MANILA, Dec 17 (Reuters) - The Philippines' Congress passed on Monday a bill on promoting state-funded contraceptive, underscoring President Benigno Aquino's influence on the legislature and his defiance of Roman Catholic bishops opposed to the measure.
The legislature's two chambers, dominated by Aquino's allies, approved by solid margins on third and final reading the reproductive health bill two days before lawmakers adjourn for Christmas holidays. Aquino had certified it as an urgent measure.
The legislation requires governments down to village level to provide free or low-cost reproductive health services. The law will not promote abortion, which is illegal.
"It's a gift to my constituents," said Janette Garin, one of the bill's principal authors.
The passage of the measure ended about 13 years of debate on the contraceptive measure, seen by proponents as a human rights issue but opposed by Catholic bishops on moral grounds.
Aquino is expected to sign the bill into law by the end of the year after the two chambers iron out differences in their two versions.
Aquino, son of former president and democracy icon Corazon Aquino, is stepping out of the shadow of his late mother in taking stands openly against the wishes of the bishops in the overwhelmingly Catholic country. Aquino's mother came to power in 1986 after a chuch-backed popular revolt.
"Today's passage of the reproductive health bill is a victory for Filipino women, who have waited long enough for this day to happen," Carlos Conde of the U.S.-based Human Rights Watch said in a statement.
"This bill marks the starts of an era in which public policies in the Philippines can save lives, promote healthy family planning and respect human rights."
Social networking sites Twitter and Facebook were full of praise for senators and congressmen. A church-operated radio called on the faithful for prayers.
"What the church will do is to continue instructing our people, telling them the evils of contraceptives," said Bishop Gabriel Reyes, who watched the debate from the Congress gallery.
"They should not accept it because contraceptives are not pro-poor. It's not pro-children or pro-family. It is harmful against women, children and family."
Lawmakers, he said, had "changed their principles for pork barrel and political favours".
The overwhelming support for the measure showed Aquino's popularity and bipartisan support in the legislature. He displayed that same influence earlier this year when lawmakers removed the Supreme Court chief justice appointed by his predecessor in a five-month impeachment process. (Reporting By Manuel Mogato; Editing by Ron Popeski)