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MANILA — After losing a battle to stop the passage of a contentious birth control law, Roman Catholic Church officials on Tuesday dug in and instructed their millions of followers to campaign against the measure in communities, schools and homes.
“Let us intensify the moral spiritual education of our youth and children so that they can stand strong against the threats to their moral fiber,” Archbishop Socrates Villegas said in a statement. “Let us use all the means within our reach to safeguard the health of expectant mothers in our communities.”
The Philippine Congress passed legislation on Monday to help the country’s poorest women gain access to birth control. Each chamber of the national legislature passed its own version of the measure, and minor differences between the two must be reconciled before the measure goes to President Benigno S. Aquino III for his signature.
The measure had been stalled for more than a decade because of determined opposition from the church in this overwhelmingly Catholic country.
Birth control is legal and widely available in the Philippines for people who can afford it, particularly those living in cities. But condoms, birth control pills and other forms of contraception are sometimes kept out of community health centers and clinics by local government and Catholic Church officials.
The measure passed on Monday would stock government health centers, including those in remote areas, with free or subsidized birth control options for the poor. It would also require sex education in public schools and family-planning training for community health officers.
Archbishop Villegas, the vice president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, on Tuesday encouraged Catholics to resist the measure by disseminating information about natural family planning methods and warning people about “the hazardous effects of contraceptive pills on the health of women.”
“Let us conduct our own sex education of our children insuring that sex is always understood as a gift of God,” Archbishop Villegas stated. “Sex must never be taught separate from God and isolated from marriage.”
Bishop Gabriel V. Reyes, chairman of the conference’s Episcopal Commission on Family and Life, said after the vote Monday that “we need to explain to our fellow believers that they ought to refuse contraceptives even when they are being offered these.”
The Philippines has one of the highest birthrates in Asia, but backers of the legislation, including the Aquino administration, have said repeatedly that its purpose is not to limit population growth. Rather, they say, the bill is meant to offer poor families the same reproductive health options that wealthier people in the country enjoy.
Though lacking the numbers needed to defeat the legislation, lawmakers who opposed the measure sought to delay the vote. In one instance, an opposition senator proposed 35 amendments just before a vote was to take place.
Often the debate took bizarre turns, as when a congressman claimed that the birth control measure was a plot by the Philippine Communist Party to take over the government.
In another instance, a male senator requested removal of the phrase “satisfying sex” from a passage in the bill that referred to “safe and satisfying sex.” Several female senators opposed its removal, and the amendment was debated live on television while social media networks crackled with sarcastic commentary. “I am a Filipina,” Senator Miriam Santiago said in response to the amendment. “I am also a married woman and I insist whoever is married to me should give me safe and satisfying sex, period.”
During a vote on the measure in the House of Representatives, the boxer and congressman Manny Pacquiao linked the birth control measure to his having been knocked unconscious on Dec. 8 by Juan Manuel Marquez during their W.B.O. world welterweight fight in Las Vegas.
“Some thought I was dead,” Mr. Pacquiao said in a speech explaining his vote against the measure. “What happened in Vegas strengthened my already firm belief in the sanctity of life.” He added: “Manny Pacquiao is pro-life. Manny Pacquiao votes no.”