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Aquino’s indecisiveness shows in RH bill stand

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Lost in the din of the suicide of former AFP chief Gen. Angelo Reyes and the shocking revelations about the massive corruption in the military is the continuing dilly-dallying of President Noynoy Aquino on the issue of family planning and responsible parenthood.

In submitting 17 priority bills to Congress last week, Aquino excluded three important legislative measures that he had repeatedly promised to push in Congress — the proposed Freedom of Information Act, the whistleblower protection bill, and, most importantly, the Reproductive Health Bill which would allow couples to choose between natural and artificial family planning methods.

These three important measures all aim to combat corruption and poverty, the two biggest issues he promised to fight during his presidential campaign. But like the changes he promised that have apparently been blown with the wind, the fight against corruption and poverty must again take the backseat in deference to political pressures, one obvious reminder to the people that the electoral campaign is over.

General Reyes may be faulted for his decision to end his life and abandoning his right to defend himself and the people’s right to the truth, but at least he was decisive. He made his decision and pursued it with courage and conviction. So did the military whistleblowers, whose decision to expose the deeply entrenched corruption in the military was also a suicide of sorts, although it was more of the selfless kind rather than a selfish escape.

Nobody can say Reyes, Colonels George Rabusa and Antonio Lim, and former COA auditor Heidi Lim were indecisive. But in the case of Aquino, both sides of the RH Bill fence are calling him indecisive.

Where do you really stand? Both groups opposing and supporting the reproductive health bill that have been pending in the House of Representatives for more than 24 years are asking Aquino this question.
In response, Aquino said he was leaving it to parents to decide on how many children they want because it is the parents who know if they could provide for the basic needs of their children. He said the government still has to finalize a responsible parenthood bill that would include “common grounds” with the Church, which is opposing the reproductive health measure.

Pro-Life Philippines, which opposes the RHP Bill, rejected Aquino’s latest statement. “We are just asking for a yes or no statement. Yes or no if he will protect life from fertilization to death. That is all what we want,” said the group’s president, Eric Manalang. ” If he still does not say yes or no, then he continues to vacillate on the issue.”

The Philippine Legislators Committee on Population and Development Foundation Inc., which supports the RH Bill, also asked Aquino to make a definite stand.

Ramon San Pascual, the group’s executive director, said that Aquino, in making a definite stand, should strongly consider who supported his presidential candidacy when he was pushing for an RH bill. “That stand should be based on his promise of responsible parenthood as articulated in his social contract with the people way back during election,” he said. “His compass should be his own promise by which he was supported overwhelmingly by the electorate.”

The bill passed by a House committee late last month allows the use of artificial contraceptives like condoms and pills. The Roman Catholic Church wants couples to adopt only the natural family planning method.

Aquino said during the campaign that Catholic bishops should wake up to the reality that something must be done to arrest the rapid growth of the country’s population. “There is really a problem. And I hope that the Church will see that I have the reasonableness of my position on the issue,” he told newsmen.
Aquino said he wanted Filipinos to be educated on the various methods of family planning and be free to choose which they prefer.

Early this year, the Church said it would campaign against candidates who would support the Reproductive Health Bill which was then pending in Congress. One by one, those who had originally supported the bill withdrew their support, fearing a backlash from the influential Roman Catholic Church.

Aquino stood his ground, but he still emerged the winner in the presidential election by 5 million votes. Despite the repudiation, the Catholic bishops continue to pressure Aquino on population control policy. For some time, Aquino held his ground, but eventually showed signs of cracking.

He agreed to meet with the bishops, and has met with them twice since. Still no decision. He said he would meet with them again later this month. Will a decision be forthcoming? I hope so, but I don’t think so.

Obviously, Aquino is not just feeling the pressure from the Church. He won the election by a landslide despite the Church’s treat and continues to enjoy high popular ratings despite the continuing campaign against him. Why should he fear the Church now?

My take is that he is being pressured by his sisters, who are all devout Catholics like their mother, the former President Cory Aquino. The sisters had previously said they would not interfere with Aquino’s governance, but with the bishops on their back, it is not far-fetched to believe they are now pushing their brother to listen to the Church.

We all know that blood is thicker than water. But Aquino must remember that when he became president of the Republic of the Philippines, he swore to put the national interest above anything else, including that of his own family.

With the Philippine population growing at an alarming rate of 2.04% annually and economic growth continuing to lag behind, surely something must be done to check the population rise. Unless the Philippine economy can show signs of growing at a rapid pace, controlling population should rank as a high priority in the pursuit of national interest. Having supported family planning for years as a senator, he ought to know that.

By Val G. Abelgas




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