Manila (AsiaNews) - On the day dedicated to the Virgin of Guadalupe, protectress of the unborn, the Filipino Congress has voted in second reading in favour of the birth control bill despite the opposition of the Catholic Church and pro-life groups.
As requested by Catholic bishops, each Member of Congress motivated his or her vote. Various prelates were present at the session, including Mgr Jose Reyes, bishop of Antipolo and head of the Episcopal Council on the family and life. Now it is the turn of the Senate to vote on the bill in second reading.
According to Filipino media, this is an historic vote for the country. The Reproductive Health Bill 4244 has had to wait 14 years before it could be approved with five major changes and a year of discussions in Congress.
Millions of Filipinos waited anxiously for the vote. In the coming months, they could be forced to have only two children.
In the capital and various other cities, anti-bill rallies were held. For the Church, it is the first step towards the legalisation of abortion.
Card Luis Antonio Tagle celebrated a pro-life vigil in Our Lady of Guadalupe shrine in Makaty (Manila). Processions and Masses have been held in all of the country's parishes.
Many Filipinos have responded to the first papal message on twitter by appealing to the Holy Father on behalf of their country, calling on him to support through his prayers their battle against abortion and birth control.
Today, the Bishops' Conference sent a letter to all Members of Congress, urging them to vote according to their conscience, aware that "the truth must be the basis of the law, rather than the result of legislation."
For the country's prelates, the country does not need birth control regulations, but a new law "to affirm and protect the truth about the dignity of the human person, who has been created in the very image of God; the sanctity of the family, the basic social unit which even our Constitution recognizes as the foundation of the nation."
After various changes, the bill still does not allow abortion. It does however promote family planning, urging couples to have no more than two children. Although it allows medical staff to opt out on grounds of conscience, it promotes voluntary sterilisation.
By contrast, the Catholic Church and Catholic associations support Natural Family Programme (NFP), which aims at spreading a culture of responsibility and love based on natural values.
The bill before Congress has been promoted by big international organisations like the United Nations and UNICEF, who link poverty to a high birth rate. Countries that do not meet their demands lose the right to humanitarian aid.
According to Jemy Gatdula, today's vote is the "expression of political will" designed to defend personal convictions, not the interests of the people.
Senator Pia Cayetano and Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago have talked about "safe and satisfying sex" as if it were a human right, recognised by international law, when it is not, Gatdula said.
Since the action program for the 1994 International Conference on Population Development (ICPD) was adopted, a large segment of the Filipino left has argued that birth control is a necessary step to avoid the country's collapse, claiming that it had to be adopted in order to receive economic aid from international organisations.
However, the 1994 conference and those that followed have always referred to indications, not mandatory choices. (S.C.)