Plastics, rubbers and why senators voted on RH

From plastics to rubbers to Victor Hugo, senators offer funny and serious explanations in their RH bill vote

'PLASTICS BANNED.' Senate Majority Leader Tito Sotto says at a time plastics are banned in Metro Manila, why will the Senate legislate the use of condoms? Photo by Joseph Vidal, Senate PRIB

MANILA, Philippines – What do Victor Hugo, plastics and condoms have in common?

Many senators’ vote on the controversial Reproductive Health (RH) bill was already obvious after they voiced out their stands in the yearlong debates.

So as the Senate voted 13-8 to pass the bill on 3rd and final reading on Monday, December 17, it was not just how but why they voted that mattered.

True to the passionate debates on the measure, senators’ explanation of their votes was colorful, filled with tears and jokes here and there.

Here are their top arguments for or against the bill:

1. Sotto: ‘Ipinagbabawal na ang plastic. Akalain mo, isasabatas natin ang condom?’

Senate Majority Leader Vicente “Tito” Sotto III looked somber as he watched his colleagues vote in favor of the bill. Yet the self-styled “number 1 oppositor of the RH bill” did not go down without a fight.

He insisted that the RH bill contradicts Filipino culture like valuing the institution of marriage. He also predicted that like the other measures he voted no to, the public will ultimately regret the passage of the bill.

Yet it was one comment that elicited laughter from the gallery.

“Nakakalungkot po talaga. Isipin niyo maraming lugar na sa bansa lalo na sa Metro Manila ipinagbabawal na ang paggamit ng plastic eh, akalain mo isasabatas natin ang condom?” (It saddens me. Many places in the country especially in Metro Manila already ban the use of plastics. Imagine we are legislating the use of condoms?)

He ended his speech by saying, “If we approve this measure, may I ask God the Father to forgive us for we do not know what we are doing.”

'NO BICAMERAL ABORTION.' Sen Ralph Recto urges Sen Pia Cayetano to protect the Senate version of the RH bill in the bicam level. Photo by Joseph Vidal/Senate PRIB

2. Recto: ‘RH is not a rubber. It is not one size fits all.’

Sen Ralph Recto surprised RH advocates by voting yes to the bill on the condition that the amendments in the Senate version are not subjected to what he called “bicameral abortion” like what happened in the sin tax reform bill.

Recto defended himself from criticism of introducing supposed “killer amendments.” “I believe if this bill is about responsible parenthood, then we should be responsible midwives of its birthing,” he said.

The senator used metaphors and references to social media in voting for the bill, saying “No legislation especially complex ones can be distilled in 140-character tweets.”

“By itself, this bill will not create a social utopia, bring us to our economic Shangri-la and place the nation in a state of nirvana … This is not a fast-acting poverty reduction tool.”

In defending his advocacy of giving local government units (LGUs) the prerogatives and funding for RH services, he said, “We should avoid putting LGUs in one RH straight jacket.”

“For after all, RH is not a rubber, meaning it is not one size fits all.” 

3. Pimentel: ‘Condoms are merely masks for some people’s erotic adventures.’

In explaining his no vote, Sen Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III said, “Maybe a portion of those funds can address some of [people’s] poverty needs and certainly not on condoms that are neither medicine nor food but are merely masks for some people’s erotic adventures.”

Pimentel, a bar topnotcher who graduated with a mathematics degree from the Ateneo, even used what he called a “mathematical point of view” to argue against the bill.

“This bill might give us false hopes again because if the current rate is that 200 mothers die out of 100,000 live births and if because of the RH bill, the maternal deaths is reduced to 100 mothers die out of 50,000 live births because the law will reduce the number of pregnancies and live births, that is not an improvement.

“That is the same percentage of maternal deaths,” he said.

4. Marcos: ‘I promised to improve pathetic, heart-rending state of affairs.’

Unlike his mother Ilocos Norte Rep and former first lady Imelda Marcos, Sen Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr voted for the RH bill. The senator cited his experience as former governor and congressman of Ilocos Norte. He was a co-author of the bill in the previous Congress.

“It became clear to me, after being witness to the agony and the hardship of young women and men, when they find themselves in a situation they are ill-prepared and often ignorant of.”

“And it was from this that I promised that I would do everything I could to improve the pathetic and heart-rending state of affairs.”

'HOPE YOU'RE RIGHT.' Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile shakes hands with Sen Edgardo Angara who voted for the RH bill. In his speech, Enrile told RH proponents he hopes they will be proven right. Photo by Senate PRIB

5. Enrile: ‘I’m quite bewildered, uncertain about the future.’

Far from his fiery speeches in the past, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile was in a sober and reflective mood as he cast the last vote on the bill.

Enrile said the bill inflicted “a very wide chasm of division,” even dividing families. His son, Cagayan Rep Jack Enrile, voted in favor of the bill.

The senator has opposed the bill on fears it will harm the Philippine economy and defense position. He said he hopes he will be proven wrong.

“In my case, I’m quite bewildered and uncertain about the future of this country. If we made the correct decision, I hope to God we did and we’ll make it but the future is unknown and uncertain and unpredictable.”

MOMENT OF VICTORY. Sen Pia Cayetano shares a light moment with Sen TG Guingona, who also voted in favor of the RH bill. Photo by Joseph Vidal/Senate PRIB

6. Pia Cayetano: ‘This bill is for every woman who wallows in poverty.’

The vote was an emotional moment for principal sponsor Sen Pia Cayetano, who defended the bill for over a year. She became teary-eyed as she thanked advocates and supporters who assisted her in the struggle to get it passed.

Cayetano spoke of the women in the Senate. “My life as a women, the life of Sen Miriam [Defensor Santiago], the life of Sen Loren [Legarda], the three of us, this bill is not for us.”

“This bill is for every woman who does not have that right, those who wallow in poverty, those who do not even know they have the right not to be beaten up.”

On the argument that livelihood and education must be prioritized, Cayetano said she supports this.

“But let’s be real. What job, what education can provide a mother with the means to take care of 10 children, 15 children?”

PURPLE VOTE. Senators Miriam Defensor Santiago and Pia Cayetano, sponsors of the RH bill, welcome the passage of the measure after a year of debates. Photo by Senate PRIB

7. Santiago: ‘No force more powerful than idea whose time has come’

Cayetano’s co-sponsor, Sen Miriam Defensor Santiago, addressed the opposition of Catholic bishops.

Citing the history of the Church condemning Copernicus and Galileo, she said, “The Church made mistakes because it is not a perfect institution. It is only human.”

“The Catholic Church does not consist of only the pope, only the cardinals, only the bishops or only the clerics, no that has been corrected by Vatican II. The Catholic Church consists of all the people of God.”

Saying 13 to 15 women die of childbirth every day, she said, “We cannot pray to a father in heaven and ignore people living right beside us.”

Santiago quoted French writer Victor Hugo in encapsulating the significance of the moment.

“The Catholic Church has steadfastly opposed the RH bill for 13 years but I so humbly submit this afternoon, there is no idea, there is no force more powerful than an idea whose time has come.”

“And today is the time for RH.” – 

'CHURCH NOT PERFECT.' Sen Miriam Defensor Santiago says the Church is not perfect, adding that the time has come for the RH bill. Photo by Joseph Vidal/Senate PRIB

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