MANILA, Philippines – Amid threats to strip Catholic schools of their affiliation with the Church, the Ateneo de Manila University said it does not support the passage of Reproductive Health (RH) Bill in its current form.
“Together with our leaders in the Catholic Church, the Ateneo de Manila University does not support the passage of House Bill 4244 (The Responsible Parenthood, Reproductive Health and Population and Development Bill),” Ateneo president Jose Ramon T. Villarin SJ said in a memo dated August 20.
The memo, which is posted on the school’s official Facebook page, was addressed to the Office of the President and the university community.
Ateneo professors previously gave their support to the Reproductive Health Bill, saying in a joint statement with professors from the University of the Philippines that their “studied and collective opinion is that House Bill 4244 is a vital piece of legislation.”
“Our reading of HB 4244 is that it is not a population control bill, nor does it violate any other rights and freedoms. HB 4244 in fact promotes the sexual and reproductive rights, the right to health, and the right to informed decision making of all Filipinos but especially the poor, in fulfillment of the provisions of our Constitution and our obligations under international covenants,” they said early last year.
The memo was released just days after the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) issued a statement that a school may be stripped of its affiliation with the Church if it goes against its teachings.
Archbishop Jose Palma, CBCP president said last week that Catholic schools should "not teach anything contrary to the official teaching of the Church."
In May, the CBCP also encouraged the faithful not to vote for politicians who support the RH Bill in next year's polls.
In Monday's memo, Villarin said the Ateneo community should continue studying the bill and support amendments “to remove provisions that could be ambiguous or inimical from a legal, moral or religious perspective,” as well as be vigilant to ensure that “no coercion takes place in implementation.”
“Catholic tradition has always taught that reason and faith are not enemies but allies in the service of God’s truth. From this tradition, we can draw strength and compassion in our often tortuous journey as persons in community toward the greater glory of God and the service of God’s people,” the statement said.
Ateneo’s memo has received mixed comments from students and alumni.
“If only the CBCP can speak with such empathy, intellectual rigor, open-mindedness, humility and trust,” Felix Sy commented on Facebook.
“Father, thank you for a statement that emphasizes the power and primacy of dialog,” posted Rowie Azada-Palacios.
However, Rye Gaba Del Carmen said, while the memo was unexpected from a Catholic institution, he was disappointed with his alma mater.
"This is the same university who taught me to be a person for others and to have the preferential option for the poor. With these two Christian concepts in mind, I support the RH Bill. And I detest the way the CBCP is lobbying against it," he said.
Ricardo Boncan also said the statement "does nothing to address the issue of abuse and misuse" of Ateneo's "Catholic identity."