House split causing RH bill delayBy Christian V. Esguerra, Leila B. Salaverria
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Lawmakers traded barbs as the House of Representatives failed to open the crucial period of amendments on the reproductive health (RH) bill for two straight session days.
Given the coming long weekend and the chamber’s preoccupation with budget deliberations, the issue will have to wait until August 28 when congressmen resume their plenary session.
Deputy Majority Leader Janette Garin on Wednesday complained on the floor about the move by her colleagues against House Bill No. 4244 to rise “on a question of personal and collective privilege.”
Garin, a proponent of the RH bill, described as palusot (alibi) the effort of Parañaque Representative Roilo Golez, who wanted the chamber to discuss measures to address the devastation caused by the heavy monsoon rains and flooding.
But Golez later hit back, saying it was pro-RH congressmen who were “delaying” the proceedings, citing their absence at the start of the plenary session last Tuesday and Wednesday.
“They are the proponents, they are the ones who would like to change the status quo so they should be here,” he told the Philippine Daily Inquirer. “They are the ones delaying (the proceedings). They’re not here. Very few of them are here. They’re losing by default.”
‘Be man enough’
During her turn, Garin blasted Golez and company, saying “let us be man enough to show our people what our vote is for the responsible parenthood bill.”
“Isn’t it that this (question of) personal and collective privilege—if I may quote Congressman (Rodolfo) Fariñas—is just an excuse not to talk about the responsible parenthood bill?” she said.
On Tuesday when the period of amendments was to start, there were more anti-RH congressmen spotted on the floor at the start of the plenary session. The following day, even fewer lawmakers showed up at the beginning of the session.
“We are not sure about our numbers,” Garin said. “We might win or we might lose, but at the end of the day, we would like to show to our people that it is our obligation and our duty to put forward our vote on this very important issue.”
The real battle
Golez denied that his group was avoiding the period of amendments, pointing out that few of the pro-RH lawmakers were present, noting that he was among those who voted to terminate the debates on HB 4244.
“This is the real McCoy. This is the real battle,” he said. “They should be here.”
But before session adjourned on Wednesday, Golez moved to suspend all further deliberations on HB 4244 to allow the chamber to address the problems caused by the recent monsoon rains and storms. However, the session adjourned and it was not put to a vote.
The session on Tuesday was also unceremoniously adjourned after the chamber failed to settle the issue on whether Palawan Representative Victorino Socrates should continue with his speech condemning the termination of the RH debates.
Asked why the issue was never put to a vote, Speaker Feliciano Belmonte said: “It’s better not to vote. It’s very divisive if you start doing that on an issue as that one. We have to try to maintain an atmosphere that is conducive to getting on. That’s what we’re going to do.”
Proponents of the bill have urged Belmonte to set a timetable to tackle the amendments. But Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales said that even if a timetable was set, lawmakers could not be prevented from delivering privilege speeches.
“Even if you set a schedule and 100 percent of members are present, that does not prevent anybody from using parliamentary tactics provided for by the rules,” Gonzales said in a phone interview.
The presence of supporters of the bill was also important, he also said. “That’s how it is. That is parliamentary warfare. This is going to be a war of attrition, so you have to be there.”
What’s more, Gonzales said even the House leaders were divided on their stand on the RH bill. He added that this was the first time he had seen a measure that had split the House almost right down the middle.