MANILA Philippine Catholic bishops on Tuesday walked out of talks with the government over a planned bill allowing contraception in open opposition to President Benigno Aquino who vowed to push the bill into law.
Aquino pledged last month to push for the enactment of a reproductive health bill in Congress in a bid to lower the maternal death rate in the Philippines, even at the risk of excommunication from the Roman Catholic Church.
The church, a major social and political force in the poor Southeast Asian nation, has blocked similar bills since the 1990s by talking to lawmakers and has denounced Aquino's support for contraception, considered a sin.
The bishops' decision could lead to more policy clashes between the church and state, analysts say.
Since 1986, bishops have been instrumental in mobilizing people to help oust two presidents. They are also blocking mining contracts in the provinces in another big challenge to the government.
The Philippines has one of Asia's fastest-growing populations, which is nearing 100 million people, and slowing the increase is seen as one way of cutting poverty.
"The bishops do not see any reason to further undertake a serious study or dialogue" on the bill, Monsignor Juanito Figura, secretary of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), said.
The bishops said the proposed law would encourage abortion, which is illegal in the Philippines.
Aquino's spokesman, Edwin Lacierda, confirmed the bishops' decision. The two sides have been in talks since late 2010.
"It's an unfortunate development," Lacierda told reporters. "Reproductive health is moving forward with or without dialogue. We told them our line is still open but they were very clear not to hold dialogue."
The bishops said they would mobilize support against the bill, which is being debated in the lower house of Congress and has its best chance yet of winning approval under Aquino's administration.
(Reporting by Manny Mogato; Editing by Nick Macfie) (firstname.lastname@example.org)