Cayetano vows to present RH bill to Senate plenary before Congress’ break

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MANILA, Philippines—There’s no stopping the reproductive health bill in the Senate.

Sen. Pia Cayetano, chair of the committee on youth, women, and family relations, served notice on Monday that the committee report on the bill would be ready for plenary deliberations before the Congress break sine die after Wednesday next week.

“Watch out for it because I will be filing the reproductive health bill. I have a report and it’s almost final,” she told reporters after presiding over a public hearing on the proposed Protection of the Unborn Child Act, which seen as a counter-measure to the RH bill.

Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III earlier expressed hope that the Protection of the Unborn Child bill could be accommodated to address the contentious provisions of the RH bill and later come up with a compromise version. But Cayetano slammed the door on a possible reconciliation even as she admitted that some of their concerns “overlap.”

“No, I’m not combining the two,” she said. Asked about the fate of the unborn child bill, she replied in jest: “It will remain unborn.”

Sen. Ralph Recto, who authored a version of the unborn child bill, sought a middle ground between his measure and the RH bills filed by Senators Miriam Defensor-Santiago and Panfilo Lacson.

He said the law should distinguish between abortive and non-abortive contraceptives, which would be allowed in the local market. He said labels identifying side effects—including abortive ingredients—of contraceptives should be included in their labels, similar to warnings in cigarette packs and other “sin” products.

“Let us distinguish between what is legal and illegal,” he told the Philippine Daily Inquirer after the hearing, adding that minors should not be allowed access to contraceptives without parental consent.

Lawyer Ronaldo Reyes, a representative of the Lawyers for Life, told senators that drugs and devices with abortive elements should “ideally” be not made available by the government. But should Cayetano’s committee proceed with a bill allowing contraceptives, he said “we will get to the point that certain warnings be included.”

“If you don’t tell them the whole truth about the device, you’re not giving them an informed choice,” he said.

Sotto warned that certain types of contraceptives with known abortive functions were being sold openly—some of them over-the-counter—around the country. He cited herbal medicines and Cytotec, which he described as “a brand version of misoprostol, a drug used to prevent gastric ulcers, for early abortion, to treat missed miscarriages and to induce labor.”

“When administered to pregnant women unmonitored, it can cause abortion, premature birth or birth defects,” he said in his opening statement. “Uterine rupture has also been reported when Cytotec was administered to women beyond the eight week of pregnancy.”

Toward the end of the hearing, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile criticized one of the objectives of the RH bill, which would be to limit the number of children in a family. “Instead of talking about the size of families, let’s talk about expanding job creation,” he said.

Cayetano rejected the idea of listing abortive contraceptives in any of the proposed legislation. “That is the job of the FDA (Food and Drug Administration),” she said. “That is not the job of the Senate or the Lower House to define exactly (which ones are abortifacients) because we don’t have the expertise to do that.”

Asked whether she favored the RH bill over the unborn child measure, she said: “I favor it only because I’ve been working on it for a year. So to the extent that I am ready to file it, of course, I am biased toward moving it forward because my staff and I have been working on it almost every day, every night, even on weekends.”

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