MANILA, Philippines – A leading Catholic bishop denied yesterday reports that he threatened President Aquino with excommunication if the government pushes through with the distribution of contraceptives.
At Malacañang, presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda yesterday said Mr. Aquino is the president of all Filipinos, not only Catholics, but also those belonging to other religions.
Lacierda said for this reason, the President has to be above every religious group, including the Catholic Church.
“Responsible parenthood is favorable to all members, all faiths,” Lacierda said.
Speaking over Catholic Church-run Radio Veritas, Tandag, Surigao del Sur Bishop Nereo Odchimar, Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines president, said the CBCP has not contemplated imposing the canonical sanction on Mr. Arroyo
“I deny the news report… that I threatened President Aquino with excommunication,” he said.
Odchimar said while there were a number of bishops who were dismayed and frustrated over Mr. Aquino’s position on artificial contraceptives, the CBCP has not given up on dialogue as a means to resolve the issue.
“I stated that the initial approach of this issue is to be in the spirit of dialogue and not of confrontation,” he said.
“Threat of excommunication at this point… can hardly be considered to be in line with dialogue.”
Odchimar said the penalty of excommunication is meted out to the principals and accomplices of abortion when certain conditions are verified.
Canon Law and Morals demand that the sanction is imposed under moral immutability of the sinner, he added.
Odchimar said the Catholic Church’s position is that human life starts at conception and not at implantation.
“Some contraceptive pills and devices are abortifacient,” he said.
“Any completed act to expel or kill the fertilized ovum is considered to be an act of abortion.”
Lacierda, on the other hand, said it would be better for families to have just two children instead of six when they could hardly survive.
Lacierda said it is understandable for the Catholic Church to get involved, owing to the “moral dimensions” of the controversial RH bill.
“There are certain moral dimensions to the issue of the RH bill and certainly you cannot stop them (Catholic church) from doing so,” he said.
Lacierda said Mr. Aquino’s “responsible parenthood” stance has remained unchanged.
“The stand of the President has been firm throughout the campaign, up to now it has never changed,” he said.
“We still believe, again, that our position is for responsible parenthood. We believe that the parents are the ultimate decision-makers after being informed of the various choices for family planning.
“We will respect whatever their decision is and if they require assistance from the state, we will help them.
“There is no bias towards any one particular method, all the methods will be presented. That’s why we are saying the choice must be informed.
“Insofar as the other methods of family planning are concerned, we are presenting everything. The Catholic Church believes in natural family planning, we are presenting that as well.”
Lacierda said the distribution of contraceptives has been included in the Department of Health’s budget for next year.
“I heard (Health) Secretary (Enrique) Ona mention that there is a budget for that, but I’m not very clear how much of the budget was proportioned towards the purchase of contraceptives,” he said.
“I understand from Secretary Ona (there is an) information campaign on all the methods of family planning but as to specifically how much was allotted to contraceptives I will ask Secretary Ona about that.”
Pacquiao backs Catholic Church on birth control
In Baguio City, boxing champion Manny Pacquiao said he backs the Catholic Church in opposing artificial birth control.
“As Catholic and God believer, I firmly believe that artificial birth control method is against the will of God,” he said yesterday.
The STAR interviewed the Sarangani lawmaker after his morning jogging and exercise routine.
Pacquiao said it is rampant corruption in government that should be resolved to lessen hunger and poverty.
“Implementation of a reproductive health program is not the cure to our country’s economic crisis,” he said.
“That’s in the Bible and one of God’s commandments, to go to the world and multiply, so we should not stray from it and instead focus on eradicating corruption. We should not blame the nation’s hardships on overpopulation because we have a budget,” he said in Filipino.
Pacquiao said as a lawmaker, he would hold barangay symposiums to educate the people on natural birth control rather than go against the law of God.
“I think education is a must,” he said.
“We need to inform that they should refrain from sex when fertile and on the consequences of having many children.”
Using contraceptives for birth control is tantamount to abortion, which he considers as murder and a mortal sin, Pacquiao said.
Nograles: No need for RH law
Davao City Rep. Karlo Nograles said yesterday a reproductive health (RH) law is not needed to control the country’s population.
“Why do we have to legislate population management when in fact even without it, our people have always been free to do what they think is best for their family,” he said.
“I think it’s best that we just leave it that way and let our people choose what they want.”
“It’s not illegal to use condom so why waste time and people’s money just to make a law that encourages the use of condom? It doesn’t make sense.”
Nograles said a law would just enrich manufacturers of condoms and other contraceptives.
Nograles said discussions in the House of Representatives on the RH Bill are a waste of time.
“Everything that is in that bill is being practiced by many Filipinos even without any RH law,” he said.
“This debate over the RH Bill is a needless distraction on our focus to bring unity and progress for our people and for our nation.”
Nograles said Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. himself, even if he is for reproductive health, is not sure about the eventual result of any vote on the RH Bill.
