MANILA, Philippines – President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III will host a lunch meeting with the members of the House of Representatives in Malacañang on Monday, December 3, to discuss the fate of the controversial Reproductive Health bill.
If in the past the President sent mixed messages on where he stood on the bill, he has now made it clear. He wants the bill passed. “I think, I have stated publicly, I have a position, I’m pro for Responsible Parenthood that this is a matter of conscience,” Aquino told reporters in Cebu on Friday, November 30. (READ: Aquino wants vote on RH bill)
Staunch RH bill advocates want the President to impose – even subtly – his position on his allies during the Monday meeting, but party leaders in the House of Representatives only expect him to ask for a vote on the measure. Nothing more.
A series of parliamentary tactics and problems with quorum has repeatedly delayed plenary action on the RH bill. Time is running out. There are 9 session days left before Congress takes its Christmas break.
No party stand
Aquino’s own political party, the Liberal Party (LP), will not adopt a party stand, according to party member and House majority leader Neptali Gonzales II. Members are free to vote based on their “conscience,” he said.
There’s also no party stand for two other major political parties — the Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC) and the Nacionalista Party (NP), according to party stalwarts.
LP and the House leadership are divided on the measure. (READ: Liberal Party divided on RH bill)
The substitute version of House Bill 4244 seeks to provide “public access” to contraceptives, prioritizing poor household in the distribution of RH services. It is rabidly opposed by the Catholic Church and its allies in the House of Representatives.
LP, NPC, and NP constitute more than the majority of the members of the House of Representatives. Together, they have 189 of the total 231 district representatives as of August 2012. There may have been realignments for the coming 2013 elections.
“I will attend. The agenda will be RH no doubt,” NPC stalwart Isabela Rep Giorgidi Aggabao told Rappler. “For sure, he (Aquino) will explain its importance but would leave the matter to individual solon’s conscience. But, of course, the message has been conveyed. The NPC would have no party vote on this, based on earlier consensus,” he added.
“He (Aquino) will ask us to vote on RH bill, without specifying which way. There’s no party stand for NP,” NP stalwart Deputy Speaker Jesus Crispin “Boying” Remulla also told Rappler.
Aurora Rep Juan Edgardo “Sonny” Angara said he doesn’t expect the President to issue marching orders to pass the RH bill because even the critics of the bill are invited to the meeting. “It’s just to decide, once and for all. Even the antis are invited. There are no distinctions,” said Angara.
“He was still a congressman in 1998. The bill was already in Congress,” added Angara, a third-term solon seeking a Senate seat in 2013 under the administration ticket.
Who will snub the Malacanang meeting?
Given the party stands, the President’s position is not a guarantee that RH bill will be passed in the House of Representatives.
One House leader told Rappler he doubts that the RH bill will pass into law in the current 15th Congress. “I don’t think it will pass. There’s not enough time and Senate will grandstand. Parliamentary tactics are at work,” the House leader said.
In a radio interview on Sunday, RH bill supporter Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago also expressed fears that the RH bill will “die of old age.” She lamented how the bill has been pending in Congress for 15 years. In the Senate, the RH bill is also pending period of amendments.
The House leader also warned that critics of the RH bill will skip the meeting in Malacañang on Monday. “We just have to give courtesy to a presidential invitation. Many, though, are not going,” the House leader said.
Cagayan de Oro Rep Rufus Rodriguez told Rappler he will not attend the lunch meeting in Malacañang. He is one of the most rabid critics of the bill in the House of Representatives. (READ: RH bill and the wrath of Rufus Rodriguez)
“I am not attending. With all due respect, I already said ‘No.’ My position is clear and firm. I am against the RH bill,” he told Rappler a day before the meeting.
Rodriguez: We can’t vote on Monday
Rodriguez also raised concerns about a possible vote on Monday, December 3. The last time Aquino called a meeting with House members, the vote to end the period of debates happened on the same day.
“We hope the President will not order them to vote on Monday. We have to have a period of individual amendments,” Rodriguez said.
“We are afraid that the railroading of the bill, which happened on August 6, may happen again. That they will vote on the bill without individual amendments. That is our right. I hope hindi naman ganoon,” Rodriguez added.
“On Monday, if there’s quorum, we should proceed with the line by line amendments,” he added.
No matter the outcome, deputy majority leader Marikina Rep Romero “Miro” Quimbo said it’s about time that the lower House put the RH bill to a vote because long debates on the bill are hurting the chances of other bills to be passed.
“I expect the President to urge Congress to make a final decision on the issue so that other important matters can also be taken up. It has become a roadbump which has prevented us from moving forward,” Quimbo said.
He cited the Freedom of Information bill (FOI) as among the collateral damage. Running out of time, FOI advocates have called on the President to certify the bill as urgent.
The RH bill is one of the most problematic bills pending in the legislative chamber. Solons against the measure – also a substantial number – have walked out in the past, at the expense of quorum and other pending measures.
Previously asked to explain why the House leadership can’t push for the period of amendments to begin, House majority leader Neptali Gonzales II quipped: “Totohanan ito.”
In the past, Malacañang was able to push for political bills like the postponement of the ARMM elections, the impeachment of former Chief Justice Renato Corona, and even the sin tax measure. But RH bill is different. It’s personal to many House members who oppose it because of their faith. – Rappler.com