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Palace to Church: Cool it

Tension over reproductive health bill escalates

MANILA, Philippines—Appealing for sobriety, Malacañang on Sunday sought to heal a widening rift between Church and State over the controversial parenthood bill that last week saw prelates threatening civil disobedience and President Benigno Aquino III warning he would jail them.

“We have different positions here, but probably we should explain our positions within the means of the law. That is what the President is saying. There is room for debate, it doesn’t have to degenerate to illegal acts or anything like that,” Communications Secretary Ricky Carandang told reporters.

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“It would be better that we calm down a bit and discuss the issue at hand,” the President’s deputy spokesperson, Abigail Valte, said over the state radio, adding that Mr. Aquino was merely reminding that Filipinos have a civil duty to pay their taxes used to finance public programs.

Tension flared when several members of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) last week declared an “all-out war” using pulpits against the reproductive health (RH) bill pending in Congress and warned they were prepared not to pay taxes in a civil disobedience campaign.

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Mr. Aquino, a 51-year-old bachelor who has said he is prepared to face Church excommunication in supporting the RH bill, countered that tax boycotts were seditious and could lead to criminal cases.

“He can put us all in jail. We are all willing to pay the price to save the unborn from modern Herods and to save the executioners from the grasp of the evil one,” Lipa Archbishop Ramon Arguelles said in response to the President’s statement.

“He sounds like Marcos when his mother called for civil disobedience. What happened to his mother’s terrorist and his father’s tormentor?” Arguelles told CBCPNews, the bishops’ news website.

The archbishop was referring to the late Corazon Aquino’s action against Ferdinand Marcos following allegations of fraud in the snap election of 1986 that led to the ouster of the dictator.

‘Charge us all’

Cotabato Auxiliary Bishop Jose Colin Bagaforo said Mr. Aquino’s sedition threat was “most welcome.”

“Let him charge us all bishops, priests, religious, all the faithful with sedition,” said Sorsogon Bishop Arturo Bastes.

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Jaro Archbishop Angel Lagdameo called for calm and a “wait-and-see attitude” but also added that, in the end, Catholics have to “obey God and not man.”

Fr. Jerry Oblepias, director of the Diocesan Family and Life Ministry in San Pablo, Laguna, over the weekend said the Church had always been consistent and strong in its opposition against the RH bill.

“The Church is motivated by genuine love and concern for the people and the poor, unlike the RH bill proponents who are certainly motivated by the love of money and they use the poor for them to stay in power,” said Oblepias, whose statement was also posted on the CBCPNews.

Emotional tantrums

Oblepias was reacting to Gabriela Rep. Luz Ilagan who said that the Catholic Church was already showing “a symptom of scarcity of arguments” when the CBCP disengaged last week from a dialogue with the Palace.

The CBCP’s move was an indication that the Church was “bankrupt” of reasons why the RH bill should not be legislated, with Church leaders resorting to “threats, name-calling and emotional tantrums,” according to Ilagan.

Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago on Sunday acknowledged that civil disobedience was a valid form of protest.

“That is an accepted method of dispute resolution provided that the passive resisters are willing to go peacefully to jail when they violate the existing law,” Santiago, a former trial court judge, said in an interview.

That’s why, in the event of a nationwide movement to boycott payment of taxes, the delinquent taxpayers should not resist “if they are haled to court by the BIR, and accept the decision of the judge, either a fine or imprisonment,” she added.

Enrile against bill

Sen. Panfilo Lacson agreed: “If they don’t want to pay taxes, they’re liable for tax evasion. If we allow this, what about the rest of the 94 million Filipinos who depend on social services? If we pay and you don’t pay and you don’t get punished, that’s unfair.”

As the debate rages, Mr. Aquino may have a tougher time convincing the leaders of the Senate to pass the bill.

While his counterpart in the House is keen on getting the measure approved on final reading, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile maintained that he was opposed to it.

“I don’t know whether we can tackle it here. I have many questions. I don’t know if they’re going to have enough numbers to pass it. I already said I’m against it and I can’t support it,” Enrile told reporters.

Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III also has openly opposed the measure, recently exposing that the government’s allocation for family health did not reach its beneficiaries from 2008 to 2010.

Senate approval seen

Sen. Pia Cayetano is set to present for floor deliberations the health committee report on the lone RH measure authored by Santiago, her colleagues said.

Santiago predicted that a majority of the senators would vote for the approval of the committee report.

“I see a win in the Senate,” she said, adding that even reelectionist senators would vote for its approval to endear themselves to voters who favor the bill.

“Some astute senators recognize the fact that a greater majority of voters are in favor of the bill. If they want to win the election, they have to support the RH bill,” she added.

Of the 23 senators, six are seeking reelection in 2013. With reports from Philip C. Tubeza, Jocelyn R. Uy and TJ Burgonio

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TAGS: Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III, Churches (organization), Conflicts (general), Government, Juan Ponce Enrile, Legislation, Population, protest, State budget & taxes
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