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'Excommunication' Hit! Senators back Aquino

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'Excommunication' Hit
Senators back Aquino; Pacquiao sides with Church

By HANNAH L. TORREGOZA

Manila Bulletin
October 1, 2010, 6:34pm

MANILA, Philippines — Senators on Friday deplored what they said is a “hysterical reaction” of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) that threatened to excommunicate President Benigno S. Aquino III and other pro-reproductive health lawmakers for supporting the family planning measure.

Senators Franklin Drilon and Pilar Juliana “Pia” Cayetano, in separate statements, rejected CBCP President Bishop Nereo Odchimar’s warning branding his statements as “exceptionally uncalled for.”

“Threats and intimidation will not bring us to a rational conclusion on this controversy nor will they help solve the problems of the country,” Drilon said who currently heads the Senate Committee on Finance.

“We lament and are saddened by the hysterical reaction of Bishop Odchimar,” said Drilon.

Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III also said the the excommunication threat on President Aquino is ‘’too harsh.’’

Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago asked Odchimar not to excommunicate President Aquino, herself, and other sponsors of the RH (reproductive) bills in Congress.

As the Church was getting the flak over the excommunication threat, Bishop Odchimar said on Friday that expelling President Aquino from the Church was not being contemplated by the CBCP.

“While the prevailing sentiment of a number of bishops was that of dismay and frustration over the reported stance of the President regarding artificial contraceptives, imposition of the canonical sanction has not been contemplated by the CBCP,” he said in a statement.

As the senators expressed support to President Aquino’s stand on family planning, World Boxing Organization (WBO) super welterweight champion and Sarangani Rep. Manny Pacquiao supported the stand of the Catholic Church against the implementation of artificial family planning methods.

Since the President has not yet made a major policy shift on the reproduction health issue and is open to a dialogue with Church officials, Drilon urged Odchimar to approach the issue with a “sober and rational manner and refrain from making inflammatory statements such as that threat of excommunication.”

“(A) dialogue is the best way to resolve this controversy because we believe government and the Catholic Church share a common vision which is addressing the mass poverty problem of the country and providing a better society for our people,” Drilon said.

Drilon said he is now surprised over Odchimar’s critical views against the Aquino administration and wished the prelate was similarly vocal when the government, during former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s administration, was faced with bribery and corruption issues such as the cancelled $329-million national broadband project.

“How I wish Bishop Odchimar was similarly vocal when the nation was confronted by abuses and excesses of the Arroyo administration such as the ZTE bribery scandal, the Fertilizer Scam, the Hello Garci election fraud and more recently, the P1 million Le Cirque dinner in New York,” Drilon recalled.

“Sadly, we did not hear from him then,” he said.

Cayetano, on the other hand, reminded the Church that as Chief Executive, President Aquino has the burden to provide basic health services to the Filipino people, including reproductive health.

As head of the Senate Committee on Health and Demography, Cayetano urged the people to support Aquino’s pro-choice option despite the mounting criticism and pressure from Catholic Church officials.

“For standing by his pro-choice position despite mounting criticism and pressure from the Catholic Church, the President urgently needs support not only from the advocates of the Reproductive Health bill, but more importantly from every citizen who believes in the right of couples to make an informed choice on the issue of birth control,” said Cayetano.

“The Catholic Church has the right to propagate its teachings to its flock. But the State also has a duty to provide basic health services to its people, including reproductive health. Both are possible under the Department of Health’s plan to promote both natural and artificial family planning methods. People should keep an open mind about it,” she added.

Cayetano emphasized that freedom of choice is an integral part of reproductive health as no one is being forced to use one contraceptive over another.

Citing the country’s high maternal mortality rate, she said many Filipino women die at childbirth due to poverty, lack of access to facilities and professional care which she believes can be addressed by the Reproductive Health bill which is now pending before both houses of Congress.

Aside from this, the Philippines has a very high abortion rate which could be avoided if people, especially women, are educate about the issue.

She said Catholic countries, including Spain, Italy and Latin American states, all have reproductive health programs.

“I urge mutual respect from the contending sides of this debate, and I continue to hope that both will find common points of cooperation and convergence towards forging a national family program that is comprehensive and acceptable to all,” Cayetano said.

Santiago, author of Senate Bill No. 2378, “An Act Providing for a National Policy on Reproductive Health and Population and Development,” said her bill definitely prohibits abortion, and continues to view it as a crime under the Penal Code.

“I respectfully submit that the penalty of excommunication would be too extreme and disproportionate. It will raise constitutional issues on the church-state relationship,” she said.

The senator invoked the Catholic doctrine of freedom of individual conscience, and the doctrine of liberation theology, which preaches the principle of “preferential option for the poor.”

Santiago, a lawyer, said she was repeatedly taught to implement liberation theology when she took her master’s degree at the Maryhill School of Theology.

The senator said that historically, excommunication, meaning expulsion from the Catholic Church and denial of the Eucharist, would place her and other legislators in the same category as those guilty of so-called serious sins, such as apostasy, murder, heresy, and adultery.

“I plead that I am not guilty of mortal sin, which is defined as a fundamental rejection of God. On the contrary, I am a strong advocate of social justice, particularly the anti-corruption crusade,” she said.

Santiago, said that at the heart of Jesus’ message of salvation was his proclamation of the coming of the Kingdom of God as a reality open to everyone, including the destitute poor.

“Since God is a loving Father, who rejoices when he regains his lost children in the Kingdom of God, then there should be no excommunication for a senator like me who is merely exercising freedom of individual conscience as preached by Vatican II,” she said.

Pacquiao said the Church is just preaching the words of the Almighty Father, thus, bishops and priests should not be blamed if they are against the national government’s plan to distribute condoms and other artificial methods to reduce the country’s rapid population growth.

He stressed that the most important thing to resolve the conflict between the government and the Church on family planning is to have continuous consultations.

However, he agreed to contentions by other sectors that the practice of family planning boils down to the choice of the couples whether or not to have more or lesser children.

 

(With reports from Rolly T. Carandang, Mario B. Casayuran, Leslie Ann G. Aquino, and Dexter A. See)

 

 



Last Updated ( Thursday, 07 October 2010 19:45 )