Make or break meeting on RH bill?
MANILA, Philippines (UPDATE 2) - Three weeks before Congress takes its Christmas break, Speaker Feliciano "Sonny" Belmonte Jr is making a last-ditch attempt to get President Benigno Aquino III to step in again and push for the passage of the controversial Reproductive Health bill (RH bill).
Belmonte said he is arranging a meeting with the President to decide the fate of the bill. He told reporters Monday night, November 26, that the meeting will likely happen next week.
“I am going to see the President and hear from him his latest position on RH. Definitely the possible certification of RH bill as an urgent measure will help propel its approval,” Belmonte told reporters.
Aquino first gave the RH bill a major push in August when he asked the solons to terminate the period of debates to make way for the period of amendments. Critics of the bill conceded to the President's request but vowed to introduce killer amendments. They were confident that the President's intervention ended there.
The bill mandates government to make family planning tools and information more accessible to the public. It also allots government resources for it.
At the House of Representatives late afternoon Monday, lawmakers finally mustered a quorum and started amending the RH bill.
Since session resumed on November 5, it was only the second time on Monday that the House of Representatives was able to muster a quorum. Out of 285 members, 174 responded to the roll call.
Majority Floor Leader Neptali Gonzales II moved to adopt the substitute bill—copies of which had been distributed to House members before the break—in the plenary.
In Malacañang, Budget Secretary Florencio "Butch" Abad was asked to comment on the meeting sought by Belmonte. Abad said: "He [Belmonte] has expressed that sentiment and it’s the obligation of the legislators regardless as to whether they are pro or anti-RH to put a closure to this issue because it has become divisive. I think this is something that will have to be discussed with Speaker Belmonte but I agree with him that this must come to a closure," said Abad.
"Whether we vote for or against the RH, I think it’s a mark of good leadership for every member of Congress to put the end to this debate and state what the policy will be," Abad added.
Treat it like sin tax bill
Advocates of the RH bill have been calling on Aquino to push for the RH bill as aggressively as he pushed for the Sin Tax bill, which will soon be tackled by the bicameral conference committee.
Unlike the RH bill, the sin tax bill was certified as urgent.
Belmonte is a known supporter of the RH bill. He had a similar policy when he was mayor of Quezon City.
Aquino himself was a staunch advocate of the RH bill at the beginning of the 2010 presidential campaign. He would later soften his stand on the measure after he was attacked by the Catholic Church.
In spite of Belmonte's position, many of the House leaders - including partymates of the president in the Liberal Party - are against the bill.
Earlier, a high-ranking official of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines threated to use the "Catholic vote" against lawmakers who will defy the Church's position against the measure.
“If there is a candidate who does not follow Church teachings, we should reject this candidate. We must use the Catholic vote and show them what the real Catholic is. There are fake Catholics here, they are the ones ruling in our country,” reports quoted Archbishop Ramon Arguelles, former vice chairman of the CBCP-Episcopal Commission on Family and Life.
Sen Miriam Defensor-Santiago, a staunch supporter of the RH bill, said the move of Arguelles is "unconstitutional."
It's an empty threat, too, said Santiago. “In the past, the Catholic church campaigned against Sen. Juan Flavier because as health secretary, he freely distributed condoms. But Flavier won the elections. Thus, the so-called Catholic vote is a political myth,” added Santiago.
RH bill proponent in the House of Representatives Albay Rep Edcel Lagman said the real Catholic vote is in favor of the RH bill. Lagman cited 2008 and 2010 surveys by the Social Weather Stations showing that voters are in favor of the measure.
"In predominantly Catholic communities like Cebu, Manila, and Paranaque, respondents in various surveys overwhelmingly pro-RH," Lagman said.
"RH advocates should not fear a negative Catholic vote because the alleged backlash has no empirical basis," Lagman said. - Rappler.com