MANILA, Philippines - Running out of time, Malacañang is willing to sit down with the Catholic Church to discuss acceptable amendments to the controversial Reproductive Health bills (RH bill) filed in both the Senate and the House of Representatives.
An "informal Technical Working Group (TWG)" consisting of 5 groups - Executive, Senate, House of Representatives, the Catholic Church, and RH bill authors - will be created to discuss the amendments, RH bill co-author Iloilo Rep Janette Garin told reporters on Tuesday, September 4.
Garin would not disclose Malacañang's representative in the TWG. But she said President Benigno Aquino III himself approved the amendments. "I'm not really authorized to talk. But I was given the impression that he was amenable."
House Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales II earlier revealed a Sunday meeting among Budget Secretary Florencio Abad, Speaker Feliciano "Sonny" Belmonte, and RH bill principal author Albay Rep Edcel Lagman.
"The mere fact that this is being given attention by the executive, it is a clear indication that the government believes in this," Garin explained.
Compromise RH bill
Anti-RH bill lawmaker Paranaque Rep Roilo Golez supports the creation of the informal TWG. But he said proponents of the RH bill should not be represented in the TWG.
"Let only the moderates participate in the Technical Working Group. This will facilitate the crafting of a good mututally acceptable compromise bill. Hardliners by experience find it extremely difficult to compromise," Golez said.
"I agree that the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) should be part of the Technical Working Group. I also agree to the proposal to realign the RH bill as a poverty alleviation measure," Golez added.
Garin said several other RH bill critics are amenable to the proposed amendments.
Malacañang and RH bill authors will attempt to get the support of the Catholic Church by changing the provisions on contraceptives. The meeting was held on Sunday, September 2.
"The leadership of the House and the authors of the RH bill are consolidating acceptable amendments to address the concerns, reservations, and objections of critics like some bishops and their congressional allies," said Lagman in a statement released Tuesday.
"The CBCP wouldn't like the government to be promoting contraceptives. We suggested to change the word to making it available," added Garin.
The RH bill turns into a "poverty measure" that will only cater to about 5 million poor couples that will be identified through the existing database of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD). These are the same beneficiaries of the government's Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) Program.
These are fundamental changes to the RH bill and outside the original list of 10 acceptable amendments that RH bill authors originally drafted.
But Garin said the RH bill authors are amenable to the amendments because the budget allocation can only cover the poorest of the poor anyway.
'Shortcut' to pass RH bill?
Garin sees the TWG as a "shortcut" to pass the RH bill. "On a personal note this could be an opening wherein a draft which is acceptable to all members can be drafted especially in the tackling of period of amendments," Garin said.
"It can possibly allow a smooth flow from the lower house to upper house," Garin added.
Technically, a TWG should be created in the committee level before a bill is passed on 1st reading. The TWG being proposed is "informal," a novel way to address the parliamentary tactics employed by RH bill critics to delay the period of amendments.
Garin said the TWG is a venue for the authors and critics of the RH bill to settle the issues without wasting the time of the House plenary.
Garin said there's time to pass the RH bill until December 2012.
"For 3rd reading, it should be done before we go on a break in December. That's the maximum," she said.
The House of Representatives will begin plenary deliberations on the government's P2.006 trillion budget for 2013. The target to pass the budget bill on 3rd and final reading is October 15.
Garin acknowledged that it's going to be hard to push for the approval of other bills while the budget is being discussed. - Rappler.com
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