[PHOTO -Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle: An appeal. AP FILE PHOTO]

MANILA, DECEMBER 17, 2012 (INQUIRER) By Jocelyn R. Uy, Philip C. Tubeza Inquirer Visayas - On the first day of the traditional “Simbang Gabi,” Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle appealed to lawmakers to “welcome Jesus with joy” to prepare a “straight path” for the next generations by rejecting the reproductive health (RH) bill.

Tagle’s message to mark the beginning of the Christmas novena was read as the homily, along with the pastoral statement issued by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), in all Masses Sunday in the Archdiocese of Manila, which covers five cities in the metropolis.

“As the issue of the RH bill heats up again, I appeal to our legislators in [the House of Representatives] and the Senate to welcome Jesus with joy. His Word and Wisdom (and not just any human word or wisdom) are needed to form consciences,” Tagle said.

“I pray that you may prepare a straight path for the Lord so that the Filipino people today and those of coming generations may find true and lasting joy,” he added.

The RH bill, which the Church has opposed for its supposed antilife provisions, is scheduled to be put to a vote on third and final reading in the House Monday.

On Thursday, the House approved House Bill No. 4244 on second reading by a vote of 113-104. The measure would provide couples with information on reproductive health and access to contraceptives, and mandates sex education in school.

In a pastoral letter it issued on Saturday, the CBCP urged the members of the House who were absent during the second reading to be present today and vote to kill the bill.

Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas, CBCP vice president, urged the 64 lawmakers to “seek justice for the Filipino people.”

Villegas said the ill was being “gift wrapped to look like a gift for maternal healthcare” when in truth, “it will lead to greater crimes against women.”

He issued the pastoral statement on behalf of the CBCP president, Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma, who is in Vietnam attending the general assembly of the Federation of Asian Bishops Conferences.

“I reiterate the collective discernment of the Philippine bishops that the RH bill, if passed into law, can harm our nation. Contraception corrupts the soul,” Villegas said.

In Cebu City, Cebu Archbishop Emeritus Ricardo Cardinal Vidal on Sunday cited the importance of God’s will in making laws.

He remained hopeful that despite the passage of the bill on its second reading, it would not be approved on third reading.

‘Red alert’

In Bacolod City, Bacolod Bishop Vicente Navarra on Friday remained hopeful that the lawmakers who favored the bill would vote against it Monday.

Navarra raised a “red alert” for the Catholic faithful in the Diocese of Bacolod to pray so that the lawmakers who voted “yes” would change their position on the bill.

Members of the House supporting the bill are bracing for last-ditch efforts of opponents to stop its passage on third and final reading.

“We are preparing for any possibilities, including delaying tactics,” Iloilo Rep. Janette Garin, one of the bill’s principal sponsors, told the Inquirer.

Garin said the pro-RH camp had expected the vote to be close but the actual count was closer.

She said many legislators, who earlier supported the bill, voted against it or opted to be absent due to continued pressure from Church officials.

President Aquino on Thursday certified the bill as a priority measure. Garin said supporters of the bill were hopeful that the President’s certification would hasten its passage in the Senate before the Christmas break.

In Tacloban City, a party-list representative who voted against the measure urged fellow lawmakers to respect the decision of the majority. With reports from Carine M. Asutilla, Joey Gabieta and Carla P. Gomez, Inquirer Visayas

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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