induces abortion) in nature and they do not impose prolonged abstinence from sexual intercourse among married couples.?

INC said it opposed the rhythm method of family planning?which the Catholic bishops were espousing?as ?it is really contrary to nature.?

Angsioco said unlike the standpoint of the Catholic Church, INC?s view on reproductive health was ?an enlightened position which did not speak of religious dogmas.?

?I think that?s how our religious leaders should treat the issue. They should let the people decide,? she said.

Muslim viewpoint

Djalia Hataman, Muslim advocacy officer of RHAN-Youth, said they were expecting Muslim congressmen to unite in backing Lagman?s bill.

Hataman, wife of Anak Mindanao party-list Rep. Mujiv Hataman, said members of Darul Ifta, a group of Muslim elders based in Cotabato City, had issued a fatwa which is a religious edict endorsing all forms of family planning methods except ligation and vasectomy in 2004.

?But the fatwa also allows ligation and vasectomy if the mother?s life is in danger,? she said.

Angsioco, however, cleared that their group did not want to trigger a debate on population control policy among different religious organizations.

?If we confine the discussion on who will go to heaven or hell by supporting this bill, we will never arrive at a conclusion. We should keep the debate based on facts and not on religious beliefs,? she stressed.

Estrada?s support

Angsioco, likewise, underscored the importance of the stand of prominent business leaders on the reproductive health policy.

She said Washington Sycip, founder of auditing firm SGV & Co., and former Prime Minister Cesar Virata, who also heads Rizal Commercial Banking Corp., were strongly recommending the use of modern birth control methods.

Benjamin de Leon, Forum?s president, also expressed his optimism over the possibility that deposed President Joseph Estrada might formally endorse Lagman?s bill.

De Leon noted that Estrada?s former cabinet secretaries, including former Health Secretary Albert Romualdez Jr., had been openly supporting the bill.

He added that Estrada?s son, Sen. Jose ?Jinggoy? Estrada, had filed his own version of the measure in the Senate.

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