MANILA, May 13 (Reuters) - A senior Roman Catholic bishop on Friday compared Philippine President Benigno Aquino to the ousted dictator Ferdinand Marcos, in an escalating war of words over a controversial bill promoting artificial contraception.
The plan before Congress has put Aquino on a collision course with the country's powerful Catholic church leaders, who this week walked out of talks on the reproductive health bill. [ID:nL3E7GA2KA]
Pro-life groups supported the bishops and stepped up pressure against Aquino, calling for a widespread civil disobedience campaign, including non-payment of taxes.
"Not to pay taxes, I will be surprised if somebody will say that publicly because if I am not mistaken, that's a serious criminal offence," Aquino told reporters on Friday.
"I think sedition will be the charge that will be filed for your not doing your civic obligation."
Aquino's latest statement in the battle over the bill, which includes measures to promote sex education and the use of artificial contraception, immediately drew criticism from Catholic bishops, who have blocked similar measures since the 1990s.
"He can put us all in jail," Ramon Arguelles, archbishop of Lipa, south of Manila, told reporters, adding Aquino sounded like the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, who also threatened groups calling for civil disobediance during his regime.
"We are willing to pay the price to save the unborn from modern Herods and save the executioners from the grasp of the evil one."
Archbishop Angel Lagdameo, former head of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, said the government must consider the moral aspect of the issue.
"In the end, we must obey God and not man," he added.
The Catholic church is a powerful political force in the Philippines, playing a key role in the overthrow of two presidents, including Marcos, during the past 25 years, and politicians generally avoid picking fights with the clergy.
The president's mother, democracy heroine Corazon Aquino, herself called for a campaign of civil disobediance against Marcos after she said he stole her election victory in 1986.
The allegations of poll fraud helped spark a popular revolt that toppled Marcos's 20-year rule and swept Cory Aquino to power.
Aquino said his government would prioritise the passage of a reproductive health bill in Congress as a tool to cut poverty in the poor but resource-rich Southeast Asian state.
Aquino pledged last month to push for the enactment of the reproductive health bill in Congress in a bid to lower maternal death in the Philippines, even at the risk of excommunication from the Roman Catholic Church. [ID:nL3E7FH07F]
The bishops say some forms of contraception are tantamount to abortion, which is illegal in the Philippines. About 80 percent of the country's 94 million people are Catholics. (Reporting by Manny Mogato; Editing by Alex Richardson)