Bishops withdraw from RH talks with Palace

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Wednesday, May 11, 2011

MANILA -- The influential Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) on Tuesday withdrew from talks with Malacañang regarding the controversial Reproductive Health (RH) bill.

"The bishops do not see any reason to further undertake a serious study/dialogue on HB [House Bill] 4244 with the administration as was proposed by President (Benigno) Aquino himself," the CBCP said in prepared statement read by secretary general Monsignor Juanito Figura on Tuesday.

HB 4244 refers to the proposed "Responsible Parenthood, Reproductive Health and Population Development Act of 2011."


CBCP noted that Aquino's five-point agenda on the Responsible Parenthood bill and the consolidated RH bill in Congress are "deemed to be basically the same".

Last February, the CBCP leadership indefinitely suspended the Church-Palace dialogues after the RH bill in Congress was swiftly deliberated upon.

The suspension was eventually "lifted" in late March after the CBCP received an invitation from the Office of the President.

Figura said the speech of Aquino during the graduation ceremonies of the University of the Philippines (UP) last April was the "last straw" that prompted the CBCP to withdraw from the talks.

"When he said that he will implement that, it was clarified to us in the meeting this morning," said Figura, referring to a meeting with Palace officials at the Presidential Management Staff (PMS) Office in San Miguel, Manila.

In his speech in UP, Aquino said he remains firm in his conviction to have the RH bill passed despite strong and persistent opposition from some sectors, especially the Roman Catholic Church, including the supposed threats of some of its members to have him excommunicated.

Figura said it was him and CBCP legal counsel Jo Imbong who met Presidential Spokesman Edwin Lacierda, Budget Secretary Butch Abad, Health Secretary Enrique Ona, PMS head Julia Abad, and representatives of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) and the Department of Education (DepEd) Tuesday morning.

The church official also related that they were repeatedly asked by government officials to "maintain communication lines open" for the RH bill during the meeting.

"We were non-committal about it... I told them that I don't know what will be the response of the bishops. That depends on the bishops," said Figura.

He said he will present the details of the meeting in the next CBCP Permanent Council meeting later this month.

Figura added that the CBCP maintains that the RH bill really contains "bad" provisions that are interwoven with the good ones it carries.

The so-called "bad" provisions include the promotion and legalization of contraceptives as a means to control population as well as the one that seeks to establish a mindset and value system that are "secularist, materialistic, individualistic and hedonistic" in the guise of development and modernity but are hostile to human life, family and religion.

"The Philippines does not need this bill. All the good provisions it contains are already mandated in the Constitution and are already programs of the government agencies concerned. They simply need to be implemented through aggressive and sincere policy enforcement," the statement read.

It's their loss

Lacierda said President Benigno Aquino III has accepted the decision of the CBCP to withdraw from the dialogue.

"The President said 'we cannot force them to participate anymore'," the Palace official said.

He said Malacañang will still push for the Responsible Parenthood which is part of the consolidated Reproductive Health bill in Congress.

"I think it's their loss because whether you win in a debate or discussion, your voice ought to be heard. By moving away from the political arena, they have abdicated their right to be heard insofar as the discussion on the bill is concerned," Lacierda stressed.

He said Malacañang will not anymore draft another bill for responsible parenthood.

He noted that Palace will keep its communication lines open should the bishops change their minds. (AMN/Jill Beltran/Sunnex)

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