Congress passes RH bill

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Monday, December 17, 2012


MANILA (Updated) -- The House of Representatives and the Senate approved on third and final reading Monday night their separate versions of the controversial reproductive health (RH) bill.

In the House, 133 members voted in favor of the divisive bill and 79 voted against it. Seven members abstained in the voting. House records show 199 members were present in the plenary.

In the Senate, 21 members took part, with 13 siding for the bill's passage while eight led by Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile opposed. The same tally was reached during the second reading.

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The swift approval of the measure in both chambers of Congress came days after President Benigno Aquino III certified the measure as urgent.

Pro-RH groups waited for 15 years before the Congress finally gave proper attention to the controversial measure. The first version of the bill was filed in the 12th Congress.

Those who voted in favor of Senate Bill 2865 were Senators Francis Escudero, Francis Pangilinan, Franklin Drilon, Panfilo Lacson, Loren Legarda, Miriam Defensor Santiago, Alan Peter Cayetano, Pia Cayetano, Ferdinand Marcos Jr., Teofisto Guingona III, Ralph Recto, Edgardo Angara and Joker Arroyo.

Aside from Enrile, Senators Jinggoy Estrada, Aquilino Pimentel III, Antonio Trillanes IV, Manny Villar, Ramon Revilla, Vicente Sotto III, and Gregorio Honasan II rejected the bill. Absent during the voting were Senators Sergio Osmeña III and Lito Lapid.

Senators took turns in explaining their vote as Senator Pia, who fought for the bill's passage in the 15th Congress, shed tears while thanking supporters of the measure like Health Secretary Enrique Ona and women's rights groups.

Pia said the measure is for poor and marginalized women who want to plan their families and space their children. She added that 11 mothers die daily due to pregnancy and/or child-related birth complications.

"If someone in this country cannot afford to access information and medical means for their own reproductive health and their desire to be responsible parents, it is only right for the State to ensure that they be given access. This is the essence of meaningful choices. This is the essence of the bill before us," said Guingona.

For his part, Estrada said the government should not espouse “contraceptive mentality” as this may affect the morality of young people.

Pimentel, meanwhile, pointed out that condoms are mere tools for people’s “erotic adventures,” saying the bill promotes “responsible free sex.”

“Overlooked in all this acrimony is that public funds would be spent to implement this measure, thus making it everybody’s profound concern and not just the pharmaceutical companies. I hope they will be respected in the bicameral conference committee rather than dismissed out of hand,” said Arroyo in his conditional vote in favor of the measure.

Prior to its passage, Sotto introduced 33 amendments, of which 27 have been accepted, three rejected and three withdrawn. Among others, Sotto failed to clinch support to strike out the phrase “safe and satisfying sex life” in the official definition of RH.

Sotto said if former President Corazon Aquino were alive, the bill would “not even reach first base.” The late president was a devout Catholic.

Meanwhile, as expected by the pro-RH lawmakers, the margin on the third reading vote in the House of Representatives was wider compared to the second reading vote of 113-104 and three abstentions.

Several members who were absent during the second reading vote were present in the third reading vote.

When the roll of members was called around 5:30 p.m., Presiding Speaker Arnulfo Fuentebella declared the presence of a quorum with 199 members present. Fuentebella, an anti-RH lawmaker, was not able to register his vote under the rules.

Deputy Speaker Lorenzo Tañada III, who presided the second reading approval, voted in favor of the RH bill. Tañada is a member of the ruling Liberal Party.

Deputy Majority Leader and Marikina Representative Miro Quimbo, who was suffering from dengue, attended the session to vote in favor of the RH bill. He arrived in a wheelchair and stayed at the House medical clinic while waiting for his name to be called.

Ang Galing Pinoy party-list Representative Juan Miguel Arroyo, meanwhile, read an explanation of his mother, former President and Pampanga Representative Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

Arroyo's no vote was not registered, being absent in the session. Arroyo is currently under hospital detention at the Veterans Memorial Medical Center in Quezon City over plunder charges.

Citing statistics, Arroyo said population growth rate has decreased since the 1990s despite the absence of a population control measure.

"She focused on responsible parenthood, respect for life, birth spacing, female education and empowerment and informed choice. She emphasized informing about natural family planning to correct the bias in previous years which taught only artificial birth control, and to conform to the culture and values of a predominantly Catholic population," the younger Arroyo said.

Antipolo Bishop Gabriel Reyes, chairman of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines-Episcopal Commission on Family and Life (CBCP-ECFL), called the approval of the RH bill a "big mistake."

"It's a very sad day for our country. In a sense, there is corruption of congressmen because they changed their principles for pork barrel and political favors," Reyes said in an interview.

Reyes said they will continue to teach the Filipino people about the "evils" of the use of contraceptives, which will be provided to couples once the RH bill is enacted into law.

Ifugao Representative Teddy Baguilat Jr., deputy spokesperson of the LP, said Aquino had told them that he wants the RH bill signed before the year ends. (Kathrina Alvarez/Virgil Lopez/Sunnex)

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