Calling the government program seeking to distribute contraceptives for free under the Reproductive Health (RH) bill a form of corruption, nuns and priests led thousands of Catholics in a show of force yesterday at the Edsa Shrine, a landmark that symbolized takeovers of past governments, ahead of an August 7 vote on the bill at the House of Representatives.

Leading the Catholic Church charge was Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas, a spiritual adviser of the family of President Aquino, who made a pun on the Aquino administration’s “Kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap” (No corruption, no poverty) slogan which he said should not mean “kung walang anak, walang mahirap” (No baby, no poverty).

Villegas, however, was not at the so-called prayer power rally against the RH bill and his message was read by Henrietta de Villa, a pro-life group leader.

Villegas said it is corruption that the government should cure, not procreation. The police estimated the crowd at about 7,000.
Villegas was a staunch supporter and friend of Aquino’s mother, Corazon Aquino, from the time she became President after the Edsa People Power Revolution.

Other bishops present during the rally against the RH bill were Bishops Jose Oliveros of Malolos, Pablo David of San Fernando, Pampanga, Gabriel Reyes of Antipolo, Ramon Arguelles of Lipa, and Leopoldo Tumulak of the Military Ordinariate.
“Corruption is the cancer of the Philippines that prevents us from growing. When President Aquino called us his boss, we cheered, when he banned wang-wang (vehicle sirens) in the street and moral wang-wang in the bureaucracy, we followed his vision but contraception is corruption. The use of government and taxpayers’ money to give out contraceptive pills is corruption,” Villegas said.

The Palace shrugged off the mass protest as Presidential Legislative Liason Office (PLLO) Secretary Manuel Mamba said it would not affect the vote for the RH bill on Tuesday since House members have made up their mind on the bill.
Mamba said congressmen he had talked to were convinced of the need to pass the RH bill and that it received “overwhelming support” in the House.

On the Catholic Church allegation that the bill was pro-abortion, Mamba said it was not contained in the bill and it was an attempt to misinform the public.

“The claim that the bill is pro-abortion is not true. Let us not misinform our people,” he said, adding the government had an obligation to give the people choices about the size of their families.

Mamba also asked that the issue not be politicized, saying the bill was not about politics but about the future of the country.
Villegas in a statement sent to the anti-RH bill rally said the Aquino government should focus on getting rid of corrupt government officials, not of unborn babies through the promotion of artificial contraception.

“A culture of contraception looks at babies as reasons for poverty. Birth control, they say, means more food, more classrooms, more houses and better health for mothers. If more babies are the cause of poverty, are we now saying, ‘if there is no baby, there’s no poverty’?

“It doesn’t rhyme because it is not correct. We can have more classrooms, more food, more jobs if we would be less corrupt. Send out the corrupt official, not the baby,” he told the rallyists who were mostly the youth, as if telling Aquino what to do.
Villegas vowed to join the fight against the passage of the RH bill in Congress, saying the fight was more to correct the misconception that the children were a mistake and not a blessing.

“My dear youth, your birth is not a mistake, your birth was God’s gift to us your elders. You are not the problem, you are our blessing. The problem is the corruption of your elders, your elders must change for your future can be brighter,” Villegas said.
“I am standing to defend you. We are fighting the error because you might be misled. We are battling against corruption because we know it can harm your soul, believe me, contraception harms your soul,” he added.

Villegas subtly reminded the government that if the RH bill werepassed into law under the Aquino administration, his legacy would be a “contraceptive generation, which will eventually give birth to an abortion generation.”

“If a contraceptive pill is to be considered an essential medicine, what sickness is it curing? Is pregnancy a sickness? Why is it that women get sick with cancer after taking the contraceptive pill? My dear youth, contraception, makes healthy people sick,” he added.

Villegas also warned government economic advisers that population control would not make the Philippines a tiger economy in Asia.

“We want to be a tiger economy in Asia like our neighbors but what is a tiger without teeth? What is progress without our laughing children? For whom do we envision progress? What is victory at the expense of the mortal soul?” he asked.
Though he did not direct his message to President Aquino, the prelate vowed to fight anyone who would push for the passage of the RH bill.

“We shall fight contraception or we will perish as a godly nation. Youth of the Philippines, because I love you, I will fight contraception. This battle is for you and I fight for the love of you,” Villegas added.

The protesters, mainly dressed in red, gathered to voice out opposition to the planned legislation, which would also encourage families to have only two children in an effort to reduce poverty.

The proposal, which is expected to face a tough time getting through parliament, has angered the influential Roman Catholic Church in the Philippines which has led opposition and called Saturday’s protest.

Dolly Cruz, a 61-year-old pensioner, attacked the proposal as “contrary to the laws of God.”

“God gave humans the power of reason to decide what is right and what is wrong for themselves,” she said.

Aquino has strongly backed the law, saying in a statement before the rally that in a situation where couples “are in no position to make an informed judgement, the state has the responsibility to so provide.”

The Philippine annual birth rate has been steadily declining, but the government points out that some of the poorest regions have the highest birth rates.

The law would use a government health insurance fund to provide birth control pills, condoms and other contraceptives for free.

It would give the poor preferential access to family planning services in state hospitals, while lessons on family planning and sex education would become compulsory in schools and for couples applying for a marriage licence.

The House, dominated by Aquino supporters, is expected to pass the bill on Tuesday after failing to do so last year.
But the Senate, parliament’s upper house, must also pass the law and has come out strongly against it.

Both abortion and divorce remain illegal in the predominantly Catholic Philippines.

Organizers said the rally was intended to show Congress that many Filipinos were against the consolidated reproductive health bill, which has since been described as responsible parenthood bill.

Eastern Police District Deputy Director Sr. Supt. Antonio Gumiran described the rally as “peaceful and orderly” in mid-afternoon.

The consolidated RH bill has become controversial, opposed by concerned citizens, especially the pro-life, pro-family and pro-God groups, regardless of creed or religion.

Pro-life groups, and many professionals in the medical and nursing fields, believe physicians and policy makers should understand and respect the beliefs of patients who consider human life to be present and valuable from the moment of fertilization.

Patients should be made fully aware of this information so that they can consent to or refuse the use of artificial contraceptives, some said. With Jason Faustino

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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