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“My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me” (Jn 10: 27)

Pastoral Letter explaining the decision of CBCP to withdraw from talks With Malacañan on HB 4244

My dear people of God,

As we celebrate this Sunday the Feast of the Good Shepherd, allow me once more to fulfill my obligation as your shepherd in the archdiocese. There remains to be one Good Shepherd, Our Lord Jesus, who urges each of us to conform ourselves with Him, to imitate Him and to follow Him. As your archbishop, it is my duty to help you, in the best of my ability, to make the voice of our Lord clearer and understandable. Only when we are able to listen and follow His voice can we call ourselves His sheep. The Gospel of John echoes perfectly this invitation in the words of Jesus:  “My sheep hear my voice, I know them, and they follow me” (Jn 10: 14).

The much debated issue on RH Bill and its new version, House Bill 4244 known as Responsible Parenthood bill continues to scatter the flock, pushing fellow Filipinos to make a stand based on what they hear and watch from the news and what they can gather from highly opinionated information. What confuses people all the more is how our political leaders engage in double talk on what the House Bill 4244 really is intended for and how they would like the people to see it.  Recently, we learned that the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) withdrew from the talks arranged by President Aquino. In this context allow me to explain the reasons why the CBCP considered the talk destined to failure. Along the course of identifying the reasons, may we clarify what really the Church stands for; what it sincerely believes and therefore will fight for.

1.   The HB 4244 has good provisions (building hospitals, maternal and children’s health care, rights of the poor, education, etc.); however these are interwoven—packaged with—bad provisions. By the term bad provisions is meant, first, those portions of the bill which will promote and legalize contraceptives as means for population control (contraceptive pills and gadgets which have abortifacient effects, sterilization procedures, etc.); these are widely acknowledged as having serious adverse consequences on human lives, especially those of the mothers, mothers-to-be and of the new human lives that are formed at fertilization. Second, deemed bad provisions also are those that seek to establish a mindset and a value-system that are secularist, materialistic, individualistic and hedonistic, in the guise of development and modernity, but which in effect are hostile to human life, the family and religion. The bill abuses the meanings of “rights”, “choice”, “freedom” and “responsible parenthood” even as these trample on the religious and moral exercise of conscience. Since bad provisions are present in HB 4244, the Bishops reject the bill in its entirety.

2.   The Philippines does not need this bill. All the good provisions it contains are already mandated in the Constitution and are already programs of the government agencies concerned. These simply need to be implemented through aggressive and sincere policy enforcement.

3.   Since public funds will be used to promote HB 4244’s contraceptive agenda (hidden behind the funding for construction of hospitals, maternal health programs, and the like), the Bishops object to the passage of the bill.

4.   The Philippines is a sovereign state. Government should not yield to pressures coming from the treaty monitoring bodies of the UN such as ICPD and the CEDAW to legislate certain rights that have not been contemplated nor intended in various international instruments. It should not be pressured to comply with the MDG agenda, which uses a disturbing “reproductive rights” approach in fostering its 8 goals. Moreover, it is only a declaration.

5.   In as much as President Benigno Simeon Aquino has already publicly declared his intention to implement his own 5-point agenda on responsible parenthood (RP), the Bishops do not see any reason to further undertake a serious study/dialogue on HB 4244 with the administration as was proposed by Pres. Aquino himself. HB 4244 and Pres. Aquino’s 5-point RP agenda are deemed to be basically the same.

The Church continues to be consistent in its call to stand up for life, for truth and for what it is right. We are called to pray harder than before. We cannot see yet whether this bill will be approved in the Congress, in the Senate and how it will be implemented. But certainly, the words of the Lord continue to be our hope and guide in these trying times. Those who belong to the flock of the Good Shepherd listen to His voice and follow Him. Win or lose, what clearly matters for us, is how we stood our ground and remained faithful to Our Lord who has assured us: “I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly”(Jn 10: 10).

Given from the Office of the Archbishop this 11th day of May, 2011, in the year of our Lord.