Palace on RH ‘war’: It’s up to House

Ayee Macaraig

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The Palace says it leaves it up to House lawmakers to move the RH bill to a vote this week

WAITING MODE. Malacañang says it will just wait for the resumption of debates on the RH bill in the House and will not act on the supposed showdown this week. File photo

MANILA, Philippines – President Benigno Aquino III will not meddle with the so-called showdown in Congress this week to move the Reproductive Health (RH) bill forward.

RH bill proponents in the House of Representatives plan to get the bill discussed on the plenary floor and force a vote on various amendments. The measure’s supporters and House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr have decried the delays.

While Aquino asked lawmakers in August to end debates on the measure, this time Deputy Presidential Spokesperson Abigail Valte said the President will just wait for developments.

“I understand that they are expecting a debate because the advocates already want to push the debate to the plenary and to vote on it finally. But we don’t know what will happen. We’re also just waiting on the resumption of the debates in Congress on the Responsible Parenthood Bill,” Valte said in a phone interview on Sunday, November 11.

In a press conference last week, the bill’s proponents said it is high time the chamber votes on the amendments introduced in the so-called compromise bill with RH critics.

“If by next week nothing happens, you can be sure you will hear from us. I’m beyond patience already and ready to lose my temper. I’ll be the one to start the war,” said RH bill co-author Pangansinan Rep Kimi Cojuangco.

Belmonte earlier appealed to his colleagues to move the bill forward.

“We made the bill palatable to the critics and I hope they would stop delaying the proceedings because this is a very important piece of legislation,” Belmonte said. “We should decide on this matter once and for all.”

The amendments are the work of an informal Technical Working Group, composed of both proponents and critics of the bill.

The changes include the shift from “universal access” to RH services to “public access” to “medically safe, legal, accessible, affordable and effective” RH care services and supplies “which do not prevent implantation of a fertilized ovum” as determined by the Food and Drug Administration.

The compromise bill also prioritizes marginalized households in the distribution of RH care services.

BACK TO COMMITTEE. Cagayan Rep Rufus Rodriguez says the revised RH bill should be sent back to the committee because only typo errors are allowed at this stage. File photo

Amendments to take forever

Critics of the bill though plan to block any immediate vote on the measure.

Cagayan Rep Rufus Rodriguez has stressed that the substitute bill must go back to the committee level because the rules state that a bill can only be changed for typographical errors.

“If you want amendments, it should be line by line but that will take us ‘til kingdom come that’s why there is no more time left,” Rodriguez said in a mix of English and Filipino.

The window for passing the bill is becoming narrow with time.

RH proponents want the bill approved on second reading before Congress goes on Christmas break on December 22.

After the Christmas break, session will resume for 3 weeks on January 21. Lawmakers will again take a break on February 9 for the campaign period for the May 2013 polls and return only on June 3 to close the 15th Congress.

Since the RH bill hurdled the period of interpellations or debates in August, it has barely moved in the House. Proponents said those against the measure were using privilege speeches as delaying tactics.

Senate battleground

In the Senate, committee amendments have been introduced and senators have begun raising individual amendments.

Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile though said that the RH bill will have to take the backseat because the chamber’s priority is to pass the budget and the sin tax bill.

“It’s a second priority. It’s not as urgent,” Enrile said last week.

Sen Pia Cayetano, the bill’s principal sponsor in the Senate, took exception.

“Honestly, I’m a little bit disappointed with all the drama because why do we have to put it aside? We can take it up. We are hardworking. No one here can be accused of not wanting to work. It’s just a matter of if they don’t like it, they don’t, right,” Cayetano said in a mix of English and Filipino.  

The RH bill, pending for 17 years in Congress, is one of the most contentious measures in the Philippine legislature. Catholic bishops and the Senate leadership staunchly oppose the measure.

President Benigno Aquino III endorsed “responsible parenthood” but lawmakers remain divided on the issue. –

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