MANILA, Philippines—Better late than never.
One week before the May 10 elections, the Catholic Church has sought to enlist candidates running for public office in its campaign against a controversial reproductive health (RH) bill that seeks to curb a runaway population growth blamed for creeping poverty.
At least two presidential candidates—Sen. Manny Villar and Councilor JC de los Reyes of Olongapo—Sunday signed the covenant to protect life and to oppose the RH bill that both the Senate and the House of Representatives failed to enact at the close of their regular session in February.
A sprinkling of senatorial candidates was also on hand for the event that followed a Mass said by Manila Archbishop Gaudencio Cardinal Rosales.
But Rosales later told reporters that the candidates’ signing the covenant did not mean that the Church would support or campaign for them.
“Probably, you will give it a political innuendo, saying that those who signed will be the candidates of the Church or who will be campaigned for by the Church,” he said.
“I don’t think that’s the essence of the covenant. They are really intent on preserving the sacredness, unity, quality of the Filipino family that we have now.”
In his homily, Rosales reiterated the stand of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) against the reproductive health bill and spoke at length against its sex education component beginning at Grade 5.
“There is a basic reverence and dignity that life demands, at whatever stage it is found,” he said. “No one should insult the value of both love and life and the values of the Filipino families and the fidelity they put in both.”
Rosales said this was why there was no need to teach the young the use of contraceptives and that sooner or later they would know how these devices worked.
The Constitution, Rosales said, states that the government should support the parents’ right and duty to rear the youth for the development of their moral character.
“Shall we say now that teaching the young how to put on those contraptions is developing moral character?” he asked.
“There is something wrong here. Let us pray that we have better thinkers for the country,” he added.
Vote pro-life candidates
Rosales also warned against the “power, the lobby and the money” behind those pushing contraceptives. “Do not sell the Filipino family down the drain. There are more people outside our country who welcome our values, our traditions and our faith,” he said.
Rosales’ Mass at Manila Cathedral was followed by the signing of the covenant for life wherein candidates pledged to block the RH bill as well as measures that will push for divorce, euthanasia, abortion, tyrannical population control and homosexual unions.
Before the Mass ended, Council of the Laity national president Edgardo Tria Tirona called on Catholic voters to elect only those who follow the Church’s pro-life position.
“We reiterate our solidarity with our Church leaders on the imperative of protecting the sanctity of life … Let us elect only those who have made clear their belief in the sacredness of life and vow to protect it,” Tirona said.
“We have always been pro-life. This (covenant) is an affirmation of our pro-life position,” Villar later told reporters.
“Of course, we will implement this. This is my belief and it will be my guide if I’m elected president,” Villar said. “I will not make it law. You decide for yourself. In other words, you have the right to do what you want.”
“I’ve always been pro-life,” he said, pointing out that he opposed the RH bill, along with Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr.
Fr. Melvin Castro, executive secretary of the CBCP’s Commission on the Family and Life, said other presidential candidates had signaled their intention to sign the covenant.
However, Edwin Lacierda, spokesperson for Sen. Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III, the leading presidential candidate in the surveys, said that the Liberal Party standard-bearer did not get an invitation to the signing.
Aquino has been criticized by Catholic groups for his stand on the RH bill, but Lacierda said that Aquino did not support the measure in its present form.
He explained that Aquino maintained that the country’s high population growth “must be addressed.”
“The state should inform and educate the public, especially the poor, of their choices of family planning, both natural and modern,” Lacierda said.
“We should leave it to the parents to choose the size of their family and the method. So, our end-position respects the conscience of each individual,” he added.
Lacierda said Aquino would not restrict the public’s choice only to natural family planning, the only method approved by the Church.
“If you are Catholic and you choose only natural family planning methods, then that’s OK. But the government should not restrict the choices of the public,” he said.
Other politicians present at the Mass were Pimentel, his daughter Gwendolyn, who is running for the Senate, former Sen. Francisco Tatad, and Ang Kapatiran senatorial candidates Jo Imbong, Adrian Sison, Rizalito David and Manuel Valdehuesa.
Bill proquality life
Rep. Edcel Lagman of Albay, the bill’s principal author, has said that the measure seeks to provide information and access to both natural and modern family planning methods which are medically safe and legally permissible.
“The bill is not anti-life. It is pro-quality life,” Lagman said. “It will empower couples with information and opportunity to plan and space their children.”
He denied that the bill would lead to legalization of abortion. He said that many Catholic countries such as Mexico, Brazil and Ireland, banned abortion while vigorously promoting the use of contraceptives.
The bill does not claim to be a cure for poverty, Lagman said.
“It simply recognizes the verifiable link between a huge population and poverty. Unbridled population growth stunts socioeconomic development and aggravates poverty,” he said, pointing to a 2004 study by the Asian Development Bank.
The National Statistics Office estimates that there were 92.2 million Filipinos as of 2009, a third of them surviving on a dollar a day, the poverty threshold defined by the World Bank. The population is projected to hit the 100-million mark by 2015.