RH bill enters amendment period
MANILA, Philippines (4th UPDATE) - Reproductive health (RH) advocates won a key victory Monday after the House of Representatives voted to end the plenary debates on the controversial measure.
In a viva voce vote, the lower House moved to terminate the debates and place it in the pipeline for the period of amendments and a vote on 2nd reading.
The ayes won over the nays.
With 231 of 285 lawmakers present, House Majority Floor Leader Boyet Gonzales had moved to end the debates at the start of the session Monday.
However, Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, Rep. Hermilando Mandanas, Rep. Amado Bagatsing, and Rep. Mitos Magsaysay objected to the termination of the plenary discussions.
Rodriguez raised concerns about the proposed legislation, adding that he has yet to finish his interpretation of the bill.
Rep. Amado Bagatsing argued against putting RH bill debates to vote August 6, claiming that 6 is the number of the devil.
"Malas po ang 6, dun tayo sa (August) 7," he claimed. "Ang 6 ay numero ng demonyo."
Magsaysay, meanwhile, asked why lawmakers "are in in a hurry" to end the debates on the bill, which has been in limbo for years.
Former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and Rep. Manny Pacquiao, who are opposing the bill, were also present Monday.
Gonzales, meanwhile, defended his motion to end the debates and explained why the bill needs to advance to 2nd reading.
The session was then suspended to cool the tension. It resumed a few minutes later.
Rep. Toby Tiangco also called for nominal voting before the viva voce vote was held.
Lawmakers opposing the bill need 20 percent of 231 to proceed with the nominal voting, when they will explain their votes on ending the debate.
However, no nominal voting was held because they reportedly didn't have the required number for the move.
Lawmakers supporting the measure pulled off a surprise earlier in the day by pushing for the termination of the debates Monday instead of the initial plan of doing it Tuesday.
Gonzales told media that they made the decision at a caucus in Malacañang by Liberal Party leaders and members.
Rep. Edcel Lagman, the main proponent of the bill, said President Benigno Aquino met with leaders of the House of Representatives and expressed his desire to see it passed.
Lagman said Aquino urged members of the lower House to cast a conscience vote and not to be cowed by intimidation of reprisal by the Catholic Church hierarchy in the 2013 elections.
He said he was confident a majority of the lower House would agree to end divisive debates on the bill which has polarised the largely Catholic nation of almost 100 million.
The bill seeks to make it mandatory for the government to provide free contraceptives as well as introducing sex education in schools, which the politically influential Catholic church has rejected.
"It is just a termination of the debates but it is a big step towards approval of the bill," Lagman said before the session started late Monday.
Lagman said once congress voted to end the debates, the next legislative process would be to open the bill for amendments ahead of its passage.
Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda confirmed that the President met with the legislators to speed up the bill's passage.
"The President echoed the view that the responsible parenthood measure had been discussed thoroughly over the past several years and expressed his desire that Congress move on to the next step in the legislative process," he said.
The church, whose opinion on key issues helps to shape public opinion, led thousands in a rally on Saturday to call on congressmen to junk the bill.
The Senate needs to separately pass the bill before it can effectively become law, and some of its leaders have openly said they would reject it.
On Monday, over 100 activists favoring the bill held a peaceful rally outside Congress to press for its passage.
In the past opponents of the bill used lengthy debates and long-winded speeches to delay its passage until Congress adjourned, effectively preventing it from being passed.
Women's groups as well as the United Nations have been pushing for the law to be passed, saying it would help to bring down maternal mortality rates in the Philippines, which is one of the highest in the region. - with a report from Agence France-Presse