MANILA, Philippines – After a 4-part speech of Senate Majority Floor Leader Vicente “Tito” Sotto III, the Reproductive Health (RH) bill finally moved to the period of amendments in the Senate.
RH bill principal sponsor Pia Cayetano began introducing committee amendments on Wednesday, September 5. The amendments came after Sotto finished his speech, which covered 3 session days over a period of about one month.
Among the amendments Cayetano introduced is the deletion of the provision that says government will care for women with post-abortion complications. (Access the original bill here.)
Cayetano said on the Senate floor, “To put the issue to rest and allay the fears that the RH bill will promote abortion, on page 2, delete lines 41 to 43. In lieu thereof, insert a new subsection J, which shall read, ‘Abortion is a criminal act in accordance with existing laws.’”
Instead, Cayetano inserted a new subsection which reads, “All complications arising from pregnancy, labor and delivery shall be treated in a humane and compassionate manner.”
The RH bill sponsor explained, “As we know, Mr President, Filipinos are known to espouse a culture of kindness and empathy. We uphold the tradition of reaching out and extending genuine health care to those in need both in our country and our country more so for women who are pregnant.”
The deleted provision was one of the contentious parts of the RH bill.
In the fourth part of his speech that ended on the same day, Sotto said the original provision in effect encouraged abortion.
“Dahil nangako naman ang gobyernong pagkatapos nilang magsagawa ng aborsyon, gagamutin sila sa paraang makatao, walang pag-huhusga, at may malasakit na pamamaraan. Sana po ay maging mas maingat tayo sa ganitong probisyon dahil puwede po itong ituring na pagpayag na gawin ng kaliwang kamay ang hindi kayang gawin ng ating kanang kamay,” Sotto said. (Because the government promised to care for those who committed abortion in a humane manner, without judgment and in a compassionate matter. I hope we are more careful in this provision because it can be understood that we are allowing the left hand to do what the right hand cannot.)
After the committee amendments, senators will now introduce their individual amendments to the bill.
'Observing the practice'
Cayetano also deleted the phrase “essential medicines” from the title of the bill's Section 9.
The title now reads, “The Philippine National Drug Formulary System and Family Supplies.” The initial title was “Family Planning Supplies as Essential Medicines.”
Critics of the RH bill have questioned the original title, saying contraceptives should not be considered essential medicines because these do not cure any disease. Under the national drug formulary, the government will aim to make essential medicines available, accessible, safe and affordable.
Despite the change in the title, Cayetano said contraceptives are already included in the national drug formulary in practice. She said the amendments are just now clarifying that the bill will observe what is already being practiced.
The provision was changed into the following: "The Philippine National Drug Formulary System shall be observed in selecting drugs, including family planning supplies, that will be included or removed from the essential drugs list in accordance with exsiting practice."
“There is such a big ignorance on this provision,” Cayetano told reporters, “It’s been a practice for many years that the Philippine Drug Formulary already includes those reproductive health products in their drug formulary. It’s already there.”
Cayetano said she is just codifying in the bill existing practices and policies to ensure the continuity of programs.
“I just changed the wording to make it consistent with what the practice is already. I’m not changing anything. If you’re going to change that, that’s painful because that is the practice already. You are taking away the access of local governments to women who need that and couples who will be needing it.”
"What we don’t want to happen kung wala nang supportive Secretary [Enrique] Ona and President PNoy, wala nang mga programs," she added. (What we don't want to happen is if there is no more supportive Secretary Ona and President PNoy, the programs will be gone.)
‘Responsible Parenthood’ in title
Another amendment Cayetano introduced is including the term “Responsible Parenthood” in the title of the bill. The phrase is the term President Benigno Aquino III uses, which some RH advocates see as a euphemism for reproductive health.
The bill is now called, "An Act Providing for a National Policy on Reproductive Health and Responsible Parenthood."
Cayetano told reporters after the session that the change was just meant to make the measure consistent with the House of Representatives version.
“As much as I can, I want to be consistent with the House version to lessen the work in the [bicameral conference committee]. To me, it just cannot be purely Responsible Parenthood because we are also addressing other issues not covered by parenthood,” Cayetano said.
Enrile: Who are you?
Before Cayetano could introduce her committee amendments, there was a tense moment between the senator and RH critic Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile.
Enrile said he wanted to interpellate Sotto on his “turno en contra” speech. At this point, Cayetano questioned the objective of the interpellation, saying both Enrile and Sotto are anti-RH bill.
Enrile shot back, “I’ve been in the Senate for a long, long time and I’ve never been asked to state the purpose of my interpellation….I resent being questioned. Who are you to challenge my purpose here?”
After Enrile spoke, Sen Ralph Recto also took the floor, agreeing with the points raised by Sotto.
Recto said it is a Filipino value to celebrate fertility, not discourage it.
After the exchange, Cayetano told reporters that she did not intend to stop Enrile from interpellating but just wanted to know his objective.
“I was simply asking what is the objective because I’ve heard many statements that this will be voted on next year, there’s no time when I’ve always said there is time.”
“Wala bang (Is there no) time to save women’s lives? Wala bang time to stop teenage pregnancies? Wala bang time to save children who need health care so I needed to put that on record.”
Cayetano added, “I would like to request as I have requested for reasonableness in the use of the Senate floor’s time in asking questions so we can move this forward and put this to a vote.”
The senator was responding to the earlier statement of Enrile that the RH bill may be voted upon in June 2013, with senators questioning controversial amendments. – Rappler.com
For more on the RH bill and the Senate, read: