Church power vs PNoy's pro-choice stance

By Caroline J. Howard, ABS-CBN News Channel

Posted at Oct 01 2010 12:07 AM | Updated as of Oct 05 2010 09:08 PM

MANILA, Philippines - The Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) threatens to launch a civil disobedience campaign if the Reproductive Health (RH) bill is passed.

"Pupunta kami sa kalsada, sasagawa ng rally pero maraming may ayaw sa kanya at maaring makisama sa amin," said Retired Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Oscar Cruz.

The warning comes after church leaders questioned President Aquino's seemingly pro-choice stand, which he articulated before the Filipino community in the US during his first overseas trip. 

"The government is obligated to inform everybody of the responsibility regarding population. Government might provide assistance but at the end of the day, it's still the couple that will decide," Aquino had said at a town hall meeting in California, USA last Sunday (Monday in Manila).

Church leaders fear the President may be supporting artificial family planning methods in exchange for aid.

No aid links

But Health Secretary Enrique Ona denied the President's stand is linked to foreign aid.

"Walang koneksyon yung pag bigay ng grant sa atin at yung contraceptive issue," Ona said on ABS-CBN's "Umagang Kay Ganda" on Thursday.

"`Yang issue ay pinagdedebatihan sa ating bayan,....pero walang koneksyon yung sasabihing kaya binigyan tayo e may kinalaman sa contraceptive issue sa ating bansa," Ona said.

He added the President's statement was consistent with his position on reproductive health even during the presidential election campaign.

Ona said a P900-million peso budget allocated for the health department includes programs and an information campaign on responsible parenthood. The budget covers both artificial and natural family planning methods, as well as the cost of improving birthing facilities.

"Ang commodities ay magiging available sa ating mga kababayan. Yung ginagamit sa artificial at natural ay available, so may option to choose. The government is just making sure the problem is understood," Ona said.

He said the government is unfazed by the threat of massive protests against the program.

"Hindi magbabago [ang posisyon ng gobyerno]. Kailangan mag-usap kami, all parties for artificial and natural [family] planning para ipaliwanag sa ating mga kababayan at iwanan sa couples ang pagpili ng gagawin," Ona said.

Best practices

Amid church opposition to the government's pro-choice family planning campaign, some local governments like Valenzuela City appear to be showing the way.

Valenzuela Mayor Sherwin Gatchalian said the city's population management program, which they launched in 2006 is proving successful. The program was directed at depressed communities, which had the highest number of children per family.

"In 2002, the birth rate was as high as 20%. Now, we went down to 14%. Our contraceptive prevalence rate was a low 10% in 2002, now its 79%," Gatchalian said in an interview on ANC's "The Rundown." 

But he added it's too early to tell if the numbers translate to better quality of life for his constituents.

Population management

"Our program is population management. The key word is 'management.' We're not controlling anyone, we're just managing population growth based on our resources," Gatchalian said.

"Our program is about responsible parenthood, not the use condoms or contraceptives. If you go to our health centers, grassroots advocacy, we promote both natural family planning and give out counting beads at the same time, so it's really their choice."

He said the local government, with support from non-government organizations, offered free service, including the costs of ligation and vasectomy, which were made available to couples once a month.

Challenges

Despite a high level of acceptance for a program to manage population growth, Gatchalian said institutionalizing it would not be easy.

"We don't have an ordinance that will support this program unlike Quezon City. The real challenge now would be to institutionalize it. It will be a challenge because it will be open to debate," he said.

Gatchalian said effective population management is crucial to national development.

"This is an investment. We'll probably realize the fruits of our labor in 5 years. I think it's a wise investment and the country needs it now, and we're doing our part in supporting the country's economic growth."