By INA ALLECO R. SILVERIO
MANILA — Not all religious leaders are against the controversial Reproductive Health (RH) bill.
A leader of the Protestant Church in Davao City has said that the RH Bill is not evil because it aims to do good for the Filipino people.
Bishop Modesto Villasanta of the United Church of Christ of the Philippines (UCCP) was quoted in various media reports that the RH bill offers Filipinos, especially the poor, freedom to plan their families. Villasanta, however, said that Protestants nonetheless respects the position of the Catholic Church on the matter. He said that the UCCP regards the Catholic position towards the RH Bill with “understanding and sympathy.”
According to Villasanta, the RH bill appears to be designed to help poor families secure access to maternal and children’s health services and products, and to help them make an informed decision about family size.
““It is not evil. It is not perfect but definitely it is not evil. The measure is in fact good for the many Filipino families who are poor and needing of help,” said Villasanta in a report
Villasanta expressed hope that Congress will approve the proposal into law, saying that if lawmakers vote for the RH bIll, they are also voting to put an end to the suffering of many marginalized families, particularly poor women and children.
“If they vote for the RH bill, they are responding to the need of the Filipinos in relation to reproductive health,” Villasanta said.
In reports, Villasanta was also quoted as saying that a pro-RH bill vote would somehow show that the government has recognized the fact that majority of the Filipinos need help.
“In a way, this is to say that the government has recognized and therefore will be responding to the need of the poor families, particularly women and their children.”
Among the religious groups that have already signified their support for the RH Bill besides the UCCP are National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP), the Iglesia ni Kristo (INC) and the Commission of the Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches (PCEC).
In a position paper on the RH bill, the UCCP said that the proposal “empowers families.” It explained that while the bill does state the ideal family size to be two children, it does not impose compliance or penalty on Filipinos for having more or less children.
“The declaration of an ideal family size is neither necessary nor appropriate. Our efforts should be to empower couples to decide the number and spacing of their children and to join with them as they celebrate God’s faithfulness in all circumstances,” it said.
The UCCP also noted how the bill promotes gender equality, male responsibility and an end to violence against women (VAW),” and that even if it does not comprehensively address the issue of VAW, there are efforts to affirm the complementation of the rights, responsibilities and roles on women and men in relationships.
Not everything, however, relies on the RH bill. The UCCP said that on matters of family planning, there should be discussions among family members themselves. There are also related issues that can and should also be addressed when it comes to discussions on the RH Bill such as fidelity in marriage, unacceptability of abuse to spouses and children, single parenthood, and child-rearing after separation. It also said than putting an end to prostitution of women and children is also an important social issue that should not be ignored.
On the issue of natural and modern family planning methods, including the use of contraceptives, the UCCP said that they may be considered as “matters of personal right and choice,” but given that the government may intend to supervise the purchase of materials and equipment for the promulgation of the family planning campaign, the UCCP said that it is “necessary to make sure that available options are of good standards and quality.”
Government’s responsibility to the poor’s health
For its part, the NCCP has said that views the RH Bill as going beyond the use of contraceptives. The NCCP is the largest group of non-Roman Catholic churches in the Philippines.
NCPP secretary-general Rev. Rex Reyes Jr. said that the public should look at the other aspects of the RH bill because it is not just about contraceptives but about responsibility of the government to make sure that the people are given options and opportunities to live in decency.
Among the NCPP’s member-churches are the Apostolic Catholic Church, Convention of Philippine Baptist Churches, Episcopal Church in the Philippines, Iglesia Evangelica Metodista En Las Islas Filipinas, Iglesia Filipina Independiente, Iglesia Unida Ekyumenical, Lutheran Church in the Philippines, the Salvation Army, the United Methodist Church, and the United Church of Christ in the Philippines.
Reyes said that the NCPP supports the RH bill mainly because it dwells on the issues of responsible family and recognizing the right of couples to determine how to plan their family. He said that the NCPP sees the RH Bill as a necessity in the Philippines.
“But to make it clear, overpopulation is not the problem; the problem is how resources are apportioned. So few are rich and many are so poor. The needs of the poor and their need for maternal health care should be addressed and not neglected by the govenrment,” he said.
The PCEC, in the meantime, has called on Congress to vote for the RH bill and put an end to all debates.
National directors of the PCEC Bishop Efraim Tendero in a statement called on lawmakers to end the debates and to vote for the approval of the RH Bill. He said tht the PCEC considers the RH Bill as “pro-life, pro-development, and pro-poor.”
“We believe that the RH Bill is pro-life. Life begins at fertilization, and the promotion of the use of arti?cial forms of fertilization does not take away life, for life begins at the union of the sperm and the egg cells,” he said.
In a 2011 survey on the RH Bill by the Social Weather Stations, it was stated that four out of the five Filipinos, or 82 percent, consider family planning as a “sacred” personal choice that should not be interfered with.
The SWS survey among 1,200 adults showed that Filipinos want the government to provide information and subsidize family planning methods. The SWS survey said that the 82 percent rating was 21 points higher than the 61 percent rating on the same issue in November 1990.
In the 2011 survey, 73 percent of the respondents said that if a couple wanted to practice family planning, relevant information on “all legal methods” should be provided the government. In the meantime 68 percent agreed that “the government should fund all means of family planning, be it natural or artificial means.”
The respondents, however, were divided on whether pills and other other artificial devices can be considered as abortificents: pills (52 percent), condoms (51 percent), and intra-uterine devices (51 percent).