IN HER meeting with Pope Benedict XVI last June 26, President Macapagal-Arroyo vowed that no bills promoting divorce and abortion would see passage as long as she is president.

But the President may have to eat her words as many pro-choice and pro-divorce bills are being pushed in Congress. Critics of the bills said the proposed laws masquerade as health and women’s welfare bills and are being railroaded by pro-choice lawmakers.

A Senate committee hearing on 21 bills promoting “reproductive health” and population control was chaired by Sen. Pia Cayetano last June 29 at the GSIS Building.

Only the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines and Pro-Life Philippines were invited by the Committee on Health and Demography to speak against the bills versus the numerous resource speakers favoring the bill who had been invited.

Alliance for the Family Foundation, Inc (ALFI), a multi-sectoral pro-life organization and other pro-life think tanks were not formally invited of the public hearing.

“We acted as mere observers and were not given the chance to discuss our position before the committee,” ALFI vice-president Meg Francisco told the Varsitarian. “The legislators appear to support the hasty passage of the bills. We only hope Senator Cayetano will be fair in presiding over the upcoming sessions.”

According to former Rector Fr. Rolando de la Rosa, O.P., “the increasing support for the pro-population control bills is not due to lack of political will from the Church to oppose them but because of international pressure and the political maneuverings of some legislators of the bills to speed up the process.”

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De la Rosa added that these “anti-life” and “anti-family bills” are being pushed by highly industrialized and aging countries out of fear that the healthy population index of Filipinos would outrun their negative population rate.

As in the Senate, there’s strong lobbying for “anti-life” and “anti-family” bills gaining at the House of Representative. Leading the pack is House Bill 3773 or the Responsible Parenthood and Population Management Act by Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, which has now gained 111 authors and is ready for the second reading.

HB 3773 will mandate “services” on reproductive health, contraceptives, the two-children cap on couples, and free ligation. Under this bill, health-care service providers and employers will be forced to provide contraceptives, some of which are considered abortifacients by pro-life groups. Violation is punishable by one to six months imprisonment and P20,000 fine.

HB 3773’s back-up is Nueva Vizcaya Rep. Rodolfo Agbayani’s HB 3422, or the Family Life Act, which “will allocate a two billion-peso fund to administer family life programs and help families achieve their desired family size.”

ALFI objects that these bills create a social stigma and discrimination against large families.

In the academic level, Jaime Lopez aims to institutionalize teaching of the so-called overpopulation disaster in schools through HB 1495, or The Act Directing the Teaching of Population and Environmental Development.

The bill will require the integration of population subjects into the high school and college curriculum, which ALFI says “would warp the minds of youth on the real state of our population.”

Similarly, Gabriela Party-list Rep. Liza Maza filed two other bills to institutionalize lessons on population control, particularly the use of artificial family planning.

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HB 1023, or the Women, Girls and Gender Education Act, will require artificial family planning education in all private and public schools, while HB 1021 on Women and Gend er Education in the Workplace will require employers to give contraceptives to their employees.

At the barangay level, Negros Occidental Rep. Jose Carlos Lacson’s HB 424 or the Act Creating the Position of Baranggay Population Worker, will appoint a baranggay population representative to every baranggay to oversee measures on how to combat “overpopulation.”

Nueva Ecija Rep. Josefina Joson also filed HB 5285, or the Magna Carta for Women, to include the option of women to resort to “reproductive rights” services if they choose not to bear a child. International law interprets “reproductive rights” to include contraception and abortion.

“Passing the bill will only encourage women to resort to abortion instead of practicing abstinence just to prevent pregnancy,” Francisco told the Varsitarian.

The bill also uses the term “gender” interchangeably with “sex” and with no clear definition and differentiation between the two.

“The first is a social construct while the second is biologically determinable. Different gender roles may be ascribed based on different social context and acceptability,” Agoy Descallar, legislative officer of Pro-life Philippines, told the Varsitarian. “The category ‘women’ was never defined in the bill to refer to natural-born women. This implies that a gay, a ‘transgender’ and an ‘intersexual’ can be considered a woman.”

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Maza’s HB 4016, or an Act Introducing Divorce in the Philippines, argues that divorce will not destroy marriage and family.

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Another bill by Maza, HB 1025 will amend Article 26 of the Family Code, which states that a married Filipino citizen who acquired foreign citizenship before filing a divorce in another country will no longer be prosecuted for bigamy.

Nueva Ecija Rep. Aurelio Umali also filed HB 847 amending Article 63 of the Family Code. The bill will legalize re-marrying after five years of legal seperation, granted that partners “have irreconcilable differences”.

Related bills on marriage nullification by Ilocos Norte Rep. Imee Marcos’s HB1536 and Joson’s HB 3124 seek to recognize marriage annulment once it is declared null by the couples’ respective churches.

Meanwhile, Akbayan Party-list Rep. Etta Rosales’ HB 634 or the Anti-Discrimination Act will grant gays and lesbians access to all government licenses, including a marriage license, which is tantamount to legalizing homosexual marriage.

“The Church discourages discrimination against lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transsexuals, but granting them a marriage license is another issue,” said Fr. Pablo Tiong, UST Center for Contextualized Theology and Ethics director.

These “anti-family” bills will need the President’s signature to officially turn them into laws. The President can veto the bills unless the House of Representative or the Senate gather two-thirds vote to pass any of the bills.

“Earning the support (against the bills) of UST will be a big deal,” Francisco said. “It will not only prove that our advocacy is supported by a strong Catholic institution. but more importantly by the youth, its students.” M. L. C. Celis, I. A. de Lara, K. P. M. Mercadal, and R. S. Mejia

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