An American woman has called Sen. Vicente Sotto III a “lying thief” and accused the Senate majority leader of plagiarizing her blog during an acrimonious debate on the reproductive health (RH) bill that pitted supporters of the bill against the Catholic Church and other sectors that consider artificial contraception as abortion.
Sotto initially denied using part of Sarah Pope’s blog when he argued against the bill to distribute contraceptives in government-run health clinics, but after the salty label came out in her blog on Thursday, the senator’s chief of staff, Hector Villacorta, acknowledged that they had used Pope’s blog without any attribution.
The senator continued to deny the plagiarism allegation, saying that both he and Pope had cited the same source, Russian-born physician Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride who claims that contraceptives cause an imbalance between good and bad bacteria in the intestines that breaks down the defense against infection.
He also took exception to the blogger’s charge that he is “a lying thief.”
“They must be mistaken. What I delivered in the plenary is different from the one that was written,” Sotto said in a telephone interview.
“I have an umbrella attribution [in my speech],” he added, referring to his disclaimer that what he said on the floor was based on research and not his own.
Sotto also referred to Article 6 Section 11 of the Philippine Constitution which says in part: “No member [of Congress] shall be questioned nor be held liable in any other place for any speech or debate in the Congress or in any committee thereof.”
“Why would I quote from a blogger? She is just a blogger,” Sotto said.
Villacorta said he saw nothing wrong with using Pope’s blog without any attribution because it is “public domain” and “blogs are not covered by copyright.” He added, “It is a new media and there is no jurisprudence yet.”
In the House of Representatives, supporters of the RH bill are bracing themselves for the possibility that the measure would not survive what the RH bill’s principal author, Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, has described as “the malevolent and dilatory filibustering” of lawmakers opposed to House Bill No. 4244.
Iloilo Rep. Janette Garin, a coauthor of the bill, said there was an “understanding” among proponents that the measure would no longer be filed in the next Congress should it fail in the current one.
“If it loses, (the bill) will not be tackled in the next Congresses anymore,” Garin said in a phone interview, recalling discussions among her colleagues prior to the Aug. 6 vote that terminated plenary debate on HB 4244. “If (the bill) is tackled at all, perhaps it would only come after a few years, perhaps after 10 years,” she said, adding that she and other proponents remained “committed” to passing the RH bill into law.
Not yet mature
Garin said that if the RH bill were defeated in the 15th Congress, it would be “a proof that our country is not yet mature for that law.”
But whatever the House vote is on HB 4244, the Iloilo representative said legislative work on the measure should be completed.
“Our point is, if you don’t want to pass it, then vote against it,” Garin said. “To be fair to everybody, including the real Filipino people who really want this bill, let’s decide on this. If we have the numbers, then okay. To be honest, we’re also not sure (if we have the numbers),” she said.
“If we don’t have the numbers, at least, the people would know that (the bill can’t be passed) so we can probably proceed with existing programs, depending on the political will of local chief executives,” Garin said.
In June this year, Health Secretary Enrique Ona announced that his department would distribute around P500 million in condoms and other contraceptives to help address the problem of rising maternal mortality in the country.
In Davao province, the Tagum city government has been implementing its own reproductive health program, spending at least P1.5 million annually, according to a previous Inquirer report. Since 2006, at least 4,390 women have reportedly availed themselves of the city’s free tubal ligation program.
House members are in a stalemate on HB 4244 after they an adjourned the plenary session on Wednesday without settling Rep. Roilo Golez’s motion to suspend further deliberations on the measure.
Golez wanted the chamber to focus on the devastation caused by the heavy monsoon rains in Metro Manila and neighboring provinces last week, a move dismissed as a dilatory tactic by proponents of the RH bill.
“The scheme of the oppositors to take undue advantage of House Rules on questions of personal or collective privilege to delay and derail the start of the period of amendments, violates the mandate of the plenary to move forward the RH bill,” Lagman said in a statement.
“Why terminate the long-winding and repetitive interpellations only to temporize and hold hostage the legislation?” he added.
No middle ground
But Golez accused the RH bill proponents of delaying the bill themselves when they moved for adjournment on the two session days when the House opened the period of amendments on HB 4244. The decision, according to Golez’s camp, meant that the other side did not have enough numbers on the floor.
Rep. Florencio Noel, who is openly against the bill, said he was not optimistic that both sides could reach a “middle ground” on the measure.
“While there are compromises that can be made, I see that there are more disagreements,” he told the Inquirer on the sidelines of the plenary deliberations. With a report from Norman Bordadora