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Aquino bucks Church, backs birth control

CBCP hurt more than disappointed

By Norman Bordadora, Jocelyn R. Uy
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 00:33:00 09/28/2010

Filed Under: Family planning, Churches (organisations), Politics, Grants and Scholarships, Foreign Aid, Population

SAN FRANCISCO?President Benigno Aquino III served notice he may give assistance to Filipino couples needing contraceptives if that is what they want, instantly provoking a Catholic Church leader to accuse him of ?selling out the Filipino soul? for American dollars.

Speaking in a satellite television interview on Sunday (Monday in Manila) with members of Filipino communities around the world, Mr. Aquino stressed the number of children a couple had was a matter of personal choice.

?I think the government is obligated to inform everybody of the responsibilities of their choices. At the end of the day, government might provide assistance to those who are without means if they want to employ a particular method,? Mr. Aquino said at a town hall meeting with Filipino expatriates here.

?But after saying that, I will not embark on a situation that forces couples to go one way or another,? he added, leaving to couples the choice of birth control method they want to use.

In Manila, Fr. Melvin Castro, executive director of the Episcopal Commission on Family and Life, linked Mr. Aquino?s statements to the US grant of a $434-million (P19 billion) financial assistance to the Philippines.

?It?s just a small amount compared to the moral values that we are going to lose,? Castro said. ?Apparently for that measly sum of money in the name of fighting poverty, here we are again, selling out the Filipino soul. It?s just sad.?

?We prayed and hope that the President would see through it, that he would not tie the country to a US ideology in exchange for this grant,? he added.

Castro said the Church was ?hurt more than being disappointed? with Mr. Aquino?s pronouncement.

Reproductive health

Mr. Aquino, on a weeklong visit to the United States, made the remarks in answer to a question on birth control. He adverted to a key provision in the pending Reproductive Health Bill that calls for public information on family planning methods and is strongly opposed by the Church leadership.

Mr. Aquino said some countries were already trying to reverse the ill effects of dictating a particular family planning strategy.

?I believe the couple will be in the best position to determine what is best for the family, how to space (the births), what methods they can rely on and so forth,? he said.

?They bear the responsibilities for the children that they are bringing in and government is ready to assist them.?

Consistent with platform

The President?s statements came three days after the United States and the Philippines signed the $434-million financial compact to help the administration combat poverty and check corruption.

The statements also appeared consistent with the pro-choice platform that Mr. Aquino adopted during the presidential election. In a statement published by the Inquirer during the campaign, he said that ?in the process of providing a range of options and information to couples, both natural family planning and modern methods shall be presented.?

Curbing the country?s population growth has always been a politically explosive issue in the Philippines, where about 85 percent of the people are Catholic and where the Church exerts a wide influence.

The latest census by the National Statistics Office (NSO) put the number of Filipinos at 88.6 million in 2007, with an annual growth rate of 2.04 percent.

The NSO projects the number of Filipinos this year at 94 million and estimates that by 2015, the country?s population will have reached 103 million.

Wrong solution

Some experts claim a large population is a major obstacle to economic development and exacerbates poverty because a burgeoning population tends to outpace economic growth.

The Church firmly opposes artificial means of family planning, such as the use of contraceptives, condoms, and birth pills. It favors the natural method, such as the rhythm and abstinence.

In July, the Catholic Bishops? Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) called on Mr. Aquino to drop government programs that promote artificial contraceptives as a means of family planning, and said poverty ?cannot be solved by promoting contraceptive education and programs.?

In a phone interview, Castro said the Church ?would rather focus directly on the people to give them the needed values formation so that whatever the government does, their moral values and thinking will remain intact.?

He said the Church had been expecting the government to carry out plans to provide contraceptive pills to poor couples following the US financial grant to the Philippines.

He said the Aquino administration was wrongly addressing an economic problem by providing a ?demographic solution.?

?Because the problem is economic in nature, the solution should also be economic in nature... we expected it but it?s still sad to hear it come from the highest leader of the land,? Castro said.

Diversionary tactic

Castro surmised that the Aquino administration was resorting to a ?diversionary tactic? to shift public attention from the successive setbacks it had suffered as a result of the Aug. 23 hostage-taking fiasco and the exposs by a Church leader on the alleged involvement of some people close to the administration to payoffs from ?jueteng,? an illegal numbers racket.

?Apparently, he (Mr. Aquino) wants to make enemies and take them on all at the same time,? Castro said. ?But he won?t solve anything if he is dipping his fingers into so many issues right now.?

Should be like Cory

Castro added: ?More than being disappointed, it hurts because many sectors of the Church supported him and were hoping and praying that he will be like his mother.?

He was referring to the late former President Corazon Aquino, the President?s mother, whose legacy, among others, Castro said, was the constitutional protection for the unborn child from the instant of conception.

Castro said the Church, through the bishops, would hold ?official and unofficial? dialogues with Mr. Aquino on the matter.

In Malacaang, presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said that Filipino couples would be given a slew of choices on ?whatever is acceptable to them.?

?When you say imposing birth control, it means you?re abdicating choice and leaving it to the State to impose that. That is not the position of the President. All the methods of planning would be provided to the Filipino public and it is up to the parents to decide what method they choose to use,? Lacierda said. With a report from Inquirer Research



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