Senate, House OK RH bill on final reading

by Jojo Malig,

Posted at Dec 17 2012 06:17 PM | Updated as of Dec 18 2012 07:06 PM

MANILA, Philippines (8th UPDATE) - The Senate and the lower House approved the reproductive health (RH) bill on 3rd and final reading Monday.

The lower House version of the bill, sponsored by Rep. Edcel Lagman, was first approved 133-79, with 7 abstentions.

The vote was made quickly, with 199 representatives present.

It passed by a higher margin of 54 votes on 3rd reading, in contrast to the close 113-104 vote on 2nd reading.

Some lawmakers made it to the plenary session to cast their votes despite being ill or having important matters to attend to.

Rep. Miro Quimbo, who voted in favor of the measure, attended the session despite being ill with dengue.

Quimbo, on a wheelchair, was accompanied by a doctor who held up his dextrose bag.

"Para sa bayan, I vote yes," he said when his name was called.

"Can't breathe well. Nursing a cold and headache. I almost screamed inside the plane bcoz of the pressure. But must go to Batasan," Negros Occidental Rep. Mercedes Alvarez said earlier in the day.

Those who voted no include party-list Rep. Juan Miguel "Mikey" Arroyo and Rep. Mitos Magsaysay.

"Mr. Speaker, this practicing Roman Catholic will always vote no," Arroyo said.

"I just voted NO!" Magsaysay said on Twitter.

House Speaker Sonny Belmonte Jr. and Rep. Lorenzo "Erin" Tañada III, who was the presiding officer in the 2nd reading, voted in favor of the measure in the final reading.

Senate nod

The Senate, meanwhile, approved it 13-8, on 2nd and 3rd reading.

The bill, sponsored by Senators Pia Cayetano and Miriam Defensor Santiago, immediately went to 3rd reading after the 2nd reading because President Benigno Aquino certified it as urgent.

The bicameral conference committee will get both versions of the bill for consolidation before the President signs it into law.

The Senate vote was made after the upper House tackled amendments proposed by Senator Vicente "Tito" Sotto III.

Those who voted yes were (click for videos of speeches explaining their votes): 

Edgardo Angara,
Joker Arroyo,
Pia Cayetano,
Alan Peter Cayetano,

Miriam Defensor Santiago,
Franklin Drilon,
Chiz Escudero,
TG Guingona,

Ping Lacson,
Loren Legarda,
Bongbong Marcos,
Kiko Pangilinan, and
Ralph Recto.

The senators who voted against the measure on 3rd reading were:
Tito Sotto,
Jinggoy Estrada,
Gringo Honasan,
Koko Pimentel,

Ramon "Bong" Revilla Jr.,
Antonio Trillanes IV,
Manny Villar, and,
Juan Ponce Enrile.

Senators Sergio Osmeña III and Lito Lapid were absent, while some senators who cast their votes only submitted written explanations.

'Freedom of choice!'

The vote drew cheers from Interior Secretary Mar Roxas, whom President Aquino earlier tapped to talk to congressmen regarding the bill.

"History in the making! Freedom of Choice!" Roxas said on Twitter.

Angara said the RH bill "is an affirmation of human rights."

"Provisions of the RH bill respond to challenges of the times," he added.

Angara said that while he acknowledges concerns of the Catholic community, the bill does not legalize abortion.

"We have to consider that not all Filipinos are Catholics. We have Muslims, Protestants, Buddhists, non-believers," he said.

"Today, I vote as a Filipino, a public health advocate, a father," Angara added.

Arroyo, who voted "conditional" yes, said the bill should be subject to further amendments in the bicameral conference  committee.

"This bill promises more than it can deliver, because sex is not the root of poverty, it is not the cause of underdevelopment," he said.

Senator Alan Peter Cayetano, who voted in favor of the bill, said the RH bill is part of the solution to family problems.

"If I had a daughter who is a teenager now, gusto ko bang bigyan sya ng condom? Of course not. But as a parent, I can only do so much," he said.

"Don't you want your daughter to have [someone] to approach on reproductive health concerns?" he asked.

"We will fight not only to protect marriages. This is not an incentive to the married, this is also for the unmarried," Cayetano said.

His sister, Sen. Pia Cayetano, had tears in her eyes while explaining her vote.

"We will fight not only to protect marriages. This is not an incentive to the married, this is also for the unmarried," she said. "I hope you can join me to strengthen it, to craft it. I will do my best to preserve the integrity of Senate version."

Miriam: An idea whose time has come

Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago, a co-sponsor of the measure, had words for the Catholic Church in explaining her vote.

"I vote yes. The Catholic church has steadfastly rejected RH bill. No force more powerful than an idea whose time has come," she said.

"Copernicus refused to believe that sun revolved around the earth. He was condemned by the Church," she added.

She said the Vatican has made many mistakes in the past "because it is a human institution."

"Today is the time for the RH bill. In antiquity, the Church committed grave mistakes. It is not perfect, it is only human," she said.

"Surveys showed women die because of birth complications because they are too ignorant to control their bodies," Santiago added. "God gave me a conscience, gave me a brain. He asked me to use it for the good of my fellowmen."

Escudero, who also voted in favor of the measure said he is against abortion and is in favor of the RH bill because he wants to ensure the well-being of women and children.

"Pabor ako sa RH bill dahil gusto kong bigyan ng pagkakataon ang mga kabataan na magpasya para sa kanilang mga sarili," he said.

Sotto, the staunchest voice in Senate against the measure, said he will ask for God's forgiveness "for we do not know what we are doing."

"We took an oath, a promise to God. We promised to support the 1987 Constitution of the Philippines, not just the parts that suit us," he said.

"Malamang pagsisihan natin ito," he added.

He also claimed the bill will not even be discussed if President Aquino's mother, Cory, were alive today.

Enrile said the RH bill divided families.

"I hope that RH bill will bring the benefit that was sought to be accomplished," he said. "I vote no. But I hope those who propose the RH bill is proven right. Only time will tell."

Abortion remains illegal

The legislation requires governments down to village level to provide free or low-cost reproductive health services. The law will not promote abortion, which is illegal.

"It's a gift to my constituents," said Rep. Janette Garin, one of the bill's principal authors.

The passage of the measure ended about 13 years of debate on the contraceptive measure, seen by proponents as a human rights issue but opposed by Catholic bishops on moral grounds.

Aquino is expected to sign the bill into law by the end of the year.

Aquino, son of former president and democracy icon Corazon Aquino, is stepping out of the shadow of his late mother in taking stands openly against the wishes of the bishops in the overwhelmingly Catholic country. Aquino's mother came to power in 1986 after a chuch-backed popular revolt.

"Today's passage of the reproductive health bill is a victory for Filipino women, who have waited long enough for this day to happen," Carlos Conde of the U.S.-based Human Rights Watch said in a statement.

"This bill marks the starts of an era in which public policies in the Philippines can save lives, promote healthy family planning and respect human rights."

Social networking sites Twitter and Facebook were full of praise for senators and congressmen. A church-operated radio called on the faithful for prayers.

"What the church will do is to continue instructing our people, telling them the evils of contraceptives," said Bishop Gabriel Reyes, who watched the debate from the Congress gallery.

"They should not accept it because contraceptives are not pro-poor. It's not pro-children or pro-family. It is harmful against women, children and family."

Lawmakers, he said, had "changed their principles for pork barrel and political favours".

The overwhelming support for the measure showed Aquino's popularity and bipartisan support in the legislature. He displayed that same influence earlier this year when lawmakers removed the Supreme Court chief justice appointed by his predecessor in a five-month impeachment process. - with reports from ANC, dzMM, Reuters