MANILA, Philippines – President Benigno Aquino III is not pushing for the passage of the reproductive health bill as much as he pressed for the removal of former Chief Justice Renato Corona and for the synchronization of the elections in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao with next year’s mid-term national elections, a top proponent of the bill said Saturday.
Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago, one of the authors of the RH bill in the Senate, said Aquino would not want to cross swords with the Catholic hierarchy and was, thus, opting for a low-key discussion of the maternal health and population management measure in Congress. The bill has been languishing in the legislative mill for 11 years now.
“Naturally, the President is a politician so he knows that there might develop a crisis between state and religion or there might develop a chill in the relationship between Malacañang and the Catholic clergy,” Santiago told reporters after speaking on Saturday before the Catholics for RH group in Quezon City.
“So although the President is in favor of the RH he wants a low-key, not an intensely, verbally violent debate. That is the reason why the President is not really pushing it among the members of his coalition in the Senate,” she added.
A day after finishing a Senate inquiry into resigned Interior Undersecretary Rico Puno’s alleged anomalous authority as an undersecretary in charge of the PNP, Santiago appeared to have moved on by returning to her advocacy of the RH bill.
She, nonetheless, continued to take potshots at Puno for his denials, Malacañang for requiring her to submit a list of questions for the Cabinet members invited to the hearing, and her own colleagues, who questioned her jurisdiction and the hearing’s validity.
“How can I show the Philippine public [that jueteng is a national anomaly] when there were no Cabinet members? There was only an undersecretary who kept on saying, ‘That’s not true, that’s not true, that’s not true’,” Santiago said.
Santiago said she kept her temper in check at Friday’s hearing because of her hypertension but told her audience in jest that she wanted to exchange blows with Puno.
She also had a joke for Puno.
“Sana birthday candle ka na lang. Para pag pinatay kita papalakpak sila (I wish you were a birthday candle. So when I snuff you out, people will applaud),” Santiago said to her audience’s delight.
Santiago said the while there are only four Liberal Party members in the Senate, other senators would naturally want to be on the good terms with the administration.
“They are in control of the Senate. Although there are only a few of them—there are only four LPs—it’s but natural that everybody would want to go along with the administration. That’s natural in politics,” Santiago said.
“But the President doesn’t want an all-out war [on the RH bill] because he doesn’t want to quarrel with the Catholic Church,” she added.
The other RH bill author, Senator Pia Cayetano, was allowed to introduce committee amendments two weeks ago but Santiago expressed doubt that the RH bill would further be tackled this year as Congress goes on recess after this coming week.
Santiago said she was hoping that public sentiment in favor of the RH bill would force leaders of the Senate to put the measure to a vote in January before the campaign period starts in February.
“We only have one week left then we go on a break and after the break, we’ll already be discussing the national budget. It seems like we have no more time. We can only continue the debate by January when we resume our session,” Santiago said.
Santiago said it was about time the bill was put to a vote as she believed all the questions regarding the measure have been answered. She accused Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III of delaying consideration of the bill.
“We’re hoping that we can provoke enough public disgust over this continued delay by calling it cowardly so that they will be compelled to participate in the voting,” Santiago said.