MANILA, Philippines - Fear not the Catholic vote because it does not exist.
This was Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago’s message as she urged her colleagues in the Senate, particularly those running for reelection in next year’s midterm elections, to vote in favor of the proposed Reproductive Health (RH) bill.
Santiago said that the reelectionists are probably afraid of losing the vote of the Catholics, specifically those who subscribe to the stand taken by the Church on certain issues.
In this particular case, the Catholic Church has expressed strong opposition to the RH bill because of its provisions that supposedly promote the use of contraceptives.
According to Santiago, a lot of her colleagues in the Senate would “prefer to just keep quiet and let the public guess what their stand is on the RH bill because elections are just around the corner.”
There are six senators running for reelection next year, namely Minority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano, Gregorio Honasan, Francis Escudero, Loren Legarda, Aquilino Pimentel III and Antonio Trillanes IV.
All six senators have not taken a clear stand on the controversial bill.
“Reelectionists are always afraid of the so-called Catholic vote, although we know that in the time of former health secretary Juan Flavier, he just started distributing condoms for free even without any legal basis. The Catholic Church campaigned against him, but he won as senator anyway. So apparently there is no such thing as a Catholic vote,” Santiago said.
In fact, Santiago said that the reelectionists should favor the approval of the bill because this would address the needs of the people, particularly the women.
She cited data from the 2011 Family Health Survey of the National Statistics Office, which showed that the maternal mortality rate (MMR) in the country has remained largely unchanged since the 1990s.
“Government efforts to reduce our maternal mortality rate have not been effective. The three core interventions to reduce MMR – family planning, attendance of pregnancy and delivery by skilled professionals and access to emergency obstetric care – are core services not available in many LGUs (local government units),” Santiago said.
Sen. Pia Cayetano, who co-sponsored the RH bill with Santiago, said that she is also looking to convince the undecided senators, including the six reelectionists, to vote in favor of the measure.
Santiago and Cayetano took turns in defending the bill during the period of interpellation that lasted for close to one year.
Both senators believe that all of the issues have already been raised and answered during that period and they expressed hope that this was sufficient to secure a majority vote for the bill.
Santiago said that she believes some of the senators who had some reservations about the bill are now more receptive after the impeachment trial of former chief justice Renato Corona.
The period of interpellation for the bill has been closed and amendments to the measure would be taken up when Congress resumes legislative session next month.
“I am also confident that there will be no serious challenges to the bill during the period of amendments. However, some senators may want to introduce amendments regarding government subsidy on dispensing medication and the phraseology concerning the inclusion of contraceptive medication in the so-called national formulary,” Santiago said.
Cayetano said that she is willing to accept those amendments and related fine-tuning proposed by her colleagues as long as this will not water down the bill.
Santiago said that she has “very high hopes” that the RH bill would be passed by August or before yearend.