A crowd of more than 15,000 Negrenses converged at the Bacolod Public Plaza yesterday afternoon in a stepped-up campaign to call on the country’s legislators to junk the Reproductive Health Bill that is up for plenary debates in the House of Representatives starting next month.
Members of the House rules committee yesterday voted unanimously to send it to the floor after a consolidated version of the measure passed the committee level, Deputy Majority Leader and Iloilo Rep. Janette Garin said.
As this developed, Church and government leaders at the Bacolod rally called on members of Congress to protect life, especially of the unborn, by withdrawing support for the RH bill, which they called immoral and unconstitutional.
Fr. Greg Patiño, Citizens Alliance for the Protection of Human Life secretary general, estimated the crowd at the anti-RH bill rally at 15,000 to 20,000.
“Let us pray that the country’s legislators will be conscience stricken as the plenary debates near and vote against the RH bill,” Fr. Melvin Castro, executive secretary of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines Episcopal Commission on Family and Life, urged the crowd.
Aside from it violating the teachings of the Church, the bill attacks the Filipino core value on the love of family and life, he said.
The CBCP has suspended its dialogs with Malacañang on the bill effective February 19 because it is now in the hands of the legislators, Castro said.
“Instead of dialoging with the executive department our bishops will instead dialog with the individual congressmen and senators to withdraw their support or reject the RH bill,” Castro said.
“There are a lot of legislators who have supported the bill with good intentions, without realizing the details of the bill. We are hoping with dialog and lobbying by the people they will realize there is no need to legislate such a law,” he added.
The CBCP representative said three congressmen have already withdrawn their support for the bill, and they expect more to follow.
Castro denied that there has been a Church announcement that those who are supporting the bill will be excommunicated and denied communion.
“We will work to prevent the passage of the RH bill within legal and moral parameters,” he said.
There is a growing national movement calling for the rejection of the RH bill and the crowds at rallies against it show the sentiments of the people, Castro added.
He said a rally was held in Cebu on February 11, in Manila on February 13, another in Bacolod yesterday and more are to follow.
Bacolod Bishop Vicente Navarra also called again for awakening of consciences against the RH bill.
He said the huge crowd at yesterday’s rally shows that many are one with the Church in its protests against the immorality of the bill.
Bacolod Mayor Evelio Leonardia said he was at the rally to show his support, because he is pro-life and against anything that kills.
“I am here because I am a Catholic, my being mayor is only incidental here,” he said.
Vice Mayor Jude Thaddeus Sayson said that, with five children, he is surely pro life.
He said he is against some provisions in the RH bill.
Bacolod Rep. Anthony Golez said the RH bill is unconstitutional and does not have a place in Congress.
“I am going to be one of those who will interpolate on the bill in the House and defend the position of the pro-life campaigners,” he said.
There have been congressmen who have already withdrawn their support for the bill and pretty soon the bandwagon will gain momentum as more congressmen will go against the RH bill, Golez said.
Eric Manalang, Pro Life Philippines president, said the participation of thousands at inter-faith rallies and marches like the one in Bacolod City yesterday sends a message to the country’s legislators that they must shift from being pro-RH bill to being pro-life.
“We should not allow our country to be dictated by population policies of foreigners, especially the Americans and the Europeans,” he said.
Dr. Rene Josef Bullecer, director of Aids Free Philippines and Human Life International, said he is from Cebu that is the number one province in the Philippines because it has four million people.
“It shows that more people, plus good governance, equals to better economy,” he said.
“We have to send the message to every province in the Philippines, that it is not true that more people means poverty,” he said.
“Our government officials have to listen to the people because the voice of people is the voice of God,” he said.
Lyndon Caña, CAPH-Life chairman, said the RH bill violates the Constitution that provides that the life of the unborn should be protected at conception, and attacks morality, marriage, conscience, family and society.
It took the protestors, composed mostly of students of Catholic schools and parishioners of the Diocese of Bacolod, and some members of Protestant, Muslim and Iglesia Filipina Independiente churches about two hours yesterday to march into the Bacolod plaza amid the tolling of Church bells and the beat of drums.
The rally organized by the CAPH-Life was capped by the burning of an octopus effigy of the RH bill.
The Iglesia Filipina Independiente Diocese of Negros Occidental, in a pastoral statement issued yesterday, said it affirms “the freedom of conscience of couples, who, after a serious and mature reflection before God, come to the conclusion that, for the endurance of their love, happiness of their marriage, and the provision for the bright future of their children, must plan their childbearing with the methods agreeable to the health of the parents, except abortion.”
“The discussions on Responsible Parenthood must be thoroughly disseminated so that the citizens of this country will be informed of the available options – medical, legal, and economic – in order that the community can decide for their welfare,” it said.
“There is a great need for the Church and State to uphold the rights and welfare of women and mothers when it comes to their reproductive health,” the statement also said.*CPG