MANILA, Philippines – Despite pressures from the Catholic Church, Reproductive Health bill advocates won a crucial vote early Thursday, December 13. The bill, stuck in the chamber for 14 years, is a step closer to becoming a law.
Voting 113-104, the House of Representatives approved on second reading the controversial Reproductive Health (RH) Bill shortly past 2 am Thursday. Second reading is the most difficult stage of the legislative process.
The vote, which took more than 5 hours, was close — proof of how divisive the issue has been. House Bill 4244, after all, seeks to institutionalize access to reproductive health information and services such as contraceptives. Catholic bishops and various religious groups campaigned against it.
A total of 113 lawmakers voted for and 104 lawmakers voted against the measure; 3 abstained.
There were 217 lawmakers who responded to the roll call at about 9 pm. The result was consistent with test votes showing a close vote in favor of the RH bill.
The measure is now one step closer to becoming a law. It only needs to be passed on third and final reading to completely hurdle the House. This is expected to happen on Monday, December 17.
The Senate also agreed to vote on the RH Bill on second reading on Monday, December 17, and if passed, on third reading on Thursday, December 20.
After a viva voce vote early evening on Wednesday, presiding officer Deputy Speaker Lorenzo “Erin” Tañada III declared that the “AYE” vote in favor of the RH bill won.
Under the rules of the House of Representatives, approval on 2nd reading only requires a viva voce vote or voice voting. But anti-RH bill Navotas Rep Toby Tiangco questioned the result and moved for a nominal voting.
House rules allow for nominal voting if one-fifth of the present lawmakers approve the proposal. And they did, prompting each representative to stand up and explain his or her vote for a maximum of 3 minutes.
Before the vote, anti-RH solons proposed amendments up to the very last page of the 27-page document.
At least 8 members of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, including Antipolo Bishop Gabriel Reyes and Lipa Archbishop Ramon Arguelles, sat at the House gallery to watch the solons cast their votes hours after holding simultaneous masses to reiterate their call for lawmakers to vote against the bill.
A day before the vote, leaders of the ruling Liberal Party and key ally Nationalist People’s Coalition announced their support for the divisive measure in a last-minute meeting with party members.
Saying that he’s all for it, President Benigno Aquino III two weeks ago asked lawmakers to vote on the measure as soon as possible to give the Senate time to act on it.
In the end, the show of force from the Catholic Church, which has rabidly lobbied against the measure, did not deter the House from passing the bill.
For a rundown on what transpired during the vote and the period of amendments in the House of Representatives, view Rappler’s live blog here. – Rappler.com