Birth-Control Bill Divides Philippines as Lawmakers Vote

Birth-Control Bill Divides Philippines Before Vote in Congress
Some 7000 Catholic people attend an anti reproductive health (RH) bill rally in Manila on August 4, 2012. Photographer: Ted Aljibe/AFP/Getty Images

Catholics in the Philippines campaigned at the weekend to oppose a bill that would provide free birth control to poor families before a vote on the proposal scheduled for tomorrow.

About 9,000 people gathered Aug. 4 at the shrine of the Virgin Mary along Epifanio de los Santos Avenue in the capital, where popular revolts that ousted the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos and ex-President Joseph Estrada were held, Police Chief Superintendent Generoso Cerbo said in a mobile-phone message.

Catholic bishops led thousands in similar prayer rallies in the provinces of Nueva Ecija, Pampanga, Pangasinan and Laguna and in the cities of Iloilo, Cebu and Lucena, the Philippine Daily Inquirer reported yesterday. Tonight, supporters of the bill will light candles in front of Congress.

Lawmakers will vote tomorrow on whether to end debate on the reproductive health bill, which calls for mandatory sex education and requires the government to pay for contraceptives and family planning services for the poor. Ending the debate would allow the House of Representatives to vote on the legislation. A similar bill needs to be approved by the Senate and reconciled with the House version before President Benigno Aquino can sign it into law.

The bill is controversial in a country where 80 percent of the population is Roman Catholic and where the church has played an important role in installing leaders, including late President Corazon Aquino, Benigno Aquino’s mother.

“Contraception makes sex cheap without responsibility,” Henrietta de Villa, a representative of Archbishop Socrates Villegas, said in a speech in the capital on Aug. 4, an event attended by Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile. “Contraception is corruption. Contraceptive pills teach us that it’s all right to have sex with someone provided you’re safe from babies.” Villegas gave the same speech in Dagupan City.

‘Future Prosperity’

“Hopes of future prosperity could turn to dust if the country is not able to deal with the population growth by giving men and women access to the information and means to freely and responsibly exercise their human right to have just the number of children they want,” the United Nations said in a statement yesterday. “If current trends continue, as the country grows richer, the number of people living in poverty will increase.”

The UN estimates about 20 million Filipinos, or a fifth of the population, live in slum conditions.

Aquino backs responsible parenthood and he has the support of Congress, his spokesman Ricky Carandang said on Aug. 2. Aquino will host a lunch today at the presidential palace for members of his Liberal Party, according to his official schedule released to reporters yesterday.

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