Philippine bishops urge morality vote after defeat

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Catholic bishops in the Philippines vowed Tuesday to vigorously campaign against politicians who ignored their "moral" teachings, after the church failed to stop the passage of a birth control law.

The powerful Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) said it had decided to target suspect politicians in mid-term elections in May, when thousands of posts from the local village level to congress will be contested.

In a statement following their annual plenary, the bishops said they would demand politicians publicly voice their views on critical social issues, ranging from same-sex marriage and divorce to contraceptives and corruption.

"We will force them to walk the talk and state their positions on the moral stance of the church, as well as their convictions on how they will run the country," said Francis Lucas, who heads the group's media unit.

"We will bring it out to the people and we will tell them to choose based on the answers. If a politician refuses to make a stand, that will be taken very negatively."

More than 80 percent of Filipinos are Catholics, a legacy of over 300 years of Spanish rule that ended in the late 1800s, and the church has long enjoyed strong political influence.

The church helped lead peaceful uprisings that removed two corrupt presidents, Ferdinand Marcos in 1986 and Joseph Estrada in 2001.

However CBCP president Archbishop Jose Palma conceded the church may be starting to lose some of its influence.

"We are tossed about by the waves of the secularist spirit, which continues to reduce the role and place of religious faith in the public sphere," Palma said.

"Our cherished moral and spiritual values are at grave risk."

In this light, the church intended to step up its efforts to pressure politicians during the election campaign.

The church will only support "election of candidates who are upright and guided by moral teachings of the church", said Bishop Gabriel Reyes, another senior member of the conference.

He said church members would not be forced to vote as a bloc, but would be told to carefully scrutinise candidates.

Reyes said among the key issues was whether politicians supported the birth control law, which was approved by parliament last year and officially took effect this month.

The law requires state health centres to hand out free condoms and birth control pills and mandates that sex education be taught in schools.

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