Certify RH bill as urgent, Aquino asked

To truly give the RH bill a fighting chance, Majority Floor Leader Neptali Gonzales II says he believes the President should certify the bill as urgent

URGENT. Majority Floor Leader Neptali Gonzales II urges President Benigno Aquino III to certify the RH Bill as urgent. File photo by Angela Casauay

MANILA, Philippines – To truly give the Reproductive Health bill a fighting chance, Majority Floor Leader Neptali Gonzales II said he believes the President should certify it as an urgent measure.

Sabi nga he might be parsimonious but ako naman, I believe in my heart [that] to really give it a boost, it has to be certified. But of course I leave it to the President to certify,” Gonzales told House reporters Tuesday, December 4. 

President Benigno Aquino III’s Monday lunch with lawmakers may have pushed them to muster a quorum and formally start the period of amendments, but with only 8 session days left before the House takes its Christmas break, some lawmakers believe that it is time for Aquino to crack the whip

Based on data shown to Rappler, at least 31 members of Aquino’s Liberal Party voted in favor of delaying the approval of the bill.

Aquino has told House members that he wants to put the RH bill to a vote this week, but Gonzales only shook his head when asked if he thinks the House can deliver on this request. 

Certifying the RH bill as urgent would allow the House to vote on the measure on 3rd reading immediately after it is passed on 2nd reading. If not, the House plenary would have to wait for 3 more days after the bill is distributed in plenary. 

Assuming that the House votes on the bill on 2nd reading next Monday, December 8, Gonzales said the earliest that lawmakers can approve the bill on 3rd reading — without a certification from the President — would be the following Monday, December 18, two days before the House goes on its Christmas break. 

This would not fit into President Aquino’s timetable. He had told House members that they should approve the bill early enough to allow the Senate to do the same — before the Christmas break.

Parliamentary strategy

Monday night’s session, December 3, showed how parliamentary warfare operates to kill or pass a bill. Lawmakers were only able to tackle up to the 2nd line of page 2 of the consolidated RH bill after 5 hours of discussions. 

Tiyagaan lang talaga yan. Somebody has got to give later on. Hindi ko lang alam kung sino ang bibigay,” Gonzales said. 

Anti-RH legislators have vowed to introduce amendments line by line until there is no more time left to approve the bill.

Although it appears from last night’s events that the anti-RH bloc successfully delayed the proceedings by using privilege speeches and insisting on nominal voting (voting one by one), Gonzales said that the process also exposed the pros and antis to the public.

“Because I don’t believe that the lawmakers there think like kids who are clueless about what their vote on whether to allow (Palawan Rep Victorino Dennis) Socrates to speak or not would indicate. I don’t want to believe that that’s the only thing on their minds. They know that there is a greater and deeper meaning to their votes,” he said. 

With a 99-90 vote, the plenary rejected a motion made by Socrates, an anti-RH legislator, to deliver a privilege speech. In another vote, the House also rejected a “killer amendment” proposed by another anti-RH solon, Deputy Speaker Pablo Garcia. 

The Majority Floor Leader also said he allowed the voting on Socrates’ motion — even if debates took about an hour — to discourage other anti-RH legislators from once again using privilege speeches as a delaying tactic. 

Motion to terminate period of amendments

Albay Rep Edcel Lagman, principal author of the RH Bill, warned that the House leadership would move to end the period of amendments if anti-RH solons insist on introducing “monkey wrench killer amendments.”

“If the anti-RH Representatives persist on throwing monkey wrench killer amendments which have no prospect of being adopted, then the House leadership is justified to move for the termination of the period of individual amendments,” Lagman said.

The word “universal” was deleted from the bill after Lagman changed his mind and accepted Garcia’s proposal despite an earlier viva voce vote rejecting it. But through viva voce and a subsequent nominal vote, lawmakers rejected Garcia’s proposal to change the phrase “all persons” to “married persons.” This amendment aimed to exclude unmarried individuals from the coverage of the bill.

It is up to the principal author of the bill to make the motion, according to Gonzales, and such a move is allowed under House rules.  

With numbers indicating an affirmative but close vote on the bill, Gonzales dared RH opponents to allow the process to push through.

“If they are truly confident that they have the numbers, what is the reason for delaying it? We might as well expedite the period of amendments and proceed to interpellate it as soon as possible so they would have an opportunity to really kill the bill if they have the number,” he said. – Rappler.com