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Sunday, February 22, 2009

Bishops quit RH bill talks

Today's Banner Story of The Philippine Daily Inquirer: Bishops quit RH Bill Talks

Say senators ignored their views on birth control

By Norman Bordadora
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 02:51:00 02/22/2009

MANILA, Philippines—The conflict between lawmakers and the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines has come to a head, with CBCP representatives walking out of Senate discussions on the reproductive health bill and indicating they would no longer take part in such proceedings.

The CBCP representatives to the Senate committee on health’s technical working group meeting on Thursday on the controversial bill walked out because the Catholic Church’s views on population policy were not being taken into account, according to Fr. Melvin Castro, executive secretary of the CBCP’s Episcopal Commission on Family Life.

“What is the technical working group for? We give our views [but these] are only duly noted,” Castro told the Philippine Daily Inquirer on the phone. “They invited us just for the sake of consulting us.”

The Church allows only natural family planning and considers the use of artificial contraceptives as illegal.

Castro expressed fears that the CBCP’s continued participation in the committee proceedings would be misconstrued as consent.

“Nothing was happening. It seems they have already decided on the bill. The more we attend [the proceedings], the more we participate … it would seem like we already consented [to the measure],” he said.

Castro said the Senate and House versions of the reproductive health bill were essentially the same. He said only one provision in the House bill—that penalizing malicious disinformation—was taken out in the Senate version.

“It’s all the same. It’s not acceptable,” he said.


House Bill No. 5043 authored by Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman has yet to be approved on second reading and is currently under interpellation in the chamber.

Also known as the proposed Reproductive Health, Responsible Parenthood and Population Development Act of 2008, the bill promotes the use of both artificial and natural means of family planning.

It requires the inclusion of contraceptives in the supply purchases of government hospitals and mandatory reproductive health education in schools.

In the Senate, a number of measures concerning population management and development and reproductive and maternal health are also pending.

In a report posted on the CBCP news website, Castro said the committee dealing with the Senate version of the reproductive health bill would hear no more on its merits as though the Catholic leadership had already accepted it.

“If, in being part of that process, we will be compromising our stance, then as of the moment, we have opted not to be part of their process,” Castro said.

“If participating in such hearings will entail that we are already agreeing with the reproductive health idea itself, then we will not proceed with it because in the first place, we do not accept [it],” he said.

Castro said Thursday was the first time a member of the clergy, referring to himself, attended a hearing of the technical working group deliberating on the Senate’s version of the reproductive health bill.

“We respect their processes but as of now, that is our position,” he said in reference to the CBCP’s decision to forego any more participation in the proceedings.

It was lawyer Jo Imbong, executive secretary of the CBCP legal office, and representatives of other “prolife” organizations who attended previous committee hearings to push for the Catholic hierarchy’s position on population policy.

Church position

Castro reiterated that the CBCP was promoting only natural family planning, and was in support of values education instead of the proposed reproductive health education for school children starting in the fifth grade.

He said the CBCP was also opposing the proposed mobile reproductive health units that would be used to distribute contraceptives.

“They will be using taxpayers’ money, including those of Catholic taxpayers … They will be using Catholic taxpayers’ money against our own beliefs,” Castro said.

But Senator Biazon denied that Castro and his group were ignored during a technical working group meeting on the reproductive health bill.

“We’ve been dealing with them for some time,” Biazon said last night on the phone, adding that the position of the CBCP representatives would be “weighed” against the positions of other stakeholders. “We have to listen to them.”

Biazon, who has been tasked to sponsor the bill on the Senate floor, said the CBCP representatives would likely be invited again to another meeting.

“If they refuse to [come], that’s their right. We can’t impose our will on everybody,” he said. “We’ll continue to hear [the merits of the bill] but that’s not to say that we favor one specific position.”

Biazon defended the government’s right to pass a reproductive health bill, citing survey results that more than 50 percent of Filipinos favored “a population policy, including family planning.”

“This is an affair of the State. The State must respond to the needs of the people,” he said. “If the teachings of the Church are against the use of modern artificial contraception, the Church should touch base with their flock. They should go to the pulpit, and teach. I hope they’re fair when they do this.”

‘Isolated’ Church

Asked to comment on Castro’s remarks, Congressman Lagman said: “The Catholic Church will be isolated, sooner or later.”

Lagman said the ultimate decision on what to include in the reproductive health bill lay with the lawmakers.

He said Church officials were invited to the hearings so that they could air their side.

“You are not invited there to get what you want, but to [give] your views. If your views would not be consistent with what legislators think should be the national policy, you have to defer to the legislators,” Lagman said in a phone interview.

Asked if the walkout could intensify the CBCP’s campaign against the bill, Lagman likewise cited the surveys showing that the majority of Filipinos were supportive of the proposed law despite the Church’s opposition to it.

This backs the position of a group of professors of the Ateneo de Manila, a Catholic university run by Jesuits, who say that one can be a good Catholic even while supporting family planning. With reports from Leila Salaverria, TJ Burgonio and Inquirer Research