MANILA, July 9, 2013 (PHILSTAR) By Aurea Calica - Malacañang wants to have a good relationship with the new Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) president, Archbishop of Lingayen-Dagupan Socrates Villegas, who is against the Reproductive Health (RH) law.

Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said yesterday Malacañang wanted to continue working with the CBCP on various advocacies with Villegas as head.

“We extend our congratulations to Archbishop Villegas and wish him well as he faces new challenges as president of the CBCP,” Valte said. “We look forward to future engagements under his leadership.”

Villegas has been quoted as saying that the relationship between the Catholic Church and President Aquino was “far from ideal.”

It would be better for the people if the relationship would be a bit more warm, open and trusting, he added.

They would raise their voices on issues that would compromise Catholic values, he said.

Villegas said last year, amid the contentious debates on the RH bill, he and Antipolo Bishop Gabriel Reyes asked for an audience with Aquino.

“He accommodated us,” he said.

“We told him we are friends of your mother. We are your quiet supporters. In your situation, you will have people whispering nice things to you. But we are your friends. We want to say things you don’t want to hear because we want you to avoid mistakes. So we explained ourselves and he was very grateful. In the case of Tita Cory, we didn’t have to explain ourselves, because she always looked at us as friendly critics.”

Former CBCP president Archbishop of Jaro, Iloilo Angel Lagdameo hopes that the 52-year-old Villegas would have the spunk of his mentor, the late Archbishop of Manila Jaime Cardinal Sin.

“I am happy that we in the CBCP elected him,” he said. “I pray that he would have the fighting spirit of his mentor, Cardinal Sin, for the good of both the Church and the country. He is very capable.”

Cubao Bishop Honesto Ongtioco said: “We are happy about Archbishop Soc’s election as CBCP president. With his talent, experience he would be able to continue the leadership of his predecessors.”

Sorsogon Bishop Arturo Bastes said Villegas was “a good choice” because he was articulate and prudent with his statements.

Butuan Bishop Juan de Dios Pueblos has “high hopes for his leadership.”

CBCP Public Affairs Committee chairman retired Caloocan Bishop Deogracias Iniguez said: “I am happy that Archbishop Villegas was elected as president of the CBCP. His capability and pastoral experience are his assets. The trust shown by the bishops is pillar for this new mandate.”

However, Villegas believes his youth and lack of experience make him unsuitable for the position. “It was unexpected,” he said. “But then when the bishops speak, it is as if that God has spoken to me and so I just have to listen.

“Being president is not about leading. For the Catholic Church, being president is to follow the 120 bishops and that is a very difficult (task).”

Sen. Paulo Benigno Aquino IV is confident that Villegas would foster better communication between the Catholic Church and the government.

“I congratulate him for his new post,” he said.

“I think the role of the Church is... to effectively communicate their position on issues. I think Bishop Soc can do that very well. You know, whether you agree on certain matters or not, what is important is that you are able to communicate. There is certain level of openness to collaborate with other sectors. I think the bishop will make a good CBCP president.”

Pangasinan Gov. Amado Espino Jr. said the election of Villegas as CBCP president is another remarkable leadership ascendancy of an official of the Catholic Church, especially for one directly associated with the people of Pangasinan.

Vice Gov. Jose Ferdinand Calimlim Jr. said: “His entry at the helm of the CBCP is a breath of fresh air, just the same way as he was when he came to Pangasinan as our archbishop.”

Pangasinan Rep. Gina de Venecia said: “His impressive pastoral works in the Archdiocese of Lingayen-Dagupan where he has been moving the faithful to ethical and spiritual renewal are a testament of his inspired leadership that will further boost the CBCP’s status as the country’s strongest moral voice.”

Dagupan City Mayor Belen Fernandez said: “Father Soc’s very inspiring way of shepherding the Catholic faithful in our archdiocese will surely be spread around the country with his new mission.”

CBCP calls for accountability

The CBCP called yesterday for accountability from the Commission on Elections (Comelec) for the continued reports of vote-buying and vote-selling and other problems during the polls last May.

In a statement following the 107th plenary assembly, the bishops expressed dismay over the outcome of the midterm polls.

In a statement read by CBCP secretary-general Monsignor Joselito Asis, the bishops said: “After one experience of the automated election this year’s election should have been better, but it was not.

“We call for accountability from Comelec officials and demand that the law be followed.

“We bishops are dismayed at the massive vote buying and vote selling that is experienced everywhere.” Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo, CBCP-National Secretariat for Social Action, Justice and Peace chairman, said the Comelec could demonstrate its accountability by listening to the complaints and answering them.

“We should see how principles of common good and stewardship are to be better imparted to our people in our political education,” he said.

The bishops said a Mass will be held at 9 a.m. at the Ermita Church, the Nuestra Señora de Guia, today hours before the Supreme Court begins oral arguments on the Reproductive Health Law.

Antipolo Bishop Reyes, CBCP-Episcopal Commission on Family and Life chairman, said at least five bishops will attend the Mass, including himself and Archbishop of Pampanga Paciano Aniceto.

“Some bishops would be there and the lay people who would keep vigil at the SC around 1:30 p.m. or 2 p.m. they would go to the SC... Some of us bishops would be at the SC hall to observe the oral arguments,” he said.

