Showdown on RH bill shaping up at House

By Jess Diaz, The Philippine Star

Posted at Nov 12 2012 07:08 AM | Updated as of Nov 12 2012 07:28 PM

MANILA, Philippines - Authors and supporters of the controversial reproductive health (RH) bill in the House of Representatives are gearing for a showdown next week with those opposing the measure.

RH proponents are intending to ask the House leadership to again call the bill for plenary consideration.

They are planning to force a vote on several amendments that the chamber’s leaders have proposed in consultation with the bill’s authors and some of its critics.

If the hardline critics want war, then war they will get, some of the measure’s authors said over the weekend.

“If by next week nothing happens, you can be sure you will hear from us. I’m beyond patience already and ready to lose my temper,” Pangasinan Rep. Kimi Cojuangco told reporters. “I’ll be the one to start the war.”

Cagayan de Oro City Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, one of the measure’s critics, said the RH proposal would not move unless proponents are able to muster and maintain quorum throughout the session.

“If they can do that, then we can tackle and debate the amendments line by line, sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph, section by section. That will take us till kingdom come,” he said.

Cojuangco once vented her frustration over the RH bill’s snail’s pace on President Aquino who, according to proponents, has not forcefully demonstrated his support for the measure.

She once said that if the President had shown the same zeal and enthusiasm for the approval of the bill as he had in the impeachment of then chief justice Renato Corona, the controversial legislative proposal would have long ago been approved and his allies would not be quarreling over it now.

Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales II, who, together with Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. is supporting the bill, has expressed the same frustration.

“Dapat siguro magalit uli sa amin at ipatawag kami ng Pangulo (I think the President should again get angry at us and summon us again to a meeting),” he told reporters in a recent news conference.

Last Aug. 6, Aquino called his allies to Malacañang for a luncheon caucus. Four hours later, the House voted unanimously to terminate floor debates on the RH bill and go into the period of amendments. The measure hasn’t moved since then.

Before Congress went on its three-week All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day recess in mid-October, House leaders came up with what they described as a compromise RH bill.

It addressed many of the concerns of the critics of the original measure, Belmonte said.

Cojuangco said the Speaker did some “back channel talks” with the hardline critics during the break.

Rep. Emmeline Aglipay of the party-list group Democratic Independent Workers’ Association said the amendments proposed by House leaders should now be discussed.

“After all the concessions have been made, I hope that at least, as a measure of good faith, they would stop the delays and discuss the amendments,” she said.

For her part, Rep. Bernadette Herrera-Dy of Bagong Henerasyon appealed to her colleagues to patiently attend sessions until amendments are finished and a vote is taken.

“Let us do our duty. We owe it to our people, especially the poor, to approve this bill,” she said.

She said forcing the issue would boil down to having and keeping a quorum.

Former health secretary Alfredo Romualdez said the new version of the RH bill presented by House leaders would strengthen the health system because of the provision mandating “cooperation, coordination and support” between local government units and the national government.

Better understanding

With time running out for proponents of the RH bill in Congress, Sen. Pia Cayetano said she hopes a better understanding of the measure could help those concerned see the urgency of having it approved and enacted into law.

Cayetano, one of the authors and sponsors of the RH bill in the Senate, lamented numerous attempts to distort information regarding the measure.

In her blog, Cayetano urged the public to learn the facts about the RH bill before taking a stand on the issue.

She cited 10 facts that every Filipino should know about the RH bill, which she hopes could influence the opinion of the critics as well as legislators.

She said “fact No.1” is that the RH bill gives a person freedom to choose what family planning method to use or not to use any method at all.

“Once and for all, if you do not want to use any family planning method, if you choose to use an artificial mode of family planning or natural family planning, that choice is yours and yours alone,” she said.

She also stressed the RH bill does not legalize abortion and in fact adheres to the penal law against abortion.

The third fact, she said, is that the bill does not impose an ideal family size and leaves such decision to couples. She also said religious convictions and cultural beliefs of all sectors are respected in the bill.

“Time and again, sex education has been taken out of context. As I explained in my sponsorship speech, sex education shall be age-appropriate,” Cayetano said as she stressed that 10-year-olds are not taught how to use condoms under the RH bill.

For “fact 6,” Cayetano said the RH bill promotes both natural and artificial family planning methods. She also reiterated that contraceptives are safe and effective family planning tools under “fact 7.”

The “8th fact” about RH bill is that there will be no indiscriminate distribution of condoms and other contraceptives to Filipinos.

On “fact nine,” that an average of 11 mothers die daily, Cayetano said that “regardless of whether there’s just one woman or 11 women dying daily, the fact remains that mothers are dying from a highly-preventable cause.”

She said that the 10th fact about the RH bill is that it will not force anyone to act against his or her ethical or religious beliefs.

Cayetano, along with RH bill co-author and sponsor Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago, has called on her colleagues to put the bill to a vote since all issues about the measure have already been exhausted during extensive debates. With Marvin Sy