WITH PRESIDENT Benigno Aquino III certifying it as "urgent," the controversial “reproductive health” (RH) bill passed on third and final reading in both houses of congress on Monday (Dec. 17), despite vigorous opposition from the Catholic Church and pro-life groups.

The “yes” vote in the House of Representatives ended with an overwhelming margin, with 133 voting in the affirmative, 79 negative, and seven abstentions. Of 287 lawmakers, 88 were absent during the deliberations. The House passed the bill – which provides for a national contraception and sterilization program as well as state-designed and compulsory sex education – on second reading on Wednesday last week.

Senators were able to vote on second and third reading on the same day as a result of the presidential certification, which did away with the three-day rule between successive votes. Pro-RH senators outnumbered the anti-RH bloc, with 13 voting in the affirmative, eight negative, and no abstention. Only Senators Lito Lapid and Sergio Osmenia III were absent during the voting.

Antipolo Bishop Gabriel Reyes, who had monitored the deliberations in the Batasang Pambansa, said the RH bill is a “big mistake.”

“I’m very sad because the executive department became the corruptor of congressmen,” Reyes said. “They made them change their principles by means of promises or threats of not giving pork barrel if they would vote versus the RH bill, promises of government projects, political favors, and so on. That is corruption of people.”

Zambales Rep. Mitos Magsaysay said before the plenary that the majority had voted for the voice of the powerful and not the voice of their constituents.

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“It is the job of the government to make sure that our citizenry will grow upright, morally fit, to become citizens of this country. But I’m afraid most provisions of this measure we put money on the wrong priority,” Magsaysay said. “We are attacking the problems with the wrong solutions.”

Magsaysay claimed her colleagues in the anti-RH bloc who were absent had been threatened by the ruling Liberal Party that if they voted against the measure, they would be sanctioned.

“We should be given the mandate to decide for our constituents for what we think is right. You may have won the battle, but I am afraid, you might lose the war. And I hope this will be on the conscience of those who forced [lawmakers] to vote just because they wanted to please some people,” she added.

At the House, the number of “no” votes dwindled to 79 in the vote for third reading from 104 in last week’s second reading.

RH bill author Rep. Edcel Lagman of Albay denied that the Aquino administration had dangled favors before lawmakers in exchange for the passage of the bill. “[They] should stop the black propaganda. They should accept what the people want. As they say, the voice of the people is the voice of God,” Lagman said.

Pro-RH advocates in the Batasan emerged victorious, distributing violet flowers to lawmakers after the announcement of the result of the nominal voting.

Former representative Risa Hontiveros-Baraquel, a known RH lobbyist, told reporters: “Para akong lumulutang sa ere. Finally, justice is served to women and children.”

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The House and Senate versions of the bill will now go to a bicameral committee, which is tasked to produce a consolidated version for ratification of both houses. When the bill is ratified, it will go to the President for signature.

“Before the end of the year it will become a law, as long as we are able to harmonize the differing provisions in the bicameral conference committee, which I hope will be called [on Tuesday],” Lagman said.

Human Life International President Fr. Shenan Boquet lamented that the “last pro-life and pro-family nation in Asia” had passed a measure which “threatens life.”

“The wealthy Western elites who find in the children of the developing world only a threat to be eliminated appear to have won their most coveted crown. They used their billions to exploit the famously corrupt political environment of the [Philippines],” Boquet said.

The US-based international organization called on to the Catholic Church to “redouble her efforts” and support anti-RH lawmakers and laypeople.

“The battle is not over, it is only entering a new stage,” he added. Andre Arnold T. Santiago and Nikka Lavinia G. Valenzuela

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