MANILA, Philippines - Senator Pia Cayetano tried to speed up plenary deliberations on the reproductive health (RH) bill on Monday, drawing the ire of Senate Majority Leader Vicente "Tito" Sotto III.
Sotto and fellow Senators Loren Legarda and Ferdinand Marcos were supposed to deliver privilege speeches Monday but deferred to a later time.
Sotto cited the tragedy wrought by Typhoon Pablo in the southern Philippines as behind his decision.
Cayetano, the primary sponsor of the RH bill, then rose on a matter of privilege and moved that the period of amendments for the RH bill be placed on top of Monday’s agenda.
Sotto, as majority leader, leads the rules committee that decides on the order of business.
Monday's agenda had the RH bill at the bottom of the list.
Cayetano cited the short time Congress has to act on the measure. She said the proposal also needs to go through the bicameral conference committee.
Congress will go on a Christmas break on December 21 and will resume in mid-January before going on an electoral campaign recess mid-February.
Santiago, who is also a co-sponsor of the RH bill, seconded Cayetano's motion. This prompted an objection from Sotto, a known opponent of the measure.
Sotto and Senator Ralph Recto are the remaining proponents of possible amendments to the bill.
In his response, Sotto cited the procedures of the Senate, as well as the need to prepare.
Sotto said he has 25 amendments of which only 13 are ready. He also said he's been asking Cayetano for documents relevant to the bill but her committee has failed to supply the documents.
He claimed that if he was not majority leader, the bill probably wouldn't have even been calendared.
Cayetano blamed the Senate leadership for the situation. “You brought it to point that if U don't push you, I won't have time for bicam. Many have availed postponements.”
Cayetano asked for senators to put it to a vote, saying the RH bill should get the same treatment that the sin tax bill got.
She told colleagues not to force her to ask for the period of amendments to be closed.
Sotto, meanwhile, said it's not easy to prepare and he doesn't have a clean copy of the amendments.
He recited some 10 dates and incidents when he asked for copies, requests, and documents that he needed for amendments.
Santiago said Cayetano merely wants the RH bill to be put on top of agenda and not to terminate the period of amendments.
She added that the Senate owes courtesy to President Benigno Aquino and the House of Representatives.
Santiao said the RH bill has been pending for 13 years and 5 congresses.
"We have to stop at some point. Thirteen years is enough. I don't see why we should be charged with railroading. You had all of 13 years!" she said.
Santiago pointed out there's no prohibition in the rules for the transfer of an item in the agenda.
She also also both raised the specter of calling for a vote.
Cayetano then called for a vote on a motion to resume consideration of the RH bill but Senate President Pro Tempore Jinggoy Estrada suspended the session amid the chaos.