Philippine bishops gird for population bill battle

Manila (Philippine Daily Inquirer/ANN) - Storming the heavens with prayers, Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle yesterday urged the Catholic faithful to attend an overnight vigil in Makati City for the defeat of the reproductive health (RH) bill.

Tagle called on the faithful to gather at the National Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Makati City starting at 6pm yesterday as Congress convenes today to vote on the RH bill, which seeks to provide people with information on reproductive health matters and access to contraceptives.

¿The overnight vigil continues (Wednesday), with Masses at 6am, 8am, 12 noon, 5pm, 6:30pm and 8pm. Cardinal Tagle will celebrate the Mass at the Shrine at 12 noon,¿ said a statement from the Archdiocese of Manila.

In a letter to lawmakers, Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma, president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), also invoked Our Lady of Guadalupe, patroness of the Catholic prolife movement.

¿As you resume your deliberations on the reproductive health bill, I pray that through the gracious intercession of Our Lady of Guadalupe, whose feast day we celebrate today, you may be bountifully guided by the Holy Spirit,¿ Palma said.

¿Recalling Our Lady's words when she first spoke to the Indian peasant St. Juan Diego on that cold December day on Tepeyac hill in Mexico 481 years ago, I am confident she will grant us the fruit of her affection and protection if we ask for it. In these difficult and trying days, we humbly ask for it,¿ he added.

LP meeting

The bill on Tuesday inched closer to getting passed on second reading following separate meetings by President Benigno Aquino III's Liberal Party (LP) and coalition partner, Nationalist People's Coalition (NPC), on the eve of the crucial vote in the House of Representatives.

That was the reading of Tarlac Representative Kimi Cojuangco of the NPC and Rep. Teddy Baguilat Jr. of the LP, who attended the meetings separately at the Batasang Pambansa and the LP's Balay headquarters in Quezon City before the afternoon session.

Spearheading the meeting at the LP headquarters were Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas and Speaker Feliciano Belmonte.

¿Because we are supportive of the president, a 'yes' vote is a vote for the president,¿ Cojuangco told reporters. ¿A lot toed the line.¿

'Insurance'

Baguilat said the meeting at Balay was meant as ¿insurance¿ that the RH bill would be passed on second reading.

He said the meeting's primary audience was the ¿swayable¿ group of LP members who had not yet committed to voting either for or against House Bill No. 4244.

Baguilat was confident that the RH bill would be passed, with the combined support of LP and NPC members. There are around 90 LP members and 50 lawmakers belonging to the NPC.

Cojuangco said the decision to support the RH bill was a leadership stand.

In a statement, the LP said it asked its members to vote and support the bill.

The LP leadership also impressed upon the members the importance of the bill to millions of Filipinos, especially its implication on the health and safety of mothers and women. It also reminded members of the President's position on the issue.

Vidal in House gallery

On the eve of the congressional vote, Cebu Archbishop Emeritus Ricardo Cardinal Vidal said he and other Catholic Church leaders were leaving the matter to God.

¿Ours is the power of prayer. The power of the Lord will always be there because we always depend on God's will,¿ he told reporters on the sidelines of the period of amendments in the House.

Vidal, who watched the proceedings with at least seven other bishops in the gallery, was responding to a question which pointed out that House Bill No. 4244 enjoyed the support of Aquino.

During the thanksgiving Mass for the canonisation of St. Pedro Calungsod in Cebu, Vidal recalled telling the President when the subject of the RH bill came up: ¿You decide what is right. Only that. What is right.¿

Antipolo Bishop Gabriel Reyes said the fate of the bill would not be known until the actual vote was taken, and he and other opponents were firm in their faith that the measure would be defeated in the House.

Supreme Court option

But just in case the bill managed to pass, Reyes said other opponents of the measure were prepared to go to the Supreme Court to challenge its constitutionality because the State should equally protect the right to life of the mother and the baby.

Many of the supposedly ¿killer¿ amendments introduced by critics of the bill have been defeated constantly either in voice vote or nominal voting in the plenary.

But Reyes, who chairs the Episcopal Commission on Family and Life, said the voting on the amendments would not necessarily reflect the final outcome.

¿I always expect voting would change, and the RH bill would not be approved,¿ Reyes told reporters in the House.

Power of prayer

He said prayer could accomplish a lot of things. ¿More things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of,¿ he said, quoting the English poet Alfred Tennyson.

In his letter to lawmakers, Palma noted that Pope Benedict XVI had said that ¿it is not the law of the strongest that must prevail.¿

¿This makes it vital for every society to remove everything that could cast suspicion on the law and its ordinances, because it is only in this way that arbitrary conduct on the part of the State can be eliminated and freedom can be experienced as something genuinely shared by all,¿ Palma said.

He said people would revolt against the law if it was perceived as no longer the expression of a justice but a product of despotism.

Truth is basis of law

Palma urged lawmakers to dump the RH bill, saying the Philippines needed a law ¿to unite rather than divide¿.

¿We need a law to affirm and protect the truth about the dignity of the human person, who has been created in the very image of God; the sanctity of the family, the basic social unit which even our Constitution recognises as the foundation of the nation; and the inviolability of the social institution of marriage, which the Constitution likewise recognises as the foundation of the family,¿ Palma said.

He urged lawmakers to respect the ¿right to life, the right of married couples to found a family according to their religious beliefs and moral convictions, and to be the primary educators of their children.¿

Palma said ¿the truth must be the basis of the law, rather than the result of legislation¿.

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