Robert’s Rules of Order will be the working bible in the Church-led effort to squash the reproductive health (RH) bill.
All the tactics contained in the handbook of parliamentary procedure will come in handy in the anti-RH initiative in the House of Representatives to derail passage of the bill, according to Fr. Melvin Castro, executive director of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines–Episcopal Commission on Family and Life.
“We support them,” Castro said in an interview Monday of congressmen on the opposition front line in the second stage of the legislative process on the bill—the period of amendments—after Aquino administration allies on August 6 voted to end the debate on the population control measure.
“It’s not delaying. It’s about using existing parliamentary procedures because this has plenty of loopholes,” he said. “We foresee that this period of amendment, hopefully, will take a while.”
Speaker Feliciano Belmonte told the Philippine Daily Inquirer over the weekend he was exploring the possibility of setting a timetable for the period of amendments so that the measure could be put to a vote on the plenary once and for all.
Opponents of the bill in the last two sessions last week succeeded in preventing the introduction of alterations.
Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, who is against the RH bill, said the opposition would not hesitate to question the quorum during the parliamentary discussions.
Castro expressed wariness at Belmonte’s move to short-circuit the legislative process. “We have been burned by that,” he said, noting that the House leadership did not follow its own rules on August 6, when it held a surprise vote to end the debate on the bill.
Bishops said the vote, earlier scheduled on August 7, was reminiscent of the blitzkrieg fashion in which 188 congressmen impeached then Chief Justice Renato Corona, who was subsequently removed.
“They want to railroad this,” Castro said.
The Church has been leading the campaign against the bill since it was proposed a decade ago, maintaining that it would propagate a culture of premarital and permissive sex.
If approved, the RH bill will allow the use of government funds and facilities to provide family planning methods. It will also allow information on reproductive health and the inclusion of sex education in schools.
In a statement Monday, Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, the main proponent of the bill, suggested that the House give the measure the same priority as the national budget.
He said the RH bill complemented the budget bill regarding social services, risk management during disasters and climate change mitigation and adaptation.
“Appropriations are eroded by a huge population growth rate,” Lagman said. “Consequently, both the budget and RH bills must be prioritized for passage.”
Echoing Mr. Aquino’s position in his State of the Nation Address last month, Lagman said the constantly growing budget would not be enough for the country’s needs if Filipinos would not be given the chance to determine the number and spacing of their children.
Impact on quality education
The lack of adequate classrooms, teachers and textbooks will impact on quality education as the number of enrollees grow and outpace the education budget, he warned.
Lagman said the government would continue to spend more for healthcare if maternal and infant morbidity and mortality would continue to rise because of a lack of access, especially of those from the marginalized sectors, to reproductive health information and services.
Reproductive health services bring down the number of fatal high-risk pregnancies and would save the government millions of pesos in maternal care costs, Lagman added, saying that he based his statement on studies from the Guttmacher Institute and Likhaan Center for Women’s Health.
Lagman said unemployment and underemployment would continue to be a problem even if funds were allocated for job generation, because entrants to the manpower pool would remain high.
Allocations to protect the environment and deal with climate change would also be inadequate if the ecology falls prey to the unabated rise in population, he said.