Palace draws line on scrapping pillsBy TJ Burgonio, Leila Salaverria
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Malacañang is agreeable to “watering down” the reproductive health (RH) bill to craft a compromise version but not to the point of scrapping provisions on the promotion and funding of contraceptives such as pills and condom, officials said on Saturday.
Secretary Manuel Mamba, chief of the Presidential Legislative Liaison Office (PLLO) that acts as the bridge between the executive branch and Congress, admitted that administration lawmakers were bending backwards to accommodate amendments and save the bill.
“As much as possible they want to accommodate the bill but only up to a point,” Mambasaid by phone, referring to President Aquino’s allies in the House of Representatives.
Mamba said there were “extreme proposals” from some lawmakers to water it down to the point of scrapping provisions that seek to promote and finance contraceptives.
“I don’t think the Palace will agree to that. That’s practically passing nothing,” he said, indicating that the provision on contraceptives was nonnegotiable.
In a bid to compromise with the Catholic bishops, House leaders broached the idea of tweaking the provision on contraceptives. Instead of promoting the use of contraceptives nationwide, it was suggested that the bill make contraceptives available only to the “poorest of the poor.”
“That’s tantamount to class legislation,” Mamba pointed out.
The legislation mandates the government to promote contraceptives and educate all Filipinos on family planning.
Sen. Pia Cayetano, principal author of the Senate version of the RH bill, had introduced amendments deleting an entire subsection which Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III said could be used to effectively legalize abortion in the country.
She proposed replacing the controversial subsection with a direct statement: “Abortion is a criminal act in accordance with existing laws.”
On the inclusion of certain birth control devices in the list of essential drugs, Cayetano proposed that the bill simply state that the Philippine National Drug Formulary System be observed in including or excluding birth control supplies in the essential drugs list “in accordance with existing practice.”
Both amendments were approved unanimously.
Mamba said he would not know how far Mr. Aquino would go to rally lawmakers to muster the votes necessary to approve it in plenary.
“I really don’t know how far the President will intervene. He has said his piece,” he said, referring to the meeting convened by Mr. Aquino and attended by House lawmakers in August before they overwhelmingly voted to end the period of interpellation and move to the period amendments on the bill.
With some allies opposed to the measure and given the proximity of the 2013 midterm elections, support for the measure in the House was not as solid as before, Mamba said.
“They won’t bring it to a vote unless they have the numbers. I don’t know where it will go. But it’s a priority measure. The President really wants it.”
In the Senate, Mamba believes the administration has the numbers to approve the measure, but has to deal with Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and Sotto who are fiercely opposed to the bill.
“That’s the problem,” he said.
Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, one of the authors of the RH bill, on Saturday called for putting the controversial measure to a vote, regardless of whether the opponents were satisfied with its latest incarnation or not.
Lagman said that even without compromises, the bill was already acceptable to majority of Filipinos. “The RH bill in its pristine form has been acceptable to the overwhelming majority of Filipinos as documented consistently by periodic surveys with 71 percent of Catholics endorsing the bill,” he said.