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Palace drafts new RH bill, elates bishops

By Christine O. Avendaño, Jocelyn R. Uy
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 05:04:00 01/25/2011

Filed Under: Government, Legislation, Family planning, Churches (organisations), Poverty, Population

MANILA, Philippines?Malacañang Monday assured the local Catholic Church that the responsible parenthood bill it was drafting and which President Benigno Aquino III had endorsed to Congress as one of his priority bills was not meant to set government population targets but to alleviate poverty.

For the second time, Palace officials and Catholic bishops met to discuss the President?s stand on family planning and the responsible parenthood bill, so named by the Palace apparently to distinguish it from the controversial reproductive health (RH) bills pending in Congress.

Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda, who was at the meeting, told reporters that Palace officials made it clear to the bishops the responsible parenthood bill was ?primarily a poverty reduction? measure.

This came after some bishops had expressed concern the measure was meant to target a particular growth rate, according to Lacierda.

Access to info

He said the bishops were assured this was not the case as the bill would aim to help the poor who tended to ?have big families? by giving them access to information on ways to plan family size.

?We give them choices for them to come up with a decision on when to have babies, spacing (their children) and all their concerns which in a large measure help them plan a family,? Lacierda said.

?It?s more again really of making sure the individual would live a life that they can afford without any burden on the family itself. That?s important and therefore again we?re saying, let?s provide access to all the information about it,? he said.

Lacierda said Health Secretary Enrique Ona was in charge of drafting the responsible parenthood bill and that it would be discussed in the Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council (LEDAC) meeting at the end of the January.

The Catholic Bishops? Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) said Malacañang had agreed with the Church?s position that the growing population had no relation to poverty.

Such an admission from the government was an indication that ?things were becoming clearer? for both the Church and the Palace as to the many issues surrounding family planning, said CBCP secretary general Msgr. Juanito Figura in a press conference Monday.

Not the reason

Figura said Social Welfare Secretary Corazon ?Dinky? Soliman revealed during the dialogue that the Cabinet in its cluster meetings had not pinpointed the upward population trend as the reason many Filipinos were living in poverty.

?According to her, the main concern of the government is to ensure that parents take good care of their children,? Figura said.

?We are beginning to see things clearer... we begin to know more about the government?s side and they also begin to understand our side,? he said.

Pampanga Archbishop Paciano Aniceto, chair of the CBCP Episcopal Commission on Family and Life, said the dialogue with Malacañang was a ?very opportune time? to explain what the Church meant by responsible parenthood.

Principle of generosity

?It?s a principle of generosity,? he said during the news conference. ?Couples are not obliged by the Church to bring into the world children they can?t raise as citizens of God but they should also not be stingy or selfish in bringing children into the world.?

Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III said Malacañang had softened on the RH bill by backing a responsible parenthood bill.

?It?s a sign of weakness of the RH bill. They have retreated because they know their position is not the right one,? Sotto, a pro-life advocate, told reporters.

?So their target now is to go for the poverty alleviation issue, and not population control issue. Then I?m with them,? he said. With a report from TJ Burgonio

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