Continued from page 1

One of the authors of the law, Rep. Edcel Lagman, said he is not worried by the petition and expects more to follow.

“We are prepared for this,” Mr. Lagman said. “We are certain that the law is completely constitutional and will surmount any attack on or test of its constitutionality.”

Over the decades, moral and political authority of the church in the Philippines is perceived to have waned with the passing of one of its icons, Cardinal Jaime Sin. He shaped the role of the church during the country’s darkest hours by championing the cause of civil advocacy, human rights and freedoms after dictator Ferdinand Marcos imposed martial law starting in 1972.

Sin’s action mirrored that of his strong backer, Pope John Paul II, who himself challenged communist rulers in Eastern Europe.

Three years after Mr. Aquino’s father, Benigno Aquino Jr., a senator opposing Marcos, was gunned down on the Manila airport tarmac in 1983, Sin persuaded Aquino’s widow, Corazon, to run for president.

When massive election cheating by Marcos was exposed, Sin went on Catholic-run Radio Veritas in February 1986 to summon millions of people to support military defectors and the Aquino-led opposition.

Marcos fled and Mrs. Aquino, a deeply religious woman, was sworn in as president.

Democracy was restored, but the country remained chaotic and mired in nearly a dozen coup attempts. The economy stalled, poverty persisted and the jobless were leaving in droves for better-paying jobs abroad as maids, teachers, nurses and engineers.

After Mrs. Aquino stepped down, the country elected its first and only Protestant president, Fidel Ramos. He, too, opposed the church on contraceptives and released state funds for family planning methods.

A new Aquino rises

Catholic bishops pulled out all the stops in campaigning against Mr. Ramos’ successor, popular movie actor Joseph Estrada, a hero of the impoverished masses who made little attempt to keep down his reputation for womanizing, drinking and gambling.

But few heeded the church’s advice. Mr. Estrada was elected with the largest victory margin in Philippine history.

Halfway through his six-year presidency, in January 2001, he was confronted with another “people power” revolt, backed by political opponents and the military, and was forced to resign.

His successor, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, styled herself as a devout Catholic and sought to placate the church by abolishing the death penalty and putting brakes on the contraceptives law, which languished in Congress during her nine years in power.

It mattered little. Mrs. Arroyo’s mismanagement and corruption scandals set the stage for Mr. Aquino’s election on a promise to rid the Philippines of graft, fix the economy and lift millions out of poverty.

Story Continues →