Scared? Parties won’t take stand on RH bill

Carmela Fonbuena

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'It has become a local matter to many because of the pressure from the religious community,' says NP Rep Jesus Crispin Remulla

MANILA, Philippines – Which group has the vote on the controversial House Bill 4244 or the Reproductive Health bill (RH bill) on August 7? Despite Malacañang’s claim of support, it’s hard to tell.

Political parties in the House of Representatives will not impose on their members to vote for or against RH bill, solons told Rappler.

It’s going to be a “conscience vote” for the House majority coaltition composed of the ruling Liberal Party (LP), Nationalista Party (NP), Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC), and the National Unity Party (NUP).

LP has 87 members in the House. On the other hand, NPC, NP and NUP have 46 members, 27 members, and 28 members, respectively. 

House majority leader Neptali Gonzales II earlier announced that there will be no party stand for LP. This despite President Benigno Aquino III’s hint in his State of the Nation Address that he supports “responsible parenthood,” which is the essence of the bill.

NP spokesperson and House Deputy Speaker Jesus Crispin “Boying” Remulla said: “There is no party stand. It has become a local matter to many because of the pressure from the religious community.”

NUP’s Cavite Rep. Elpidio Barzaga said: “We will be having our freedom of choice.”

Barzaga said he will vote to end the debates so the chamber can proceed to the period of amendments. But he said a number of NUP members are against the RH bill. He named Davao City Rep Karlo Nograles and Cebu Rep Pabling Garcia among them. The NUP is composed of former members of Lakas-NUCD, the ruling party under the Arroyo administration.

Valenzuela Rep Rex Gatchallian of NPC said: “The party will adopt a conscience vote position on the RH bill. The party will respect the individual member’s vote no matter what that vote is.”

Lagman questions Church’s survey

The vote on August 7 will determine whether or not the House will end the debate on the RH bill so they can proceed to the more crucial period of amendments.

A majority of all members present is required to win the vote. It’s going to be an Ayes and Nays vote, but the House leadership is already expecting that the losing group will call for nominal voting.

There are a total of 285 district and party-list representatives in the House of Representatives.

A total of 56 representatives belong to the party-list bloc. They are also split on the RH bill. The Makabayan group of 7 leftist lawmakers are all co-authors of the bill.

The rest of the House members are independent.

The Catholic Church claimed on Tuesday, July 31, that it has at least 140 votes to junk the RH bill. If true, it is 5 votes away from the safe number, 145, that will guarantee them victory in the plenary.

But RH bill proponent Albay Rep Edcel Lagman questioned the Church’s number.

“Catholic bishops extrapolate the votes against the RH bill like turning water into wine,” Lagman said in a statement on Wednesday, August 1. “The RH authors and advocates have the numbers inside and outside the Congress,” Lagman added.

Gonzales isn’t too confident. He said it’s “50-50.”

Minority divided, too

Even the House minority bloc and the party list representatives are divided.

Originally, 15 of the total 28 minority members — most of them Lakas — were co-authors of the RH bill.

But Minority Leader and Quezon Rep Danilo Suarez and 6 others have changed their minds. They wrote House Speaker Sonny Belmonte on Wednesday, August 1, to withdraw their support for the RH bill.

Lagman, a former House minority leader, blamed it on former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. “It is obvious that the belated individual withdrawals are in support as a party position to former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s opposition to the RH bill,” he said.

Mrs Arroyo told reporters on Tuesday that she plans to attend the August 7 session to vote against the RH bill.

Aside from Suarez, those who withdrew their support are Siquijor Rep Orlando Fua, Unang ang Pamilya party list Rep Reena Concepcion Obillo, Lanao Del Sur Rep Mohammed Hussein Pangandaman, AA Kasosyo party list Rep Nasser Pangandaman, Camarines Norte Rep Elmer Panotes, and Anad party list Rep Pastor Alcover.

Eight members of the minority remain supportive of the RH bill. –

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