MANILA, Philippines (UPDATE) - Despite objections, the House of Representatives on Monday, August 6, voted to terminate debates on House Bill 4244, better known as the Reproductive Health bill, raising the chance of the controversial measure being passed in the current 15th Congress.
It was an ayes and nayes votes, with the majority agreeing to terminate the debates at around 6 p.m. This means RH bill will proceed to the period of amendments, the more difficult stage of the legislative process.
"It's one step forward. It's a procedural thing, to end the period of interpellation and debate and to give a chance for people offering amendments to be heard as well. If we just go on - there are 25 more people who want to interpellate - it will go on until our term is over," said House Speaker Feliciano "Sonny" Belmonte, who declared when the session resumed in July that he will put the RH bill to a vote.
"We just transit from one part of the whole proceeding to another. It's still not a vote on the merits," he added.
The vote marks the first time that the RH bill, which has been introduced in Congress in various versions for more than a decade now, has reached the second phase in the legislative process. The next battle is the period of amendments.
Navotas City Rep. Toby Tiangco, who voted against termination of the debates, originally pushed for a nominal voting but he later withdrew it. Nominal voting means the lawmakers will have to declare their vote one by one.
Anti-RH solons also vote yes
Among the House members who voted to terminate the debate are district and party list representatives who opposed the RH bill.
An Waray Party List Rep Florencio "Bem" Noel is among them. "I want to fast track the voting so I can vote no. I still think that we have the numbers. Tama na rin siguro. Ang tagal na pinag-uuspan. It's about time we vote on it," he said.
Noel said the Pro-RH bill solons vowed to entertain their amendments. "Malalaman natin kung talagang tatanggapin," he said.
The vote comes hours after President Aquino called members of the House majority coalition to a caucus in Malacañang. President Aquino appealed on them to terminate the vote.
It was not a marching order, according to Liberal Party secretary-general Joseph Emilio Abaya. "No one is ordered to march. Pakiusap is to vote to terminate debates so that people can vote on the issue," he told Rappler.
At the end of the caucus, supporters and critics of the RH bill reached a "consensus" to vote in favor of terminating the debates.
Belmonte confirmed it was anti-RH solon Paranaque Rep. Roilo Golez who suggested that they vote on Monday instead of the original schedule on Tuesday
Shortly past 5 p.m. Monday, when the session began, Majority floor leader Neptali Gonzales II stood up during the plenary session and moved to end debates, which had taken one year and 6 months.
Cagayan de Oro Rep Rufus Rodriguez moved to object, saying many lawmakers still wanted to debate the measure. "HB 4244 is about population control. This is anti-life. This is an assault on our faith," Rodriguez said.
He questioned why the House leadership decided to deliberate on the bill on Monday when the original schedule is Tuesday, August 7.
A total of 231 House members attended the plenary, including former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo who's opposed to the RH bill.
Batangas Rep Hermilando Mandanas also questioned the early vote on the bill. But Gonzales said some anti-RH lawmakers proposed the voting to be held today. Rappler sources identified the anti-RH lawmaker as Parañaque Rep Roilo Golez.
Oppposition Rep Mitos Magsaysay (Zambales) said that President Aquino's message to lawmakers in a meeting Monday in Malacañang was "to vote according to your conscience."
Gonzales agreed that the President did not send any marching orders, but added that 182 lawmakers reached a consensus to end the debates Monday.
The plenary debates lasted an hour. Gonzales then called for an ayes and nayes vote. In the end, the ayes won. - Rappler.com
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