Catholic Church ‘show of force’
The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) leads tens of thousands in a prayer-rally at the Edsa Shrine in Mandaluyong City on Saturday to show Congress that most Filipinos oppose a bill that would curb the country’s population growth.
Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and Senators Vicente Sotto III and Gregorio Honasan will lead politicians who plan to attend the rally.
Sotto on Friday said he knew about a plot involving a foreign group to make the bill include abortion. He said he would expose the attempt during the interpellation of the bill’s proponents in the Senate next week.
In the House of Representatives, lawmakers will vote next Tuesday to decide whether to close the interpellation and send the bill for amendments, a shortcut that will speed up adoption of the Malacañang-backed proposal.
The Catholic Church views the Aug. 7 vote as a rush to impose birth control on the Filipinos.
President Aquino supports the bill, and the Palace has called on Congress to approve the measure as a major step in dealing with the country’s socioeconomic problems, particularly poverty and unemployment.
But the bill, after 10 years of failure due largely to opposition from the Catholic Church, is coming up for approval at a most inconvenient time for most of the allies of the President in both houses of Congress. They are facing their first election next year since coming to power with Mr. Aquino in 2010, and the Church has promised to campaign against their reelection unless they drop the reproductive health bill.
Next year’s midterm elections are mostly local races, and the Church believes it commands the local vote in this Catholic-majority country.
No Catholic vote
Supporters of the bill, however, say the legislators have nothing to fear if they vote to approve the measure because there is no Catholic vote in the Philippines.
Fr. Melvin Castro, executive director of the CBCP-Episcopal Commission on Family Life, on Friday acknowledged that, but said the supporters of the Church were a force to reckon with. An indication of that is the presence of senators in today’s rally at the Edsa Shrine.
Castro said the senators and other politicians who opposed the bill were “informally invited” to the rally, but he learned about their plans to attend only through the media.
“Everyone is welcome to attend,” Castro said. An “open invitation” to Church supporters in Congress has been issued “verbally,” he said.
Seven members of the minority in the House have withdrawn their support from the bill, winning praise from the Church.
Asked if the House minority’s titular leader, Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, was welcome to the rally, Castro said, “It is up to them.”
“This does not mean that we [give our] consent to any wrongdoing,” Castro said.
Not Aquino vs Arroyo
But Castro said he was “disheartened” by allegations that the rally will become a showdown between the Aquino administration and Arroyo and her allies.
“Don’t connect Arroyo’s cases to the RH issue,” Castro said. “We also respect the judicial process and let the former President face the charges filed against her,” he said.
Politicians who will be at the rally should not expect the Church’s endorsement in next year’s elections. The Church does not endorse candidates, Castro said.
Castro said the presence of the elders of the Senate and other politicians did not mean the rally was a political event.
“They will be onstage but they will not give speeches,” he said.
Church-led rallies against the reproductive health bill will also be held in dioceses across the country today. The national protest is centered at the Edsa Shrine, where candles will be lighted this afternoon to signal the Catholics’ opposition to the reproductive health bill.
Castro said lay people from Metro Manila and surrounding provinces would come to the shrine to show the lawmakers the public’s opposition to the bill.
The CBCP is not projecting the size of participation in the rally. “We can only hope for a big crowd,” Castro said.
Delegations are expected to come from Antipolo City and the provinces of Batangas, Pampanga, Tarlac, Bulacan, Sorsogon, Laguna, Nueva Ecija and Cavite, he said.
Sotto, the Senate majority leader, yesterday confirmed that he would go to the rally. “I would accompany JPE,” he said, referring to Enrile.
Sotto said the United Nations Population Fund and the International Planned Parenthood Federation were behind the push for a reproductive health bill in the Philippines.
He said a large pharmaceutical company was funding the campaign for the bill, and he would name the company in his speech during the interpellation of the bill’s proponents in the Senate, Senators Pia Cayetano and Miriam Defensor-Santiago.
Sotto said there were “16 issues against the bill,” and he would name them during his speech on Aug. 8 or Aug. 13.
“I will also expose the plot of a foreign group to smuggle abortion into the bill,” he said in a text message to the Inquirer.
Sotto said the bill could not be sent in for amendments until after his turn on the floor.
“Why do they want to take a shortcut?” he asked, referring to the proponents’ insistence on hastening the passage of the bill. “I’m just following the rules,” he said.
Earlier this week, Cayetano, principal sponsor of the Senate version of the bill, accused the Senate leadership of trying to stop the adoption of the measure. She said she had answered all questions about the bill so that the proposal was ready for a vote.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson, a supporter of the proposal, told a news forum that the Senate should now close the period of interpellation so that amendments could be adopted to put together a final draft.
Lacson criticized the Catholic bishops for claiming that passage of the bill would promote abortion.
That’s disinformation, Lacson said. In fact, he added, the bill has a provision that would increase the penalty for abortion.
Enrile and Sotto oppose the bill. Honasan has not decided how to vote, but is going to the rally at Edsa Shrine to join a prayer for national unity.
How the Senate will decide, he said, will have an impact on the country and the impact will be felt for generations.
Honasan cited the bad experience of some Asian and European countries with birth control—after slowing down their birth rates, they now have aging populations that must be supported by a few young people.
For Felipe Medalla, a member of the Monetary Board, President Aquino is right in supporting the reproductive health bill.
Speaking at a roundtable at the inauguration of the Angara Center for Law and Economics at Sofitel on Friday, Medalla said that while the country’s economic fundamentals were strong, economic growth was not sustainable because of the rapid population growth.
What the government needs to do to make economic growth sustainable is adopt a national policy to manage population growth, he said.
“I think the President has sent a very, very good message [in his State of the Nation Address on July 23],” Medalla said, pointing out that Mr. Aquino used the term “responsible parenthood” in his speech and not “reproductive health.”
“Unfortunately, some bishops reacted negatively,” Medalla said. With reports from Norman Bordadora, Michael Lim Ubac and TJ Burgonio
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