MANILA, Philippines – After much debate and drama, the Senate finally agreed to set a date to vote on the controversial Reproductive Health (RH) bill.
The chamber agreed to vote on the bill on second reading on Monday, December 17, and if passed, to vote on third reading on Thursday, December 20.
The agreement was made after a two-hour stalemate on principal sponsor Sen Pia Cayetano’s motion that the bill be tackled first on Monday, December 10, even if it was listed last on the agenda.
Cayetano said she needed to fast-track deliberations on the bill to ensure she has enough time for bicameral conference committee deliberations. RH bill critic Senate Majority Leader Vicente “Tito” Sotto III objected, saying he was not yet ready with his amendments.
After the two-hour suspension of session, presiding officer Senate President Pro-Tempore Jinggoy Estrada made this proposal:
- On Wednesday, December 12, Sen Ralph Recto will finish introducing his individual amendments
- On Monday, December 17, Sotto will propose his amendments then the Senate will close the period of amendments and vote on second reading
- To follow the rule that there must be 3 days before the Senate can vote on third reading, the Senate will hold session on Thursday, December 20, to vote on the RH bill on third reading
The proposal was unexpected because there are usually no sessions on Thursday and the last session day before the Christmas break is on December 19, Wednesday.
Estrada’s proposal though came with a big if: that the House of Representatives will approve the bill on second reading this week.
“[We will vote] on the assumption if the House of Representatives will act on the measure. If the House of Representatives does not act on the measure, I think there is no point for the Senate President or for us to have a session on Thursday.”
Cayetano said she agreed with the proposal with the reservation that she is able to confirm with her colleagues that they will be present on December 20 for the vote.
She repeated her argument that the RH bill is now in a “point of no recourse,” with no other option but to force a vote because of the many delays.
“We put again the RH bill in a place of uncertainty, we put the RH bill at the mercy of me the sponsor having to agree because you are appealing to me so I will accept with the reservation,” she said.
Sotto also agreed but grudgingly.
“Yes, Mr President we will agree to your proposal as an accommodation that this be taken up at the soonest possible time and we finish as they requested. As I said, just to accommodate, not because we completely agree.”
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, saying he would vote for the measure if he were still a lawmaker.
Don’t suspend session, just vote
Before Estrada made the proposal, Sen Miriam Defensor Santiago said that the session should not have been suspended in the first place.
She said the Senate should have just voted on Cayetano’s motion to tackle the RH bill first. Instead, the 2-hour suspension ate up the time for the bill and other measures.
“We will no longer tolerate any debate should we make similar debates in the future. If we for the sake of priorities defer consideration on the motion to transpose the calendar, under the rule 44 on unfinished business, we intend to consider it as unfinished business. Unfinished business at the end of the session shall be taken up at the next session, tomorrow, in the same status.”
Sotto replied, “Mr President we will take note of that although we would like to take note presiding officer can motu proprio suspend the session.”
Estrada said, “Before I suspended the session, nobody objected.” – Rappler.com