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Campaign against Aquino could grow, says Catholic activist

Move to oppose signing of controversial family planning bill

Gulf News

Manila: Several Catholic groups have formed a coalition to start a campaign against President Benigno Aquino, for his “secret” signing of a controversial health bill that called for government subsidy for a family planning programme, including free distribution of contraceptives and health education for nine to 19-year-olds in public schools, sources said.

“Something big is being prepared in this campaign. We are also preparing for politicians with other ulterior motives and might ride on with us. We don’t like that,” said the source who requested anonymity.

“The number of Catholic-related groups that are now with us in this campaign is growing,” said the source.

The number of the so-called “silent Catholic groups” that are supporting the passage of the controversial health bill is “growing smaller,” said the source.

The campaign will include the strengthening of the Catholic vote, “so that the sentiment of the Catholic Church in May 2013 will be felt,” said the source who referred to the mid-term elections in 2013.

A group called Catholic Vote Philippines, an alliance of lay Catholic groups, said that the drop in Aquino’s popularity should be seen as a warning by the ruling party.

It will be the first time the Catholic Church will test its power as a block voter.

Several non-Catholic Christian groups, including the Iglesia ni Cristo, have proven themselves for several years as block voters, with members following the recommendations of their religious leaders.

Many politicians have allied with Aquino because both the ruling and opposition parties could not get candidates for the Senate, House of Representatives, and local government units.

A survey said the majority of Filipinos would vote for the senators and congressmen who voted for the passage of the controversial health bill.

As part of the Catholic campaign, families will be told not to allow their children to attend sex education in public schools.

But the passed bill which Aquino signed on August 21, called on local government leaders to have regulatory powers for the implementation of the health law.

The Catholic Church has also planned to elevate complaints before the Supreme Court.

Embittered by Aquino’s signing of the controversial health bill on December 21, Dr Ricardo Boncan, spokesman of the Catholic Vote Philippines alliance, called it a “highly dishonourable” act.

“This, to us, has been the hallmark of his presidency, deception and dictatorial,” Boncan added.

Aquino’s mother, former President Corazon Aquino, was a known Catholic devotee.

The Catholic Church instigated the so-called people-power that protected a military mutiny which helped her ascendance to the presidency, following the removal of former President Ferdinand Marcos in 1986.

The Catholic Church had a hand in the military-backed street protests launched by people who were angry at the abrupt ending of the impeachment trial of former President Joseph Estrada in 2001.

The younger Aquino was the only president who mustered enough courage to push for the controversial health bill, several versions of which began 17 years ago.

The bill was meant to stop the 2 per cent annual birth rate in the Philippines.