Philippine Contraception Bill Pits Aquino Vs Church

Tuesday, 17 May 2011 07:03 AM

By Manny Mogato

MANILA, May 17 (Reuters) - Philippine politicians resumed debating on Tuesday a reproductive health bill that is increasingly seen as a test of the political will of President Benigno Aquino, a champion of the measure, and the Catholic Church which fiercely opposes it.

The Church has a high-profile politician arguing its case: Manny Pacquiao, the world's best pound-for-pound boxer and a neophyte lawmaker, came out against the bill which would improve access to contraception and sex education.

"I am totally against the RH (reproductive health) bill," Pacquiao, 32, a father-of-four, told reporters after meeting members of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines.

"Let's listen to God and not an ordinary man. We should educate people on how to plan their family, but, in accordance with God's teachings. The RH bill will not end poverty. We must stop corruption if we really want to help our poor people."

Opponents of the bill have linked the use of contraception to abortion, which is illegal in the Philippines and would remain so. Supporters, including Aquino, say it aims to improve maternal health and family planning to help alleviate poverty.

Aquino's support is seen as improving the bill's chances of passing, after the Church has successfully blocked a number of previous versions. But a protracted battle could also erode his personal support and sideline other legislative plans.

Politicians are wary of upsetting the Church, which is not afraid to preach politics from the pulpit, and analysts say the bill could be Aquino's toughest test -- despite an opinion poll showing a clear majority of Filipinos support the measures.

"He can't risk antagonising further the church and losing altogether its support, because his mother and his predecessor were shored up by the church during their difficult times," Joselito Zulueta, an analyst on church issues, told Reuters.

"In the cases of Ferdinand Marcos and former President Joseph Estrada, the church's opposition to their regimes was very decisive."

Both Marcos and Estrada were forced from office with the backing of the Church, in 1986 and 2001 respectively. The presidency's of Aquino's mother, Cory, and Gloria Macapagal Arroyo were strengthened by the Church's backing.

Aquino pledged last month to push for the enactment of the reproductive health bill, even at the risk of his excommunication from the Church. [ID:nL3E7FH07F]

Church leaders walked out of talks on the bill last week, and the war or words escalated after a senior bishop compared Aquino with ousted dictator Marcos for warning against calls for civil disobedience by opponents of the bill. [ID:nL3E7GD1Y9]

About 80 percent of the population, which is nearing 100 million, are Roman Catholics, including Aquino. ($1 = 43.4 Philippine Pesos) (Editing by John Mair)

© 2015 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.

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