“Pac-Man,” the eight-division world champion boxer and Filipino congressman, is throwing his weight behind the Church as it fights the Philippine government’s attempt to liberalize birth control in this impoverished archipelago.
The Reproductive Health bill under debate, introduced Tuesday in the Philippine House of Representatives, would for the first time make federal funding available for reproductive health programs; require the government to provide its citizens with information on, and access to, modern birth control methods; and enforce sexual education in primary and high schools.
(More on TIME.com: See why there may be hope for a family-planning law in the Philippines.)
Unsurprisingly, it has met its greatest resistance from the conservative country’s Catholic leadership. As TIME’s Emily Rauhala wrote in November, “In the Philippines, the bishops and their allies in government have cast contraception as a violation of God’s will, an affront to national identity and a threat to public health.” But now the bill has another, devastatingly popular, opponent: the “Fighting Pride of the Philippines” himself.
In a definitive show of support for their cause, Manny Pacquiao, who is expressly anti-“artificial” contraception, took lunch with officials from the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) yesterday. He lamented that he never would have been born had his poor, unemployed parents turned to modern birth control, calling on his fans to back the Church and “follow God’s command, not man’s.” The Church is not complaining. CBCP President Tandag Bishop Nereo Odchimar praised Pacquiao’s endorsement of “the culture of life,” boasting that “people listen to him.”
Strangely, Pacquiao’s wife Jinkee has said that she began using birth control pills after their fourth child was born, but the boxer-politician is staunch in his stance. “God said, ‘Go forth and multiply.’ He did not say, ‘Go and have just one or two children,’” he told a press conference.
In response, Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago told the media that Manny’s biblical interpretation “sounds very much like God is encouraging us to go out and copulate in public.”
(More on TIME.com: See pictures of the rise of Manny Pacquiao.)
It can’t be very difficult for Pacquiao to financially support his brood of four; the champion fighter is worth an estimated $70 million. But 33% of people in the Philippines, a nation of nearly 92 million, live below the poverty line, earning less than $1.35 per day.
Pacquiao is adamant that the country’s swelling population not be held responsible for the plight of the Philippines’ poor. “We should blame corruption because the money that is supposed to help the poor goes to the pockets of officials who are already rich,” he said. Indeed, while feudalism and corruption do play a hand in the Philippines’ widespread poverty, family planning advocates point out the nation’s epidemic of unplanned pregnancies is resulting in lower educational and health standards and contributing to a population boom that has outpaced the economy. Self-induced abortions in the country also cause thousands of deaths every year. (The RH bill would not legalize abortion, which is against the Philippine Constitution.)
Last year, a survey suggested that a majority in the Philippines supported the RH bill. But officials are anxious that Pacquiao’s influence could sway the public. If as many people side with the Pac-Man as tuned in to his WBO welterweight title fight a couple of weeks ago, they’ll have serious cause to be concerned. (via the Philippine Daily Inquirer.)
(More on TIME.com: Read more about the Philippines’ birth control battle.)