MANILA, Philippines - If there is a solid Catholic vote, it is not for derailing the Reproductive Health (RH) bill but for its approval by Congress, the measure’s principal author in the House said yesterday.
“The Catholic vote is for the enactment of the RH bill. This is consistently validated and documented in all nationwide surveys for many years now,” Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman said.
He was responding to the statement of Lipa Archbishop Ramon Arguelles urging Catholics not to vote for pro-RH candidates in the May 2013 elections.
“RH advocates should not fear a negative Catholic vote because the alleged backlash has no empirical basis,” Lagman said. “Fear is bankrupt of reason and should not be allowed to deter legislation and policy making.”
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Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago, meanwhile, yesterday warned the Catholic clergy against issuing more threats against the proponents of the RH bill in Congress, which she said could constitute a violation of the Constitution.
In a statement, Santiago said that the Constitution clearly provides for separation of church and state and the threats being issued by the clergy against the RH bill proponents constitute “borderline violation” of this provision.
“The separation principle includes what is called the establishment clause, as well as the free exercise clause. The general guide is that the government should observe neutrality,” Santiago said.
Santiago lamented that only the Catholic church, among all of the major churches in the Philippines, is against the RH bill.
She claimed that the following churches are pro-RH: the Iglesia ni Cristo, Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches, National Council of Churches in the Philippines, Interfaith Partnership for the Promotion of Responsible Parenthood, and the Assembly of Darul-Iftah of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.
Background: CBCP warns pro-RH bets of Catholic vote
In any case, Santiago reiterated that she does not believe in the existence of a Catholic vote.
“In the past, the Catholic church campaigned against Sen. Juan Flavier because as health secretary, he freely distributed condoms. But Flavier won the elections. Thus, the so-called Catholic vote is a political myth,” Santiago said.
Santiago is co-author and sponsor of the RH bill in the Senate alongside Sen. Pia Cayetano.
The two women senators have been pushing for a vote to be taken on the RH bill already.
For his part, Arguelles yesterday said the argument on the separation of church and state is only binding to the state and not the church.
“The law on the separation of church and state is a law that is addressed to the state and not to the church. That is a state law. In the separation of church and state, the state should not favor any particular religion or denomination. This does not mean that the church cannot comment or speak on moral issues... The Reproductive Health bill is a moral issue,” Arguelles said.
It also does not mean that local church leaders and laity are no longer Filipino citizens, he said.
When asked if there were other bishops who support his sentiments, he admitted that he is not certain.
“But what I am sure of is that there is a few who believe in this (Catholic vote) and that it should be implemented. I just don’t know if there would be others who would openly say they are in favor of this.”
Arguelles said Catholics “should never sacrifice their faith. So if there is a politician who wants to vote against our Catholic faith, it is our sublime duty not to vote for them.”
The faithful should even take a step further and not campaign for candidates who support the RH bill “because their policy is not good for the country,” he said.
Lawmakers changing minds
Cagayan de Oro City Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, one of the most vocal critics of the RH bill, believes the measure is losing support not because his colleagues are afraid of the Catholic vote “but because many moderate pro-RH congressmen are changing their mind.”
“They now realize that it violates the Constitution, is coercive in nature, is morally incorrect, it assaults the Catholic religion, is medically unsafe, and is an unsound policy for a developing economy,” he said.
“The bill will likewise waste billions of pesos for condoms and contraceptives, funds that could be used for educational and health facilities,” he said.
Lagman said surveys conducted by Social Weather Stations show that 71 percent of Catholics favor the enactment of the RH bill.
“The percentage of those in favor of the bill is even higher among weekly church-going Catholics at 73 percent, which means that the pulpit as a platform for anti-RH homilies is a failure,” he said.
He said among registered voters surveyed, 38 percent would vote for candidates supporting the proposed RH law, while only a small six percent would not vote for them.
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“In predominantly Catholic communities like Cebu, Manila and Parañaque, respondents in various surveys are overwhelmingly pro-RH. A huge number of Cebuanos at 76 percent support the passage of the RH bill; in Parañaque, 84 percent of the respondents are in favor of the bill; and in Manila, a whopping 86 percent of those surveyed support the enactment of the bill into law,” he stressed.
He added that in the Catholic province of Bohol, a majority of respondents (53 percent) are in favor of the RH bill, compared to only 17 percent against it, based on a survey conducted by Holy Name University, a leading Bohol Catholic university.
Quoting Pulse Asia, Lagman said 93 percent of Filipinos consider it important to have the ability to plan their families and 82 percent believe government should inform couples about all methods of family planning.
“Faculty members of leading Catholic universities like Ateneo and De La Salle support the passage of the RH bill. Priests at the local parishes do not articulate with the same ferocity anti-RH tirades of some bishops because they are more aware of the ill-effects of the population problem on their parishioners,” he said.
“The parish priest and the political leader are natural and logical partners in addressing the population problem because they witness on the ground grinding poverty, maternal and infant mortality and the inadequacy of pre-natal and post-natal care and facilities, all of which are addressed by the RH bill,” he said.
The executive branch, meanwhile, asked Congress yesterday to put an end to the RH issue as it branded as unfair the threat of Arguelles that the Catholic vote would be used against lawmakers who vote for the RH bill.
In a press briefing in Malacañang, Budget Secretary Florencio Abad, also Liberal Party stalwart, said, “First of all, if the position taken by any politician, any candidate is based on his own appreciation of his conscience, I think that has to be respected by anybody including the Church.”
“Because, you know, Congress is a legislative assembly and Congress succeeds when there is an interplay or competition of ideas. And if you try to suppress contrary ideas, then you will not get the best policy out of a deliberative assembly like Congress,” Abad said.
“So I don’t think that’s fair to do because in a democracy it’s the competition in a marketplace of ideas that brings out the best,” he said.
Asked if LP candidates would not be changing positions just because of this warning from Arguelles, Abad said it would depend also on “conscience.”
“As I said, every policymaker should examine his conscience... not threats, not rewards but ultimately I think what is best for which this policy has been introduced, which is really to address the very poor who have no means – information as well as resources – to be able to plan in a responsible way the size of his family,” Abad said.
Asked what guidance the LP could give to the House, Abad said it was the obligation of the legislators, regardless of whether they are pro- or anti-RH, to put closure to this issue because it has become divisive. – With Marvin Sy, Aurea Calica, Evelyn Macairan - By Jess Diaz