MANILA, Philippines—House Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales II on Tuesday said the “parliamentary momentum” had shifted to the lawmakers who favor the passage of the substitute reproductive health (RH) bill that was formally accepted by the plenary on Monday.
But the anti-RH group in the chamber led by Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez said they would question the introduction of the substitute bill at this stage in the parliamentary process.
And should they be defeated in the attempt, Rodriguez said “we are going to propose amendments line by line, section by section, until nothing is left of the bill.”
Change in momentum
Gonzales said the anti-RH camp “must now muster the necessary numbers if they want certain amendments.”
“The parliamentary momentum has changed. We are now at an advantage,” he said.
After much delay and lack of a quorum, the House last Monday accepted the substitute RH bill that addresses the concerns over birth control methods and abortifacients in the original bill.
The substitute bill seeks to prioritize the poor in the provision of birth control methods, and ban contraceptives that prevent the implantation of a fertilized ovum, which constitutes abortion to opponents of the RH bill.
Needs unanimous approval
Rodriguez protested the acceptance of the substitute bill by the plenary, pointing out that it should have been referred back to the committee level for proper action.
A substitute bill can be accepted in plenary only via “unanimous approval by the entire body,” he said.
He said this was not the case last Monday when anti-RH congressmen, like Palawan Rep. Victorino Socrates, complained about the acceptance of the substitute measure to House Bill 4244, the original RH bill.
“This gives us a strong basis to go to court because of the clear abuse of discretion. But we are not doing that yet,” Rodriguez said. “We are going to move to vote on each amendment so there should be a quorum.”
Gonzales said he and pro-RH congressmen introduced the substitute measure for an “orderly period of amendments.” He said the goal was to reach the period of individual amendments and subject the bill to a vote.
“It was a matter of timing, the feel of the floor,” he said of the surprise admission of the substitute bill.
Gonzales acknowledged the possibility that some House members might try to introduce amendments that were actual provisions in the old HB 4244.
The previous measure contains provisions that RH bill advocates would prefer rather than the supposedly “watered-down” substitute.
He said he would not allow this. “It’s like we are just fooling each other. We are not going to let things come to that.”
Palace: Vote another matter
Malacañang on Tuesday welcomed the news that the House of Representatives has begun tackling the substitute RH bill, but said that putting it to a vote was another matter.
“When they will vote on it is a different story altogether. When they vote on it, we won’t know the outcome because that is based on their conscience and conviction. Hopefully, all supporters will attend,” said Manuel Mamba, head of the Presidential Legislative Liaison Office.
Mamba earlier said that pro-RH lawmakers had been skipping plenary deliberations on the RH bill because they were concerned about angering their parish priests in the runup to the 2013 elections.
He doubted Mr. Aquino would compel lawmakers to vote for the measure at the risk of losing in the midterm elections.
“That’s not his style. As things stand, the lawmakers are attending to their own problems in relation to the elections,” he said.
Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. earlier said he would meet with the President for a final push for the legislation, indicating that presidential certification of the RH bill as urgent would help “propel its approval.”
Mamba said the President would be “open” to such a meeting, but doubted Mr. Aquino would give a fresh order other than what he issued in an Aug. 6 caucus with the lawmakers.
“The most he can say is vote on it,” he said.