MANILLA, December 7, 2012, (HLI Worldwatch) - Alarmed by the pressure and influence of the Catholic Church in the debate over the Reproductive Health (RH) Bill, President Benigno Aquino of the Philippines is threatening to withhold taxpayer funds from the districts of House lawmakers who oppose the controversial legislation scheduled to be voted on December 12.

“The Palace countered heavy lobbying by Catholic bishops by warning lawmakers that they would not get up to P280 million [$6.8 million] in pork barrel each if they fail to support the reproductive health bill,” according to the Manila Standard.

The Malacañan Palace, commonly known simply as “the Palace,” is the official residence of the President of the Philippines.

“The counter-offer was made because the Palace and the House leadership are alarmed by the powerful pressure of the Catholic bishops on the lawmakers to prevent the passage of the RH Bill,” said Rep. Antonio Tinio, a co-author of the RH Bill in the House.

“If my colleagues in the [Liberal Party] and other members of the majority coalition would continue to defy the President’s clear position [on the RH Bill], they would find themselves without projects to show their constituents and their voters,” he said.

The next congressional elections in the Philippines are scheduled for May 2013.

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“We have to remember that these threats are coming from the president who ran for office on the promise to fight corruption in government,” said Dr. Rene Bullecer, a physician and country director for Human Life International in the Philippines. “Yet he now openly promotes the corruption he promised to fight.”

The Responsible Parenthood, Reproductive Health and Population and Development Act of 2011, or RH Bill, contains numerous provisions which are objectionable to the Catholic Church and pro-life Filipinos. The bill would force medical professionals and businesses to provide a full range of “reproductive health services” using taxpayer funds, including contraceptives, abortifacients and sterilization services, regardless of conscientious objection. Among other controversial provisions, it requires jail time for those who levy as-yet-undefined “malicious falsehoods” about the bill, and requires couples to undergo “reproductive health training” before being allowed to marry.

Father Melvin Castro, executive secretary of the CBCP’s Episcopal Commission on Family and Life, chided the Palace for going after the Church and placing such pressure on pro-life lawmakers to pass the bill.

“Our congressional friends … continue to be at the receiving end of the arm-twisting tactics of President Aquino,” said Fr. Castro.

“In the deepest recesses of our hearts, we cannot accept a country governed by unjust and immoral laws,” he also said. “I know that we cannot accept that the Church, the one Church founded by Christ, continues to be a punching bag of many politicians.”

D-Day for the RH Bill

This week, lawmakers on both sides of the RH Bill debate in the House agreed to hold a vote on the bill on Wednesday, December 12.

“Wednesday will be D-Day,” said Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, an opponent of the bill. “The 14-year war on the RH Bill will finally end.”

Versions of the RH Bill have been filed and re-submitted since 1998.

Rep. Rodriguez said that lawmakers opposed to the bill agreed to the vote because they have the numbers to defeat the measure. He also said the date of the vote is significant because December 12 is the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, who is the patroness of the unborn and the secondary patroness of the Philippines.

Pro-life and Catholic leaders are planning prayer rallies in anticipation of the vote to pray for the bill’s defeat. Dr. Bullecer is planning a Rosary vigil in the city of Cebu on the day of the vote.

“May Our Lady of Guadalupe visit the Philippines that day,” he said.

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Reprinted from Human Life International Worldwatch.