President Benigno Aquino's government yesterday called for reconciliation after a "divisive" birth control act was signed into law despite bitter opposition from the influential Catholic Church.
Aquino signed the law on December 21 but his administration announced it yesterday because of the "sensitivity" of the issue, said deputy presidential spokeswoman Abigail Valte.
Valte said the landmark legislation, which takes effect in mid-January, would make sex education and contraceptives more widely available to the poor.
"The passage into law of the Responsible Parenthood Act closes a highly divisive chapter of our history - a chapter borne of the convictions of those who argued for, or against, this Act," Valte said.
"At the same time, it opens the possibility of co-operation and reconciliation ... engagement and dialogue characterised not by animosity, but by our collective desire to better the welfare of the Filipino people."
Proponents say it will help moderate the nation's rapid population growth, reduce poverty and bring down its high maternal mortality rate.
Church leaders in the Catholic-majority nation have vowed that the fight is not over.
Retired Archbishop Oscar Cruz, one of the most outspoken opponents of the legislation while it was being debated in Congress, said the president was dividing the country while adopting a "first-world country value system". Cruz warned that the law would be followed by the passage of a divorce bill and same-sex marriage, both strongly opposed by the church.
Cruz, a former president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, criticised the secret signing of the law despite the presidential certification that it was an urgent measure.
He said responsible parenthood, as taught by the church, entailed using only natural family planning methods. Providing artificial contraceptives will "separate pleasure from the hardship" of raising a family.
"This government has now entered the bedroom bringing with it the condom and the pill … That is very irresponsible," Cruz said.
Additional reporting by Associated Press