Bishops: Fight against Reproductive Health bill not yet over

Evelyn Macairan - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - They may have lost the battle in Congress, but the war against the Reproductive Health (RH) bill is not yet over for leaders of the Roman Catholic Church.

Antipolo Bishop Gabriel Reyes said yesterday a group of Catholic lawyers was preparing to challenge the legality of the bill in the Supreme Court as soon as it is signed into law.

“We will support that petition... in the Supreme Court against the RH bill,” said Reyes, head of the Episcopal Commission on Family Life of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP).

“This is against the Constitution, against religious freedom… The Constitution, the government should protect the family and I think also protect marriage,” he said. “The RH bill is against the goodness of family, the stability of marriage because of these contraceptives and the result in other countries is promiscuity, premarital sex, and extramarital sex.”

But Batanes Bishop Camilo Gregorio said the setback was part of God’s “beautiful plans.”

“He tolerated the losing of the battle to purify all of us. It is saddening, but God will finish the war for us. We did our best,” he said in a text message to Church-run Radio Veritas.

The Senate and the House of Representatives approved the RH bill late Monday, putting it on course to be signed into law by President Aquino possibly before Christmas. The measure, however, would have to undergo fine-tuning at the bicameral conference committee before its enactment.

Anti-RH lawmakers led by Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez vowed to regroup next year and continue the fight.

“We are now in a time of reflection after this defeat,” Rodriguez yesterday said. “All these intense debates made us forget that Christmas is at hand and we need to remember the holy family.”

Reyes said the Catholic Church would also continue to urge the nation of nearly 100 million people – 80 percent of whom are Catholic – to ignore the provisions of the bill once it passes into law.

“We will tell Catholics ‘even if you are given free contraceptives, do not use them’,” he told reporters.

Reyes said it would be up to each individual bishop to decide whether to urge his diocese to vote against legislators who supported the bill.

He accused President Aquino of using pressure and government funds to get the necessary votes in Congress.

He said “forcing” lawmakers to abandon their principles in exchange for pork funds was a form of corruption. “This is more offensive because they are not using their money, but the government’s money in order that they get what they want, that is why I am very sad,” he said.

He also said President Aquino’s appeal for conscience vote on the issue was a sham.

“The struggle between the pro-RH and the anti-RH was really the struggle of Malacañang,” he said, warning that Aquino could become a “threat to democracy” with his domination of Congress. Aquino had certified the bill as urgent.

“I congratulate those who said ‘no’ because they know they are taking a risk but they remained steadfast and said ‘no’,” he added.

Reyes, meanwhile, said the CBCP would likely tackle the developments in the RH bill during its plenary assembly in January.

He also said the CBCP is prepared to draw flak for its stubborn resistance to the RH bill, adding that even Jesus Christ had to withstand criticism for His preaching.

“Good will be triumphant,” he said.

Asked to describe the prelates’ relationship with President Aquino, Bishop Reyes admitted that “now it’s not so warm. But there is no break. It has been a long time since we talked.”

On a meeting with the President, he said: “That can happen.”

“We will always use any means that is useful and practical so that it would not be signed into law,” he said.


For CBCP secretary-general Monsignor Joselito Asis, the RH bill was a “watershed” and would be followed by bills for the legalization of divorce, abortion, same-sex marriage and euthanasia.

He stressed that if that were the case the Catholic Church would fight against those laws too.

He also pointed out that it’s the lay people and not the CBCP who are preparing to file a taxpayers’ suit before the SC to block the implementation of the RH measure.

“These are the Catholics who would really defend their Catholic faith. There are several lay organizations who are volunteering to do that,” Asis said.

The Catholic Church had effectively blocked the passage of birth control legislation for over a decade, cowing legislators and political leaders by mounting huge protests and threatening to turn the public against them.

Proponents of the bill said it was necessary to bring down maternal death rates, which are among the highest in the region, help poor women avoid getting pregnant and even slow the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.

Asis said he was befuddled by Palace officials’ strong interest in the measure as shown by the presence of Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas, Budget Secretary Florencio Abad and presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda at the House plenary hall when the bill was being considered for second reading. He said the officials did not show up during deliberations on other pressing bills like the freedom of information (FOI) bill and the sin tax bill.

“We have never seen them lobbying. I do not know why they are interested (in the RH bill),” he said.

Asis said the faithful should be more discerning in choosing their political leaders in the coming May elections.

“We are a democratic country. The power really lies in the people. In selecting leaders, it is their constituents who decide on their legislators. It (RH bill) will open other bills detrimental to Catholic teachings. The people have to rethink or reflect. Our appeal particularly is to the Catholic God-fearing people. They should really think who they should put in government,” he said.

“We are all given free will. Even God does not force. Our task is to form conscience and the decision is ours but we are always accountable to it. The Church will teach, form conscience,” he added.

‘Moral time bomb’

The President’s signing the RH measure into law is tantamount to his giving the nation “a moral time bomb wrapped as a gift to celebrate Christmas,” Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas said in a statement.

“Conscience attempted to speak but it has been stifled,” he said. “They might have won through the tyranny of numbers but it does not mean that they are right. It is only a matter of time and then we will see more violations of ‘Thou shall not kill’ and ‘Thou shall not commit adultery’ among our families, our youth and children,” he said. With Eva Visperas, Paolo Romero


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