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University 'stifling' RH bill debate

Catholic University of Santo Tomas in Manila cancels senators forum

D’Jay Lazaro, Manila

January 11, 2013

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A 400-year-old university run by Dominican friars has been accused of stifling debate on reproductive health after it canceled a forum scheduled to discuss the controversial issue this weekend.

In a text message sent to participants, organizers at Manila’s University of Santo Tomas (UST) said the last-minute cancellation was due to the “presence of some pro-RH” senators, a reference to the divisive reproductive health law signed by President Bengigno Aquino last month.

The forum was supposed to be part of a series addressing issues that affect young people ahead of this year’s mid-term elections and was to feature senators both for and against the new reproductive health bill, which includes provisions for the free distribution of contraceptives.

“We feel that this is a loss for the [students], being deprived of their opportunity to discern,” said Argee Gonzales, vice president of the university’s Central Student Council.

The forum had previously been approved by the Catholic university’s student affairs office, he added.

Senatorial candidate Teddy Casiño, a vocal supporter of the reproductive health law, said the cancellation of the forum "is a violation of academic freedom and an abridgment of our freedom of speech.”

“Schools should be venues of constructive debates, not the stifling of contrary opinions," said the three-term congressman.

University rector and head of the Association of Catholic Universities in the Philippines, Father Herminio Dagohoy, said Catholic institutions should review how to address the new reproductive health law.

This new piece of legislation “will have to be discerned,” he said, without explaining how Catholic universities would try to juggle acknowledgement of the law with the policies of the Church.

Archbishop Jose Palma of Cebu, president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference, said Catholic educational institutions should emphasize that "the point of academic freedom is to deliver service of evangelization and faith."

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