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NEWS UPDATES 5 October 2010

Aquino tells bishops to tone down rhetoric

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President Benigno Aquino 3rd on Monday told the country's bishops to confrontthe government less over their differences on reproductive-health issues, including his support for artificial birth control. The apparent ribbing aside, Malaca?ang said that it still would hold a dialogue with members of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) on the Aquino administration's stand on artificial contraception.

During a Palace briefing, spokesman Edwin Lacierda said that the meeting aims to inform the bishops of the President's position on responsible parenthood and to clarify the misconception that Mr. Aquino was supporting abortion.

"The President is against abortion because it is against the Constitution, it is against the Revised Penal Code, and so we are going to the [dialogue] to inform the bishops of the position of the President," Lacierda pointed out.

He welcomed the CBCP's move to refrain from issuing statements on the reproductive-health issues, pending the dialogue between the government and the bishops.

Before the bishops took the step, Lacierda had called on the concerned parties, including the Catholic Church, to be sober with their statements.

He made the appeal after Monsignor Juanito Figura, the secretary general of the CBCP, said that the bishops' group could carry out civil disobedience if the government pushed through with its plan to distribute condoms.

"We are calling for sobriety. Statements like that will not help in the discussion," Lacierda said during the Malaca?ang briefing.

"We are calling on all parties, on the [Catholic] Church and on those who are for RH [Reproductive Health] bills, to be sober with their statements," the spokesman added.

House Minority Leader Edcel Lagman also on Monday said that the threat of civil disobedience from the bishops could backfire on them.

The Catholic faithful when pushed against the wall, according to Lagman, might escalate their support for enactment of a nationwide and comprehensive reproductive health law that, he said, is health-oriented, rights-based and development-driven.

He was the author of House Bill 96 (Reproductive Health, Responsible Parenthood and Population and Development).

Lagman cited that 20 years of surveys conducted by Social Weather Stations (SWS) and Pulse Asia that showed that that the "vast majority of Filipinos who are predominantly Catholic want that the RH bill to be passed and for the government to allocate public funds for procurement and distribution of contraceptives to family-planning acceptors."

He said that latest SWS national survey revealed that 71 percent of Filipinos are in favor of the RH bill and 76 percent agree that there should be a law requiring government to teach family planning to the youth.

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