MANILA, Philippines - President Aquino has started discussing the issue of family planning with leaders of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), a Palace spokesman said yesterday.
Mr. Aquino, who has declared he prefers to leave the choice of birth control to couples, had lunch with members of the CBCP last Monday at Malacañang.
“It’s a sign that both sides are open for further dialogue. It was a pleasant dialogue where the President had a lunch meeting with the bishops,” presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda told a briefing.
During the meeting, Mr. Aquino reiterated his pro-choice stance on the issue of contraception. The Catholic bishops, in turn, reassured him that he is not in danger of being excommunicated.
“The President explained that he is not favoring a particular side,” Lacierda said. “It will lead to further dialogues.”
Present during the meeting were Presidential Management Staff head Julia Abad, Health Secretary Enrique Ona, Social Welfare Secretary Corazon Soliman, Tandang Bishop Nereo Odchimar, Archbishops Ricardo Vidal of Cebu, Antonio Ledesma of Cagayan de Oro, and Chito Tagle of Imus, Cavite.
An official of the CBCP, who requested anonymity, said the meeting was not yet a formal discussion on the Church’s opposition to the Reproductive Health (RH) bill but a courtesy meeting with the President.
After the lunch meeting, the 11 members of the CBCP Permanent Council held a meeting on the bill from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m.
Early this month, the CBCP called a ceasefire on their criticism to the RH bill to defuse the tension with Malacañang.
Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said other religious groups should be included in the dialogue on family planning.
“It is not only the Catholics that should be heard. As I understand, our Muslim brothers also have a stand on the issue,” she said. “We will look into it if they also want to open a dialogue with President Aquino.”
The Catholic Church, which has a following of around 85 million nationwide, has so far been the most vocal in opposing the passage of the RH bill because it promotes both natural and artificial family planning.
Around 10 percent of the country’s population belong to the Muslim minority while the remaining five percent is divided into other religious sectors, among them the Iglesia ni Cristo, Aglipayan and Baptist groups.
Artificial contraception is a sensitive issue in Philippine politics because of the Church’s proven ability to intercede in politics. Because of this, politicians seeking reelection bend to pressures to refrain from passing laws that contradict Church teachings.
The Church argues that contraception is a form of abortion. Proponents of contraception, however, have argued that rapid population growth and high fertility rates worsen the poverty in the country.
Since the post-Marcos era, especially during the administration of former President Corazon Aquino, a devout Catholic, no law on reproductive health was passed.
In recent years, the Church has spearheaded the opposition to a reproductive health bill that calls for contraceptives to be provided in government hospitals and sex education to be taught in public schools. The bill is pending in the House of Representatives.
“There are certain moral dimensions to the issue of the RH bill and certainly you cannot stop them (Catholic Church) from doing so,” Lacierda 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. ”
Delon Porcalla, Philippine Star