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RH bill: Aquino steps in, to meet with solons

MANILA, Philippines - After 4 weeks of perpetual quorum problems in the House of Representatives, President Benigno Aquino III has decided to step in.

Through a text message sent by Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr to members of the House, President Aquino on Thursday, November 29, invited House members for a luncheon in Malacañang on Monday, December 3, in an apparent effort to break the impasse on the divisive Reproductive Health (RH) Bill.

Ifugao Rep Teddy Baguilat Jr confirmed that he received the text message and will attend the luncheon.

In a text message, Baguilat said he expects President Aquino to express his position to put the bill to a vote, but that the President "would probably stop short of imposing it as a must."

Belmonte earlier said he was making a last-ditch attempt to arrange a meeting with the President to push for the certification of the RH bill as an urgent measure. 

All members of the House were invited, according to Baguilat, but AGHAM party-list Rep Angelo Palmones said he did not receive the text invitation.  

Palmones, who earlier criticized the substitute RH bill as a "watered down" version of the original, said the apparent non-invite was "no big deal." 

With only 3 weeks left before Congress pauses for the Christmas holidays, the result of Monday's meeting could determine the fate of the controversial measure. 

On Monday, pro-RH lawmakers managed to jumpstart the period of amendments of the bill when the plenary accepted Majority Floor Leader Neptali Gonzales II's move to adopt the amendments to the substitute bill. 

The development came 3 months after the House of Representatives terminated debates on the measure and almost two months after copies of the substitute RH bill were distributed to members. This came as a result of discussions with a technical working group composed of pro- and anti-RH parties, were distributed to members.

Cagayan Rep Rufus Rodriguez, a rabid opponent of the bill, said he will not be attending the lunch meeting.  

"With all due respect to the Speaker and the President, may I beg off from attending the Malacañang lunch on Monday. My opposition to the RH Bill is based on my conscience and religious conviction. Thank you," he said in a text message.

Rodriguez has vowed to raise the question of quorum when the debate on amendments is opened in the plenary. Since Congress reconvened on November 5, House members have only been able to muster a quorum thrice. - Rappler.com