Bishops protest advance of Philippines 'reproductive health' bill

Philippines President Benigno S Aquino III Credit D Myles Cullen DOD CNA US Catholic News 8 6 12 Philippines President Benigno S. Aquino III. | D. Myles Cullen-DOD.

A "reproductive health" bill that would mandate sex education in schools and subsidize contraceptives will be "tragic and catastrophic" for Filipinos if it is passed into law, the Philippines' Catholic bishops said.

The bill advanced in the Philippine Congress on Aug. 6 after 14 years of consideration.

"May God have mercy on our Congress," said Archbishop Angel N. Lagdameo of Jaro, former two-term president of the Philippines' bishops conference.

The vote was originally scheduled for Tuesday but allies of President Benigno Aquino III held the vote Monday at a caucus of Liberal Party leaders and members.

Fr. Melvin Castro, head of the Catholic bishops' Episcopal Commission on Family and Life, criticized the way the bill advanced.

"They break their own rules. They really forced it today," Fr. Castro said. "It's railroading. They're destroying the very essence of democracy."

Fr. Castro said the president is "hard-hearted" for refusing to consider the concerns of bill opponents.

President Aquino has said the bill is needed to reduce high birthrates among the poor. It mandates "age-appropriate reproductive health and sexuality education" from fifth grade through high school.

Some bishops said Western backers have helped propel it forward.

Archbishop Ramon V. Arguelles of Lipa charged that foreign powers favor "the extermination of the poor and those who believe in God."

He said the bill is a manifestation of "imperialism" and its local backers are "traitors."

Bishop Arturo M. Bastes said the bill would slow development because the country needs people to "grow and progress."

He charged that the bill aims to decrease the population by preventing them from being born, which he said brings forth "a culture of death and darkness of sin."

Backers of the bill are playing political hardball. A lawmaker from the impoverished Samar Island said funding for several relief projects  for his district has been threatened if he does not vote for the bill.

The bill has drawn major Catholic opposition. On Aug. 4 the Prayer Power Rally against the bill gathered an estimated 60,000 people in Manila.

Archbishop Lagdameo hopes that the Philippines' House of Representatives will give more time to discuss the bill "so that they can see also its defects for the sake of the common good."

"Both sides must have an open mind for that good," he added.

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The focus will now shift to amendments to the bill.

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