“He promised to have it discussed extensively and voted on, but that he would leave the matter to everyone’s conscience,” he said.
RH Bill proponents are underestimating the power and influence of the Catholic Church, Nograles said.
RH advocates to Catholic Church: Stop harassing government officials
Advocates asked yesterday the Catholic Church to stop harassing government officials backing the RH Bill.
Ramon San Pascual, Philippine Legislators Committee on Population and Development Foundation Inc. (PLCPD) executive director, said the threat of Catholic bishops of excommunicating Mr. Aquino is a form of blackmail unexpected of the clergy.
“Catholic bishops must stop threatening the President and allow him to do his duty of providing for the reproductive health needs of the Filipino people,” he said.
San Pascual said the bishops should let lawmakers “freely and intelligently” debate on the RH Bill.
“Instead of threatening the President and other lawmakers, the bishops should be decent and ventilate their position on the reproductive health bill in the proper venue,” he said.
Catholic bishops should participate in public hearings and other venues where they could present their positions and hear the opinion of other people, San Pascual said.
Thomas: US not involved in RH issue
The US government will not get involved in Mr. Aquino’s issue with the Catholic Church on the RH Bill, the US embassy said yesterday.
Speaking to reporters at Camp Crame, Ambassador Harry Thomas Jr. said the matter is not an issue for the US government or the embassy.
“(We will not) weigh ourselves into (the RH Bill),” he said.
Senators defend Aquino
Three senators defended Mr. Aquino yesterday from the Catholic Church on the issue of family planning.
Sen. Franklin Drilon said calls for Mr. Aquino’s excommunication were “exceptionally uncalled for” since the administration has not made any major policy shift on birth control.
“Threats and intimidation will not bring us to a rational conclusion on this controversy nor will they help solve the problems of the country,” he said.
“We lament and are saddened by the hysterical reaction of Bishop Odchimar.”
Drilon said a dialogue between the administration and the Catholic Church would be the best way to resolve the controversy.
Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago wrote Odchimar that excommunication for RH Bill backers is “too extreme.”
“I respectfully submit that the penalty of excommunication would be too extreme and disproportionate,” she said.
“It will raise constitutional issues on the church-state relationship.”
Santiago reminded Odchimar of the Catholic doctrines of freedom of individual conscience and liberation theology, which preaches the principle of preferential option for the poor.
Historically, excommunication, meaning expulsion from the Catholic Church and denial of the Eucharist, would place her and other legislators in the same category as those guilty of so-called serious sins, such as apostasy, murder, heresy, and adultery, she added.
Sen. Pia Cayetano, Senate committee on health and demography chairman, called on the people to rally behind Mr. Aquino for favoring the distribution of contraceptives.
“For standing by his pro-choice position despite mounting criticism and pressure from the Catholic Church, the President urgently needs support not only from the advocates of the Reproductive Health bill, but more importantly from every citizen who believes in the right of couples to make an informed choice on the issue of birth control,” she said.
“The Catholic Church has the right to propagate its teachings to its flock. But the State also has a duty to provide basic health services to its people, including reproductive health.”
Cayetano said freedom of choice is an integral part of reproductive health, and that no one is being forced to use one contraceptive over another.
“I urge mutual respect from the contending sides of this debate, and I continue to hope that both will find common points of cooperation and convergence towards forging a national family program that is comprehensive and acceptable to all,” she said.
RH Bill backers rally in front of CBCP
Twenty backers of the RH Bill held a rally in front of the CPCP office in Intramuros, Manila yesterday.
Monsignor Juanito Figura, CBCP secretary-general, met with the demonstrators and tried to explain the position of the Catholic Church to them.
However, the discussion became heated when Marlon Laxamana of the United Pagans of the Philippines dared Figura to explain how the clergy could give guidelines on RH when they have not experienced sexual intercourse.
Figura replied, “Wag tayo mag bastusan dito (Let’s not be impolite) Mister…what your name is. Let us be civilized. I accepted you. I listened to you. I came out of the office just to listen to you. Please be civilized as I face you in a civilized way. Let us respect each other, otherwise nothing good will come out of this discussion.”
Social Welfare and Development deputy executive director Rhoda Avila appealed to the CBCP to allow the government to do its job and fulfill its responsibility to give an acceptable and affordable family planning program to the people.
Figura said that the government had long been consulting the Catholic Church on several issues such as the plight of the overseas Filipino workers and illegal mining.
“What you only see now is how the Church meddles in the today’s issues,” he said.
“But are you aware that perhaps, in many times, when government agencies and offices sought the opinions, guidance and suggestions of the CBCP... This is not meddling because the government is seeking and soliciting the help of the government.”
Catholic bishops had asked for an audience with Mr. Aquino on the issue of the RH bill before his July 26 State of the Nation Address but they did not receive any response, Figura said.
Evelyn Macairan & Delon Porcalla, Philippine Star