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RH bill and Cayetano’s ‘point of no recourse’

The Senate hits an impasse as Sen Pia Cayetano moves that the RH bill be tackled first

'POINT OF NO RECOURSE.' Sen Pia Cayetano says RH critics have pushed her to the point of no recourse of forcing to close the period of amendments if they will still not be ready with their amendments. File photo by Ayee Macaraig

MANILA, Philippines – Saying she has reached the “point of no recourse,” Sen Pia Cayetano caused a stir when she moved to resume deliberations on the controversial Reproductive Health (RH) bill.

At the start of the session on Monday, December 10, Cayetano made a motion to tackle the RH bill first even if it was last on the agenda of the day.

Senate Majority Leader Vicente “Tito” Sotto III, the self-proclaimed “number 1 oppositor of the RH bill,” immediately objected, causing a long suspension of the session. Sotto prepares the agenda of the day.

Cayetano first rose and made the motion, saying tackling the RH bill first is necessary so there will be enough time to pass the measure and eventually raise it to the bicameral conference committee level. 

The RH bill principal sponsor said with the Christmas break and the 2013 elections soon approaching, time is running out for the measure.

“I do not want to put it to a point that I have to ask that we close [the period of amendments] but you will lead me to do that if none of you are available. You have brought it to the point where you leave me with no recourse. You have brought it to the point where because of the subtle delays, I have no choice but to move that we hold the amendments today and we bring it to the vote,” Cayetano said.

Sen Ralph Recto has yet to finish introducing amendments, to be followed by Sotto who said he plans to propose 25 changes.

Sotto took exception to Cayetano’s motion, saying Senate procedures and tradition show that senators cannot be rushed into being ready to introduce amendments. 

“Hindi ganoon kadali na itong araw na ito, binigyan kami ng clean copy, natapos si Sen Recto, ipapasok na ang amendments ko. Ganoon na ba ang usapan dito sa Senado? Ganoon ang sitwasyon dito sa atin eh. ‘Di pwede ang pilitan kasi pinag-aaralan din namin eh,” Sotto lamented. (It’s not that easy that when Sen Recto is finished, I will immediately introduce my amendments. Is that how it works in the Senate now? That’s the situation here. You can’t force people because we also have to study this.)

Sotto said he could not see the urgency of tackling the bill immediately.

“Hanggang February pa tayo dito eh. What’s so important about passing it on Christmas? ‘Di rin naman mabubuo ang bicam doon, ‘di rin naman mapipirmahan ng Presidente agad yan. Ano ba naman ang mga grupong nasa likod nito, nagkakandarapa na namang itulak ito, ipilit ito?” (We will have session until February. You can’t form a bicam even before Christmas. The President won’t be able to sign this right way. What’s with the groups behind this, they are dying to push this and force the issue?)

The Senate suspended the session as senators hit an impasse and had to discuss Cayetano’s motion. 

The RH bill aims to provide access to both natural and modern family planning methods, and to promote sex education and family planning. The House of Representatives has its own version of the billl, which the chamber plans to vote on this week.

One of the most contentious measures in Congress, it has been pending for over a decade. 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 and said he would vote for the measure if he were still a lawmaker.

10 requests for info not acted on

Before session was suspended, Sotto also pointed out that he is not yet ready to introduce amendments because he still has 10 pending requests for information from the Senate Committee on Health and Demography but the committee has not yet acted on it. Cayetano is the chairperson of the committee.

The Majority Leader said details on the source of information cited by Cayetano, the pro-abortion stance of the groups backing the RH bill, and manufacturers of the injectables have all not yet been provided by the committee.

Sotto again denied delaying the passage of the bill. He said the bill has actually been calendared and discussed “every now and then.”

“Kung gusto namin ng tunay na delay, bakbakan na lang sa delay. Ang dali lang nang delay kung delay lang pag-uusapan. We are very reasonable Mr President even if we are opposing it. If I were not majority leader and I was opposing, tingnan natin kung napag-usapan ito.”  (If we really wanted to delay this, then let’s fight it out with the delays. It’s to easy to delay if that’s all we’re talking about. If I were not Majority Leader, let’s see if this will still be discussed.)

Sotto was supposed to deliver a privilege speech against the bill the same day, but said he is delaying it in deference to the victims of Typhoon “Pablo” (Bopha).

In August and September, he delivered a 3-part privilege speech laying out his arguments against the RH bill.

Why neglect it for 13 years?

Sen Miriam Defensor Santiago, Cayetano’s co-sponsor, stood up to back Cayetano’s motion and respond to Sotto’s objection.

Contrary to Sotto’s statements, Santiago said there is nothing in Senate rules and even jurisprudence prohibiting Cayetano’s motion.

The senator said closing the period of amendments when a senator is taking too much time to get ready has already been done in the past. She said this happened when Cayetano sponsored the Anti-Rabies Bill and then Sen Jamby Madrigal was still not prepared with her changes for several weeks.

Santiago also cited the support the President expressed for the RH bill, saying it is part of interdepartmental courtesy to fast-track the deliberations of the measure.

“Second point: this bill has been pending in the Philippine Congress for 5 congresses – in other words, for 13 years. What is so important that it has been neglected for 13 years?”

When session resumed after 2 hours, the motion was still not acted on and Cayetano said she will hold it in abeyance. – Rappler.com