MANILA - The Senate has designated 9 of its members to be part of the committee that will reconcile the chamber's version of the reproductive health (RH) bill with that of the House of Representatives, one of the last steps before it becomes law.
During session on Tuesday, the following senators from both sides of the contentious issue were announced as members of the bicameral conference committee:
- Sen. Pia Cayetano, the bill's sponsor
- Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano
- Sen. Panfilo Lacson
- Sen. Francis Pangilinan
- Sen. Teofisto Guingona III
- Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr.
- Sen. Ralph Recto
- Sen. Vicente Sotto III
- Sen. Aquilino Pimentel III
The bicameral meeting will be held on Wednesday, December 19. The bill's proponents hope it would be ratified by both houses of Congress on the same day,
Earlier, Sen. Pia Cayetano announced 7 names, intending to hold the bicameral meeting on Tuesday. Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III opposed this, however, citing Senate rules.
Sotto pointed out that only the Senate President may appoint members of the bicameral conference upon a sponsor's recommendation. He also said senators have not even received a clean copy of the bill's version that was approved on final reading.
"They have not transmitted it offiically to the House of Representatives yet," Sotto said. "Bakit po kailangang apurahin natin masyado ito? Sobra namang pagmamadali ito."
Sotto's remarks did not sit well with Cayetano. While acknowledging that the rules prohibit her from holding a bicameral meeting immediately, she said sponsors of other bills have traditionally been allowed to do so and were also authorized to select members of the Senate delegation.
She accused Sotto of delaying the process, stressing that she owes it to the public to get her job done.
"I am quite offended. I've never heard of a chair being imposed upon not to call a bicameral conference committtee, " she said. "I am offended that because this is measure that the majority floor leader does not like, against steps are being taken to delay the process."
Sotto denied delaying the process. Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, who voted no to the RH bill, ruled that he will select the members of the Senate contingent to the bicameral conference.
Despite this, Cayetano pushed through with a meeting with members of the House of Representatives, albeit an informal one. She was the sole representative of the Senate in the preliminary bicameral conference meeting, a suggestion by Sen. Franklin Drilon.
At the meeting, lawmakers agreed to retain a much-debated definition of reproductive health that includes "safe and satisfying sex," among others.
Cayetano told congressmen that she fought for that definition and asked that it be retained.
Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, sponsor of the RH bill in the House, had no problem with it.
"Who is the person who would like to have hazardous and unpleasant sex?" Lagman said.
Rep. Roilo Golez, a critic of the measure, proposed that the word "responsible" be added to "safe and satisfying sex." The other lawmakers agreed.
Discussions on other provisions, however, were put on hold until the official bicameral meeting, where other senators are expected to attend.
These include a provision requiring parental consent before minors are allowed access to family planning services, a key amendment in the Senate's version of the measure.