Court asked to stop forum on sexual health

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A 'pro-life' group says organizing activities that promote abortion and other acts that offend good customs are crimes under Philippine laws

TALK TO THEM. Reproductive health advocate Carlos Celdran breaks into a small Catholic crowd picketing an Asia Pacific conference on reproductive rights in Pasay City. Photo from Carlos Celdran's Instagram

MANILA, Philippines – The Catholic family that caused the Supreme Court to suspend the implementation of the reproductive health (RH) law is at it again.

On Tuesday, January 21, lawyer James Imbong and his mother Jo Imbong filed a petition with the Pasay City Regional Trial Court for a temporary restraining order on the ongoing Asia Pacific Conference on Reproductive and Sexual Health and Rights.

Organizers said the anti-RH demonstrators, who had been outside the Philippine International Convention Center since the conference opened, had threatened to padlock the conference venue.

Representing Pro-Life Philippines Foundation, the Imbongs said the conference organizers – which include Health Secretary Enrique Ona and Commission on Population executive director Tomas Osias – are committing criminal acts under the Revised Penal Code because they are “organizing and arranging activities to openly expound and encourage” the following:

  • “the provision of abortion services to people in the Philippines”
  • “the commission of acts that offend good customs and public policy”

The 4-day conference gathers local and international experts and advocates on reproductive health and reproductive rights.

James Imbong and his wife were the petitioners who assailed the constitutionality of the reproductive health law, which was passed in December 2012 after 15 years of being shelved in Congress due to the strong Catholic lobby.

Meanwhile, according to data from the health department, 221 in 100,000 mothers die in pregnancy-related, as of 2011.

In the website of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, Pro-Life Philippines was quoted as saying, “The advocacy of access to abortion is contrary to good customs and public morals.”

“Attorney Jo Imbong…said that advocacy on abortion ‘insults and mocks’ the law of the Philippines, being the host country,” said.

The site also quoted Imbong as saying that “under the law, publicly spousing crime like abortion is also a crime. So those who are promoting that discussion are violating the law.”

A senator and a former congresswoman responsible for pushing the passage of the RH law tweeted about the development, with Senator Pia Cayetano pointing out that reproductive rights is also a human right that would be violated should the petition be granted:

Risa Hontiveros:

Cayetano recalled that during the voting on the RH bill, some of the members of the House of Congress even recited Catholic prayers in defense of their votes against it.

“That is unconstitutional. How can they favor one religion over the others?” the senator said.

Benjamin de Leon, president of the Forum for Family Planning and Development said that the complaint is absurd and unreasonable.”

“This conference is to benefit women and girls. It is a very narrow view. They should listen to Pope Francis who exhorted them that they should not focus on these issues as there are other more socially-relevant issues that they should attend to,” De Leon said.

In the morning, “Padre Damaso” – advocate Carlos Celdran who was once jailed for disrupting a Catholic Mass to protest the church’s lobby against the RH law – broke into the demonstration being held by Catholic groups outside the PICC. 

The protesters were holding placards that said “Satan is Pro-Choice,” “Abortion is Bad Economic,” “Kill our Youth? No Way” and “Go Away Abortionists, You Are Not Welcome!”

Celdran barged into the small crowd and held placards that said, “Dear @pontifex” “Pls. Talk to Them,” referring to Pope Francis, who recently said that priests should not be obsessed with abortion and homosexuality. – 

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