Palace official shrugs off anti-RH bill rally
Says, ‘we have the numbers’By TJ Burgonio
Philippine Daily Inquirer
MANILA, Philippines—A Malacañang official on Saturday shrugged off the decision by Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III and Senator Gregorio Honasan to join a Church-led anti-reproductive health bill rally.
“We have the numbers. It’s easier to pass the RH bill in the Senate,” Manuel Mamba, chief of the Presidential Legislative Liaison Office, the go-between Malacañang and Congress, said in a phone interview.
Mamba said the three anti-RH bill senators could convince one or two more colleagues to join them, but he believed that the rest of the 23-member Senate was supportive of the measure.
“That’s my reading,” he said, admitting that Malacañang did not have an official count of pro-RH senators since the measure was still being deliberated in both chambers of Congress.
Enrile, Sotto and Honasan said they were joining thousands of other people opposed to the legislation at the so-called prayer-rally at the Edsa Shrine organized by Catholic bishops to prove their claim that most Filipinos oppose the legislation, which among other things seeks to slow down the country’s population growth.
The rally comes three days before members of the House of Representatives vote on whether to close interpellation on the measure and to push it to the period of amendments.
Mamba said that if the House reaches the stage of voting, and votes to approve the measure the Senate would have no choice but to take it up as well.
“If the House votes on it, there will be pressure on them (senators). They will have to tackle it,’’ he said.
Senator Pia Cayetano, one of the bill’s sponsors in the upper chamber, has complained that the measure has not been put on the chamber’s agenda.
Mamba admitted that the administration’s worst fear would be for the debate to drag on until the campaign period for the May 2013 elections, which could give reelectionist lawmakers an excuse to miss the vote and at the same time please the Church.
“Even if they want to support the bill, they will absent themselves during the vote, and in effect, avoid offending the Church. They don’t want their Church to be their enemy,” he said. “If all come out to vote, we will have overwhelming support for the bill.”
President Benigno Aquino has said that the bill should be put to a vote now.
Meanwhile, 20 government agencies comprising the Human Development and Poverty Reduction (HDPR) Cabinet Cluster endorsed Aquino’s position on the need for a responsible parenthood bill to slow down the population growth.
“Both Senate and House bills are very much in line with the goals of the Philippine Development Plan and our country’s commitments to the International Conference on Population and Development, the Beijing Declaration and the Millennium Development Goals,” Lila Ramos Shahani, head of communication of the cluster, said in a statement.
Shahani said the cluster was concerned about the long-term implications of the absence of such a bill on poverty and development.
“Already, our maternal mortality rate has gone up to 221 per 100,000 live births, our worst MDG to date. We now have the worst poverty situation in the entire ASEAN region and, with one of the highest birth rates in Southeast Asia, the dubious distinction of being the 12th most populous country in the world,” she said.
Citing a 2006 Family Planning Survey, Shahani said 44 percent of the pregnancies of the poorest 10 percent of Filipino women were unwanted.
“If the RH bill is passed, it is the poor and the marginalized who would most benefit from greater access to healthcare services. Quite simply, the bill is rights-based, pro-health and pro-poor,” she said.
“Responsible parenthood, in the final analysis, should always be about informed choice. The passing of this bill, then, offers us a critical opportunity to expand the choices of Filipinos in new and unprecedented ways. The time has come, and the time is now. We sincerely hope our legislators will heed our call,” she added.