CAGAYAN de ORO City, Southern Philippines – The Amnesty International-Philippines AIPh) is joining the debate on the need to pass the Reproductive Health Bill and is calling on the Roman Catholic Church to change its mind.
“We add the voice of AIPh in the call to pass the RH Bill as a significant step towards choosing life, as a step towards the realization of sexual and reproductive rights, and maternal health rights. We add the perspective of human rights in this campaign,” AIPh director Aurora Corazon Parong said.
Parong was here, Saturday, for the launching of the organization’s 2011 Human Rights Report.
The RH Bill, as popularly called, is House Bill No. 4244 in Congress and is captioned “an act providing for a comprehensive policy on responsible parenthood, reproductive health, and population and development.”
It is principally authored by Albay 1st District Rep. Edcel Lagman.
At the Senate, it is Senate Bill 2378, introduced by Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago, and captioned “an act providing for a national policy on reproductive health and population and development.”
Parong argued that issue at hand is the right to information so people can make informed decisions on what is best, given how it is they, in the end, who must to fend for themselves and their children.
She cited an Aug. 2010 Centre for Reproductive Rights report that said that “more than 560,000 women terminate their pregnancies each year and about 1,000 of them die annually after clandestine illegal abortions.”
The Roman Catholic Church, through its local polity, is presenting a moralistic and theological argument.
In a message sent via mobile phone last Wednesday, Bishop Jose Cabantan of the Archdiocese of Malaybalay reiterated the point, adding that human rights are “anchored in the dignity of persons as God’s children.”
“We believe that life is primarily a precious gift from God—from conception to its natural end—and even life eternal. Hence, we should respect the life of the unborn up to its natural end,” he said.
He is joined by Msgr. Rey Monsanto, spokesperson of the Archdiocese of Cagayan de Oro, who admitted that the stand of the Roman Catholic Church is based “on moral grounds and not so much on politics.”
“The morality of contraceptive means and its effects on values are basic considerations,” he said.
Though it cannot claim to represent the stand of individual members, at least 85 percent of people in Cagayan de Oro are Roman Catholics.
Other religious groups – the Iglesia ni Cristo, the Iglesia Filipina Independiente (IFI) and the United Church of Christ in the Philippines – support the RH Bill though, as in the case of the IFI, with some reservation.
Bishop Felixberto Calang of the IFI’s Misamis Oriental-Bukidnon-Camiguin Diocese worries that passage of the bill may only leave people exploited by pharmaceutical corporations.
“The decision ultimately rests on our members. That’s why it is imperative that we educate our members so that they can make informed decisions,” Calang nevertheless added.
The president of the Jumaah Oro Al-Islamiya, Mohamad Sidic Gondarangin, supports the Catholic position against the bill, though. In an interview, he said “it is against Islam.”
Parong expressed worry, adding that the Roman) Catholic Church seems to be a “homogenous religion”. She said the local church hierarchy greatly impacts its followers.
She argued though that many Catholic-dominated countries have embraced the artificial contraception methods.
“(The) Holy Pope himself approved the use of condoms as protection against the proliferation of AIDS. The local Catholic church should restudy its position on the bill,” she said.
“We are not at war with Roman Catholic Church pero itong panukalang batas na ito ay nakabatay sa karapatan ng tao hingil sa sexual and reproductive rights (the issue is to exercise our human sexual and reproductive rights),” she said.
The Catholic Bishops Council of the Philippines, who is at the forefront in opposing passage of the bill, found a backer in boxing champion and Sarangani Rep. Manny Paquiao.
But, at the plenary hall of the Lower House, Pacquiao found himself at the losing end of the argument with Rep. Lagman, the RH Bill’s major proponent.
Gabriela Women’s Party Rep. Luzviminda Ilagan, in an earlier interview, said the opposing side’s champion was “visibly unprepared.”
But the battle rages on. (Reported by Cong B. Corrales/knr)