MANILA (1st UPDATE) - Absences may mar the vote of the House of Representatives on Tuesday to decide on the termination of debates on the Reproductive Health (RH) Bill as a ranking House leader admitted that the allies of the President are divided on the controversial measure.
House Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales said, “the majority is divided on the RH bill. While I'm pro-RH, my greater responsibility as majority leader, di ko pwedeng sagasaan ang RH, makakalaban ko ang members of the majority whose support I will need in shepherding other measures of equal importance.”
Gonzales said lawmakers will vote on party lines only to the extent that a vote should be taken.
Gonzales, however, doubted claims by both sides that they have the numbers to stop or carry the bill to passage.
“Di totoo yan. I’ve been in a lot of skirmishes diyan sa House, you only know the real number when actual voting takes place. Merong mga pro-RH na pro, but may not be there because takot sa simbahan. Merong anti-RH na wala rin dun na naiipit because of the pronouncement of the President. May magkakasakit diyan, may kunyari magpapaospital diyan to have a reason for not being there. Sinasabi ng simbahan 140, di ko alam saan nila nakuha yun, pwedeng sumasagot sa kanila, vice-versa pwedeng pro-RH either nawala for one reason or another.”
Gonzales clarified though that he wasn’t referring to confined former President and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Arroyo. Gonzales only found out about Arroyo’s hospitalization last night upon a follow-up question by ABS-CBN.
One insider claimed some 150 lawmakers may vote against the RH bill, 20 will abstain, and 10 will be absent on Tuesday.
Not like impeachment vote
Gonzales also expressed doubts that the administration will force an RH approval the same way it worked for the impeachment of former Chief Justice Renato Corona. “Si Presidente, ayaw makipagaway sa simbahan.”
Thus, Gonzales believes the House leadership merely wants to resolve the matter of the RH even if it is unsure of its approval.
“Gusto naming to get it over with, we don’t want to reach absurdity na debate na lang tayo ng debate. Now si Speaker [Belmonte] will let the chips fall where it will fall, basta kami we want to notify each and every member...(so) there will be a voting.”
Gonzales and House Speaker Sonny Belmonte have both expressed support for the bill.
Gonzales said the President may meet with lawmakers to discuss RH. “We're not sure. Suffice it is to say the President magsasalita siya rito. Mainvite ang legislators and other people.”
Gonzales said he is also unsure of how Tuesday will pan out, noting anti-RH lawmakers may try to delay any vote. "Ang appeal sa anti-RH, in light of fact they claim they have the vote necessary to defeat it, let's go on with the vote, wag na natin idelay by resorting to parliamentary strategy.”
Nevertheless, Gonzales also said that reservations have been made for seats in the gallery for those interested to watch the vote.
Gonzales noted that even if the debates are terminated, the bill still needs to hurdle the period of amendments before final approval.
War between former allies
As this developed, the word war between former allies in the House Minority heated up over the RH Bill.
Former Minority leader and RH-bill advocate Edcel Lagman continued to take potshots at former President Arroyo.
In a statement, Lagman said Arroyo’s current stance against the RH bill “is a complete abandonment of the Statement of Support for the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) which she signed on 25 January 2005 on behalf of the Philippine government."
He said the Philippines was among the 179 countries which were signatories to the ICPD Program of Action 18 years ago.
Lagman recalled that Arroyo anchored the government’s support for ICPD on four pillars, namely: (1) responsible parenthood; (2) respect for life or policy against abortion; (3) birth spacing; and, (4) informed choice.
On Thursday, Lagman already said, “the withdrawal of some minority members as co-authors of the RH bill is a mere partisan support for former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s opposition to the controversial measure. Many of those who withdrew as co-authors are long-standing RH advocates like Rep. Danilo Suarez who has been a consistent and vocal co-author for three Congresses dating back to the 13th Congress.”
Lagman said Arroyo's move was “a departure from her admission that she used contraceptive pills when she was a young mother, presumably to limit the number of her children and for birth spacing. She made this candid admission in March 2003 at a luncheon with pro-family planning legislators in Malacañang.”
Suarez merely laughed off Lagman’s claims. “We both have to answer to our Creator. The President has not, will not and will never influence [her colleagues] to vote on the RH [bill], it's your conscience," Suarez said.