MANILA, OCTOBER 4, 2010 (STAR) President Aquino does not favor a specific family planning method but would support any legal method that Filipino couples decide to take, the Malacañang presidential palace clarified today.

Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte made the clarification in an interview with state-run Radyo ng Bayan, when asked whether he would remain steadfast in his pro-choice stand on family planning.

Valte was also responding to calls made by San Fernando Archbishop Paciano Aniceto that Mr. Aquino should be like his mother, the late President Corazon Aquino, who listened to the Catholic Church especially on the issue of family planning.

"The President had said that his stand on this issue is for responsible parenthood. We in the administration are not advocating one method over the other. That is what we want to clarify. As soon as the parents make an informed choice on the matter, we would support them," Valte said, adding that for this reason, "it's not right to say that the president's position is pro-life or anti-life or whatever. Predient Aquino is for responsible parenthood."

The government is ready to provide security to celebrity tour guide Carlos Celdran if it is confirmed that there may be threats to his life after the recent stunt he pulled in the middle of a Mass, where he protested the interference of the Church in the government's population management policy, said Valte when asked.

"For any citizen with concerns over security, we are ready to provide protection if it is proven that there are real threats to his life. It is the job of the police to secure the lives of our people," she said.

Meanwhile, the Philippine Commission on Women (PCW) said it is elated with Mr. Aquino's firm position on reproductive health education.

"We're very happy with the president's stand on providing education and information for everybody especially women on all the methods for them to plan their families," said Emmeline Verzosa, Executive Director of the PCW.

Asked how different Mr. Aquino is from his predecessor on the reproductive health issue, Verzosa said that former president Arroyo "was very careful about her position."

"So we're very actually very happy that President Aquino, who's even a man, took this very strong position," said Verzosa.

Verzosa observed that the country's female presidents were "more conservative" in terms of the population policy that they pursued during their respective terms.

Arroyo actively promoted natural family planning during her term, and gave local governments the discretion to promote artificial family planning methods.

"Cory (Cozazon Aquino) and GMA (Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo) were more conservative. (Former President Fidel) Ramos was more progressive in terms of reproductive health issues," said Verzosa.

At the close of his recent United States visit, Mr. Aquino said while he would not dictate on couples any specific birth control method, his administration might provide assistance to those who are without means if they want to employ a particular method.

The remarks stirred up a storm as they might mean that Mr. Aquino is open to giving couples contraceptives.

Church officials have argued that contraception is a type of abortion, which is banned by the country's Constitution. However, proponents of contraception have argued that rapid population growth and high fertility rates have exacerbated poverty, and birth control could be an effective way to raise living standards.

The Philippines, whose population is estimated to hit 94 million this year, is the 12th most populous country in the world.


Church is biggest hindrance to RH bill — women's group CANDICE MONTENEGRO, GMANews.TV 09/17/2010 | 11:47 AM

In the Philippines, a predominantly Catholic nation, the Church is the biggest hindrance to the passage of the Reproductive Health (RH) bill, a women's advocate group said.

The RH bill, which proposes to “guarantee to universal access to medically-safe, legal, affordable and quality reproductive health care services," is one of the most contentious issues in the country.

The bill has been filed in previous congresses but was never passed into law. The main proponent of the present bill, RH bill 96, is Rep. Edcel Lagman.

At the Women Deliver Philippines conference on Thursday, University of the Philippines (UP) College of Law professor Atty. Beth Pangalangan said proponents of the RH bill should ignore the church's stand on the issue.

Women Deliver, a three-day conference that began on September 15, seeks to promote the prevention of maternal and newborn deaths and disabilities.

Pangalangan said, "I think the problem is that legislators allow themselves to be swayed by the church. They forget that they were elected into office by Filipino people for them to pass laws that will be good for everyone."

"We have very weak legislators who think they cannot survive politically if it were not for the church's support," she said. "What happens is our legislators yield whenever they are threatened by the church. I've said once that it's not really a problem of a powerful church but a problem of a weak state."

Pangalangan added that the problem is not the Catholic church per se but the Roman Catholic hierarchy.

"I don't really see much hope in dealing with the hierarchy because that goes all the way to the Pope. For as long as he says something, that's not subject to debate," she said.

Catholic church's stand on family planning

Ben De Leon, president of the Philippine Center for Population and Development, which organized the Women Deliver conference, said the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) was invited to join the conference but refused to attend.

He said the CBCP was also a member of the Commission on Population when it was established in 1971 but eventually withdrew its membership because it did not want to promote all methods of contraception.

The Catholic Church only promotes natural family planning methods and is against the use of artificial forms of contraception like condoms and contraceptive pills.

The CBCP has been vocal against the RH Bill because it promotes artificial means of family planning, which they believe are abortifacient or can induce abortion.

According to the Natural Family Planning International, Inc. (NFPI) website, "NFP is a way of following God’s plan for achieving and/or avoiding pregnancy."

"It consists of ways to achieve or to avoid pregnancy using the physical means that God has built into human nature," the NFPI added.

NFP has two distinct forms: * Ecological breastfeeding (a form of child care that normally spaces babies about two years apart on the average), and

* Systematic NFP (a system that uses a woman’s signs of fertility to determine the fertile and infertile times of her cycle).

A married couple who wants to avoid pregnancy is encouraged to practice chaste abstinence during the fertile time of the woman's cycle.

State of denial?

De Leon said, "I don't understand why the Catholic church has not really been so cooperative with us. [They] are in a state of denial of all the realities."

He alleged that some members of the CBCP have expressed their support in the RH Bill but not publicly.

"There are young bishops and priests who would support our advocacy but they cannot state it publicly," he said. "They encourage us to push the RH Bill because they know that the bill is very useful especially to the poorest of the poor."

He also alleged that a priest who supported their advocacy told him, "150 bishops vs 92 million Filipinos - Who do you listen to?"

Lagman wants RH Bill to be passed in 15th Congress

House Minority Leader Edcel Lagman, who filed the RH Bill on the first day of the 15th Congress, hopes that the bill will be passed into law once and for all.

The RH Bill filed from the 11th to the 13th Congress died in the First Committee. In the 14th Congress, the bill reached the Second Committee and the Second Reading but eventually died after that.

Achieving development goals

The Women Deliver Conference also tackled Millennium Development Goal (MDG) No. 5, which aims to reduce the maternal mortality ratio and to provide universal access to reproductive health by 2015.

The MDGs are eight international development goals that all 192 United Nations member states, and at least 23 international organizations, have agreed to achieve by the year 2015.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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