Birth-control plan tests nation's values


MANILA - Philippine President Benigno Simeon Aquino III faces off with leaders of the Catholic church over his personal conviction that each Filipino family should decide how many children they should give birth to and raise. Taking a cue from the president, the Philippine government is gearing up to make the “proactive” move to distribute contraceptive devices nationwide.

The bishops and clergy of the largely Catholic country threatened to hold week-long protest actions against the Chief Executive’s firm stand, stressing the church is totally against the policy.

Published reports in Manila Standard Today note that in recent years, the Catholic 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The sex-education bill, which failed to pass in the regular legislative mill during the last Congress, has been archived, and several similar measures have been refiled in both houses of Congress.

The report further notes that “politicians have long avoided clashing with the Church, which has proven its ability to successfully intercede in politics,” which may explain why it failed to pass legislation.

The Catholic church has also opposed a UN-funded program to introduce sex education in public schools as a way of reducing the number of teenage pregnancies.

Long before he became Chief Executive, President Aquino has maintained the Filipino couples should decide for themselves what contraceptive methods they are to use for family planning.

During the presidential campaign, he never budged on this stand, even as his late mother, former President Corazon Aquino, was known for her deep Catholic faith and apparently supported the Church's stance on contraceptives.

In an interview on a recent U.S. trip, Mr. Aquino was quoted as saying, “the government is obligated to inform everybody of their responsibilities and their choices,” noting it might provide assistance to “those who are without means if they want to employ a particular method” of birth control.

While some legislators welcomed the Chief Executive’s stand on the issue, stressing “access to contraceptives will significantly lower cases of abortion, prevent the spread of sexually-transmitted diseases and achieve the UN Millennium development goals,” it continues to draw flak from the Catholic clergy.

Manila Standard Today quoted priest Melvin Castro, a member of the church commission dealing with family issues, as saying the Catholic church will block the President’s plan, even if it means going back to the streets.

Not to be misinterpreted or mistaken for his stand, the President welcomed a dialogue with the leaders of the Catholic church soon.

For Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, the Chief Executive’s decision to meet with the prelates is a good move because it bespeaks of a leadership that does not think of its own convictions, but of other sectors’ as well.

“I think it is proper that a leader like him must not have a closed mind. He must have a very open mind to consider all facets of every issue that will be presented to him. No sector, as far as the leadership is concerned, has vested interest to push his own agenda. It is the function of the leader to see and look at the problems in the light of all interests involved in society,” Enrile said.

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