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No gag order, says church

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No gag order, says church

No ceasefire with Malacañang either

By Jomar Canlas  and Efren L. Danao
Manila Times
Thursday, 07 October 2010 00:00

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) on Wednesday said that it had not issued a gag order to effect a ceasefire with Malacañang on the raging issues of artificial contraception and reproductive health, contrary to newspaper reports (none of them from The Manila Times).

In a statement on the CBCP website, Father Francis Lucas of the Catholic Media Network said that what was put in place was a measure on avoiding situations that may affect a pending dialogue between the bishops and the Aquino administration on the controversial issues.

“We cannot issue a gag order to all the bishops,” added Lucas, the executive secretary of the CBCP’s Episcopal Commission on Social Communications and Mass Media.

He clarified that the supposed gag order came directly from the CBCP president, Archbishop Nereo Odchima, for the bishops to not “muddle” the issue and support the holding of the dialogue instead.

“There was no gag order. Bishop Odchimar does not want to expand the issues running around which may not be helpful for a healthy dialogue,” Lucas said.

Odchimar’s request “to focus more on the dialogue” was made on Tuesday in the wake of Malacañang’s call for “sobriety” amid a growing tension between the Catholic Church and the Aquino administration over the reproductive health and artificial contraception issues.

Lucas made the statement after Father Melvin Castro, the executive secretary of the CBCP’s Commission on Family and Life, said that they are withdrawing from giving “unnecessary statements” until a formal dialogue is finally held with the government.

He stressed that Castro’s statement was a personal opinion, it was not the official position of the CBCP and the Catholic Church.

Despite church opposition, an independent national survey in January found that as many as 68 percent of voters believed that the government should provide couples with all the legal means of family planning.

On Monday last week, President Benigno Aquino 3rd said that his government would provide artificial contraceptives to poor couples who requested them.

That set off a word war between the Aquino administration and the CBCP, who was reported to have threatened the President with excommunication, a report that the bishops denied.

Enrile opposes

Meanwhile, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile also on Wednesday opposed inclusion of P391 million for family planning and contraceptives in the budget of the Department of Health.

“That will be wiped out,” he said after the hearing of the Health department’s budget by the Senate Committee on Finance headed by Sen. Franklin Drilon.

Enrile explained that allowing the funding of the Health department’s program would mean the proposed Reproductive Health (RH) bill is already assured of passage.

He expressed doubts on effectiveness of condoms in reducing the incidence of HIV/AIDS, which Health Secretary Enrique Ona was espousing during the hearing

“There are no empirical data showing this [supposed potency]. And can condoms prevent AIDS in same-sex [unions], or sex between man and man or between woman and woman?” Enrile asked.

He said that the P391 million is better used for purchasing medicines and for providing budget support for various government hospitals.
Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto 3rd also opposed the budget funding, saying, “If you want to use a condom, buy your own. Why let the government pay for it?”

“I will move for the [budget] cut of the contraceptives. All of it,” Sotto said.

Sen. Sergio Osmena 3rd, however, was for the keeping of the Health department’s fund for contraceptives and family planning.

“We need it. I am certain the RH bill will be passed,” he said.

Drilon closed the committee hearing on the budget with the fund intact.

He said that it would be up to the plenary to vote on whether to cut it.

President Aquino’s support for government-funded distribution of contraceptives has been strongly opposed by the Catholic Church.

Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago has filed a bill seeking to promote reproductive health, recognizing the right of every couple to make an informed choice on the issue of birth control.

Her proposal has been referred to the Senate Committee on Health headed by Sen. Pia Cayetano.

Public hearing on the bill, however, would be scheduled only after the Senate disposed of the proposed 2011 budget.

Earlier, Cayetano expressed support for the legislation of such program.

She said that the government has the duty to provide basic health services to the people, including reproductive health. Cayetano noted that other countries that are predominantly Roman Catholic such as Italy, Spain and those in Latin America have reproductive-health programs.

Sen. Edgardo Angara said that in the Philippines, Aurora province headed by his sister, Gov. Bellaflor Angara Castillo, is implementing a reproductive-health program authorized by the provincial board.

The Philippines estimates its 2010 population at 94.01 million, up from 76.5 million in the 2000 census, making it the 12th most populous nation in the world.

With report from AFP


Last Updated ( Wednesday, 06 October 2010 15:45 )