MANILA, Philippines - The controversial Reproductive Health (RH) bill is likely to be approved by the House of Representatives only by a slim margin, Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales II predicted yesterday.
“I think the votes last night (Monday night) are an indication of the voting result when the bill is eventually put to a vote. As I have said, the House is almost evenly divided on the bill,” Gonzales told a news conference.
He was referring to the 99-91 vote to stop Palawan Rep. Dennis Socrates from further delaying consideration of the proposed RH law by delivering a privilege speech questioning the plenary decision taken on Nov. 26 to adopt a compromise version authored by Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. and Gonzales.
Later, in a 91-75 vote, the House sustained the rejection by Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, the compromise version’s sponsor, of an amendment proposed by anti-RH Cebu Rep. Pablo Garcia, which would have diluted the bill.
Garcia wanted the measure’s coverage and benefits limited to married couples, but Lagman said the bill should also apply to unmarried individuals.
Though the proposed RH law would eventually be approved, it would pass through the proverbial eye of the needle before it reaches the voting stage, Gonzales said.
“Again, judging from last night’s five-hour proceedings, the period of amendments will be a long and difficult process. Anti-RH members will invoke their rights under the rules, including the right to call for nominal or individual voting on every amendment they propose,” he said.
On Monday night, after Socrates was stopped from questioning the Nov. 26 decision to adopt the compromise bill, Garcia spent at least 30 minutes doing what his anti-RH colleague from Palawan failed to do.
The individual voting Garcia demanded on an amendment rejected by Lagman as well as the second roll call Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez asked for took some time to complete.
Garcia, Rodriguez and Socrates are among the staunchest critics of the bill.
The first roll call, conducted before 5 p.m., showed the presence of 210 of the 283 members of the House. Attendance dwindled to 187 in the second roll call made two hours later.
“The amendment period will be a war of attrition. It will be a long and difficult process. Somebody has to give in, and I think it will not be us, supporters of the RH bill. If they have the numbers as they claim, they would expedite the proceedings so that we can put the bill to a vote,” Gonzales said.
However, he said he anticipates further delays due to parliamentary maneuvers by anti-RH members.
“At some point, things will come to a head, and I will not tell you what we will do because I would be telegraphing our punches,” he said.
He conceded that the rules do not prevent any member from moving to terminate the amendment period, a motion that the chamber would have to vote on.
“It will principally be up to the bill’s sponsor, Congressman Lagman. If he thinks the proposed amendments are intended to kill the bill, he can the move to close the period of amendments,” he added.
To expedite the proceedings, Gonzales urged President Aquino to certify the RH bill as urgent.
“Presidential certification will be a big boost to the bill. It will hasten its approval,” he said.
When Monday’s session adjourned at 10 p.m., Garcia had just presented his second amendment proposal on line 2, page 2 of the 27-page compromise version. He had scores more in his list.
Apart from the Cebu congressman, Rodriguez signified his intention to propose more changes to the bill.
Taking advantage of the quorum, the House tried to finish the amendment period so it could put the bill to a second-reading vote, but anti-RH members raised obstacles at every step of the process, delaying the proceedings considerably.
Meanwhile, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile argued that the RH Bill, if approved without his proposed amendment, might eventually end up being declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. Enrile’s proposed amendment seeks to define conception.
The deliberations on the RH bill resumed yesterday with Enrile reading a part of the records of the 1986 Constitutional Commission, particularly the sponsorship speech of economist Bernardo Villegas, to support his argument.
In previous articles, Villegas contended that conception is already defined in the 1987 Constitution as fertilization or the moment the egg is fertilized by the sperm.
Villegas claimed that the definition was the majority decision of the members of the Constitutional Commission of 1986.
“My definition of when life begins was already discussed in the Constitutional Commission. I want to put that into the record, in this proceeding, because I think what we are approving, if we approve it, without my amendment, would be unconstitutional and I intend to raise that to the Supreme Court,” Enrile said.
Under Enrile’s proposed amendment, he wanted to remove the line stating that RH “implies that people are able to have a safe and satisfying sex life, that they have the capacity to reproduce and the freedom to decide if, when and how often to do so.”
Enrile said that the state has no business intruding into this matter and so there is no need to include that provision.
However, Sen. Pia Cayetano, the principal author and sponsor of the RH bill rejected the amendment, saying that it is a vital part of the definition of RH.
“It is part one’s human right to reproduce, if, when and how to do so. Every couple has that intrinsic right to make that decision,” Cayetano said.
Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago, co-author and sponsor of the bill, said that the phrase “safe and satisfying sex life” has been a part of international law for some time already and should be accepted by local legislators. With a vote of 6 in favor and 11 against, the proposed amendment of Enrile was rejected.
Enrile also proposed to amend the definition of sexual health as “a state of physical, mental and social well-being in relation to sexuality.”
In the bill, sexual health “requires a positive and respectful approach to sexuality and sexual relationships, as well as the possibility of having pleasurable and safe sexual experiences.” Enrile wanted to delete the phrase “as well as the possibility of having pleasurable.” The proposed amendment was also defeated with a vote of 6 to 11.
A third proposed amendment of Enrile was also rejected, involving the testing and certification of reproductive health supplies by the Department of Health with the help of the Department of Science and Technology.
No need for RH Bill
Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III, for his part, said the proposed budget of the Department of Health (DOH) for 2013 contains over P500 million for the purchase of contraceptives and only P31 million for the natural family planning program.
Sotto noted that P521 million of the DOH’s 2013 budget consists of P245.051 million for the purchase of pills; P170.441 million for intra-uterine devices; P91.225 million for injectables; P11.336 million for bilateral tubal ligation kits; and P3 million for birth control pills.
This is on top of the P127.5 million in the proposed budget of the Population Commission for subsidies, grants and contributions in support of the population program.
In contrast, the DOH proposed an appropriation of only P31.186 million for natural family planning bundle packs.
With such a huge appropriation for the purchase of artificial contraceptives in the DOH’s budget, which he said would be made available for free to the people, Sotto argued that the controversial RH bill would no longer be needed in the country.
“I think the people should be informed that we have these, that we have these family planning supplies and birth control methods for free. It is available now. It has been available since last year, isn’t it?” Sotto said.
“They have a budget for it. They are doing it, but without the provisions that are controversial and questionable on the RH bill. That is the point I would like to stress. Nagagawa ito ng DOH. Kayang gawin ito ng DOH at ginagawa nila ito (The DOH can do it and has been doing it) through the GAA (General Appropriations Act),” he added.
Sotto and Enrile are the two fiercest opponents of the RH bill in the Senate.
Sen. Ralph Recto, who has introduced several amendments to the RH bill, said he would support the measure as long as it is clear that there would be no state-sponsored population control.
He said that he would support responsible parenthood education, including the various methods of family planning, both natural and modern.
“I’m in favor of providing RH services and supplies to poor couples, especially women,” Recto said.
However, he said that the RH bill should not end up promoting sexual promiscuity, especially among the youth, and that minors should have parental consent before they are given access to contraceptives.
Recto said that appropriations for RH services should be clearly stated in the GAA to ensure that the measure is implementable, operable and sustainable. – With Marvin Sy