[PHOTO - Hundreds gather for anti-RH bill rally in Quiapo,  CBCP NEWS]

MANILA, NOVEMBER 21, 2010 (STAR) By Paolo Romero – The leader of the opposition bloc in the House of Representatives commended President Aquino yesterday for his steadfast stance in support of the controversial Reproductive Healh (RH) Bill despite strong opposition from the Catholic Church.

House Minority Leader and Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman said Mr. Aquino “needs to be complemented and supported for standing firm against the Catholic hierarchy in his advocacy for responsible parenthood and contraceptive use based on freedom of informed choice.”

Curiously though, a prominent member of the House minority bloc, former President and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, is against the RH Bill and has co-authored a pro-life measure to protect the rights of the unborn.

“The steadfast position of the President on voluntary family planning is an unequivocal endorsement for the enactment of a comprehensive and nationwide statute on reproductive health and population development,” Lagman said.

He said all of the six allied bills on reproductive health and family planning in the House of Representatives have been scheduled for consideration by the Committee on Population and Family Relations on Nov. 24 and Dec. 1.

Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. has repeatedly committed to prioritize the bills and call for a plenary vote on a consolidated measure without delay.

“As principal author of House Bill No. 96, the first of the six RH bills filed in the 15th Congress, I salute the President for his unwavering commitment for the adoption of a national policy on reproductive health and family planning,” Lagman said.

“The Philippines is the only remaining middle income country in Southeast Asia without a complete and comprehensive national policy on reproductive health,” he added.

Lagman said the enactment of a national law on reproductive health which is rights-based, health-oriented and human development-driven will enable the Philippines to improve its chances of meeting the Millennium Development Goals.

Meanwhile, an official of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) yesterday said that some priests might discuss the Church’s position on the RH Bill in their homily today, during the celebration of Christ the King.

CBCP-Public Affairs Committee (PAC) chairman Caloocan Bishop Deogracias Iñiguez said some religious leaders might be heard talking about the position of the Catholic Church on the RH Bill issue in their homilies today.

On the Feast of Christ the King, Iñiguez said, “The people are being reminded that as Christians, they should regard Jesus as the king in their lives.”

“If there is a chance, we will try to include that (RH Bill) if there is an opportunity, but it would depend on the circumstances,” said the CBCP official.

The prelate also admitted that majority of the priests belonging to the Diocese of Caloocan, which he heads, might mention the RH Bill.

The Catholic Church strongly opposes the passage of the bill, believing that this would pave the way for the proliferation of contraceptives in the country and indirectly promote abortion.

In order to diffuse the tension between the government and the Church, they have decided to hold preliminary talks, which they hope would soon turn into a formal dialogue.

Malacañang officials met with representatives of the Catholic Church last Friday for exploratory talks on reproductive health and other social welfare issues. They also discussed the parameters and ground rules for the dialogue.

Present for the Catholic Church were Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas, Imus Bishop Luis Antonio Tagle and CBCP secretary-general Monsignor Juanito Figura.

Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda led Malacañang officials that included Presidential Management Staff chief Julia Abad and Health Secretary Enrique Ona. - With Evelyn Macairan

Palace, bishops begin talks on RH Bill By Aurea Calica (The Philippine Star) Updated November 20, 2010 12:00 AM Comments (61)

MANILA, Philippines - Malacañang and the Church began their exploratory talks yesterday on reproductive health and other social welfare issues.

Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda led Malacañang officials in the meeting with Bishops Socrates Villegas, Luis Antonio Tagle and Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) secretary-general Monsignor Juanito Figura.

Other officials who attended the meeting with the clergy at the PMS building were Presidential Management Staff (PMS) chief Julia Abad and Health Secretary Enrique Ona.

Lacierda said they discussed the parameters and ground rules for the dialogue.

“We fixed what should be discussed and the topics were health and social welfare. They were very glad that the dialogue pushed through,” Lacierda told reporters.

Lacierda said the dialogue was quite delayed since the bishops had an earlier meeting with President Aquino.

“But they were looking forward to the next meeting,” he said.

“The next meeting is tentatively set between Dec. 7 and Dec. 15. We also agreed on who will be the participants for the dialogue.”

Lacierda said he would be representing the government along with PMS chief Abad, Ona, Budget Secretary Florencio Abad and Social Welfare Secretary Corazon Soliman.

The CBCP, on the other hand, has yet to name its representatives to the dialogue, Lacierda said.

He added the bishops would still have to go to the Vatican for a meeting with Pope Benedict XVI before they could focus on the dialogue with Malacañang.

Figura explained the CBCP would still have to determine who will represent them in the dialogue over the issue.

“We will still determine who would speak for the CBCP on matters of health because this is where our lay professionals will be tapped,” Figura said.

Even as Malacañang and Church officials made the effort for a dialogue, Catholic groups expressed their opposition to the Reproductive Health (RH) bill.

Church-based lay organization Sangguniang Laiko ng Pilipinas will lead a prayer rally today at the Manila Cathedral to show their opposition to the proposal.

The El Shaddai under Bro. Mike Velarde is also set to hold its own prayer vigil on Nov. 27 in Parañaque City to show their support for the Catholic Church over the issue.

Lacierda, on the other hand, said the President remains firm in his position regarding responsible parenthood and the government’s duty to educate its citizens on reproductive health.

“We made it very clear to them that the five-point statement of the President on his position on responsible parenthood is going to stand. So it’s just a matter of letting us know also their advocacies,” he said.

Lacierda said the meeting initially discussed the issues surrounding the RH bill, informing the clergy that the proposed measure is still under the jurisdiction of the legislative department.

“Our position is still on responsible parenthood. That’s all, nothing substantive was discussed, more on the framework of what is going to be the discussions for the series of dialogues next time,”’ Lacierda said.

According to Lacierda, Aquino would later join the dialogues with the bishops to be held at the Bahay Pangarap. He said it would be better to discuss the President’s position on responsible parenthood.

Lacierda said the President is against abortion and in favor of giving couples the right to choose how best to manage their families so that in the end, their welfare and that of their children are best served.

He said the President favors any measure that would respect each individual’s right to follow his or her conscience and religious convictions on matters and issues pertaining to the unity of the family and the sacredness of human life from conception to natural death.

In a situation where couples, especially the poor and the disadvantaged, are in no position to make an informed judgment, the state has the responsibility to provide a range of options and information to couples, and that natural family planning and modern methods shall be presented as equally available.

“So that’s the position of the President, then as senator and now as President,” Lacierda said. - With Evelyn Macairan

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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