MANILA – Where are our lawmakers?
For two days this week, the House of Representatives adjourned its session without tackling the controversial Reproductive Health bill. Last Monday, November 12, only 113 members were present at the Batasang Pambansa. On Tuesday, only 139 showed up. Trouble is, the House needs at least 144 to declare a quorum and proceed with legislative debates.
This is testing the patience of RH bill advocates in Congress, who wanted to push for a plenary vote on proposed amendments this week.
On Tuesday night, November 13, an exasperated Pangasinan Rep Kimi Cojuangco posted on her Twitter account: “Both pro & anti #RHBill were present but still not enough for a quorum. Let’s get to work my dear colleagues!”
Both pro & anti #RHBill were present but still not enough for a quorum. Lets get to work my dear Colleagues!— kimi cojuangco (@kimicojuangco) November 13, 2012
“Spoke to Speaker this evening…For (the) first time, I saw him agitated because of lack of quorum. Told him daily roll call was good,” she added, referring to House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr.
@bethangsioco spoke to Speaker this evening…for d first time I saw him agitated bec of lack of quorum. Told him daily roll call was good.— kimi cojuangco (@kimicojuangco) November 13, 2012
A quorum is important since a technical working group has already come up with a compromise bill that addresses the concerns raised by its opponents. The changes include the shift from “universal access” to RH services to “public access.” The new bill prioritizes poor households in the distribution of RH care services. It also stresses that the access must be to “medically safe, legal, accessible, affordable and effective” RH care services and supplies “which do not prevent implantation of a fertilized ovum” as determined by the Food and Drug Administration.
The window for passing the bill is becoming narrow with time.
RH proponents want the bill approved on second reading before Congress goes on Christmas break on December 22.
After the Christmas break, session will resume for 3 weeks on January 21. Lawmakers will again take a break on February 9 for the campaign period for the May 2013 polls and return only on June 3 to close the 15th Congress.
Since the RH bill hurdled the period of interpellations or debates in August, it has barely moved in the House. Proponents said those against the measure were using privilege speeches as delaying tactics.
Cagayan de Oro Rep Rufus Rodriguez, an anti-RH lawmaker, said he will question the quorum every day, if that’s what it takes to postpone deliberations on it. If pro-RH bill lawmakers want the bill tackled, it’s their responsibility to come up with a quorum, he said.
Pro-RH bill representatives said they’re ready to declare war. In a press conference last week, Cojuangco said: “If by next week nothing happens, you can be sure you will hear from us. I’m beyond patience already and ready to lose my temper. I’ll be the one to start the war.”
At the Senate, the RH bill is encountering the same obstacles. The measure has reached a period of amendments, but no less than Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile is taking his own sweet time in making known his own proposed amendments to the measure. Enrile is a staunch opponent of the bill.
Sen Pia Cayetano, principal author of the Senate version, asked Enrile on Tuesday, November 13, when he intended to allow the amendments to be tackled. Enrile lost his cool, telling her: “I do not know, Madame Senator, when I’m ready.”
Cayetano has expressed her frustration with the delays in the RH bill in the Senate. Enrile has said that the measure is not a priority because the chamber is focused on passing the budget and the sin tax bill on time. – Rappler.com