.- The Catholic clergy in the Philippines are strongly campaigning against political candidates who back a controversial “reproductive health” bill, helping stall its progress because politicians fear a backlash from Catholic voters.
Bishop Arturo Bastes of the Sorsogon diocese has instructed his priests about a campaign to inform the laity about candidates’ position on the bill, CBCP News reports.
“This is an important issue and this is a very good test whether the Philippines is a Catholic country or not,” the bishop told the Archdiocese of Manila’s Radio Veritas. “I hope even those who are not Catholics who believe in the sacredness of life will not vote (for) the politicians pushing for the RH bill.”
The legislation would mandate sex education in schools and subsidize contraceptives as part of a population control program.
Archbishop Ramon Arguelles of Lipa had particularly forceful words against the bill.
“We must use the Catholic vote and show them what the real Catholic is. There are fake Catholics here, they are the ones ruling in our country,” he said. “We can only stop ethnic cleansing, (the) contraceptive mentality, immorality, increasing number of broken families, and promiscuity if we vote for candidates who love life.”
Catholic leaders are also concerned that some of the contraceptives might cause abortions.
The Catholic campaign is having an effect. Although bill supporters like President Benigno Aquino III predicted it would move through the House of Representatives, required debates on the measure have been postponed because not enough lawmakers are attending to hold a quorum. Lawmakers are either missing sessions or leave after roll is called.
House Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales II said most of the absent lawmakers are supporters of the bill.
Manuel Mamba, head of the Presidential Legislative Liaison Office, told the Philippines Inquirer News that lawmakers do not want to provoke their parish priests by appearing in the deliberations on the bill or voting for it.
“If you’re a politician, you stay out of trouble. They (the clergy) are not even the enemy. Why provoke them? By voting for the measure, you’re provoking the Catholic hierarchy,” Mamba said. “In local politics, there is a Catholic vote, especially in areas where the clergy are very influential on their flock. If the clergy are popular, they have the pulpit. They can do it every Sunday.”
Backers of the bill have said surveys show over 70 percent of Catholic voters support the bill. Some backers, like bill co-sponsor Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago, have said activism from bishops and clergy constitutes a “borderline violation” of the constitutional separation of church and state.
Bishop Arguelles responded that the separation of church and state limits the state from showing religious favoritism.
“This does not mean that the church cannot comment or speak on moral issues,” he said. “The Reproductive Health bill is a moral issue.”
Rep. Rufus Rodriguez of Cagayan de Oro City has suggested that some political leaders are changing their mind on the bill not only because of fear of political backlash.
“They now realize that it violates the Constitution, is coercive in nature, is morally incorrect, it assaults the Catholic religion, is medically unsafe, and is an unsound policy for a developing economy,” he said, charging that the bill will waste “billions of pesos” on condoms and contraceptives instead of investing in education and health care.
Some backers of the bill are playing political hardball, threatening some skeptical lawmakers that funding for the regions they represent will be cut if they do not vote for the bill.