Manila (Philippine Daily Inquirer/ANN) - The powerful Philippine Catholic Church is calling on its millions of followers to hold prayer vigils in the streets or in the privacy of their homes before Aug. 7, when the House of Representatives shall decide on the fate of the controversial reproductive health (RH) bill.
The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) urged the faithful through the media to hold protests and novenas to show the lawmakers their opposition to the bill, which aims to provide universal access to various birth control methods and reproductive health information to Filipinos.
The bill, which has spurred a culture war between the Church and reproductive health advocates, also mandates the government to fund modern contraceptives and information through health centers.
CBCP president Archbishop Jose Palma of Cebu, in an interview with the Church-run Radio Veritas, said bishops were supportive of street rallies against the RH bill in the hope that the show of force would convince the lawmakers to vote against the measure, which they claim is antilife.
Call for opposition
"People are free to manifest their own convictions-not only those who are in favor of the RH bill but also other people who certainly want to manifest that they are opposed to it," Palma said.
Upon learning that the bill would be put to a vote on Aug. 7, Palma said they thought it was time "to remind our congressmen and senators that they have a responsibility to our people to come up with a sincere evaluation of what they believe will be for the good of the nation considering that many of us are Catholics."
Advocates of the RH bill, which include the Department, of Health, say the measure would help reduce the number of mothers and infants dying in childbirth. It would also save teenage girls from unwanted pregnancies, allow families to choose how many children to have and help them raise healthier kids.
On Thursday, House Majority Leader and Mandaluyong City Rep. Neptali Gonzales II said they expected to end the period of interpellation and debate on the bill on July 30.
Catholicism is the predominant religion in the Philippines, with about 63 million followers, according to government data. The Democratic Socialist Women of the Philippines said surveys showed that majority of Catholics supported the proposed law.
CBCP Permanent Council member Bishop Leonardo Medroso called on the faithful to intensify their campaign against the bill, noting that Church officials might issue an oratio imperata (obligatory prayer) for the faithful.
"We need to continue our campaign, actions and prayers to awaken the conscience of the public, especially the lawmakers who are pushing for the RH bill. The oratio imperata is one of the ways we see that can shake their conscience," he said.
Father Melvin Castro, executive secretary of the CBCP-Episcopal Commission on Family and Life (ECFL), said the faithful who oppose the RH bill should hold a novena.
"To the faithful, let us launch a countdown by holding a novena starting this Sunday until Aug. 6, the day before the voting," he said. "Let us pray so that they'll vote according to their conscience and that there won't be any pressure from the party leadership."
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