MANILA, Philippines — Fresh from their meeting with President Benigno Aquino III, legislators on Monday resumed deliberations on the Reproductive Health Bill but not without a hitch.
There were initially 210 members of the House of Representatives at the plenary after roll call at 5 p.m. but the RH Bill was only brought up at past 6 p.m.
But what should have been a resumption of the discussions on the RH Bill, majority of the session focused on whether or not they will allow Palawan Representative Dennis Socrates to have 10 minutes to speak against the acceptance of the measure’s substitute version.
Before this, a verbal clash erupted between Nueva Ecija Representatives Josefina Joson (first district) and Czarina Umali (third district) on the former’s clan’s supposed abuses in their province. Joson stood up to make a manifestation, defending herself after her name was linked by Umali to a media killing in Nueva Ecija.
Then Cagayan de Oro Representative Rufus Rodriguez gave a lengthy privilege speech questioning China’s move to board and expel ships from the West Philippine Sea.
But such speeches are part of the rules for Mondays when the “privilege hour” takes place.
Batangas Representative Hermilando Mandanas tried to extend the privilege hour but Deputy Speaker Lorenzo Tanada III, the presiding officer, said that a unanimous vote was needed. The privilege hour was eventually suspended, making way for the approval of bills and resolutions.
By the time Iloilo Representative Janette Garin tried to resume discussions on the RH Bill, Socrates raised the issue of his pending motion back in November 26 when the substitute bill was accepted.
He was eventually given five minutes, after much debates with House majority leader Neptali Gonzales II, for his personal and collective privilege in which he denied delaying discussions on the RH Bill. “We want to prevent that national calamity from happening!”
When he was told by Deputy Speaker Lorenzo Tanada III that his time was up, Socrates tried for an extension to speak against the acceptance of the substitute version of the RH Bill last November 26.
Another roll call resulted in an attendance of 187 warm bodies on the floor. Gonzales said that 38 votes were needed to push through with nominal voting to allow Socrates to rise on a question of personal and collective privilege for 10 minutes. Thirty-nine voted to allow nominal voting for the Palawan lawmaker his 10 minutes.
Socrates lost his appeal after the nominal voting conducted resulted in 91 affirmative, 99 negative and 1 abstention votes.
However, Cebu Representative Pablo Garcia questioned the acceptance of the substitute bill saying it could only be done through a unanimous vote.
Gonzales, who made the amendment by substitution, said that the process was “allowed and has happened in the past”, further citing rules which applied to how the substitute version was accepted.
Aquino has earlier called on lawmakers to put the RH Bill to a vote within the week to end the divisiveness that the measure has caused.
Pro-RH lawmakers want HB 4244 passed before they go on Christmas break by December 22.