Dialogue on Philippines reproductive health bill fades, protests renew

Manila, Philippines, Aug 19, 2011 / 03:07 am (CNA).- Catholics are again planning protests and rallies against the proposed reproductive health bill. Catholic Church leaders say there are only “very slim” chances of further dialogue with the bill’s backer, President Benigno Aquino, who has made it a priority.

Bishop Rupert Santos

“We will definitely hold conferences, seminars and marches against the RH bill,” said Bishop Ruperto Santos of Balanga.

The goal of the “diocesan-wide campaign” is to protect the sanctity of human life and the family, he told CBCP News.

Backers of the reproductive health say it would address population growth and help alleviate poverty. However, critics oppose its use of government funds to provide free contraceptives, its requirements that schools hold sex education classes and that contraceptive information be distributed in public and private schools, in part because these measures would undermine morality.

President Aquino “slammed the door shut” on further dialogue with his decision to make the controversial bill a priority measure, said Fr. Melvin Castro, executive secretary of the Philippines bishops’ conference’s Episcopal Commission on Family and Life.

This is “very painful” because of the president’s statements that he wants dialogue with the bishops’ conference.

“It seems he didn’t really want dialogue and this proves it,” Fr. Castro told UCA News.

Archbishop Jose Palma of Cebu, the next president of the bishops’ conference, said he was “saddened” that the bill had become a priority. He called upon the faithful to strongly oppose the measure.

“I personally would like to exhort the many people who believe in the cause of the Lord, the values that the Gospel preaches and the stand that we have been defending these months to rally to this cause,” the archbishop said.

Protests in Bataan have the support of at least two members of the Philippines House of Representatives.

Fr. Joel Jason, head of the Family and Life Ministry of the Archdiocese of Manila, said the Aquino government should learn from other countries now suffering the negative impact of similar reproductive health policy.

He pointed to how Canada’s aging population is presenting the country with economic and social problems and said that the same situation is being faced by many developed nations that have adopted population control measures. More people in these countries are now leaving the workforce than entering it, posing major challenges to employers.

Fr. Jason warned against a “contraceptive mentality” and said the Archdiocese of Manila will further strengthen its campaign to educate lay people about why they should oppose the bill.