MANILA, Philippines - An official of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) is urging lawmakers in the House of Representatives to conduct nominal voting on the reproductive health (RH) bill.
In a report on CBCPNews, Antipolo Bishop Gabriel Reyes said nominal voting is necessary to uphold transparency.
“Let us demand from our congressmen, especially the leaders of Congress, that the voting be nominal, whenever a vote on a part or on the whole of the substitute RH bill is taken,” Reyes said.
Under the said voting procedure, each lawmaker will be allowed to cast and explain their votes on the controversial population control measure.
“It is the right of the people to know how their respective congressmen voted on this important bill,” said Reyes, chairman of the CBCP’s Episcopal Commission on Family and Life (ECFL).
Last August, many bishops lamented the scheme of voting when lawmakers ended the debate on the RH bill through a “viva voce” following a meeting with President Benigno Aquino III.
The measure, which seeks to promote the use of artificial contraceptives, is currently going through a period of amendments before it is put to a vote on second reading on the floor.
The CBCP official also called for days of fasting and prayer against the RH bill as Malacañang takes an extra mile to push for the passage of the measure.
“Let us pray and fast on Monday and the following days so that our lawmakers will not pass the bill,” he said. “Let us beseech God to protect life, family, marriage and the youth in our country.”
Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales II earlier confirmed that the House of Representatives may put the controversial RH bill to a vote today after its members meet with President Aquino over lunch at Malacañang to discuss the measure.
Leaders of the chamber sent text messages to members over the weekend urging them to attend the caucus in Malacañang and this afternoon’s session.
Gonzales confirmed that an overwhelming majority of the 285 or so House members have been looking forward to meeting Aquino.
Aquino’s meeting with both pro- and anti-RH members is his second in nearly four months, during which the RH bill has largely failed to move in the House due to parliamentary maneuvers employed by those against it.
His first caucus with them on the measure was last Aug. 6. He appealed to them to close floor debates and go into the period for amendments.
Four hours later, House members voted overwhelmingly to terminate floor debates. But since then up to last Monday, not a single amendment had been introduced.
Last Monday, taking advantage of the presence of a quorum, Gonzales called the RH bill for amendments. He then proceeded to introduce the first major amendment: substituting a compromise version he and Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. had authored for the original bill, of which Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman is principal author.
Period for amendments
Cagayan de Oro City Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, a staunch critic of the measure, said the House should not call for a vote without completing the period for amendments.
He said the process would be flawed if additional amendments are barred.
Rodriguez has begged off from attending the Palace caucus.
“With all due respect to the Speaker and the President, may I beg off from attending the Malacañang lunch on Monday. My opposition to the RH bill is based on my conscience and religious conviction,” he said in a text message to reporters over the weekend.
Lagman said he expects only a few more amendment proposals from his colleagues since the compromise version already addresses the concerns and criticisms of those against the original bill.
“If the proposals do not jibe with the compromise version, I will reject them and I expect to be sustained by the House. That will expedite the process,” he said.
Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte downplayed insinuations that Aquino is now taking a softer stance on the RH bill, when he said he only wanted the lawmakers to decide on the matter.
“I disagree that there was a change of heart. That has always been his position. The President is pro-RP (Responsible Parenthood). He has always maintained that it should be voted (upon) according to your conscience,” she said.
“I don’t think that’s a change of heart. That’s always been his position,” Valte said.
But pro-RH advocates still have misgivings about Aquino’s real or definitive stand on the issue, as they noticed the President did not have any more zeal or passion for it, unlike in the impeachment case of former chief justice Renato Corona.
This time Aquino said he would be invoking the conscience of legislators and would not want to impose on them, when sources say he could use pork barrel funds as leverage since there is no solid Catholic vote to speak of in the first place.
“I will appeal to them to, number one, make sure there is a quorum, number two, make sure that this will be decided upon. We need to have a decision either way. Whatever they pass, that is what the executive will implement,” Aquino said.
Besides the RH bill, Aquino may discuss with House members several pending bills, including his proposed P2-trillion 2013 national budget and the measure increasing alcohol and tobacco taxes.
Both the budget and the sin tax bill are pending in bicameral conference committees. With reports from CBCPNews and Philippine Star