House readies rules to push RH voteBy Leila B. Salaverria
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Speaker Feliciano Belmonte is attempting to lay down ground rules in the “parliamentary warfare” that has stymied moves to bring the reproductive health (RH) bill forward.
Following a surprise viva voce vote on August 6 in the House of Representatives that ended interpellation, opponents of the RH bill in two sessions last week stood up to deliver privilege speeches and questioned the quorum, preventing movement on the second stage of the legislative process, the period of amendments.
Commenting on a plea by RH supporters for the House leadership to set a timetable for the measure similar to what is done to ensure the timely passage of the budget, Belmonte said the RH bill was encountering stiff opposition.
“Nobody is really trying to stop the budget, unlike here. We will try to talk to both sides on some ground rules on the issue,” Belmonte said in a text message Sunday.
Under House rules, privilege speeches take precedence over other motions, except for a motion to adjourn or a question on quorum. A motion to suspend deliberations on the bill was made during the last session on Wednesday, but this was not voted on because the session was adjourned. The bill is expected to be taken up on August 28.
Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales said earlier the dynamics surrounding the bill was “parliamentary warfare,” and added that the House could not prevent lawmakers from using the privilege speech as a delaying tactic. He also said supporters of the bill must be present during sessions to counter motions of the opponents.
Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez said RH bill opponents would not hesitate to question the quorum should they see that there were not enough warm bodies present. Such a crucial piece of legislation should not be left to a few members in the plenary, he said.
Repeated quorum calls
“If necessary, we would have three quorum calls every day,” Rodriguez said in a phone interview. “If the pro-RH would like to push through with this, they should have people there.”
The number of lawmakers on the floor has a tendency to dwindle after the roll call. The question of quorum can be raised any time.
The House is divided on the bill, but Rodriguez believes the numbers are in favor of those against the measure.
Asked why the opponents don’t just let the amendments and voting continue so that they can defeat the bill during the vote, he said opponents are actually ready to face the next phase and have proposed amendments for almost every provision.
But lawmakers who want to make a privilege speech have to be given a chance first as a matter of right, he said.
As for setting a timetable, Rodriguez did not think it would be feasible because of the many proposed amendments. He appealed to the House leadership to abandon the bill and focus on more crucial matters, like next year’s budget.
“For the sake of unity, if we want to approve the budget, I suggest that they withdraw the bill. This is polarizing, this is too divisive. We can’t have that situation in Congress, it will be gridlock,” he said.
Church out of touch
Supporters of the RH bill, on the other hand, have implored their colleagues to move the measure forward so that its fate—whether it passes or not—could finally be decided after more than a dozen years of debate.
Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, principal author of the bill, earlier asked why opponents of the bill, if they had the numbers as they claimed, were afraid of proceeding with the amendments and the eventual vote.
According to Lagman, the Catholic Church hierarchy in the country, which is leading opposition to the bill, “is out of touch with the sentiments and preferences of the Catholic majority on the reproductive health issue.”
Based on surveys, 71 percent of Catholics are in favor of the bill, Lagman said.
He also said leaders of the Catholic Church in other European and Latin American countries had left it up to the secular sectors to implement policies relating to family planning and contraceptives.
These countries have lower population growth rates and higher contraceptive prevalence rates, he said.
The RH bill would make family planning methods available using government funds, and give parents the freedom of informed choice to allow them to determine the number and spacing of their children. It also would provide for sex education in school.
Opponents said the bill would propagate a culture of permissive sex, and added there were better uses for government money. They also said sex education would interfere with parents’ natural and primary duty to rear their children.