Philippine President Benigno Aquino defeated the Catholic Church and the tobacco lobby by using his popularity to push through twin laws to provide free condoms to the poor and boost taxes on tobacco and liquor.
Lawmakers yesterday ratified a reproductive health bill that had been introduced and blocked repeatedly since 1998. The legislation will be signed into law before the end of the year, Aquino said in Manila.
Aquino, 52, endured the possibility of excommunication from the church and criticism from boxing champion Manny Pacquiao and former first lady Imelda Marcos to win support for the health bill. His approval rating is the highest for a president since actor Joseph Estrada in 1999, buoyed by efforts to fight corruption and tackle an entrenched culture of tax evasion.
“Aquino managed to resurrect and rally support for controversial measures in which his predecessors had failed,” Ramon Casiple, executive director of the Manila-based Institute for Political and Electoral Reform, said yesterday. “His advocacy of these bills was personal and more than ministerial. He made good on his promises and proved that he’s reform- oriented.”
Aquino will sign the so-called sin-tax bill, which was approved Dec. 10, at 11 a.m. today, according to Edwin Lacierda, the president’s spokesman.
The reproductive health bill calls for mandatory sex education and requires the government to pay for contraceptives and family planning services for poor people. The United Nations has said it will help reduce poverty among the fifth of the nation’s 104 million people who live in slum conditions.
The bill had been refiled and blocked in each three-year congressional term since it was introduced 14 years ago amid opposition from Catholics, the faith of at least 80 percent of Filipinos.
“Logic and reason won,” said Carlos Celdran, an activist who was jailed for a day after staging a protest at a 2010 meeting of bishops in the city’s cathedral. “It shows that the Philippines is moving into the 21st century and is progressing mentally. It has broken the shackles of the Catholic Church, which no longer wields the same power it had in the past.”
In August, more than 9,000 nuns, priests and churchgoers dressed in red held rallies in Manila in an attempt to derail the legislation. The protesters described themselves as pro-life and distributed pamphlets that also denounced divorce and same- sex marriage in addition to the bill. [More]