By Gel Santos Relos
There is a separation of power between the Church and the State. Let President Aquino and the lawmakers do their job. If the government finally enacts the RH bill into law, the leaders of the Catholic Church still have all the power to exercise their rights and fulfill their obligation to advocate and push for the use of natural contraceptive method. They can and should use the pulpit, or whatever platform they want, to guide and enlighten their faithful followers in making the right and moral choice on this issue. But what the Catholic Church can’t do is to use force or intimidation to hold hostage the very same right of Filipinos of different faith --- the right to choose according to their own conscience.
“Mr. President, Most experts agree, particularly in developing countries, the key obstacle to economic prosperity is unbridled population growth… Would you be willing to champion more strongly family planning principles? After all, when unwanted pregnancy is prevented, there no longer exist the need for abortion.”
This was the question raised during the” Global Pnoy Townhall Meeting sa TFC” that I moderated on the last day of President Noynoy Aquino’s first official US visit. While the problem of overpopulation has been with us for decades, the urgency of the issue has reached another tipping point because of recent news about fetuses being found in garbage bins, and babies being abandoned in airplane and ship in the Philippines by their own mothers.
“I think the government is obligated to inform everybody of their responsibilities and their choices. At the end of the day, government might provide assistance to those without means if they want to employ a particular method” said the President in response to the town hall meeting question.
The CBCP took President Aquino’s stand of “responsible parenthood” as a go signal for his allies in Congress to pass the Reproductive Health bill. Immediately the Catholic bishops expressed their disappointment and reminded Aquino that it was his mother, Former President Cory Aquino, who made sure life is protected under the 1987 Constitution.
The bishops asserted that the use of contraceptives is just like abortion which kills life. They warned that if the President would continue supporting the passage of the RH bill, they would not hesitate to lead another “people power”, again reminding him that it was the same “people power” supported by the Catholic Church that helped catapult Cory Aquino to Presidency in 1987.
Former Archbishop Oscar Cruz, also the whistleblower who said jueteng has had a resurgence during President Aquino’s administration, even warned of an even more massive protest against the administration-- bigger than the church-led civil disobedience. “Pero pag talagang ipipilit nila ito at si Bishop ay kikilos, sigurado akong may iba pang kikilos. Ang problema dito, ang kikilos ay hindi lamang yun ‘pagkat ayaw sa contraception, kikilos din yung ayaw kay Aquino and dumadami ito,” he warned.
The Catholic Church’s strongest threat yet was delivered by Bishop Nereo Odchimar of Tandag, Surigao del Sur, the current CBCP president who have been understood to have said that even President Aquino may be covered by excommunication. "Well, being the President of all, you must consider the position of the Catholic Church because we are approaching these issues from the moral aspect like the unborn. Abortion is a grave crime. Excommunication is attached to it. That is an issue of gravity, that is a violation of God's commandment," Odchimar said.
When asked if Aquino might be excommunicated if he insists that government should distribute artificial contraceptives, Odchimar was quoted saying, "That is a possibility.... Right now, it is a proximate possibility." Later, CBCP clarified Odchimar’s statements were taken out of context and said that he did not specifically call for Aquino to be excommunicated. The Catholic Bishops said they look forward to a dialogue with the President about this issue.
This issue of overpopulation and the need for the passage of a law to address this been put in the back burner, administration after administration. In the previous Congress, lawmakers did not show up for sessions that were scheduled to tackle the RH bill.This time may be different. House Speaker Feliciano "Sonny" Belmonte said Congress will take the risk and push for the passage of the controversial reproductive health (RH) bill amid opposition from the Catholic Church.
Amid all these “threats” and pressure from the Catholic Church, President Aquino reiterated his stand. “We are all guided by our consciences. My position has not changed. The state’s duty is to educate our families as to their responsibilities and to respect their decisions if they are in conformity to our laws." Presdential Spokesman Edwin Lacierda empasized, "The President's stand is for responsible parenthood and not abortion." This government policy is being pushed so that no woman will have to resort to abortion and abandonment.
The Philippines is a democratic country, and of course, the Catholic Church--- like any other sector of our society, is protected by the Constitution to exercise her right to lobby for their position on issues they feel strongly about. The Bishops of the CBCP and many pro-life advocates have been doing just that for many years, as they assert that the government should just push for the natural family planning method, or “abstinence” because all the other method are against the rules of the Catholic Church and the Christian faith.
But President Aquino is also obligated by the same Constitution and have sworn to be the President of ALL Filipinos--- not just of Catholic or Christian Filipinos. In fulfilling his role as Chief Executive, he needs to execute the laws of the country, push for policies and programs that will be for the betterment of ALL Filipinos, regardless of whether it will win the approval or blessing of the Catholic Church.
President Aquino categorically stated during the town hall meeting, “ I will not embark on a situation that forces couples to go one way or another. ..I believe the couple will be in the best position to determine what is best for their families, how to space it, what methods they can rely on …They bear responsibilities for their children’s well being and the government is there to assist them”.
There is a separation of power between the Church and the State. Let President Aquino and the lawmakers do their job. If the government finally enacts the RH bill into law, the leaders of the Catholic Church still have all the power to exercise their rights and fulfill their obligation to advocate and push for the use of natural contraceptive method. They can and should use the pulpit, or whatever platform they want, to guide and enlighten their faithful followers in making the right and moral choice on this issue. But what the Catholic Church can’t do is to use force or intimidation to hold hostage the very same right to choose of Filipinos of different faith.
*Photo courtesy of Prof. Antonio Villegas Jr.