Philippine President Benigno Aquino on Saturday sought dialogue with the powerful Catholic church amid a row over birth control, but stressed he would not back down in his support for contraceptives.
Aquino also sought to downplay the row with the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, which he said was played up by the free-wheeling press.
“We have set a dialogue with the bishops,” Aquino told reporters, but said the exact date for the meeting with bishops was still being finalised by his office.
The bishops, who wield considerable influence in the largely Catholic country, two days ago said Aquino may be excommunicated because of his pro-contraceptive position.
The debate began after Aquino said his government would support giving contraceptives to couples if they asked for them as part of family planning efforts to curb a high population growth rate.
Aquino reiterated on Saturday that he would support a reproductive health bill in Congress that called for state funding of contraceptives.
“My stand has not changed, the state has an obligation to educate all of its citizens as to their choices,” he said.
“The state not (been) empowered by any law to dictate upon any couple how they should plan their family.”
The church considers contraceptives as a form of abortion, and has in the past campaigned against public officials supporting them.
The bishops are often seen as providing moral guidance from the pulpit and remain politically influential as well because 80 percent of the population belong to the Catholic faith.
Aquino’s challenge to the church has been welcomed by birth control advocates, who have pressed the need to trim the country’s population growth rate, which is among the world’s highest.