Manila, Philippines – Catholic bishops on Monday said they will suspend their talks with the Aquino administration on the family planning bill, which is currently before the Filipino House of Representatives despite demands for changes by the Church and pro-life groups. If it gets through the lower house, it will move quickly to the Senate for final approval unless the president intervenes.
In a letter to President Aquino, Mgr Nereo Odchimar, president of the Bishops’ Conference, said, “Considering the speed in the ongoing legislative processes both in the Lower House and in the Senate, I deem it prudent to suspend [. . .] further talks with the executive department”.
In the missive, the prelate said that whilst talks were suspended because of an ad limina apostolorum visit now underway in the Vatican, discussions should resume at the end of March.
Media and pro-bill parties have criticised the bishops’ decision. Today, Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago said that the bishops’ move should test the Church’s power over the president and his policies.
From the presidential palace, a spokesman described the bishops’ decision to suspend talks as “unfortunate”. He also urged the prelates to return quickly to the discussion table.
On 19 January, President Aquino said he would add changes negotiated with the representatives of the Catholic Church to the draft bill, renamed the Responsible Parenthood bill. A few days later, he backed away, allowing the existing bill to go ahead without changes.
According to pro-life group Human Life International (HLI), foreign groups, including US Aid, pledged US$ 900 million in aid to the government if the bill was speeded up.
The Reproductive Health bill has been under consideration for the past four years. Although it excludes abortion, it promotes family planning. The bill would encourage voluntary sterilisation and urge couples to have only two children as well as penalise medical staff who object to it on grounds of conscience.
As an alternative, the Catholic Church and Catholic associations support natural family planning, which aims at spreading a culture of responsibility and love based on Christian values.