MANILA, Philippines - House Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales II sees a tougher battle for the Reproductive Health bill (RH bill) on Monday, December 17, when lawmakers try to put the measure to its third and final reading.
Its approval on 2nd reading about 2 am Thursday, December 13, was a dangerously close vote -- 113-104 with 3 abstentions. Gonzales said the vote on 3rd reading will "not necessarily" follow the pattern.
"Of course [it can change]. The real vote is 3rd reading," Gonzales told reporters after the vote shortly past 2 am Thursday, December 13.
"I don't know. You have to expect even more intense lobbying [from both sides]," Gonzales added.
The measure, which was stuck in the chamber for 14 years, seeks to institutionalize access to reproductive health information and services such as contraceptives.
Catholic bishops were in full force Wednesday, December 12, at the gallery of the Batasang Pambansa in Quezon City, seat of the House of Representatives, to dramatize their opposition to the bill. Prior to the vote, they held at least two masses in Metro Manila to call on members of the House to reject the measure.
Anti-RH not giving up the fight
RH bill critic Cagayan De Oro Rep Rufus Rodriguez is not giving up.
"It's a very close vote in spite of everything. We have the momentum by this time. Imagine it's just 9 votes. All the arsenal of government was here," Rodriguez said.
Zambales Rep Milagros "Mitos" Magsaysay added: "Habang may buhay, may pag-asa. Dahil ganito kalapit ang boto, sa tingin ko sa third reading, pwede pang mabago ito." (Because the vote is close, I think the situation can still change during the 3rd reading.)
"Definitely there's no cause for celebration. The fight was too close. Things can go our way the next time around," Magsaysay added.
But RH bill sponsor Albay Rep Edcel Lagman is optimistic. He said the vote on second reading - albeit very close - is a guarantee that it will pass the House on 3rd reading.
"This was virtually a third reading. For the first time on a second reading, there was a nominal voting," said Lagman.
"I doubt very much that there will be surprises (when RH bill is put to a vote on 3rd reading). If there are surprises, it would be an augmentation of our margin of victory," Lagman said.
Under the rules of the House, a vote on second reading only requires viva voce voting or voice voting. House members only go to nominal voting (one by one) if someone questions the result of the voice vote, which was what happened Tuesday night.
The Senate also agreed to vote on the RH Bill on second reading on Monday, and if passed, on third reading on Thursday, December 20. - with reports from Angela Casauay