Champion boxer Manny Pacquiao has sided with the Philippines’ Catholic bishops in a continuing controversy over a reproductive health bill that would fund access to free contraceptives.
Pacquiao said he would never have been born or become an international boxing champion if his poor, unemployed parents practiced birth control.
“God said go forth and multiply. He did not say go and have just one or two children,” the boxer said after a May 17 meeting with officials of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines.
In addition to being an eight-division world champion and the first boxer in history to win 10 world titles, Pacquiao is also a member of the Philippines House of Representatives.
He said that life is God’s gift that no man or government can rip asunder, according to CBCP News. He blamed poverty on corruption, not population size.
The boxer called on his fans to rally behind the Catholic Church and “follow God’s command, not man’s.”
Bishop Nereo Odchima, president of the bishops’ conference, praised Pacquiao’s stand.
“We are happy to have him with us, that he came on his own accord to be one with us and to assure us that he is with us in this fight, to defend human life,” he said, according to the Philippines Inquirer. “We welcome anybody who is as popular as Manny or an ordinary person who would promote the value of life.”
Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago, a backer of the proposed reproductive health bill, charged that Pacquiao was acting like a “fundamentalist.” She also saw an “element of hypocrisy,” as the boxer’s wife has been quoted as saying she was on the birth control pill. However, Pacquiao has said he was using self-discipline to space the couple’s children.
Pacquiao also clarified that his stand against the bill does not mean he opposes the government of his fellow party member Philippines President Benigno Aquino III, a strong backer of the bill.
In addition to funding contraceptives, the legislation would require sex education in schools. The bill has also drawn criticism for provisions which would jail critics who promote “inaccurate” opposition to it.
Aquino has said the bill would help control the population and help individuals exercise their “free will.”
Backers of the bill have said rapid population growth contributes to the poverty of the country, where about one third of its 94 million people live on $1 a day. They also claim it would help combat the spread of the AIDS virus and would cut down on unwanted pregnancies and illegal abortions.
Polling has reported strong public support for the legislation and Aquino’s supporters have a majority in congress, but there is no guarantee of passage. The country’s bishops halted dialogue with the government on the topic because the president is likely to push the measure ahead despite their concerns.
Bill opponents have tied red ribbons around Catholic churches in metro Manila as a symbol of life.
Debbie Rodrigo, a mother of five who is an advocate of Catholic teaching on natural family planning, told Channel News Asia that she opposes the bill not only because of her religious duty but because she is worried about the negative effects of artificial contraceptives on a woman’s health.
She also voiced concern about provisions that will teach sex education to children as young as 10.
“I am very concerned that the schools are already now supplanting the role of parents so this is not right. We feel that it's too much information for too young a child and for too long,” she said.
While Aquino has said the bill will not allow abortion, Fr. Melvin Castro of the bishops’ Commission on Family and Life said that reproductive health is an “initial step” toward abortion.
“The succeeding step will be the dissolution of marriage, to divorce. It will be one step at a time. So here they are introducing this contraceptive mentality. Because their basic idea is, when you promote contraceptives, you are promoting a mentality which is anti-life,” he said.
Some backers of the bill are trying to split Catholic opinion.
Bishop Leo Drona of Laguna, the region southeast of metro Manila, has warned that a group calling itself “Catholics for Reproductive Health Bill” is not an authentic Catholic group.
“The public espousal of measures that directly undermine these non-negotiable principles of the Catholic faith is a sharp wedge that cuts the unity of the Church,” the bishop said. He added that any Catholic who affiliates with such a group endangers his or her “spiritual well-being.”