Wednesday: RH bill showdown in Congress

After 15 years of delay, the House of Representatives will decide the fate of the Reproductive Health Bill on Wednesday, December 12

SHOWDOWN. Cagayan Rep Rufus Rodriguez, a staunch RH critic and Pro-RH Albay Rep Edcel Lagman, principal author of the RH Bill. Photo from congress.gov.ph

MANILA, Philippines – After 15 years of delay, the House of Representatives will decide the fate of the Reproductive Health bill on Wednesday, December 12. 

Regardless of whether anti-RH solons finish introducing all their proposed amendments, Cagayan de Oro Rep Rufus Rodriguez, a staunch RH critic, gave assurances that they are prepared to put the controversial measure to a vote on Wednesday. 

“Definitely. We’re going to vote on Wednesday. We’re going to finish amendments tomorrow. It will be a long night because we want our amendments to be considered or rejected,” Rodriguez said Monday night. 

Anti- and pro-RH blocs in the House reached a consensus last week to set the date for the vote on Wednesday. As part of the agreement, anti-RH solons will be allowed to continue introducing their amendments provided that voting will be done by ayes and nays, and not by nominal voting (or voting one by one). 

They [anti-RH lawmakers] agreed with the Speaker that by Wednesday, finished or not finished, pass your papers,” said Albay Rep Edcel Lagman, principal author of the RH Bill.  (At the Senate, voting for the RH Bill on second reading was set on Monday, December 17 while voting on third reading is expected on Thursday, December 20.)

However, the agreement met an unexpected turn Monday, December 10, when Camiguin Rep Pedro Romualdo questioned the ruling of presiding Speaker Lorenzo Tañada over Cebu Rep Pablo Garcia’s amendment to limit family planning services to married couples. 

Via voice voting, Tañada ruled that the nays had it. Garcia proposed that the House can vote by standing up but Tañada said that this could only be done by nominal vote. 

Session was adjourned after the second roll call found that only 136 out of 287 solons were present, down from 183 during the first roll call. 

As a result of the adjournment, the period of amendments failed to move beyond page 4, where it stopped when session adjourned Wednesday, December 5. 

“I thought it was a decision we arrived at so we can just role play so that it won’t appear that they are delaying the process. Because they are very sensitive to media accusations that they are using dilatory tactics and that is the reason why they met with the Speaker. Unfortunately, we got delayed again,” Majority Floor Leader Neptali Gonzales II said in a mix of English and Filipino. 

Warning

Gonzales warned anti-RH lawmakers not to accuse pro-RH solons of railroading the bill if they don’t finish all their amendments by Wednesday as a result of Monday’s session. 

“For me, as to whether or not they will still reach up to the very end, that I can’t assure. If they will say that, wait, we need another week to propose our amendments, para kaming loko-loko ‘pag pinagbigyan namin,” he said. 

Rodriguez however defended the anti-RH bloc’s moves.

“What we talked about last week was that there will be no nominal voting and there will be voting on December 12. This one is an extension. The questions of nays and ayes to clarify would go to teller. It’s an extension of the ayes and nays agreement,” Rodriguez said. 

Enough time to pass into law?

Senior Deputy Majority Floor Leader Janette Garin said that if the House approves the RH bill on second reading by Wednesday, December 12, they can then approve it on 3rd reading by Monday, December 17.

A bill, unless certified urgent, needs to wait 3 working days before it can be tackled in plenary again. 

Ang pinapakiusap pa nga namin nung una Tuesday. Pero alam niyo naman, dahil malakas ang lobby. Wednesday, sana,” she said. (At first we were requesting for Tuesday, But as you know, because the lobby is strong. Wednesday, hopefully.)

The Catholic Church strongly opposes the RH Bill, which promotes the use of contraceptives as a family planning method. Bishops have said they would be watching as the solons cast their vote. 

On Monday, Cardinal Ricardo Vidal of Cebu graced the session and sat beside Antipolo Bishop Gabriel Reyes, who had been attending sessions every day since last week, in the gallery. 

Gonzales admitted that the presence of certain personalities in the gallery have put some pressure on the lawmakers. 

“You have to also consider the temperament of the plenary kasi ang temperament of the plenary can always vary,” Gonzales said.

Numbers warfare

Both sides expressed confidence that they have the numbers but were employing different tactics in analyzing sentiments for the bill. 

Part of the pro-RH lawmakers’ strategy is not to divulge the number of votes, Lagman said. 

“I have been asked this question a million times. And my answer has always been we don’t want opponents to know the exact figures,” Lagman said. 

Anti-RH solons, on the other hand, have readily revealed their numbers. Rodriguez said their count shows that votes are at 136-95 against the bill. 

Rodriguez claimed that pro-RH votes have also dwindled because more lawmakers are expected to abstain. 

“They were identified as pro before and they don’t want to go to the other side. So the best way is to abstain,” 

The numbers are not consistent with voting patterns over crucial amendments, which show that RH bill advocates have consistently maintained the vote to reject amendments introduced by RH critics. 

“Voting patterns indicate that RH advocates will win and the margin of victory will be progressively bigger,” Lagman said. 

“The problem with the antis is their numbers are not flexible. Kami ang nakakakuha sa kanila,” Lagman added. – Rappler.com