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RH war far from over, bishops say

Aquino, rights groups hail bill as a victory for women

RH war far from over, bishops say
Women activists celebrate the passage of the reproductive health bill. (Photo by Edgar Aguilar) reporters, Manila

December 18, 2012

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Lawmakers may have passed the controversial Reproductive Health (RH) Bill on its third and final reading, but the country's Catholic bishops were today warning "the war is not yet over."

Both chambers of Congress yesterday voted to pass the bill, which when it becomes law will provide access to a range of reproductive health services, including contraceptives.

"[God] tolerated losing the battle to purify all of us. It’s sad, but God will finish the war for us. We did our best,” Bishop Camilo Gregorio of Batanes said.

Bishop Gabriel Reyes of Antipolo, chairman of the Episcopal Commission on Family and Life, said it was a "sad day for the country." He decried what he said was an act of corruption on the part of the presidential palace by allegedly pressuring congressmen to vote for the bill.

"They might have won through the tyranny of numbers but it does not mean that they are right," said Bishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan.

"It is only a matter of time and then we will see more violations of 'Thou shall not kill' and 'Thou shall not commit adultery' among our families, our youth and children," he said.

The law "will open more doors to abortion and more crimes against women," he added.

Legislators still have to finalize details of the bill in a bicameral meeting before President Benigno Aquino signs it into law.

"The people now have the government on their side as they raise their families in a manner that is just and empowered," the president said in a statement.

He noted that discussions regarding the bill were heated and divisive. 

"Despite this, our legislators fulfilled their duties with honor. They crafted a law that can truly address the needs of our people," Aquino said.

Human Rights Watch said the passage of the bill was a "victory for Filipino women. 

"This bill marks the start of an era in which public policies in the Philippines can save lives, promote healthy family planning and respect human rights," said Carlos Conde, Asia researcher for the New York-based rights group.

"The Aquino administration and the legislators should be commended for standing up for women’s health and rights," he added.

 Villegas, meanwhile, urged Catholics to "use all the means within our reach" to safeguard women and young people in communities. 

"Let us disseminate... the teachings of the Church on natural family planning at the same time warning our people about the hazardous effects of contraceptive pills on the health of women," said the prelate, who is vice president of the bishops' conference.

"Let us conduct our own sex education of our children insuring that sex is always understood as a gift of God," he said.

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