Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, principal author of the Reproductive Health (RH) bill, welcomes the embrace from supporters after the bill passed the second reading in Congress. Photo by Bernadette D. Nicolas

13 December 2012, 6:39 p.m. – WITH HELP from Malacañang, the “reproductive health” (RH) bill hurdled second reading in the House of Representatives at past midnight on Thursday (Dec. 13)—the closest the controversial measure has ever been to becoming law.

But the sizable pro-life bloc of congressmen is not giving up, expecting to “turn the tables” on the pro-RH camp on Monday when the House votes again on third and final reading on the bill, which calls for billions in taxpayers’ money for a national contraception, sterilization, and sex education program.

House Bill No. 4244, or the “Responsible Parenthood, Reproductive Health and Population and Development Bill,” was approved on second reading at five minutes past 2:00 a.m. after a marathon nominal vote—with 113 voting “yes,” 104 voting “no,” and three abstaining.

Noting that 67 lawmakers were absent during the voting, anti-RH lawmakers Rufus Rodriguez of Cagayan de Oro City and Pablo Garcia of Cebu said the outcome could still change after next Monday’s vote.

“This is an empty victory for them (pro-RH lawmakers),” Rodriguez told the Varsitarian in a chance interview. “Many of the House members absent will vote against the bill.”

However, Rep. Edcel Lagman of Albay, main author of the bill, said the RH bill would pass on third reading as it would be difficult to overturn Thursday’s result.

“We already have a voice, we now know that majority are for the bill,” Lagman told the Varsitarian. “On third reading, the results [of the voting] will be dominated by the affirmative.”

Explaining his vote before the plenary, Lagman said the measure addresses population growth and gives couples and women the option to determine the number of their children. “Let us have children by choice, not by chance,” he said.

Viva voce

The lengthy nominal voting came after Navotas Rep. Tobias Tiangco questioned the viva voce or voice vote, which the presiding officer, Quezon Rep. Erin Tañada, had said went to the “ayes.” Each lawmaker was given three minutes to explain his or her vote.

Anti-RH lawmakers noted the presence of four Cabinet members—Transportation Sec. Mar Roxas, Budget Sec. Florencio Abad, communications chief Ricky Carandang, and presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda—in the South Lounge. Over lunch last Dec. 3, President Benigno Aquino III called on lawmakers, particularly members of his Liberal Party, to vote for the RH bill.

The passage of the measure was witnessed by clergymen and red-clad laypeople who trooped to the Batasang Pambansa to oppose the bill. Outside the Batasan, the more than 5,000 anti-RH crowd outnumbered purple-wearing pro-RH rallyists.

Among those who monitored the proceedings were Lipa Archbishop Ramon Arguelles, Bishops Teodoro Bacani Jr., Broderick Pabillo, Honesto Ongtioco, Jesse Mercado, and Gabriel Reyes, and Msgr. Clemente Ignacio.

Reyes told reporters bishops could only convince lawmakers, unlike the Palace, which controls “pork barrel” funds.

Despite heavy pressure from Palace officials, more than a hundred stood up against the RH bill, among them co-author Augusto Syjuco of Iloilo, who withdrew his name from the list of authors.

Deputy Speaker Jesus Crispin Remulla also withdrew his name but abstained from the vote.

Three other deputy speakers voted no: Garcia, Zamboanga Rep. Maria Isabella Climaco, and Camarines Sur Rep. Arnulfo Fuentebella. The minority leader, Quezon Rep. Danilo Suarez, also voted no.

The bill still has to be approved by the Senate on third reading and then consolidated by a bicameral conference committee. Both houses will have to approve a bicameral report on the bill before it is sent for the President’s signature and finally enacted into law.

Aquino defied

The “yes” votes got ahead early but the lead dwindled as the end of the voting neared. Carandang and his undersecretary, Manuel Quezon III, released running vote tallies via social networking site Twitter. In the end, the anti-RH vote fell short.

Pangasinan Rep. Kimi Cojuangco, who voted for the RH bill, said: “I believe there is no higher religion than public service.”

Iloilo Rep. Janette Garin told fellow lawmakers they were voting for “responsible parenthood” and that they should cast their votes “for the sake of good governance.”

“This is pure and simple responsible legislation. Be a part of the programs of the executive whose main intention is to uplift the socioeconomic status of the Philippines,” Garin added.

Rep. Emmeline Aglipay of Diwa Party List, who also backed the bill, said: “I am not against life, I am against ignorance.”

Negros Occidental Rep. Jules Ledesma cited the opinion of Jesuit lawyer Fr. Joaquin Bernas as basis for voting in favor of the RH bill, saying he was confused with the Church stance on family planning.

In contrast, Syjuco said his Catholic faith compelled him to vote no. Before the entire chamber, Syjuco said the Apostles’ Creed.

Meanwhile, Batangas Rep. Tomas Apacible, a Liberal Party member, defied Aquino’s marching order with a negative vote. “The President says this is a conscience vote and I believe it and I support him in that stand. But I am also a father more than a legislator,” he said.

Cebu’s Pablo Garcia said: “RH Bill is more concerned about giving couples a safe and satisfying sex life in a society where the family is becoming an endangered species and marriage obsolete.”

Quezon City Rep. Vincent Crisologo and Zambales Rep. Mitos Magsaysay said they voted negative because the measure is merely a repetition of the Magna Carta for Women and existing Department of Health programs. Palawan Rep. Antonio Alvarez said “what is good for Batasan is not always good for the barrios.”

Foreign agenda?

Another Cebu congressman, Pablo John Garcia, warned that the RH bill would put “tremendous financial pressure and strain on local governments.”

“In voting no, I run the risk of being called anti-women by those who are quick to do so. I would rather take that risk than to use the name of women to push an agenda that is, for all we know, so foreign to and far removed from the real interests of women,” he said.

Ormoc Rep. Lucy Torres-Gomez, who also opposed the bill, said: “Life is a gift. Human beings are assets and not liabilities.”

Cavite Rep. Lani Mercado-Revilla, a mother of six, cited the health dangers of using chemical contraceptives, such as the risk of breast cancer. Revilla bared that she got pregnant despite taking birth control pills after the birth of her first child.

Boxing superstar Rep. Emmanuel “Manny” Pacquiao of Sarangani, who arrived shortly before midnight from a hero’s tribute after a heartbreaking loss to Mexico’s Juan Manuel Marquez, also voted no.

He said the single punch from Marquez that knocked him out in the sixth round of the fight last weekend had strengthened his belief in the “sanctity of life.”

Ang nangyari sa Las Vegas ay lalong nagpaigting sa aking paniniwala na ang buhay ay sagrado. Kung dapat o hindi na mabuhay, tanging ang Diyos ang may karapatan dito,” he said. Reden D. Madrid and Nikka Lavinia G. Valenzuela



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1. Ferrer, Jeffrey P.
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