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
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)
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