Crunch time for RH bill

Carmela Fonbuena
The window to pass the RH bill is getting smaller. But proponents are not giving up.

RH bill principal author Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman (File photo)

MANILA, Philippines – It’s crunch time for House Bill (HB) 4244, or the Reproductive Health bill (RH bill), in the House of Representatives.

After two weeks in the House plenary, the lower chamber still failed to begin the period of amendments. Based on the adjusted timeline of RH bill principal author Albay Rep Edcel Lagman, there are 3 session days left for the legislative chamber to at least finish individual amendments on the controversial measure.

On September 10, the House plenary will take up and prioritize the approval of the government’s 2013 budget, the General Appropriations Bill.

“The budget bill will be sent to the plenary next week  (September 5) and we will devote our time to it,” House Majority Leader Neptali “Boyet” Gonzales II told reporters on Thursday, August 30.

The House leadership is targetting to put the budget bill to a vote on 2nd reading by September 20 – before Congress goes on a break from September 22 to October 7 for the filing of certificates of candidacies (COCs) for the 2013 elections – and then on 3rd and final reading by October 15.

Fix RH bill timeline

The period of amendments was supposed to start on August 14, but critics of the bill were able to successfully delay it through a series of privilege speeches. Under the House rules, motions to deliver privilege speeches take precedence motions to take up bills. The RH bill also lost 4 session days in the past 2 weeks because of the holidays.

RH bill proponents have asked House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr, a supporter of the bill, to intervene and “fix the timeline.” Belmonte earlier said he would ask the bill’s critics to refrain from delivering more privilege speeches.

RH bill proponent Iloilo Rep Janette Garin said they will talk to Belmonte on Friday, August 31.

Garin is not giving up. She has a more flexible timeline than Lagman. She said they can still take up the RH bill as “2nd priority” when the House plenary begins deliberations on the budget bill. “Nothing prevents Congress from tackling the budget of the RH bill at the same time,” she said.

Although historically, a quorum is difficult to muster when the “election fever” kicks in, deputy majority leader Marikina Rep Romero “Miro” Quimbo is not ruling out the possibility that they can still take up the RH bill as late as November.

“I really cannot tell how things will play out. If the warring parties will come together and come to an agreement that a deadlocked Congress does not benefit anyone, we should be able to legislate important bills on responsible parenthood and national electrification administration revisions among others,” he said.

Political will

To expedite the period of amendments, RH bill proponents have agreed to forego with the committee amendments so they can go straight to the individual amendments and immediately put the bill to a vote on 2nd and 3rd reading.

Recalling the August 6 House vote to terminate the debates on RH bill, Akbayan Rep Kaka Bag-ao is optimistic. “Hindi kailangan one seating. Pero dapat magamit ang natitirang session days to talk about amendments,” she said.

Bag-ao said what the RH bill needs is the “political will” of the leadership. She noted that the House has been successful in rushing other bills, and she saw no reason why the RH bill would not be able to hurdle current obstacles.

RH bill is different

But is time really the problem?

“The problem is not the timetable,” Gonzales said. “It is the lack of quorum that continues to plague the RH bill. It is attributable perhaps to the strategy of the Anti-RH and the half-hearted support and presence of the pros,” he added.

Gonzales also pointed out that the House leadership itself is divided on the RH bill. “Mahirap talaga ang RH bill,” he said. He said leaders of the ruling Liberal Party are also divided on the measure.

On August 15, when she was appealing to the plenary to tackle amendments to the RH bill, Garin admitted before that they were unsure if they had the numbers to pass the RH bill. But she challenged the plenary to put the measure to a vote and for the lawmakers to declare their stand on it.

Lagman and other supporters of the RH bill have proclaimed that they have the vote, but some of them admitted that many of the supporters are “closet supporters.”

“If those opposed to the RH bill have the numbers to defeat the measure as alleged by the Catholic hierarchy, then why are they afraid to proceed with the amendments and eventual voting?” Lagman asked. –

For more updates on the issue of the RH Bill, view our #RHBill Debate Microsite

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