‘Meeting with bishops erodes essence of state’

By Ira Pedrasa, abs-cbnNEWS.com

Posted at Oct 03 2010 12:52 PM | Updated as of Oct 04 2010 06:54 AM

CBCP: Civil disobedience remains an option

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) - President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III has no business talking to the leaders of the Catholic Church,  a women's rights activist said.

EnGendeRights Executive Director Clara Rita Padilla said “good governance dictates that [Aquino] should not dialogue with the Catholic bishops on the government’s policy on reproductive health. Meeting with the bishops erodes the essence of the state and its purpose in upholding secular standards, public health, and human rights.”

Aquino announced on Saturday that he will have a dialogue with Catholic bishops on the government’s policy on reproductive health.

Padilla said Aquino, and other government officials as well, should uphold the constitutional guarantee of separation of church and state. Instead, what he should be doing is to “meet with community women in Vitas and Permanent Housing, Tondo (Smokey Mountain) where many poor women have 6 to 10 children,” she said.

There, many mothers die due to pregnancy-related causes. Some children from big families have stopped going to school to earn money, she added.

More groups and individuals have also joined in the debate.

In a statement, the Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (TUCP) said Aquino’s pro-choice policy is a “courageous demonstration of political leadership.”

TUCP secretary-general and former Senator Ernesto Herrera said “we've seen how workers who planned their families have been able to achieve a superior quality of life compared to those who did not (plan ahead).”

TUCP is active in delivering family planning and reproductive health services at the workplace, with the financial aid of, among others, the Los Altos, California-based David and Lucile Packard Foundation and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).

Without contraceptives, the country would lose a great number of able-bodies workers to the dreaded human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).

“If PNoy truly wants to be a president for the Filipino people, he should provide support to increase access to information, supplies and services to the full range of contraceptive methods,” Padilla added.

Padilla stressed the Catholic Church should “not be allowed to impose their religious beliefs on the Philippine government and the creation and implementation of laws.”

She said the bishops are “unjustifiably” against modern contraceptives even if they know that the poor would benefit from these.

‘Constitution also protects right of unborn’

In a statement, San Fernando de Pampanga Auxiliary Bishop Pablo Virgilio David, however, said the constitution also guarantees the protection of the unborn.

“Alam kaya ni Presidente Noy na marami sa artificial methods na iyan ay abortifacients na ang ibig sabihin ay they were designed not only to prevent conception but terminate a conceived child because once you already have a fertilized embryo you already have a human being,” he said.

Lingayen-Dagupan Auxiliary Bishop Renato Mayugba said the issue here is not about faith alone, but also about upholding the constitution.

“If the government will pursue programs that run counter to the provisions of the constitution, it would simply mean violating the country's constitution,” he added.

David noted Aquino may be following other models from developed countries, which, in fact, have backfired.

“These countries are threatened by issues concerning geopolitics or an issue of power that their population may be overtaken by developing countries,” he explained.

Civil disobedience

Lipa Archbishop Ramon Arguelles, on the other hand, called on the “faithful” to prepare to mobilize the laity for mass actions against the program of the Aquino government.

The leaders of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines said they have not yet received word from the administration with regard to the dialogue.

Nonetheless, “civil disobedience” is still an option the Church could take.

CBCP Secretary General Msgr. Juanito Figura said “the Catholic Church in the Philippines can do that if it decides to do that because for one thing, civil disobedience is a moral option, one of the moral options.”

He explained civil allegiance is the respect given by the people to the state and the laws of the state.

Accordingly, “if a law or a state policy is against Christian teachings, persons, Christians, Catholics are not bound by conscience to obey that,” he said.

“When a law or state policy or state program is not in consonance with what the faith teaches so from that perspective, if the local church in the Philippines or the hierarchy in the Philippines decide to call for disobedience because of this possibility of enacting the controversial Reproductive Health bill and the distribution of artificial contraceptives the bishops would have a moral reason to do that,” he further stressed.

There was one instance in the past when the Church called for civil disobedience. CBCP Media Director Msgr. Pedro Quitorio said this was after the February 7, 1986 snap elections.