After months of delay and a lack of quorum, the House of Representatives on Monday managed to come up with a substitute bill meant to address the controversial provisions of the reproductive health (RH) bill.
The changes include giving priority to the poor in the provision of birth control methods, and banning contraceptives that prevent the implantation of a fertilized ovum, as this is considered abortion by some sectors.
In an interview, Majority Floor Leader Neptali Gonzales said the reproductive health bill still had other periods to hurdle, as opponents of the measure could still propose more individual amendments.
Albay Rep. and RH bill main proponent Edcel Lagman, meanwhile, assured lawmakers there was no need to worry about the so-called Catholic vote on the RH bill, citing several Social Weather Stations (SWS) and Pulse Asia surveys that showed that majority of Catholics were actually in favor of the controversial measure.
“RH advocates should not fear a negative Catholic vote because the alleged backlash has no empirical basis,” Lagman said in a statement, amid reports that Church leaders had called on voters to reject candidates who support the bill.
Lagman, however, said that “the Catholic vote is for the enactment of the RH bill,” and cited a Pulse Asia October 2008 survey and SWS surveys on family planning in 2008, 2009 and 2010 to back his claim.
Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago also described the alleged command vote of the Catholic Church as nothing but a “political myth” and rebuked Church leaders for their “borderline violation of the constitutional principle of separation of Church and state.”
“In the past, the Catholic church campaigned against Sen. Juan Flavier because as health secretary, he freely distributed condoms. But Flavier won the elections. Thus, the so-called Catholic vote is a political myth,” Santiago said in a statement.
Santiago also pointed out that only the Catholic Church opposed the RH bill among major churches in the Philippines, including the Iglesia ni Cristo, Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches, National Council of Churches in the Philippines, Interfaith Partnership for the Promotion of Responsible Parenthood, and the Assembly of Darul-Iftah of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.
But Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, a vocal opponent of the RH bill, disputed Lagman’s claims, and said that the difficulty of ensuring attendance among pro-RH lawmakers was one sign of waning support for the measure that he described as “unconstitutional, coercive, morally incorrect, assaults the Catholic religion, medically unsafe and was led by an international lobby.”
Among the more controversial provisions of the RH bill are its provisions to provide information on, and access to, all methods of contraception among the country’s poorest sectors, and sex education among adolescents through the country’s public school system.
According to Lagman, a 2008 SWS survey showed that 71 percent of Catholics favored the reproductive health bill. Among weekly church-going Catholics, the support was higher, at 73 percent, he added.