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Catholic Church seeks to regain power in RP

In cathedrals around the country, huge black and red banners are asking the faithful to choose between “Team Life’’ (Team Buhay) and “Team Death’’ (Team Patay), with priests warning the nation’s soul is at stake.

The signs are part of efforts by the Catholic Church to assert influence in the mid-term elections, with politicians who supported a birth control law passed by Congress last year blackmarked as part of Team Patay.

Bishop Vicente Navarra of Bacolod City, who pioneered the use of the Team Patay-Team Buhay banners, said he believed the law had opened the door to worse social ills.

“We know it (birth control) will just snowball later on. After this, they will file bills for divorce, euthanasia, abortion, homosexual marriages, so it will be death,’’ Navarra said.

The Catholic Church has for centuries enjoyed immense political as well as social power in the Philippines, a former Spanish colony. Roughly 80 percent of Filipinos still count themselves as members of the faith.

Church leaders played a crucial role in toppling President Ferdinand E. Marcos in 1986 and pressure from the clergy has ensured that the Philippines remains the only country where divorce is illegal.

For more than a decade, the Church also successfully derailed campaigns for Congress to pass the Reproductive Health (RH) bill that would have mandated that the government hand out free contraceptives and sex education be taught in schools.

But despite another intense Church campaign, the landmark law was finally passed late last year.

The Supreme Court (SC) in March suspended the law until judges hears arguments from Catholic groups that have filed petitions arguing it is unconstitutional.

But the legislative defeat for the Church highlighted what many believe is its waning influence in Philippine society.

Surveys over many years have consistently shown overwhelming public backing for the birth control law, while support for divorce is also on the rise.

A survey in 2011 by the Social Weather Stations (SWS), one of the Philippines’ top two polling groups, found out that 50 percent of Filipinos believed divorce should be legalized, up from 29 percent a decade earlier.

Another survey in February this year by the SWS also found waning religiosity among those who classify themselves as Catholics, with only 29 percent considering themselves “very religious.’’

Weekly church attendance has also fallen sharply, from 64 percent of Catholic adults in 1991 to 37 percent this year, according to the survey.

Political scientist Edna Co, from the state-run University of the Philippines, said many Filipinos had come to believe they could still be good Catholics while being less obedient to its teachings. (AFP)