Rights group joins fray on RH bill

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews/15 June) – The local chapter of the London-based Amnesty International has joined the now much debated Reproductive Health Bill and is calling on the bill’s leading opposition, the Roman Catholic Church, to reconsider its position.

During the launching of the 2011 Human Rights Report book here over the weekend, the Philippine section of AI said that after a substantive discussion among their members, the group agreed to officially support the enactment of the controversial bill.

House Bill No. 4244 or An Act Providing for a Comprehensive Policy on Responsible Parenthood, Reproductive Health, and Population and Development, and For Other Purposes is principally authored by Albay 1st district Rep. Edcel Lagman.

Its Senate version is Senate Bill 2378, An Act Providing for a National Policy on Reproductive Health and Population and Development introduced by Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago.

“We add the voice of AIPh in the call to pass the RH Bill as a significant step towards ‘choosing life,’ as a step towards the realization of sexual and reproductive rights and maternal health rights. We add the perspective of human rights in this campaign,” AIPh director Aurora Corazon A. Parong said.

Parong cited a report of the Centre for Reproductive Rights in August last year that “found that more than 560,000 women terminated their pregnancies each year and about 1,000 of them died annually after clandestine illegal abortions.”

“The (Roman) Catholic Church should realize that this is an issue of the right to information. Let the people decide for themselves, because in the end it is them who will feed their offspring,” she said.

Malaybalay Bishop Jose Cabantan said in a text message Wednesday that human rights are “anchored in the dignity of persons as God’s children.”

“We believe that life is primarily a precious gift from God—from conception to its natural end—and even life eternal. Hence, we should respect the life of the unborn up to its natural end,” Bp. Cabantan said.

In a phone interview Wednesday, Msgr. Rey Monsanto, spokesperson of the Archdiocese of Cagayan de Oro, said the stand of the Roman Catholic Church is based “on moral grounds and not so much on politics.”

“I believe the Catholic Church won’t change its stand. (Its stand is) based more on moral ground and not so much on politics, the morality of contraceptive means and its effects on values are basic considerations,” Msgr. Monsanto said.

Roman Catholics comprise at least 85 percent of the city’s population.

The Iglesia ni Cristo, Iglesia Filipina Independiente and the United Church of Christ in the Philippines have officially thrown their support to the RH Bill.

A group of Muslims here concurs with the Catholic Church’s opposition to the RH Bill.

“We are also against against the RH Bill because it is against Islam,” Mohamad Sidic Gondarangin, president of the Jumaah Oro Al-Islamiya said Wednesday.

Earlier, the Catholic Bishops Council of the Philippines (CBCP) found a popular ally in world boxing champion and Sarangani Rep. Manny Pacquiao. However, Lagman demolished Pacquiao when the neophyte congressman engaged him in an interpellation during a floor deliberation.

Gabriela Women’s Party Rep. Luzviminda C. Ilagan, in an interview here last month, narrated how she felt embarrassed for Pacquiao as the latter was “visibly unprepared.”

“He really looked pathetic and I really feel sorry for the guy. He should have studied this bill well before taking on a veteran congressman like Lagman,” Ilagan had said.

Parong, however, clarified that AIPh is not trying to pick a fight with the Roman Catholic Church but is calling for “open-mindedness and reason.”

“We are not at war with RC pero itong panukalang batas na ito ay nakabatay sa karapatan ng tao hingil sa (but this bill is based on a person’s) sexual and reproductive rights,” she said.

She argued that many Catholic-dominated countries have embraced the artificial contraception methods and that if the “Holy Pope himself approved the use of condoms as protection against the proliferation of AIDS (Acute Immune Deficiency Syndrome), then the local Catholic church should restudy its position on the bill.”

“I believe (the Roman) Catholic church is a homogenous religion. I think there is a need for the (local) church hierarchy what it plans the church will be in the eyes of its followers,” said Parong.

However, IFI Misamis Oriental-Bukidnon-Camiguin Diocese Bishop Felixberto Calang had earlier expressed reservations on the bill as it might be exploited by foreign pharmaceutical corporations.

“We maintain that the decision ultimately rests on our members. That’s why it is imperative that we educate our members so that they can make informed decisions,” Calang said in an interview over the weekend.

“However, I must say I have reservations in that a big pharmaceutical corporation may have lobbied this bill in exchange of cornering the market that will be created once the bill gets enacted,” he added. (Cong B. Corrales/MindaNews)