Senate, House ratify RH bicam report

By Jojo Malig, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Dec 19 2012 07:25 PM | Updated as of Dec 20 2012 07:11 PM


MANILA, Philippines (3rd UPDATE) - The Senate and the lower House  ratified the bicameral committee report on the reproductive health (RH) bill on Wednesday.

The Senate approved it, 11-5.

Only Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada, Gringo Honasan, Koko Pimentel, and Tito Sotto voted no on the measure.

The lower House also approved the bicameral committee report on the same night.

The measure retained the empowerment of women and couples to freely and responsibly determine the number and spacing of their children, said Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, principal author of the House version of the bill.
He also said the government is authorized to promote reproductive health, including voluntary contraception.
It prioritizes the poor and the marginalized in the provision of RH services, Lagman said.

He said the national government and the local government units (LGUs) are jointly responsible for the implementation of the reproductive health law, with the LGUs receiving financial and technical assistance from the national government.

The bicameral committee report on RH bill will now be submitted to President Benigno Aquino so it can be signed into law.

After Aquino signs it into law, the RH bill will take effect 15 days after publication. 

The new law's implementing rules and regulations be released within 60 days.

Among the key provisions in the ratified bill are requiring minors to secure parental consent before they avail of reproductive health services and education, except when they are already pregnant, have given birth or suffered miscarriage.

A much-debated provision in the bill that drew the ire of Sotto in the Senate also now reads "responsible, safe, satisfying, and consensual sex life."

The measure also makes reproductive health services and education mandatory for government hospitals and public schools, but optional for private hospitals and schools.

Rep. Teddy Baguilat, one of the proponents of the measure in the lower House, said congressmen and senators who were part of the bicameral committee reached a compromise on the issue of sex education.

"[The Department of Education] shall craft a curriculum (on sexuality education) that shall be adopted by public  schools and may be adopted by private schools," he said on Twitter.

He said  discussions were fast-tracked to enable the bill's ratification by Congress.

"Now accepting Senate versions just to fast track RH bill. No big difference. Just that senators feel their version is better written," he said.

Another pro-RH lawmaker, ACT Teachers party-list Rep. Antonio Tinio, said Senator Ralph Recto forced the committee  to accept provisions in the Senate's version of the RH bill.

Recto hardball

"Recto played hardball, using time constraint and threat of nonratification to gain acceptance of Senate provisions," he said on Twitter.

Baguilat, meanwhile, said Senator Pia Cayetano, primary sponsor of the Senate's version of the RH bill, did not want broadcast media to cover the committee proceedings.

"It's just experience that if cameras are around, politicians tend to wax poetic and passionate in their discourse. So tumatagal," he explained.

Baguilat said the bicameral committee session was open to the public, except the media.

Members of the committee cheered after they finalized the bill.

"Both chambers will take a vote tonight to ratify the bicam version. Then it will be enrolled in the journals of Congress and sent to the President for signing," Tinio said.

Cayetano, in an interview on ANC, said she is happy with the final version of the RH bill.

"It is not a perfect bill. I'd like to believe this is the best we could come up with at this time and I'm happy with it," she said.

"In the end, I believe we have an RH bill that is better than it was when it left each House. Not perfect, but better," Cayetano said.

Lagman said even critics of the measure helped craft the bill.

"This is a supreme, collective effort of pro-RH bill advocates and even critics of the bill," he said.

"We hope with the approval of ratified version, all protagonists would help in having this eventual RH Law fully implemented," he added.

"We're happy that the House and the Senate decided to accord the demand of their constituents," Lagman said.

Lagman expressed confidence that the bill, once passed into law, will hurdle even the Supreme Court.

Lagman: RH bill is constitutional

"All controversial measures reach the Supreme Court. The RH bill is not an exception, but I assure you we will win in the Supreme Court because this is constitutional," he said.

The bill was approved after being stalled for more than a decade in the Senate and lower House.

The politically influential Catholic Church, which was blocking the legislation, says the bill would encourage pre-marital sex, destroy family values and foment violence against women.

President Aquino has been pushing for the law, which proponents say will help moderate the nation's rapid population growth, reduce poverty and bring down its high maternal mortality rate.

The Philippines has one of Asia's highest birth rates, with the United Nations estimating that half of the nation's 3.4 million pregnancies each year are unplanned.

The government's Commission on Women said that maternal mortality also remains woefully high, with 162 deaths for every 100,000 live births, while 10 women die every day from pregnancy or childbirth-related complications.

Aquino thanked the legislators who voted for the bill, saying in a statement that "the people now have the government on their side as they raise their families in a manner that is just and empowered." - with reports from Ryan Chua and Jay Ruiz, ABS-CBN News; Reuters; Agence France-Presse