MANILA, Philippines – Faced with quorum problems in the House of Representatives, the principal author of the Reproductive Health (RH) bill, on Friday, November 23, appealed to lawmakers supporting the controversial measure to show up in the remaining 12 days of session.
Albay Rep Edcel Lagman said he has sent a letter of appeal to “over a hundred co-authors and another group of several dozens of confirmed advocates and supporters who are committed to vote for the measure,” claiming that together, these lawmakers constitute “a clear majority” in the 283-member House.
It takes 145 representatives to make a quorum.
“In our 13-year crusade for the enactment of a Reproductive Health law, it is only now in the 15th Congress that we have reached the threshold of passing the RH bill,” he said.
“Let us collectively seize the moment and deliver without further delay the bill which is pregnant with fulfillment for maternal and infant health, reproductive self-determination as a human right, and sustainable human development,” he added.
Lagman reiterated his stand that the Philippines needs an RH law “as an anchor for the government’s pro-poor, pro-women, pro-health and pro-development agenda.”
“The House of Representatives needs your presence and support to institutionalize this enabling anchor,” he said.
The controversial measure, which is vigorously opposed by the Catholic Church and other religious groups, mandates government to make family planning tools and information accessible to Filipinos. President Benigno Aquino III promised when he campaigned in 2010 to push for the bill, but he has yet to certify it as an urgent measure.
The first version of the bill was met with stiff resistance, prompting advocates to hammer out a substitute bill, which seemed acceptable even to those who had initially opposed it.
But it has been 3 months since the House of Representatives terminated debates on the measure.
Copies of the substitute RH bill, that came as a result of discussions with a technical working group composed of pro- and anti-RH parties, were distributed to members before Congress paused for the Halloween break, but the proposed amendments have yet to be tackled due to lack of quorum in the House.
Pro-RH lawmakers Pangasinan Rep Kimi Cojuangco and Majority Floor Leader Neptali Gonzales III have been engaged in a word war in the past few days over the perpetual lack of quorum in the House that has stalled the progress of the RH Bill.
Cojuangco has accused Gonzales, who is in charge of the plenary schedule as majority floor leader, of deliberately delaying the RH Bill in the House, suggesting that he has succumbed to pressures from the Catholic Church.
Cojuangco said she was “flabbergasted” over how Gonzales was leading Lagman along when the Majority Floor Leader told her : “Wala na yan; forget the RHBILL. If ever baka 16th congress na lang. We can just repackage it.”
Lagman, however, noted that despite the absence of a quorum in the last 3 weeks of session, majority of those who responded to the roll call are RH authors and advocates.
In the last 3 weeks since Congress resumed session, House members were only officially able to muster a quorum once. That was on Monday, November 20; the RH Bill was not discussed on the floor. The next day, only 70 out of the 287 members were present after roll was called at about 10 minutes before 7 pm. The roll call is usually conducted at around 4 pm to 5 pm. – Rappler.com
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