MANILA, Philippines - The Senate is extending its session for one day until Dec. 20 next week to accommodate the approval on third and final reading of the Reproductive Health (RH) measure, Senate President Pro-Tempore Jinggoy Estrada said Monday.
Congress goes on Christmas break on Dec. 21, but the last session day before the break was originally set on Wednesday Dec.19.
Senators reached the agreement after they suspended session yesterday for two and a half hours following a heated exchange between RH proponents senators Pia Cayetano and Miriam Defensor-Santiago, and Senate majority leader Vicente Sotto III who is against the RH measure.
But with the agreement to extend the session days, the House of Representatives may also have to approve the controversial measure by next week.
After the caucus, Estrada put on record the proposal of Sen. Ralph Recto to finish his amendments by Wednesday, while Sotto will follow suit on Monday “after which we can vote for second reading on Monday.”
Estrada said the senators will report for session work on Thursday “for us to vote for the measure on third and final reading.”
Estrada said the proposal is “on the assumption that the House of Representatives will act on the measure.”
“If the House won’t act on the measure, I think there will be no point for us to act on the measure,” Estrada said.
“Again we put the RH bill at the mercy of me having to agree… I accept with reservation but I need to come in that our colleagues will be able to come in on Thursday,” Cayetano said.
“We will agree to the proposal as an accommodation to finish them as soon as possible… just to accommodate them, not to say that we completely agree,” Sotto said.
“We, who are in favor of RH, did not object because we do not want to be seen as obstructionist… with the suspension of the session, (the) motion to suspend the session should come from the floor, not from the presiding officer,” Santiago pointed out.
“We want to make on record, we will not longer tolerate any debate if we make similar motions in the future,” Santiago said.
Santiago pointed to Rule 44, which states that unfinished business at the end of the session shall be taken up in the next session day “in the same status.”
“In many instances, the presiding officer can motu propio suspend the motion,” Sotto argued.
Before the Senate went into suspension of session, Cayetano contradicted Sotto who deferred his speech in deference to the tragedy in Mindanao
“You have brought it to the point where if I don’t push or nudge you a little bit, I will run out of time for bicam,” Cayetano said.
“I am not curtailing anyone’s rights to make amendments,” she added.
Sotto explained that there were processes that need to be followed at the Senate.
Catholic bishops are welcome to witness the voting on the controversial RH bill possibly this week, Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, the measure’s principal author, said yesterday.
But he urged them not to use fear and intimidation to influence the vote.
“If the veiled purpose of the bishops’ presence in the gallery is to sow fear or employ intimidation against legislators, they will not succeed because fear is destitute of reason and must be resisted with conviction, and not be allowed to deter or delay legislation,” he said.
He noted that several Church leaders attended last week’s House deliberations on proposed amendments to the RH bill.
However, he said their presence “did not save the ‘killer’ amendments proposed by RH critics from being voted down repeatedly.”
He said such amendments would have “emasculated” the proposed RH law.
The rejected amendments included two proposals that would have limited RH benefits to married couples and excluded unmarried individuals, and stopped the government from promoting RH services and products.
A suggestion that would have declared in the proposed RH law that fertilization is the beginning of life was also voted down.
It is a “subject wherein legislators have no competence since even medical experts have no consensus, much more unanimity, on the issue,” Lagman said.
A proposal to drop the adjective “reproductive” from “reproductive health” was likewise rejected.
The amendment “is unwarranted because the bill is on reproductive health,” Lagman said.
While rejecting several proposed changes in the bill, he readily accepted an amendment presented by Parañaque Rep. Roilo Golez, which would ensure that the country maintains a viable population growth rate in case the proposed RH law is enacted. - With Christina Mendez, Evelyn Macairan