Friday, October 15, 2010


Even President Aquino’s most avid fans here are hedging their support for his stand on the controversial reproductive health bill that’s fanned the simmering debate between the government and Catholic Church.

Dr. Arlene “Bambi” Lorica, a Virginia-based “holistic pediatrician”, revealed how she squirmed while delivering a lecture on artificial contraceptives in school.

“Hindi ko ma-take. Masyado malakas ang influence ng simbahan sa akin,” she said, but also admitting she is a “conditional supporter” of artificial family planning methods.

Lorica was among Fil-Ams from the Metro DC region who travelled to New York just to see President Aquino during his visit there last month.

“I don’t think the government should promote any type of family planning,” said Anne Tabligan, a young Fil-Am professional in Washington DC.

She opposes excommunicating the President but added, “if his beliefs continues to run counter to the teachers of the church, maybe he should consider changing his religion.”

US promoting “backdoor abortion”?

Pro-life activist Eileen Cosby has been lobbying the US Congress to cut off aid for artificial contraceptives in the Philippines and blames State Secretary Hillary Clinton for promoting a “backdoor approach to abortion”.

Cosby, who helped establish the Washington DC-based Filipino Family Fund, reminded President Aquino that he “ran on the legacy of his parents and the trust of the people that are now being betrayed.”

Cosby urged him to “return to the church and fully embrace all the church has to offer”.

The reproductive health bill has languished in the Philippine Congress for the past 14 years – largely because of the Catholic Church’s strong opposition.

President Aquino met with leaders of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) earlier this week that Palace spokesmen described as only the first of a series of meetings on the thorny issue.

The President may have inadvertently stirred the hornet’s nest when he told a The Filipino Channel (TFC)-organized town hall meeting in San Francisco last month that “government might provide assistance to those without means if they want to employ a particular method.”

The debate over women’s health, family planning, artificial contraception and abortion is no more heated in the Philippines as it is in the US.

A Pulse Asia survey in 2009 showed 82% of Filipinos believe government should not only educate couples but also provide them with services and materials so they can practice the family planning method of their choice.

Compelling medical, social reason

The Guttmacher Institute based in Washington DC estimated that from 400,000 to half a million Filipino women had an abortion in 2000, and that millions more defy the Catholic Church’s ban on artificial contraceptives. The United Nations says 46% of Filipino couples practice some form of contraception.

There are now over 92 million Filipinos, according to the Philippine Census Bureau, making the Philippines the 12th most populous nation in the world.

That’s after the government curbed population growth from 2.36% in 2000 to 1.8% according to World Bank statistics.

Dr. Lorica said she would support contraception “only if there is a compelling medical or social reason”.

“I feel from a medical standpoint, the use of condoms can be justified for purposes of safe sex practices,” she explained. Other forms, she noted, carries side-effects.

“The government should weigh the pro’s and con’s and combine the medical and ethical perspectives,” Lorica averred.

Battling for souls: The geopolitics of religion

The Catholic Church in the Philippines is especially vociferous in its opposition because it’s largely seen – even by Catholics in the US – as a place where they can hold the line against what they see as the pervasive evil of abortion (which they equate with artificial contraception).

“Abortion is illegal in the Philippines,” Fr. Jerome Magat, vicar of the St. William parish in Stafford, Virginia said in an earlier interview, “We come from a country where abortion is taboo and we have a culture that values the family. Filipinos carry all these traits that are so ready-made to be converted to such strong players in the pro-life movement.”

The battle for the Filipino soul, as the church sees this clash, has deeper implications for the Catholic Church’s evangelical ambitions in Asia.

Many years back, we were shown a special corner of the San Carlos seminary in Makati where the church trains missionaries bound for communist China.

It’s not something the church likes to talk about, our guide told us. “This is God’s army that’s destined to save Chinese souls,” he revealed.

“Like the Greek pilgrims of 2,000 years ago, so too the men of our time…ask believers to not only speak of Jesus but to make Jesus visible in every corner of the earth,” Pope Benedict XI homily on World Mission Sunday this week proclaims.

“I hope President Aquino can man up,” Cosby declared.

“Fil-Ams are concerned,” she said, “we can accept foreign aid but we can not accept the kind of health care that not even Americans want.”

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