Senate rejects Enrile, Recto RH changes

Enrile and Recto lose as the Senate outvotes their amendments to the RH bill

AMENDMENTS OUTVOTED. Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile was outvoted when he sought to delete the phrases "safe and satisfying sex" and "pleasurable sexual experiences" from the RH bill. Photo by Ayee Macaraig

MANILA, Philippines – This time, they did not succeed.

Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and Sen Ralph Recto failed to remove key provisions of the Senate’s version of the Reproductive Health (RH) bill.

The Senate voted against amendments of the two RH critics on Tuesday, December 4. (The House of Representatives has its own version of the billl, which President Benigno Aquino III wants members to approve this week.)

Enrile and Recto first proposed the amendments to RH bill principal sponsor Pia Cayetano. When she rejected 4 of the amendments, the Senate decided in all 4 times to uphold Cayetano’s decision.

The most contentious amendment concerned the removal of the phrase “safe and satisfying sex life” from the definition of RH.

Enrile introduced the change, along with a similar amendment removing “pleasurable” from the phrase “pleasurable and safe sexual experiences” in the definition of sexual health.

Cayetano did not accept the changes. “Many women are denied a pleasurable sexual experience. They give in to their husbands because they have to, to make them happy even if they become pregnant,” she said.

“To delete ‘pleasurable’ is just to say we can deny them of a pleasurable experience,” she added.

Cayetano said the two phrases were “very important” parts of the bill.

Unconvinced, Enrile then asked for a nominal voting.

In both amendments, the Senate voted 11-6 to reject his proposed changes.

Cayetano’s office posted on Twitter that 10 senators voted consistently to support her:

  • Co-sponsor Sen Miriam Defensor Santiago
  • Sen Alan Peter Cayetano
  • Sen Franklin Drilon
  • Sen Francis Escudero
  • Sen Teofisto “TG” Guingona III
  • Sen Panfilo Lacson
  • Sen Loren Legarda
  • Sen Ferdinand Marcos Jr
  • Sen Sergio Osmeña III
  • Sen Francis Pangilinan

The RH bill aims to provide access to both natural and modern family planning methods, and to promote sex education and family planning. 

One of the most contentious measures in Congress, it has been pending for about 17 years. The Catholic Church is staunchly against the bill, saying it promotes a contraceptive mentality and promiscuity. 

President Benigno Aquino III has expressed support for it, saying he would vote for the measure if he were still a lawmaker. 

‘DOST has no role in RH’

The Senate also had to vote on Enrile’s proposal requiring the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) to help the Department of Health (DOH) in ensuring that RH devices are “thoroughly tested and certified to be medically safe.”

Cayetano said she could not accept the amendment because it is the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) under the DOH that is in charge of the task.

“The DOST has no role here. Certifying medication is the mandate of the FDA. That’s their job. The DOST does not even employ any pharmacist. This is a pharmacological matter. I do not understand how it can be tasked with this duty,” Cayetano said.

When Enrile asked for a vote, the Senate voted 4-12 to side with Cayetano.

Enrile introduced a total of 7 amendments for the day, with Cayetano accepting the minor ones.

This was on top of the initial 6 amendments the Senate President introduced on November 19.

Recount on Recto proposal

Recto also did not prevail in the nominal voting.

The senator wanted to change the provision requiring local government units (LGUs) to ensure the establishment or upgrading of hospitals or facilities to provide emergency obstetric and newborn care.

Recto proposed that the mandate be given to the national government instead, saying the bill not give enough funds to LGUs. 

“I think the responsibility should be with the national government because we’re enacting a national law. We are promising these services but then we’re passing the buck to LGUs. I don’t think that’s right, Mr President,” Recto said.

Cayetano though rejected Recto’s amendment, saying that the Local Government Code said LGUs have the responsibility for primary and maternal health care.

Swak na swak doon ang (It fits perfectly there) reproductive health care so it’s the responsibility of the LGU,” Cayetano said. 

Recto called for a vote but the senators were held in suspense as the RH advocates questioned the initial finding that the Senate accepted the amendment.

After a recount and a suspension, presiding officer Sen Gregorio Honasan II announced that the vote was 9-8 to reject Recto’s amendment.

Voting patterns? 

Incidentally, Recto lost the vote even after the Senate approved a similar amendment he introduced on November 19.

In a vote of 13-7, the chamber then passed Recto’s amendment to remove from LGUs the responsibility to provide RH services. Supporters saw it as a loss, saying the provision was an important part of the bill. 

Sen Panfilo Lacson has said that the votes on the amendments are indicative of senators’ final vote on the entire bill.

Yet for Sen Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr, senators’ stand on individual amendments cannot be taken as an indication of their position on the controversial measure. 

Cayetano is pushing for a vote on the bill soon, similar to her counterparts in the House of Representatives. The focus on other priority measures and delays by critics have pushed back voting on second reading in the two chambers. – Rappler.com