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Palace junks own RH bill

Bishops’ pullout prompts admin to back House bill

MANILA, Philippines—With the Church decision to discontinue its dialogue with Malacañang on a controversial family planning measure, the Palace said it was dropping its plan to draft its own responsible parenthood bill and was now looking at the possibility of supporting the consolidated bill in the House that Catholic bishops find objectionable.

The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines’ (CBCP) decision to end the talks aimed at working out a common position on the reproductive health bill was “unfortunate,” but “communication lines” would remain open, said presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda.

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According to Lacierda, Palace officials had met with CBCP secretary general Msgr. Juanito Figura and CBCP legal counsel Jo Ombong and were told of the Church decision.

Two reasons were given: President Benigno Aquino III’s decision to implement a five-point statement on responsible parenthood and his speech at the University of the Philippines graduation rites last month where Mr. Aquino said he would push for the passage of a responsible parenthood bill despite threats of excommunication.

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‘Done deal’

Lacierda said the bishops were also apparently opposed to the consolidated House Bill 4244 which they said seemed to be a “done deal,” which was why they no longer want to hold talks with the Palace.

“I think it’s going to be their loss because whether you win in a debate or discussion, your voice ought to be heard. By moving away from the political arena they have abdicated their right to be heard insofar as the bill is concerned,” Lacierda said.

He said Mr. Aquino has been informed of the Church decision and has accepted it.

Mr. Aquino also said that the Palace was open to helping the Church on other issues such as social injustice and poverty, according to Lacierda.

Lacierda said the Palace legal team was now studying the consolidated HB 4244 which he personally thought has addressed some of the concerns of Mr. Aquino.

He said the sponsors of the bill, particularly Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, has been “amenable” to some of the President’s concerns and this had resulted in “drastic amendments” to the original bill, which also considered the objections of the Catholic bishops.

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Same agenda

In a press conference Tuesday, Figura announced that the bishops no longer saw any reason to continue a “serious study and dialogue” with the administration on the reproductive health bill.

Reading a statement from the bishops, Figura said HB 4244 and Mr. Aquino’s responsible parenthood agenda were “deemed to be basically the same.”

In the last meeting with Malacañang in March, the CBCP agreed to form a team that would take part in a focus group discussion to study and discuss the RH bill, which the Palace calls the responsible parenthood bill.

Cavite Bishop Luis Antonio Tagle, chair of the CBCP Episcopal Commission on Doctrine of Faith, Parañaque Bishop Jessie Mercado, chair of the Episcopal Commission on Laity and Antipolo Bishop Gabriel Reyes were designated to the CBCP team.

But the three bishops no longer attended the scheduled meeting Tuesday with Malacañang. Figura and Imbong went to the Palace but only to deliver the bishops’ message ending the dialogue.

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TAGS: Conflicts, Congress, Family planning, Government, Legislation
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