MANILA, Philippines?Cebu Archbishop Emeritus Ricardo Cardinal Vidal Monday said further talks between the Catholic Church and Malacañang on the reproductive health (RH) bill would be futile since President Benigno Aquino III had made up his mind on the controversial issue.
?If he has already such a decision, what is the dialogue for? I don?t see any point for the dialogue,? the recently retired prelate said over Church-run Radio Veritas. ?When you are into a dialogue, there should be no stand yet, but with the stand that they have already made, there?s no need for it.?
Viewed by the Church as a measure that would promote the use of condoms and abortion, the pending bill has divided the overwhelmingly Catholic country.
Mr. Aquino said in a speech at the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City, last week he believed a responsible parenthood law would be enacted by Congress and that it was his responsibility as a leader to explain the issues to the people, ?even if some are saying I should be excommunicated.?
?In the end, I have to decide. I have to follow my conscience and I need to do what is right,? he said at the UP commencement exercises.
His remarks had been interpreted in certain quarters as an endorsement of the measure.
In a five-point declaration posted at the Official Gazette on the same day of his UP speech, Mr. Aquino also said he was ?against abortion? but favored giving couples ?the right to choose how best to manage their families.?
No middle ground
Vidal said that for the President to say he was against abortion and yet open to the distribution of contraceptives to couples was a ?contradiction.?
?It is a contradiction because the Church believes that many of the provisions of the RH bill are leading to abortion because [contraceptives] are abortifacients,? he added.
Jaro Archbishop Angel Lagdameo, a former president of the Catholic Bishops? Conference of the Philippines, also expressed dismay at Mr. Aquino?s statements.
?I am sad that President Aquino has betrayed the trust of many Filipinos, especially in giving premium to life and family,? Lagdameo also said on Radio Veritas. He advised Mr. Aquino not to be rash in his decisions.
?[But] I would still like to believe that it is not yet the end. It all depends on who is for this argument or who is influencing the President,? Lagdameo added.
Palace welcomes debate
Malacañang is at least comforted by the thought that there is now a full debate on the matter of giving couples choices in planning the size of their families.
?The good thing about this is that we are encouraging individual thinking in the sense that we really all have to make, as individuals, the choice whether to support something or not,? the President?s deputy spokesperson Abigail Valte told reporters. She was asked whether the Palace welcomed moves by groups like the Christian sect Iglesia ni Cristo to support the reproductive health bill.
?As we?ve already said, people, groups and individuals are free to give their own stand on the reproductive health bill and, as what we?ve been pushing for, responsible parenthood,? Valte said.
Two party-list lawmakers claimed that parish priests were quietly supporting efforts to promote artificial birth control methods and sex education.
The real soldiers
Gabriela Rep. Luzviminda Ilagan said that unlike the bishops, parish priests were more ?grounded? on the real concerns of Catholic members.
?They are in closer contact with the realities of day to day life, the struggles and the hardships of the poor,? claimed Ilagan, one of the authors of the bill.
?The priests are the real soldiers of the faith, the disciples who tend to their flock and the RH bill is an attempt to respond to the call of the times and the practical needs of the poor.?
Akbayan Rep. Walden Bello called the parish priests ?the silent majority? in the Church who could not openly defy their leaders.
560,000 abortions yearly
Another advocate of the bill said the risk of complications in pregnancy and childbirth was higher than the danger posed by using contraceptives.
At the Kapihan sa Diamond Hotel, former Health Secretary Esperanza Cabral downplayed the side effects of using artificial methods, saying: ?The chances of dying during pregnancy and child birth are higher than taking oral contraceptives.?
Cabral said another problem the proposed law seeks to address is the reduction of the annual rate of induced abortions.
In the Philippines, the rate of induced abortions is 560,000 yearly, or more than the mortality rate of individuals, she said. ?If we pass the RH bill, everybody is given a choice. That rate will be reduced by less than half.?
Bishop Rodrigo Tano of the Interfaith Partnership for the Promotion of Responsible Parenthood (IPPRP) urged members of Congress to support the bill.
The IPPRP is composed of the INC, the National Council of Churches of the Philippines, United Church of Christ in the Philippines, Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches, United Methodist Church, Philippines for Jesus Movement, Iglesia Filipino Independiente, Christian and Missionary Alliance Churches of the Philippines, Seventh-Day Adventists, Salvation Army, Catholics for Reproductive Health, and the Episcopal Church of the Philippines.
Celebration of life
?We believe that the bill is truly pro-life, pro-family, pro-poor, and pro-national development,? said an IPPRP statement read by Tano.
In San Pablo City, Laguna, Fr. Jerry Oblepias, director of the diocesan Family Life Ministry, said Mr. Aquino was saying he was against abortion ?perhaps if only to appease the Catholic hierarchy.?
?My advice (to our President) is to understand that Easter is a celebration of life,? Oblepias said. With reports from Christine O. Avendaño, Gil C. Cabacungan Jr., Jeannette I. Andrade, trainee Azer N. Parracho in Manila; and Romulo Ponte, Inquirer Southern Luzon