Pro-RH solons maintain majority vote

Although the period of amendments for the Reproductive Health Bill failed to move beyond Page 2 Tuesday, votes indicated that pro-RH solons have maintained the numbers to pass the controversial measure.

SHOWDOWN CONTINUES. Cagayan Rep Rufus Rodriguez and Albay Rep Edcel Lagman lead opponents and proponents of the RH Bill during the period of amendments. File photo from the House Representatives

MANILA, Philippines – Although the period of amendments for the Reproductive Health (RH) Bill failed to move beyond the second page on Tuesday, December 4, votes indicated that pro-RH solons have maintained the numbers to pass the controversial measure.

As expected, anti-RH solons continued introducing “killer amendments”, but compared to Monday’s session, it was apparent they hesitated to use nominal voting as a parliamentary tactic when votes showed that they were outnumbered by the pro-RH solons.

RH proponents were able to block amendments that threatened to dilute the essence of the bill, which seeks to provide reproductive health services — including contraceptives — particularly to the poor.

Deputy Speaker Pablo Garcia wanted to include a provision declaring that “the state shall refrain from taking any action or measure that will tempt to make any woman or couple to violate the tenets or teachings of their religion.”

“It is known by everybody that the use of condoms is a violation of the fundamental tenets of the Catholic Church,” Garcia said. 

The RH Bill has met strong opposition from the Catholic Church. 

But Lagman said the bill is already equipped with safeguards to protect individual conscience and convictions. 

“The cat is out of the bag. The only purpose of this killer amendment is to prohibit this state from promoting reproductive health, services and commodities,” he said.

Via a viva voce vote, the House body rejected Garcia’s amendment. But the Cebu representative insisted on nominal voting.

There were 42 lawmakers who voted to sustain nominal voting. Only 41 votes were needed. In the end, with a total vote of 100-74, House members rejected Garcia’s amendment. The results showed that pro-RH solons managed to maintain their 99-90 and 91-73 numbers from Monday’s session.

After the loss, anti-RH lawmakers scrimped on calling for a nominal vote. 

It was not invoked when then the House body rejected Davao Rep Karlos Nograles’ amendment to replace the word “reproductive health” from Line 2, Page 2 of the bill with “maternal, neonatal and child health,” through a viva voce vote. 

Also denied via viva voce were the following amendments:

  1. To remove the word “reproductive” from the line stating that: “The state likewise guarantees public access to and relevant information and education on medically safe, legal, ethic, affordable, effective and quality reproductive health care services, methods, devices and supplies…” 
  2. To include the phrase “that do not violate the state of religion”

When life begins debate

As expected, lawmakers once again engaged in a debate regarding when life begins. The point of contention was the 3rd paragraph of section 2, which states that:

“The State likewise guarantees public access to and relevant information and education on medically safe, legal, ethical, affordable, effective and quality reproductive health care services, methods and devices and supplies which do not prevent the implantation of a fertilized ovum as determined by the Food and Drug Administration.”

Citing the Constitution, Garcia wanted to rephrase the provision and limit RH Bill services only to those “which do not prevent the implantation of a fertilized ovum in the uterus or endanger the life of the unborn from conception.” Garcia’s main thrust is that life begins from conception.  

The amendment was met with partial acceptance from the principal author. 

Lagman accepted the first part of the amendment but rejected the second and proposed to instead use constitutional wording so that the line could read: “which do not prevent the implantation of a fertilized ovum in the uterus or do not protect the life of the unborn child.”

As an extension to Garcia’s amendment, Rodriguez introduced another one seeking to include the beginning of life in the declaration of principles.

It also rejected via a viva voce vote but Rodriguez called for nominal voting. At about 9 pm, a second roll call was made, which showed that 146 solons were present, just barely enough to muster a quorum.

The House needs 145 solons for a quorum. With an 81-57 vote and one abstention, the amendment was denied. 

“In every attempt to define the start of life, not only on national but also on international level, ang hirap po talaga bigyan ng concrete definition,” Garin said. 

“So much so that no consensus has been reached anywhere in the world because life is so unique and only God knows categorically how it begins,” she added.  

Session suspended 

With 197 out of 287 solons present during the 1st roll call, the House managed to muster a quorum twice in a row for the first time since reconvening after the Halloween break. 

The session started and ended with a scuffle regarding the release of the Journal for the session. 

Cagayan Rep Rufus Rodriguez wanted a copy of the Journal to know who voted for and against Palawan Rep Dennis Socrates’ earlier motion to deliver a privilege speech. 

But Majority Floor Leader Neptali Gonzales II said that the Journal has not been released because Monday’s session was only suspended, not adjourned. This means that Tuesday’s session was a continuation of the earlier session. A journal only has to be released if the session is adjourned. 

After votes on Rodriguez’s amendment on when life begins indicated that only 139 solons, instead of the 146 indicated by the 2nd roll call, were present, Zambales Rep Mitos Magsaysay questioned the quorum. 

At about 10 pm, Socrates made a motion to adjourn just as Garin moved to suspend the session. A motion to adjourn takes precedence over the motion to suspend session. 

House leaders failed to resolve the issue and Tuesday’s session ended with an impasse.  – Rappler.com