Reyes said lawyers opposing the RH law in the debates attended a Mass at the CBCP Plenary Assembly yesterday. “We prayed for them that they would be guided by the Holy Spirit and that our SC justices would be guided by the Holy Spirit,” he said. “The lawyers would say that some of the provisions of the RH law are against the Constitution, but we cannot mention their arguments because that would be sub judice.”

Villegas said today’s activities was not a rally but a prayer vigil. “That is why Bishop Reyes was very careful to call it a Mass and a vigil at the Ermita Catholic Church, which is the nearest church to the SC.

“The mission of the Church is truly spiritual so if we get involved in bills like the RH bill, which is now a law, it is because our spiritual mission mandates us to do that,” he said. – With Evelyn Macairan,Christina Mendez, Eva Visperas

Pro, anti-RH law advocates face off today By Edu Punay (The Philippine Star) | Updated July 9, 2013 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - Critics and advocates of the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act will finally face off today in a debate before the Supreme Court (SC) on the legality of the controversial law.

Two former senators – Aquilino Pimentel Jr. and Francisco Tatad – will lead the petitioners in challenging the constitutionality of Republic Act 10354.

Tatad, who was senator from 1992 to 2001, was tasked to give a five-minute statement for the 15 groups that have asked the high court to strike down the law for allegedly violating the fundamental freedom of religion and expression at the start of oral arguments.

Pimentel, a former Senate president and acknowledged as the father of the Local Government Code, will also face the justices of the SC to present arguments to prove that the law violates the autonomy of local governments and the equal protection clause under Article III Section 1 of the Constitution.

He is expected to assail portions of the law that tasks the local government units (LGUs) to hire nurses, midwives, and other skilled health workers; train village health workers in promoting reproductive health; remove barriers to reproductive health services for persons with disabilities; and lead a nationwide multimedia-campaign to raise awareness on reproductive health.

Pimentel will also contest portions of the law that limit free services to indigent women to reproductive health care providers only; and prioritizes the poor in the provisions of reproductive health care, information and supplies.

Another lawyer arguing against the law is Maria Concepcion Noche, who will try to convince the magistrates that the law violates the constitutional right to life and right to health.

Luisito Liban, on the other hand, will tackle how the law allegedly violates the right to religion, right to free speech, academic freedom, and “proscription on involuntary servitude.”

Lastly, Luis Gana is tasked to tackle how the law violates the Organic Act of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

The 15 consolidated petitions were filed by couple James and Lovely-Ann Imbong, non-profit group Alliance for the Family Foundation Philippines Inc. (ALFI), Serve Life Cagayan de Oro City, Task Force for Family and Life Visayas Inc., Expedito Bugarin, Eduardo Olaguer of the Catholic Xybrspace Apostolate of the Philippines, Philippine Alliance of Ex-Seminarians Inc., Reynaldo Echavez, Tatad and his wife Ma. Fenny, a group of doctors represented by lawyer Howard Calleja, Millenium Saint Foundation Inc., Pro-Life Philippines Foundation Inc., a group of Catholic students represented by the legal office of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, Catholic lay group Couples For Christ Foundation (CFC), and Almarim Centi Tillah and Abdul Hussein Kashim.

After all counsels for the petitioners have spoken, the respondents will be allowed to argue why the law is constitutional.

Named respondents in the petitions were Executive Secretary Pacquito Ochoa Jr., Budget Secretary Florencio Abad, Education Secretary Armin Luistro, Health Secretary Enrique Ona, and Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas II.

The six intervenors in the case will then present their arguments in support of the RH law.

They are former Akbayan party-list Rep.Risa Hontiveros, former health secretaries Esperanza Cabral, Jaime Galvez-Tan and Alberto Romualdez Jr.; the group of 2005 Bar topnotcher Joan de Venecia; Sen. Pia Cayetano, sponsor of the measure in the Senate; the Catholics for Reproductive Health and Interfaith Partnership for the Promotion of Responsible Parenthood Inc.; and Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, author of the law in the House of Representatives.

Under the guidelines released by the SC last week, the magistrates led by Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno would interpellate each counsel.

If the debate does not end today, it would continue in another oral argument on July 23, the SC advisory added.

The SC issued last March 19 a 120-day status quo ante order enjoining the government from implementing the assailed law.

The petitioners argued that the RH law “negates and frustrates the foundational ideals and aspirations of the sovereign Filipino people as enshrined in the Constitution.”

They cited Article II Section 12 of the Constitution, which states: “The State recognizes the sanctity of family life and shall protect and strengthen the family as a basic autonomous social institution. It shall equally protect the life of the mother and the life of the unborn from conception. The natural and primary right and duty of parents in the rearing of the youth for civic efficiency and the development of moral character shall receive the support of government.”

Petitioners said at least 11 provisions in RA 10354, which allow couples to choose to suppress life, violate this constitutional provision.

The intervenors, on the other hand, argued that the constitutional rights of couples would not be violated since they are not being compelled by the new law.

They said the RH law does not violate the constitutional freedom of choice and right to privacy.

The pro-RH groups further stressed that under the law, adults are still free to reject information relating to reproductive health provided by the government “for whatever personal reason which may or may not be related to their religious beliefs.”

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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