Philippine churches take different sides on population vote

By ENInews
26 Nov 2011

Inspired by the Occupy Wall Street movement in the United States, various groups trooped to the Philippine House of Representatives in late November to demand a vote on a population-control bill that is opposed by Roman Catholic Church leadership - writes Maurice Malanes.

Holding signs reading "keep your theology out of my biology," demonstrators from the "Occupy for RH" (Reproductive Health) movement urged legislators on 21 November 2011 to "listen to the people and not to the bishops."

"At Wall Street, they expressed economic dissatisfaction. Here, we're expressing our dissatisfaction over our reproductive health policy. The lawmakers can't keep interpolating till kingdom come. They shouldn't kill the Reproductive Health bill through delays," Dr Junice Melgar, the movement's chief coordinator, told national television on 21 November.

The proposed law promotes both natural and artificial methods of contraception. But the Catholic Church accepts only natural family planning methods and has been opposing the bill.

Supporters such as Representative Walden Bello urged President Benigno Aquino to take a firm stand on the bill and urged legislators of both houses to vote on the bill before this year ends.

Catholic leaders remain undaunted. "Managing population is not as simple as stopping babies from being conceived," Bishop Carlito Cenzon of the Baguio diocese told ENInews on 22 November.

He warned against the adverse effects of a "contraceptive mentality." He cited countries with aging populations such as Japan, Singapore and some parts of Europe, where married couples no longer have interest in raising bigger families even if offered economic incentives.

Monsignor Andres Cosalan, vicar-general of the Baguio diocese, also recalled that Singapore had an aggressive birth control programme in the 1960s and 1970s.

"The slogan then was 'Stop at Two!' There were harsh measures involving the availability of housing and educational services. Singaporeans did stop at two," Cosalan wrote in 20 November in the Baguio Midland Courier weekly newspaper. The irony, he noted, is that for the survival of Singapore, the government is now asking its people: "Please have four, if not more!" But there have been hardly any takers, he said.

Cosalan told ENInews that as more Filipinos are educated and prefer to marry later because of career pursuits, they also prefer fewer children than many couples did ten years ago. "It won't be long before we'll be confronted by the consequences of an aging population ... With increased retirement benefits and fewer wage earners, this would be a strain on the national budget," he said.

Not all Christians are opposed to the bill, which seeks to manage the growth of a population now at more than 94 million.

The National Council of Churches in the Philippines, which groups ten mainline Protestant churches, has supported the bill since 2009 because it promises education and reproductive health benefits to mothers.

Bishop Efraim Tendero, national director of the Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches, the largest network of evangelical Christians in the Philippines, has said the bill "protects the life of both mother and the baby in her womb" and thus described the bill as "pro-quality of life."

[With acknowledgements to ENInews. ENInews, formerly Ecumenical News International, is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Communion of Reformed Churches and the Conference of European Churches.]

[Ekk/3]

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