Philippine Catholic Church drafts own population bill

MANILA Thu Nov 20, 2008 2:25am EST

MANILA (Reuters) - Powerful Roman Catholic bishops in the Philippines are drafting their own version of a bill on maternal health care, rejecting a pending bill that also promotes artificial contraception.

Reverend Father Melvin Castro of the Episcopal Commission on Family and Life said Thursday that the bishops have been working with lawmakers to draft an alternative to the population control bill pending in the lower house of Congress.

"It should not be labeled as a church bill," Castro told foreign correspondents in Manila. "There are so many Catholics there in Congress who are willing to sponsor the bill and the church is only helping draft it."

Castro said the bishops have rejected the current bill in Congress, describing it as unconstitutional and infringing on religious rights of most Filipinos. About 85 percent of nearly 90 million Filipinos are Roman Catholics.

"We would not allow a legislation that would allocate money from a majority of the taxpayers who are Catholics to be allocated to a program which is against their beliefs," he said, referring to provisions that promote artificial contraception.

The Philippines is already the world's 12th most populous country and is projected to have a population of over 140 million by 2040, putting a huge strain on its creaking health system, schools and other services, and its ability to feed itself.

The bill on maternal health care, which requires the government to promote artificial contraception if it becomes law, has become a battleground between the powerful church and activists in the staunchly Roman Catholic nation.

Some bishops have said they will refuse communion and other sacraments to politicians who support the bill.

Jo Imbong, a lawyer working with Catholic bishops, said the church would oppose any attempt through legislation that would violate "parenting rights and the freedom to live one's faith."

She said the church supports some provisions in the proposed law on maternal health care, including the promotion of breast feeding, but pointed out most Filipino mothers were not only dying due to childbirth, but also of tuberculosis and cancers.

She said there had been numerous studies that some cancers were caused by widespread and improper use of contraceptive devices and preparations.

Feny Tatad, head of a church-based lobby group, said Catholic bishops also opposed the pending bill because it would promote the use of pills and condoms, which are now readily available over the counter in most 24-hour convenience stores.

"This is not acceptable," she said. "What the bishops want is an alternative bill that will address the real need of the poor people and to address the issues of development in an authentic way."

Tatad said reducing poverty by slowing down population growth was not the right formula to improve the economy.

"Cutting down the level of corruption, increasing the budget for education and health care would help alleviate the poverty problem," she said. (Reporting by Manny Mogato; editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

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