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A LETTER TO CATHOLIC CHURCH LEADERS IN THE PHILIPPINES

Press Room

We are Filipino Catholics loyal to our faith and faithful to our institutional church, but we cannot sit on the fence and not speak out our views regarding reproductive health. We are Filipino Catholics and members of a growing alliance of concerned Roman Catholics called Catholics for Reproductive Health (C4RH), who believe that reproductive health is both a right and a responsibility, and strongly support the passage of a Reproductive Health Bill!

We strongly believe that couples, especially women, should be given the freedom to choose the path they will take in raising their family and have the social responsibility to act in accordance with their conscience and the means within their disposal. This is a commitment that our country has made several times in the past.

We affirmed this right in 1968, during the International Year for Human Rights when United Nations Member States recognized the right of individuals and couples to decide their family size. In August 1981, the Philippines ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) that clearly upheld women’s right and responsibility to reproductive health services and education. And in 1994, we again made a promise to the rest of the world to provide our people with reasonable access to reproductive health information and services when we signed the International Conference on Population and Development Programme of Action (ICPD-POA) in Cairo reiterating this commitment in Beijing in 1995 at the Conference on Women Programme of Action.

Again, at the Millennium Summit in 2000, the Philippines was one of the 189 countries that adopted the Millennium Development Goals, one of which called for the reasonable reduction of maternal mortality and universal access to reproductive health, in a responsible manner, by 2015.

With just five years to 2015, it is unfortunate that we still continue to debate on the reproductive health issue. While people debate whether planning one’s family is an ethical issue or not and argue whether the government has the right and responsibility to support the decision of couples who seek help, the issue of maternal and infant deaths resulting from untimely and unwanted pregnancies continue to exacerbate. Each day that the debates continue, 11 mothers continue to die, leaving behind their bereaved families and motherless children.

As Catholics, we believe that the bill, if passed into law, is a significant responsible way to save and protect the lives of Filipinos from reproductive health infections and concomitant diseases. We believe it will promote responsible parenthood, thus contributing to improving Filipinos’ quality of family life. In addition to promoting a culture of health awareness and responsible health-seeking behavior among Catholic Filipinos, it will encourage them to have families they can afford to raise within their means and moral beliefs.

We do indeed accept that natural family planning methods are part of this effort but their promotion should not be at the expense of other methods that are available to the Filipino married couple and that are medically acceptable, legal and safe to planning one’s family with its limits.

The government has an obligation to serve the needs of all Filipinos especially those who have less in life. In this case, provide access to information, products and services to enable Filipinos to decide for themselves what ought to work best for them as their conscience dictates for the purpose of saving lives and improving quality of life.

We support RH because we look at it as beyond the mere planning of one’s family. The World Health Organisation defines reproductive health, in a holistic way, as, "…a state of complete, physical, mental, social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. Reproductive health addresses the reproductive processes, functions and system at all stages of life." For us Catholics, therefore, the promotion of a healthy life protects the well-being of individual members of the family from womb to tomb. A healthy Catholic family is a happy Catholic that is loyal to its church.

We stand behind the courageous legislators of the bills, most of whom are Catholics, who have remained steadfast amid the hostility and intimidation of anti-RH groups. By firmly believing that reproductive health saves lives, they have shown responsible stewardship and compassion for the Catholics in need and in distress.

In the same vein, we laud H.E. President Benigno S. Aquino III and the members of his Cabinet for their conscientious stand on the government’s position to support responsible parenthood through respect of the couple’s choice to make well-considered decisions based on availability of information, services and government assistance to enable the Filipino couple to plan their family lives based on their conscience and available resources. We also fully support the Universal Health Care Agenda of the Aquino government and recommend the provision of an appropriate budget for reproductive health information and services for the full realization of Universal Health Care.

We need to join hands for this national legislation that will significantly improve the lives of our people. This is not about politics or religion. This is about responsible living and happy lives. This is about believing that each of us should have the chance to live a healthy, happy and dignified life, a Christian right we are all entitled to. Saving lives should be the concern of all of us together, whether we are lay persons or persons in sacred cloth.

WE ARE FILIPINO CATHOLICS WHO VALUE LIFE. WE ALL SERVE THE SAME COUNTRY, THE SAME PEOPLE AND THE SAME GOD. THEREFORE, SUPPORTING REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH SHOULD UNITE RATHER THAN DIVIDE US AS A CHRISTIAN PEOPLE.

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