MANILA, AUGUST 5, 2012 (STANDARD) By Vito Barcelo - Heavy rain failed to dampen the spirit of the thousands of people who joined the Catholic Church-led prayer rally at the EDSA Shrine and other churches nationwide on Saturday to protest against the reproductive health bill, a population control measure.

Red was the dominant color among the 10, 000 protesters who took part in the “Prayer Power Rally against the Reproductive Health Bill.”

“No amount of rain can dampen a fiery passion for life. I will stay. We must stay. Better that it rains than to be burnt in the heat,” said Kiboy Tabada, a student of University of the Philippines.

Students from various schools and organizations in the National Capital Region started to gather at the EDSA Shrine hours before the prayer rally began.

Fr. Melvin Castro, executive secretary of the organizing Episcopal Commission on Family and Life, said the prayer rally was a show of support for anti-RH bill legislators.

“We also hope to manifest our opposition to the RH bill,” Fr. Castro added.

Asked how optimistic he was that something good would come out of the rally, the priest said they “believe in the power of prayer and God’s grace.”

[PHOTO -Various religous groups and Catholic schools gathered at the Edsa Shrine in a show of force. SONNY ESPIRITU]

The EDSA rally drew support from influential Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio G. Tagle, who had earlier issued a circular addressed to its 85 parishes with nearly 500 secular (diocesan) and religious priests.

In Lipa City, Archbishop Ramon V. Arguelles led his congregation to what has been described as ab “intensive prayer rally” from 4 to 8 p.m. yesterday at the Cathedral of Saint Sebastian to enlighten majority of the country’s lawmakers opposed to the controversial measure, pray for world peace, the sanctification of priests and ask for more vocations in the ecclesial province with nearly two million Catholics.

He likewise called on his faithful to offer sacrifices and pray until Tuesday, August 7, the day when lawmakers are expected to vote on the motion to cut the interpellation.

“During the Prayers of the Faithful, they called on the Holy Spirit to enlighten President Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III and the legislators from the Senate and the House of Representatives to stop the passage of the RH bill,” Bishop Martin Jumoad said. He called the bill as “anti-life” and “against the teachings of Jesus.”

In Malacañang, President Aquino’s spokesman said his stand for the approval of the RH bill was clear.

Simultaneous prayer rallies were also held in the cities of Cebu, Iloilo, Davao, Zamboanga, Legazpi, Lucena, Tacloban, Roxas, Borongan, Cagayan de Oro, Baguio, and Dagupan.

Metro Manila Development Authority personnel provided marshalls to ensure safety among the rallyists and also installed portable toilets in strategic areas for those who needed to answer the call of nature.

But lawmakers supporting the RH bill remained unfazed by the prayer rally staged by thousands of Catholic faithful to show Congress most Filipinos were against the measure pending in legislature for years.

Ifugao Rep. Teddy Brawner Baguilat Jr. and Gabriela Rep. Luz Ilagan, one of the co-authors of the RH bill, said that most surveys have shown that majority of Filipinos favor that the government should put in place a national policy on reproductive health.

“I think it is the constitutional right of every citizen to peacefully assemble and express their beliefs in whatever manner,” Baguilat told the Manila Standard.

“I respect in the same way that I hope the Catholic bishops will respect my right to defend my belief in the RH bill and push actively for its passage,” added Baguilat, member of the Aquino-led Liberal Party.

Baguilat said it is only a matter of thoroughly explaining to the Catholic hierarchy and the faithful the benefits of the RH program for them to truly appreciate the intent of the bill.

“Once the bill is passed, the passionate objections from the Catholic hierarchy will subside and the faithful will go back to their normal routine and appreciate the benefits of the RH program,” Baguilat added.

Ilagan, for her part, also said she respects the right of the Catholic church to spearhead a rally to protest the passage of the RH bill.

“What is not right is to coerce the people to join or make it appear they are speaking on behalf of the whole country,” Ilagan said in a separate statement.

Ilagan, vice chair of the House Committee on Women and Children, pointed out that the marginalized women’s clamor for help should be heard above the din over the RH bill.

“Out of the 221 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births, majority are women from the urban poor, poor farmers and workers and indigenous women.

Congress should consider the unhealthy state that marginalized women are in, and be moved by their need for free, accessible, relevant, basic and immediate health services,” Ilagan said.

Ilagan added that members of the House, especially those who are pro-RH bill, should look at the bill from the point of view of marginalized women.

“More than population control, the bill’s pro-poor provisions will give them accessible and free basic health services,” she added.

Meanwhile, anti-RH lawmakers led by Quezon Rep. Danilo Suarez and Siquijor Rep. Orlando Fua said that the RH bill, also known as the population control bill, could be counterproductive and might not be the win-win solution to arrest the country’s growing population.

What the Aquino government should first focus on, they said, is to address the problem on poverty and hunger.

The CBCP said that thousands of Catholic faithful from across the country trooped to various public places, cathedrals and streets to show their strong opposition for the Reproductive Health bill now pending in both houses of Congress. With Maricel Cruz

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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