'Sana magalit na si Presidente,' says House majority leader Gonzales
MANILA - President Aquino finds it difficult to push the Reproductive Health (RH) bill among his congressional allies the same way he pushed for the impeachment of Chief Justice Renato Corona.
Aquino's political leaders in the House of Representatives concede that the President has to contend with the religious beliefs of his own allies for this purpose.
House Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales said, "mahirap kay Presidente to issue a marching order. The so-called opposition sa RH aren't political in nature, it's part of their religious belief, it's very difficult to impose. This is one time na mahirap talaga kami. As I've said in my stint as floor leader, this is first time I've seen a bill na divided ang members of the House and no demarcation between majority and minority."
Liberal Party secretary-general, incoming Department of Transportation and Communications Secretary and current House Appropriations chair, Cavite Rep. Joseph Emilio Aguinaldo Abaya, said Aquino "respects the independence of the 2 bodies of government, thus he merely requests. How effective is that convincing that will be is within his prerogative. If ever such strong requests are made, I think there's time."
Abaya added, "ang tingin ko, dinadahan din ni presidente, alam niya di lang parang impeachment ito, there are certain non-political issues he has been very careful. Sa Liberal Party, it's always consensual, we haven't gone to that part, what's clear is the request that we end the debate and I think clearly, he said we will put it to a vote."
Abaya identified himself as "pro-life. I have my own beliefs, I have been an active observant in all the discussions, I'm hoping there will be middle grounds."
Abaya said both sides of the political aisle hope that the small working group formed to put together a compromise measure will be able to do so to avoid the need for presidential pressure.
Gonzales said Aquino's own House leadership is divided in pushing for the bill. Gonzales and Speaker Sonny Belmonte are for the RH bill, while 3 Deputy Speakers--Isabelle Climaco, Pabling Garcia and Raul Daza-- are against it.
"As I have repeatedly said before, when you say leadership, you're only zeroing on the Speaker and me. Ang leadership dito is ano yan, Speaker, ako, deputy speakers, kinikilalang head ng party within the coalition. Pinakamagandang example is, 6 deputy speakers, 3 are against, mahirap eh and us, as floor leaders, it's very difficult for us in a situation when the minority are amused spectators. Sa floor deliberations, ang magkakalaban are [those in the] majority coalition."
'Sana magalit na si Presidente'
Gonzales added that he hopes Aquino will force the issue. "I hope (marching order), sana nga magalit na si Presidente eh."
Gonzales said the plenary will resume floor debates on the measure after the passage of the 2013 budget bill. He hopes that by that time, the small working group, composed of moderate lawmakers and some bishops, would have already hammered out a compromise bill.
Gonzales said they cannot agree to a request that a provision for government to fund the distribution of contraceptives be deleted.
Proponents are already amending the bill to target just the poorest of the poor based on the national household targeting system of the Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) program of the government.
"Ang information before, ang sabi ng ibang bishops they are not principally against the use of contraceptives. It's the fact that under the bill, it's gov't that promotes and spends for it."
Gonzales, however, argued that even if there's a free choice, that choice on the use of contraceptives cannot be exercised by the poorest of the poor who may not be able to afford contraceptives.
Gonzales maintained confidence that the bill will be put to a vote.