MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) - It's too early for proponents of the Reproductive Health (RH) bill to celebrate despite its approval on 2nd reading at the House of Representatives.
Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr., a former congressman, noted the very close vote at the House last night to approve the bill, 114-103 with 3 abstentions.
That's just a 9-vote spread with 67 congressmen not in the session at the time of the vote.
Marcos hinted that intense lobbying may still reverse the final vote on the RH Bill, which is why senators are just going to take a cue from the House on their own plenary action on the bill.
"(The pressure) put on congressmen and senators talagang very close…Hindi imposibleng babaliktad pa yan kaya pinagmamasdan naming mangyayari sa House,” he said.
Marcos said he's heard of intense "man to man" lobbying on lawmakers.
"What we're beginning to feel yung mga lobbying galing sa labas marami nang pitong meeting ko kung sino sino lumalapit for both sides, pro- and anti-RH, palapit na sa finish line so the pressure is on,” he added.
The House of Representatives passed the bill on 2nd reading early Thursday morning, for the 1st time in the 13-year history of efforts to enact an RH law. Usually, any bill could be voted down at this stage and in the past, the RH Bill never made it past this point.
However, after hurdling 2nd reading, the bill still has to be approved on 3rd reading 3 days after approval on 2nd reading, a requirement under the House rules that could have been waived had it been certified as urgent by the Palace.
After a vote on 3rd reading, the plenary has to vote on it another time after it has been reconciled with the Senate version of the bill by the bicameral conference committee.
Marcos pointed out that unless the House approves the bill on 3rd reading, any action by the Senate will be futile.
"Kung wala sa House, kahit mag third reading dito, wala ring mangyayari. The point is, tapusin lahat bago magbreak for Christmas. Sa takbo ng RH bill sa House, mukhang gagawin nila,” he said.
The Senate is just about to vote on their version of the RH Bill on Monday, just a few days shy of their Christmas break on December 21st.
It is resuming only on January 17. By mid-February, Congress goes on break again for the election campaign period.
Lobbying hard to ignore for re-electionists
Marcos, however, said the lobbying may be hard to ignore for re-electionist lawmakers.
"You'll take it into consideration hindi mo pwede baliwala impluwensiya ng simbahan. For most part, tayo Katolikong Pilipino. Kung ano sinasabi ng mga Obispo kailangan mo pakinggan. Napakatagal na nito. I think lobbying at this point is taken with grain of salt. Ako, tantiya ko, mga senador 90% alam na nila gagawin nila."
Marcos said he could not say if the Catholic vote can spell the difference between losing and winning since it is not known for bloc voting like the Iglesia ni Cristo.
Marcos pointed out that pro-condom senator Juan Flavier still won during his time despite intense lobbying by the church.
He believes the Senate will vote on their RH bill on Monday after Sen. Vicente Sotto III finishes with his proposed amendments.
"I believe siguro di na namin iiwan iyan hanggang mag 2nd reading, which means if we want 3rd reading we will have special session Thursday. Binabantayan namin ang House kung 3rd reading sa Wednesday sa House. 2nd reading is good indication sa 3rd reading. Matibay tibay ang lagay ng RH bill sa Senado."
Marcos said most of the amendments proposed by critics of the Senate version lost in plenary votes.
He himself proposed an amendment to make sure local government units have the capability to implement the RH law with adequate funding.
In a close vote, the House of Representatives approved the bill on 2nd reading late Wednesday after an almost 12-hour marathon session peppered with objections from the gallery and the floor.
Vote crossed various lines
The vote crossed party lines, family lines and even professional lines.
For example, husband and sife An-waray Rep. Bem Noel and wife Malabon Rep. Jaye Lacson Noel voted against and for the bill, respectively.
Mother and daughter Imelda and Aliah Dimaporo (representatives of the 1st and 2nd districts of Lanao del Norte) likewise voted for and against the measure, respectively.
Representatives Janet Garin and Anthony Golez, doctors by profession, also had clashing votes.
President Aquinos allies in the Liberal Party and the rest of the majority coalition as well as former President Gloria Arroyo's colleagues in the House Minority were also evenly split between the ayes and nayes.
The leadership of the House as well as the chairmen of the committees were also voting on different sides.
Church not giving up fight
The Roman Catholic Church in Manila doesn't t seem to be giving up its fight against the enactment of a reproductive health law despite its approval on 2nd reading at the House of Representatives.
In a statement, Manila Archbishop Luis Cardinal Tagle said, "The vote in favour of the RH Bill in Congress is unfortunate and tragic. But we do not take it as a defeat of truth... for truth shall prevail, especially the truth about human life, marriage and the family.
"We will work harder to promote the sanctity of human life and of the human person, the integral education of the youth, the access of the poor to social and medical services, the preservation of the true meaning of marriage, and stewardship of creation. We call on all Filipinos to work towards healing, and journey together humbly and justly as children of God."
Tagle lauded those who helped the Church campaign against the bill.
"We thank and commend the Representatives of Congress, the Church people, organizations and citizens who worked hard and tirelessly in a variety of ways to expose the flaws of the RH bill, to form consciences and to contribute to the search for the common good. This vote leads us to further commit the Church, specifically the Archdiocese of Manila to the service of the poor, of the family, of women, of infants and children."
Tagle issued this statement this morning (December 13) before he left for Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam for the General Assembly of the Federation of Asian Bishops' Conferences.