A “CONGRESS of the Filipino Faithful” called on the Aquino administration and its allies to prioritize more than a dozen other urgent bills instead of the Reproductive Health (RH) bill, with Catholic and Evangelical leaders delivering their “State of the Soul of the Nation” Address or SSONA hours before the President’s own State of the Nation Address (SONA).

Passing the RH bill—which will institute a massive, state-funded birth control program amid stiff opposition from religious group—would only divide the nation further when the country’s “robust and vibrant” population should be the “primary and ultimate resource,” said the manifesto, which was read by a succession of speakers.

“We are a nation of believers, and that is the source of an even greater strength. Contrary to the error insisted upon by the dogma of political correctness, faith and democracy can coexist, without harming the other…As a predominantly Christian and partly Islamic nation, we must resist the temptation of following everything that moves,” said Dr. Eleanor Palabyab of the group Doctors for Life.

With the theme, “A Call to Heal and Restore our Country’s Moral Integrity,” the forum discussed the worsening economic and social conditions of the country in the first year of the Aquino administration.

It has been a “gross disservice” to make people believe poverty could be solved by allowing big foreign multinationals to “dump all their contraceptives and sterilization agents on the laps of our poor women,” said Erlie Arcadio of the Soldiers for Christ.

Francisco Tatad, former senator and Varsitarian editor, said the SSONA did not intend to “preempt” Aquino’s own address. “We are not here to negate, nullify, and dispute anything that he will say to us in the address,” he said.

“They have to listen to us as well, in the true spirit of give and take.”

Evangelical pastor Reyzel Cayanan said that rather than waste time, money, and effort on the RH bill, Congress should prioritize laws that would “eradicate poverty; strengthen education, healthcare, workers rights; broaden democratic space; and ensure long-term peace and stability.”

Speakers called for the passage of the following measures:

-the Freedom of Information Act;

-the Gun Control Law;

-protection for domestic helpers;

-the establishment of a bank for OFWs;

-a tree-planting program;

-repeal of the mining law to plug “loopholes”;

-a healthcare program addressing the leading causes of death;

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-alternative systems of education such as homeschooling;

-electoral reforms including a ban on political dynasties;

-restructuring of the Department of Foreign Affairs to promote trade and investments;

-limits on media ownership of individuals;

-a ban on direct sterilization and a law requiring factual labeling of contraceptives; and

-restrictions on gambling establishments.

Former Manila Rep. Bienvenido Abante of the Bible Believers League for Morality and Democracy, Inc. (Biblemode) said the Aquino administration’s P21.9-billion conditional cash transfer program was only promoting a “dole-out mentalty.”

Economic activity has contracted because government agencies have been ordered to save 20 percent of their budgets, he said, adding that no major infrastructure projects have been started.

Bro. Rolly Dizon, former president of De La Salle University, said the President should provide a rare example by making the Hacienda Luisita in Tarlac, owned by the Cojuangco family of his late mother former president Corazon Aquino, a “showcase of real land reform.”

“This means land distribution to the farmers, rather than merely giving them shares of stock.”

At the end of the forum, Jose Descallar of Buhay Hayaang Yumabong (Buhay) partylist, suggested that the convention be named the “Philippine Moral Restoration Movement,” saying the affair was generally aimed at pulling back the people toward morality.

“You could see that the soul of our nation is very away from what is the traditional Filipino which we value. We have to restore what was lost,” he told the Varsitarian.

Before the “Congress of the Filipino Faithful” at around 11 a.m., a Mass was offered by Manila Auxillary Bishop Broderick Pabillo and Fr. Fernando Suarez at the Santuario de San Jose in Greenhills.

In his homily, Suarez called on everyone, particularly Catholics, to “promote life and kill the culture of death.”

“Let us work and do something together to protect life,” Suarez said. “Let us fight for everyone’s life.”

Pabillo, meanwhile, told the audience to follow their right consciences to fulfill the will of God. “What is right or wrong cannot be taken from public opinion,” he said. “Hindi ito pinagbobotohan.”

In his second SONA at 4 p.m., President Aquino did not discuss the RH bill, and instead thanked Church leaders for keeping the lines of communication open.

