MANILA, Philippines - The Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CPCP) seeks to convince 64 lawmakers who failed to vote on the reproductive health (RH) bill to reject it during the proposed law's third and final reading Monday.
The CBCP, in a pastoral letter Saturday signed by Archbishop Socrates Villegas, urged the lawmakers "to be enlightened and stand up for the truth."
“The Church teaches us to follow our conscience, the inner sanctuary where we are alone with God, but such conscience must be formed and informed according to the universal values that are common to all human persons," Villegas said.
“The truth is that to be pro-child, pro-mother and pro-poor, we must resist all threats against them. This is justice. Stand up for it; defend it; do not be swayed by worldly pressures, and be the champion of the people who voted for you. God knows and sees what you are doing,” he added.
The RH bill narrowly passed on a 113-104 vote early Wednesday morning.
The CBCP, in its pastoral letter, praised the 104 lawmakers who rejected the bill.
Villegas called them "heroes."
"You have voted courageously, despite all pressures, to stand up for what is right and true,” he said. "The Church will remember you as the heroes of our nation, those who have said no to corruption and who care for the true welfare of the people, especially the poor."
He claims that the RH bill "will put the moral fiber of our nation at risk" and "lead to greater crimes against women."
Other Catholic bishops, meanwhile, lashed out at the 113 lawmakers who approved the bill on 2nd reading.
Marbel, South Cotabato Bishop Dinualdo Gutierrez said the lawmakers who support the bill "manifested weakness in their faith," according to CBCP News.
However, not all of the congressmen who support the bill are Catholics. Some are members of other Christian denominations and Muslims.
Legazpi, Albay Bishop Emeritus Lucilo Quiambao said the lawmakers who support the RH bill probably "don't pray at all" if they are not sincere in upholding the will of God.
"I prayed for their enlightenment," he said.
President Benigno Aquino on Friday certified the RH bill as urgent.
Aquino told reporters that he would like to see an end to congressional deliberations on what he called as a “divisive issue” before the year ends.
It will fasttrack approval of the measure, allowing the Senate to approve its version of the bill on 2nd and 3rd reading on the same day before it is sent to the bicameral conference committee to be harmonized with the lower House version.
The bill paves the way for sex education in schools and the provision of free contraceptives in a country with one of Asia's fastest-growing populations.
"Let us have children by choice, not by chance," said Rep. Edcel Lagman, the main proponent of the bill, after the voting ended just before dawn Wednesday.
His comment reflects the view of Aquino who is pushing for the law that he hopes would help bring down poverty in a nation of nearly 100 million people as well as the high maternal mortality rate.
The move is supported by women's groups and the United Nations but is vehemently opposed by the politically influential Catholic church, which is against the use of contraceptives, including condoms and birth control pills.
The proposed legislation would come into force after both houses of parliament agree on a common version that would be signed into law by the president.
Aquino had urged legislators at a recent meeting to help get the law passed after more than a year of bitter debates on the issue.
But he stressed that while he was for "responsible parenthood", he would leave it to the legislators to vote on the measure based on their conscience. - with a report from Agence France-Presse