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MANILA, Philippines - (UPDATE 8:13PM) A lawmaker said Thursday he was approached by Catholic church leaders in his community and was told to either vote against the RH bill or refuse to attend the session on August 7 when the House of Representatives votes to terminate debates on the Reproductive Health (RH) bill. But the head of a key panel in the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines doubted any prelate would push a "stay-away" strategy, since the campaign is in fact to persuade lawmakers to show up and vote against the bill.
One lawmaker who sought anonymity said aeveral priests of the parishes in his district have been calling him and paying him visits at his home, the latest of which was late last week, to push for the rejection of the bill.
However, the Visayan lawmaker said he turned down the church leaders’ requests because he has made up his mind to support the bill.
He added that the province he hails from has an existing ordinance promoting reproductive health, which he should adhere to.
When asked, he said, however, that the church leaders who talked to him did not mention anything about the upcoming 2013 elections, contrary to accusations by RH bill advocates that the Church will use threats of a voter backlash in order to pressure lawmakers.
The bill’s proponents earlier warned of “pressures” coming from the church to convince lawmakers to change their positions regarding the proposed measure. The church could also make its withdrawal of support a condition for their backing for the congressmen in the elections next year.
Tuesday’s voting would decide whether the House should terminate the plenary debates on House Bill 4244 or the Responsible Parenthood, Reproductive Health and Population Development Act.
Debates on the bill started early last year. Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales II had said the voting could be preview on the fate of the bill in the chamber.
He also warned that anti-RH congressmen could skip the session, barring the formation of a quorum and voting. Earlier, seven members of the minority bloc withdrew their support for the bill. Of the 28 minority members, 20 are now against RH bill.
CBCP commission head: we want them to show up and vote vs RH bill
The executive secretary of the Episcopal Commission on Family and Life of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines said bishops and other religious leaders have different ways of persuading lawmakers to go over to their side, but doubted that any one would promote a “stay-away” option.
“We do want them to show up [on August 7] and vote against the RH bill,” said Fr. Melvin Castro. In fact, he said, the church leaders have long sought dialogues and other forums to engage the lawmakers on issues related to the RH bill.
In a phone interview, Castro slammed the accusation of unnamed lawmakers that some Church leaders have been approaching them to either vote against the RH bill or refuse to attend the session on August 7.
“Pabor sa amin na umattend sila, actually ang pakiusap namin ay they should attend para magbotohan, kasi kapag hindi ka umattend papaano naman kami?” he said.
“You know, I don’t know what kind of strategy that is. Officially our stand is for them to attend and to vote against the RH bill,” Castro said.
He stressed that the Church and other bishops would not dictate on lawmakers but would request for a dialogue for them to hear the religious leaders’ stand over the bill.
Part of their efforts, he said, is by praying for the lawmakers to decide based on their conscience.
He said many bishops have long been talking to solons, “either by phone or personally, to explain why the Church is against the RH bill”.
“Hindi ko alam kung papaano ang strategy ng ibang bishops, kasi iba’t ibang character ng mga Obispo, iba’t-ibang character ng mga kongresista, I would not know kung papaano yung personal nilang pag-uusap,” he added.
On August 4 to 5, three days before the votation, the CBCP will conduct simultaneous prayer rallies at EDSA Shrine and other dioceses nationwide.
Castro said that people from Manila, Antipolo; Parañaque; Cubao; Novaliches; Kalookan; Pasig; Lipa, Batangas; San Fernando, Pampanga; Tarlac; Malolos, Bulacan; Sorsogon; and Balanga will join the prayer rally at Edsa Shrine.
Dioceses from Cebu Jaro; Iloilo; Davao; Legaspi City; Lucena; Tacloban; Roxas City; Borongan (Samar); Cagayan de Oro; and Baguio City will hold their own rallies.
Castro said that those who believe in the Church’s position are welcome to attend the prayer rally.