MANILA, Philippines - The Reproductive Health bill (RH bill) had the numbers to pass in the previous 14th Congress, according to RH bill co-author Iloilo Rep Janette Garin. The problem, she said, was President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo did not support it.
"The problem then was the President had a lot of political problems. We were very enthusiastic that it will pass. We knew we had the numbers in Congress," Garin told Rappler executive editor Maria Ressa on #TalkThursday on January 10.
"It was very obvious that [Mrs Arroyo] will submit - to the request of the CBCP (Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines)," Garin said.
The process "clearly taught us one of the big lessons in politcs," according to her. "If you need something to be passed, political will - and I mean strong political will - should start with the President."
It was in the 14th Congress that the RH bill reached plenary debates for the first time. (Read the inside story on the passage of the RH law here.)
Aquino's political will
Unlike Arroyo, Aquino had high satisfaction ratings that allowed him to take on controversial issues.
"I would attribute it (passage of RH law) to a very popular president who has high satisfaction ratings and who has no plans to run again. When you talk about good governance, there will always be political backlash. If you are not popular and your rating dips, it becomes a major problem," said Garin.
It was during the 14th Congress that Arroyo faced ouster moves because of the "Hello, Garci" cheating controversy of 2005. Garin was a former member of Mrs Arroyo's Lakas-Christian Muslim Democrats. She recently joined the Liberal Party.
Like RH bill sponsor Albay Rep Edcel Lagman, Garin - a doctor - pushed for the RH bill since the 13th Congress. She worked behind the scenes and was among those that President Aquino consulted during the critical times that they couldn't guarantee the votes for the bill in the House.
It took 14 years to pass the RH bill because it was a difficult and complicated bill, Garin acknowledged.
"The main problem was political survival for many of our colleagues. You wouldn't like a complication coming up in the next elections," she said. The Catholic Church threatened to campaign against politicians who voted in favor of the RH bill.
The Church used the RH bill as leverage on other policy issues, she said. For example, if politicians asked the Church to support the imposition of more taxes or the approval of mining permits, the latter would agree provided the politicians dropped their support for the RH bill.
Garin said she felt the backlash herself when she ran for a second term in 2007. For pushing the bill during her first term, Garin said the Catholic Church supported her rival.
"I earned all the complications by 2007. The pro-life group put up a candidate against me. People were talking about my supposed proposal to legalize abortion and legalize euthanasia," she said.
It also became expensive, she said. Priests used the pulpit to campaign against her. She had to use radio time to explain her side.
It helped that she was a practicing doctor, she said. "When I stood up to explain abortion, euthanasia, RH, and teenage pregnancy, they believe me," she said. It also helped that there's high literacy rate in Iloilo, she added.
In 2010, she ran for a third term unopposed.
Anti-RH petition not serious
Garin said the impact of the RH law will be felt in 3 years.
Garin also dismissed the petition before the Supreme Court to declare the RH law unconstitutional.
"I don't look at it as a serious challenge," she said.
"We leave it as is. We know we have a mature Supreme Court who will see the real intent of reproductive health law," she added. - Rappler.com