.- Philippines Catholics have strongly criticized President Benigno Aquino III for signing a controversial “reproductive health” bill, vowing to oust supporters of the legislation in the country's 2013 elections.
“We will exhaust all legal remedies to fight this unjust, unethical and anti-poor and anti-life law,” said Dr. Ricardo Boncan, a spokesman for the Catholic Vote Philippines alliance.
He said the president's decision to sign the bill in secret Dec. 21 was “highly dishonorable and unprincipled,” citing the president's prior statement indicating he would not sign it before Christmas.
“This, to us, has been the hallmark of his presidency, deception and dictatorial,” Boncan said, according to the Philippines Inquirer.
The legislation requires government-sanctioned sex education for adults, middle school and high school students, as well as a population control program that includes fully subsidized contraceptives under government health insurance. It requires health care workers to refer for the drugs even if they have religious and moral objections.
Opponents of the bill warned that it would contribute to a breakdown of the family, strengthen a contraceptive mentality and advance sexual immorality. They also voiced concerns over the health risks posed by artificial birth control and the potential of some contraceptives to cause early abortions.
On Dec. 17 the Philippines House of Representatives approved the legislation by a vote of 133-79 with seven abstentions, while the Senate passed it by a 13-8 vote with two abstentions.
The debate over the bill included accusations of corruption, bribery and threats to obtain the necessary votes.
Juan Carlo Argo, a young pro-life advocate opposed to the bill who observed some of the legislative proceedings, told CBCP News the bill’s passage was “a bitter experience.”
“But the fight ain’t over. I can still help save lives in my own little way,” he said.
Amy Lee, another bill opponent, said she felt a mixture of sadness and “great determination” to fight the bill and evangelize the teachings of Jesus Christ.
“I am just unable to be a more obvious presence in the fight but I support a stronger Catholic presence in politics,” she told CBCP News.
Fr. Melvin Castro, executive secretary of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines’ Episcopal Commission on Family and Life, also expressed resolve to continue opposition to the law, the Philippines Inquirer says.
The fact that President Aquino signed the bill in secret without media attention shows that the law “is not meritorious at all,” he said.
“The fight against the Culture of Death goes on. We can only lament that this was their gift to the Lord and to the Filipino people during Christmas season.”
Before the president signed the bill, Archbishop Socrates B. Villegas of Lingayen Dagupan characterized it as a “moral time bomb.” He called for efforts to strengthen families and marriages and to educate young people “so that they can stand strong against the threats to their moral fiber.”
Catholic bishops’ conference officials have said they would support Catholic lawyers’ efforts to challenge the law before the Philippines Supreme Court.