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Aquino faces threat of excommunication

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Aquino faces threat of excommunication

Protester shouts at bishops: ‘Damaso!’

By Philip Tubeza
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 01:01:00 10/01/2010

MANILA, Philippines — Raising the ante in their conflict over birth control, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) president Thursday said President Benigno Aquino III could be “excommunicated” if he actively promoted the distribution of artificial contraceptives to Filipino couples.

Protest against Catholic hierarchy interferance in politics

Mr. Aquino, a practising Catholic, recently signified support for couples who would want to limit the number of their children by using contraceptives. His statement has been taken to mean he would favor government distribution of contraceptives to them.

“Being the President of all, you must consider the position of the Catholic Church because we are approaching this issue from the moral aspect,” the CBCP president, Bishop Nereo Odchimar, said on Church-run Radio Veritas.

“Abortion is a grave crime. Excommunication is attached to those. That is an issue of gravity, that is a violation of God’s commandment,” he stressed.

Asked if Mr. Aquino could be excommunicated if he promoted the distribution of contraceptives, the CBCP president said: “That is a possibility.”

But Odchimar added: “Right now, it is not a proximate possibility.” He said, however, that “we will look into that.”

In an incident showing how birth control is an explosive issue, a popular tourist guide, Carlos Celdran, was arrested Thursday afternoon after shouting in front of the main altar of Manila Cathedral during an ecumenical service.

“Stop involving yourselves in politics!” Celdran—who was dressed up like Rizal, wearing a black suit with a top hat, on the day of his execution—screamed inside the cathedral.

Celdran held up a placard with the word “Damaso,” referring to the hated Spanish friar in Jose Rizal’s novel “Noli Me Tangere.”

Papal nuncio present

Among those present at the ceremony were the Papal Nuncio, Archbishop Edward Adams, Manila Archbishop Gaudencio Cardinal Rosales, and other bishops, including those from other denominations.

The ecumenical service marked the second anniversary of the May They Be One Bible campaign, a joint effort by Catholics and Protestant leaders to distribute 5 million Bibles to 5 million poor Filipino families.

Excommunication, or denial of the sacraments to a person, is the harshest penalty the Roman Catholic Church can impose on erring members. In the past, it has excommunicated dictators Juan Peron of Argentina and Fidel Castro of Cuba.

Mr. Aquino did not directly comment on the excommunication issue, saying in a statement that his position on family planning had not changed and that he continued to advocate for the government to provide couples an informed choice in planning their families.

“We are all guided by our consciences. My position has not changed,” the President said. “The state’s duty is to educate our families as to their responsibilities and to respect their decisions if they are in conformity to our laws.”

Invitation to dialogue

Odchimar said there had been no reply from Malacañang to the bishops’ call for a dialogue.

“Before his (State of the Nation Address), the CBCP issued an open letter stating our position that there should be a dialogue,” Odchimar said.

“(But) we do not have any feelers. None up to now... We don’t want to be confrontational. We want dialogue. We are just waiting,” he added.

Odchimar said he had talked to his bishops in Mindanao and the Visayas and they supported the calls by lay Catholic groups to hold protests against any government plan to distribute artificial contraceptives.

Asked if he still trusted the President, Odchimar said: “Aahhh... We will exhaust all peaceful means. I mean means of dialogue. We will be discussing that when I go to Manila.”

Odchimar was reportedly well-known as part of a bloc in the CBCP strongly supportive of then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

Lakas stalwart and former Surigao del Sur Rep. Prospero Pichay last year described the bishop and Arroyo as good friends.

Pharmaceuticals benefit

Odchimar also said that Mr. Aquino’s call for Filipinos to take the “straight path” should be taken “with a grain of salt” because of his position on artificial contraception

“The position of the Church [is] that human life is conceived at the beginning of conception. With contraceptive pills that are abortifacient, that is killing the fertilized ovum,” Odchimar said.

He reiterated the Church’s opposition against the passage of the reproductive health bill, which recognizes the right of Filipino couples to choose the birth control they wish to adopt.

“We have been consistent with our position that we are against it. If the reason is the population problem is connected to poverty alleviation, I don’t (think population increase) is a problem. (That) is not an issue,” Odchimar said.

He said the bishops were “aware that there is much money (in the) lobby” for the passage of the bill.

“It’s an open secret that the pharmaceuticals and laboratories will be the ones who will benefit, because they are the ones supplying the pills and other contraceptive devices,” he said.

“We will be planning our next move ... We do not have police power, we don’t discount the possibility of mobilizing the lay organizations,” he said.

RH bill under study

Malacañang had no immediate response to calls by lawmakers for Mr. Aquino to certify as urgent the controversial RH bill.

“We have yet to see the RH bill and we have yet to review that,” said presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda.

“It’s unfair for us to certify something that we have not yet reviewed,” he told reporters.

Lacierda said Mr. Aquino remained firm in his position to promote responsible parenthood.

“The decision to determine what size and what method should be with the parents as the decision makers. And whatever their informed choice may be, the State will help them, especially the poor,” he said.

Certify the bill

Lacierda said the Palace had yet to hear from Catholic bishops on the openness of the President to talks with them to explain his family planning position.

He said the Palace wanted to know what had been the CBCP response to an invitation for a dialogue sent to them by Mr. Aquino, who was then a senator, in February.

Lacierda said Senator Aquino proposed the dialogue during the presidential campaign.

Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. said he would ask the President to certify the RH bill as a priority, and that he himself would push for its approval even at the risk of incurring Church ire.

Other lawmakers, however, pressed Mr. Aquino to heed the Church position, cautioning him against endorsing the measure that seeks to promote contraception and entails use of public funds.

“I think it’s OK to ask the President if he can certify that. Anyway, he has bitten the bullet already,” Belmonte told reporters.

In general, the various bills on reproductive health call on the government to promote both artificial and natural methods of family planning, sex education and responsible parenthood.

Don’t defy Church

Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez warned Mr. Aquino against defying the Church on the RH bill.

“President Aquino should heed the request of the Church to reconsider the use or promotion of contraception. This reproductive health bill will violate the Constitution and the right of parents to rear children and determine the number of their children,” Rodriguez said by phone.

He said the measure would entail the use of government funds to promote the use of contraceptives, and the prosecution of doctors who defy its mandate.

Bacolod City Rep. Anthony Golez, a former health undersecretary, also posed objections to the RH bill, saying this ran counter to a doctors’ oath to protect life.

With reports from Christine O. Avendaño and TJ Burgonio

Last Updated ( Sunday, 10 October 2010 16:20 )