House forms group to discuss RH bill’s contentious issuesBy Karen Boncocan
MANILA, Philippines — In an effort to see the approval of the controversial Reproductive Health Bill at the House of Representatives by December this year, its proponents have agreed to create an informal technical working group to discuss contentious issues in the proposed measure.
A supporter of House Bill 4244, Iloilo Representative Janette Garin, said that it was due to the delays in their wish to open the period of amendments of the bill that they agreed to form the technical working group.
The group will be comprised of representatives from the executive, senators, proponents of the RH Bill, opponents of the measure and would even “include reasonable members of the CBCP (Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines),” said Garin.
She recalled seeing an advertisement which gave the impression that the CBCP agreed that parents should be given the freedom to decide on their family size and the option of spacing.
The lawmaker said that she agreed to the suggestion since it would open the bill to discussions and make it more acceptable. Otherwise, “some can use parliamentary tactics to delay the issue,” she added.
Paranaque City Representative Roilo Golez, a known opponent of the RH Bill, said that although he was amenable to the move to create a technical working group and realign the bill as a poverty alleviation measure, he believes that “all parties who have taken a hardline position pro or anti, like the principal authors and opponents, to voluntarily desist from participating in the technical working group.”
“Hardliners by experience find it extremely difficult to compromise,” Golez explained.
He said that he was voluntarily desisting from participating in the discussions, adding that only the “moderates” should join the technical working group.
Albay Representative Edcel Lagman, the main proponent of the bill, clarified that the group will not be drafting a “new RH Bill,” saying the group wants to “consolidate acceptable amendments to address the concerns, reservations and objections of critics like some bishops and their congressional allies.”
From suggesting that the government “promote” the use of contraceptives, Garin said that they would change it to “making it available” instead to the poorest families. She pointed out that the 5.7 million couples initially identified by the Department of Social Welfare and Development as beneficiaries of the Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) program.
“To obviate the unfounded criticism that the government will distribute contraceptives for free to everyone, the amendments will underscore that only the poorest of the poor will have free access to contraceptives if they are willing acceptors,” said Lagman, pointing out that this was the principal thrust of their latest amendments.
“Those who can’t afford (contraceptives), [they’ll be given] priority,” said Garin, stressing this is applicable to couples who badly need contraceptives.
She added that lawmakers could easily pass HB 4244 within a week if they agreed on it.