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NEWS UPDATES Asean Affairs        26  March 2011

RH bill debate rages in Philippines

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Thousands of pro-life advocates and members of various religious groups on Friday converged at the Quirino Grandstand in Manila's Rizal Park (Luneta) to show their opposition to the reproductive health (RH) bill pending in Congress.

Catholic Church leaders and pro-life groups led the prayer rally themed "Filipinos! Unite Under God for Life" held Friday afternoon, with Manila Archbishop Gaudencio Cardinal Rosales conducting evening Mass.

The cardinal said that the prayer rally aims to deliver the message "that our country will never allow the repressive RH bill to be passed."

According to the organizers, those who attended the rally came from the parishes and shrines of the Metropolitan See, from all Catholic organizations and sectors, transparochial communities including El Shaddai and Couples for Christ, pro-life groups, catechists, students, youth and the urban poor.

Friday afternoon's Masses in all Roman Catholic churches and chapels in Manila were cancelled for the prayer rally

But more than 200 faculty members from the University of the Philippines and the Ateneo de Manila University defied the Catholic Church also on Friday by pledging their support for the controversial RH bill pending in Congress.

The faculty members said that they are putting their expert opinion behind the "vital piece of legislation" and urged lawmakers to immediately pass it.

"Our studied and collective opinion is that House Bill 4244 is a vital piece of legislation. Its passage will mandate policies that will save women's and men's lives, improve infant survival, enhance young people's health and well-being and enable couples and individuals to make responsible decisions in planning their families," they added in a statement.

"We also endorse this bill as a necessary element to achieve the goals of social equity, poverty reduction and national development. There is overwhelming scientific evidence that these goals can be achieved without resorting to population control," the statement said.

The group also expressed concerns over reports that teachers "offer incentives, such as bonus points, for students to make anti-RH statements or engage in anti-RH activities."

"This practice as an abuse on the part of the teacher regardless of whether the teacher is for or against the RH bill," it said.

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