“Salamat po sa mga pari at obispo na masinsinang nakikipagdiyalogo sa atin, katulad nina cardinals Rosales at Vidal. Di naman po kami ganoong kalapit ni Cardinal Rosales, pero naniniwala akong ibinuhos niya ang lahat para mabawasan ang hindi pinagkakaunawaan ng gobyerno at simbahan,” the President said.

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President Aquino also hailed the election of Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma, a Thomasian, to the presidency of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines. “Sa paghahalal kay Archbishop Palma, tagapagtanggol ng karapatang pantao at kalikasan, lalo pong tumibay ang aking kumpiyansang ugnayan, at hindi bangayan, ang mabubuo sa pagitan ng estado at simbahan.”

'Humanae Vitae'

Meanwhile, opposition to the RH bill geared up on campus last July 19 as the University and pro-life groups marked the 43rd anniversary of Pope Paul VI’s landmark encyclical Humanae Vitae (On Human Life).

Some 4,000 students from 18 different colleges and universities were informed of the important provisions of the bill and why the measure should be rejected, with speakers pointing out that youth support is particularly being enlisted by RH proponents.

With the theme “Kalakbay Patungo sa Kapunuan ng Buhay at Pamilya,” the forum focused on the value of a person’s life as a “gift from God,” and called on the youth to “write to their respective congressmen” to reject the RH bill.

“Humanae Vitae is the Magna Carta of the Catholic Church’s advocacy for life,” said Allan Basas, Institute of Religion faculty secretary. “This activity is a part of the Church’s ongoing and intensified promotion of this advocacy.”

Humanae Vitae, issued in 1968, enshrined Church teaching against abortion and all forms of artificial contraception, and prophetically stated that a contraceptive mentality would lead to, among others, the general lowering of moral standards and the woman being treated as a “mere instrument of selfish enjoyment.”

Critics claim the RH bill would be biased against natural family planning methods approved by the Church. Opponents of the bill also reject sex education starting at Grade 5, with the curriculum left at the discretion of education bureaucrats and pro-RH groups.

The bill also requires doctors who refuse to provide RH services to refer patients to other doctors in cases of emergency, under pain of penalty. And while the bill claims to be against abortion, many chemical pills to be distributed by the government for free are considered by pro-life groups and doctors as “abortifacients.”

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For Zambales Rep. Mitos Magsaysay, the proposed bill is unnecessary because its provisions are already in the Magna Carta for Women, which was enacted in 2009.

She noted that the Magna Carta for Women already requires the government to provide prenatal and post-natal care for women as well as instruction on family planning methods, artificial contraceptives, and birth spacing; and necessary care to prevent sexually transmitted diseases, among others.

“We passed a law [addressing maternal healthcare] already, but the government failed to implement it,” Magsaysay said.

Msgr. Juanito Figura, secretary general of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, also said “there’s no need for a new law” because there are existing government agencies mandated to provide the necessary services being sought by the RH bill, such as the departments of Health and Social Welfare and Development.

“Let them do their work responsibly and there’s no need for an RH bill,” he said.

UST Theology professor Richard Pazcoguin and Magsaysay advised teenagers “not to give in easily to sexual urges” and to respect the sanctity of the gift of sexuality.

The celebration ended with the simultaneous pealing of bells in all parishes in Manila, and a procession from the UST Chapel to España Boulevard at 6:00 p.m. to commemorate the “Hour of the Unborn.”

“We see lay people at the forefront trying to bring the moral order of Humanae Vitae to our society, which is becoming more and more perverse as regards the sanctity of life and family,” said UST Theology professor Aguedo Florence Jalin Jr., a member of the Humanae Vitae core group.

“I think this forum is a strong statement of the lay people, consisting of students, professors, and parishioners in making an advocacy for the sanctity of life and the inseparability of the fruits of marriage, which are procreative and unitive,” he said.

Participating students include those from UST, St. Paul University Manila and Quezon City, Ateneo de Manila University, De La Salle University, Lourdes School of Quezon City, Colegio de San Juan de Letran, St. Jude Academy, Cainta Catholic School, La Consolacion College Pasig and Valenzuela, San Beda College, St. Mary’s College of Quezon City, Philippine Normal University, Assumption College Makati, Technological University of the Philippines, and Santa Catalina College.

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