Senator Panfilo “Ping” Lacson believes a majority of senators, at least 14 by his count, will vote in favor of the reproductive health (RH) bill.
Lacson did not say if he was one of the 14 but he is known to have authored one of the versions of the bill that was incorporated into the one that Senators Pia Cayetano and Miriam Defensor-Santiago submitted a year ago.
“Unless some (senators) change their minds, 14 it is,” he declared Tuesday.
This could be why anti-RH Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and Majority Leader Vicente Sotto are doing everything they can “so the measure would not reach the period of amendments,” Lacson said.
Enrile and Sotto earlier warned that proposed amendments to the RH bill could prolong discussions on the measure because many of the senators wanted to introduce individual amendments to the bill.
Enrile even warned that the discussions could last until the very end of the 15th Congress in early June after the May 2013 elections.
Lacson said he came up with the number 14 based on his conversations with the other senators.
Aside from the 14 pro-RH senators, others who may still be making up their minds could still be convinced to support it once the so-called “snowball effect” takes place, he said.
Lacson said he had seen this happen during the impeachment trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona.
“Once it appeared that (Corona) would be convicted, it became more comfortable for the rest to cast a vote for conviction,” Lacson said.
Cayetano, chairperson of the Senate women and family relations committee, said the efforts of the anti-RH senators to delay the vote on the bill had become so obvious that they bordered on the embarrassing.
She said that if her colleagues could work until late at night to guarantee the approval of the annual budget, they could be motivated to pass the RH bill and not invoke lack of time as an excuse.
“What time do we go home? We get to go home at 6 p.m. Every day I say I am ready to continue the deliberations on the RH bill. Why all of a sudden there’s no time?” she said.
Cayetano said she and Santiago were willing to accept amendments to the measure and allayed fears that changes to the version that may be approved by the Senate would be altered at the bicam.
“Let’s not be dramatic about it. It is a bill that is important. Obviously, we will accept amendments… Let’s just do it. Enough of the drama, let’s just go through the process,” she said.
Cayetano said she would reject all attempts to junk the RH bill at this point, warning that she will move to put it to a vote if pushed.
Health Secretary Enrique Ona stressed during a Senate budget hearing Tuesday that the RH bill was one of the pieces of “critical legislation” needed for the country to achieve its United Nations Medium-Term Development Goals (MDG).
“We need to pass the RH bill. To reach our MDG targets, critical legislation must be passed to address the barriers (to development),” Ona said.
In an effort to put an end to dilatory tactics, name calling and other contentious aspects of the RH bill proceedings, leaders of the House of Representatives have proposed the creation of an informal technical working group to come up with a more acceptable version of the measure as well as a timetable so that it could finally put to a vote.
The proposed members of the “informal” technical working group (TWG) are the House, the Senate, the executive brand, “reasonable” Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines officials and the measure’s authors.
It is proposed that the TWG discuss the latest major amendment to the bill, which is to limit the providing of contraceptives to the poorest of the poor, thereby making the bill an antipoverty measure, said House Deputy Majority Leader Janette Garin.
It will also discuss how the amendments would be introduced and when the bill would be put to a vote, so that it would not be mired in delays.
Garin said the TWG should be a forum where frank and direct talks could be held so that the differences could be discussed and threshed out. It would also be a kind of “shortcut” to avoid heated exchanges and dilatory speeches in plenary, she said.
The formation of the group would allow lawmakers to move away from the parliamentary warfare that has marked the bill’s proceedings.
With the TWG, she hopes the reproductive health bill could be put to a final vote before the year ends. She could not as of yet name the individual members of the group.
An opponent of the bill, Parañaque Representative Roilo Golez, said he was amenable to the idea of a TWG, but since he was known as a hard-line opponent of the measure, he would desist from participating in the talks. Other hard liners, including the authors of the measure, should not be part of the group as well, Golez added.
Only the moderates should be involved, he said, as this would ensure a good, mutually acceptable compromise bill.
“Hardliners by experience find it extremely difficult to compromise,” he said.
The proposal to limit the providing of contraceptives to the poorest of the poor stemmed from the objection of local Catholic Church officials and other opponents to the wholesale promotion and provision of contraceptives, said Garin.