The House of Representatives may vote soon, possibly this week, on the fate of the reproductive health (RH) bill following a personal appeal from President Aquino for lawmakers to once and for all take a stand on the measure.
Mr. Aquino, who gathered close to 200 lawmakers at a Palace luncheon Monday, made no secret that he wanted the measure to pass by saying he would vote for it if he could.
But he stopped short of telling them how to vote, according to those at the meeting. He also told the lawmakers in not so many words that inaction on the bill was unacceptable.
Lawmakers for or against the bill said they were amenable to put the bill to a vote soon, and several supporters were even hoping that a vote would take place on Monday night, to sustain the momentum from the meeting with Mr. Aquino.
Still, there were some who said a vote should not be taken yet until the opponents had completed proposing individual amendments.
Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez wrote the rules committee on Monday to signify his intention to be recognized to propose individual amendments to the substitute reproductive health bill when it is called on the floor.
Monday’s meeting was the second time that the President made a personal pitch for the reproductive health bill.
On Aug. 6, he appealed to House members to end the long-winded debates, and they voted to terminate the period of interpellations on the same day. But the bill has since stalled in the period of amendments.
Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, a main proponent of the measure, said that with the President’s call on Monday, the prognosis of the bill was “very bright.”
“It’s not only looking better, it’s very bright,” Lagman told reporters.
He said he was confident of the passage of the RH bill before Congress went on a Christmas break.
Lagman appeared unperturbed by the parliamentary tactics that opponents had up their sleeves to delay tackling the bill, as well as the numerous proposed amendments they planned to introduce.
He said Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales had a counter maneuver of his own for every delaying move. As for the amendments, these would be voted on, he added.
Ifugao Rep. Teddy Baguilat said the House vote on the passage of the bill on second reading should be held this week because it was only after that the Senate would move on the bill.
Baguilat, a supporter of the measure, said the President’s call for a vote was very clear.
“And he said we can’t delay it, we can’t be undecided, we can’t vote no because we’re scared of this or that,” he said.
Northern Samar Rep. Raul Daza, who is against the RH bill, said a vote may be expected this week.
Another opponent, An Waray Rep. Florencio Noel, said he supported the President’s call for a vote on the measure soon “to get it over with.” Delaying the bill won’t help, he said.
“I’ve long wanted voting to take place. I’m confident that many will vote on my side,” he said.
He said he did not feel pressured to change his position on the issue while listening to the President make his pitch for the bill on Monday.
‘Loud and clear’
Lagman said that even though the President did not tell lawmakers to vote for the bill, Mr. Aquino’s endorsement was “loud and clear.” He even warned of the consequences of inaction.
“[Mr.] Aquino also advised the members of the House that nonaction would perpetuate the misery of young mothers, like the 16-year-old Baseco lass whom he met and who has already two children even as her husband has no permanent job,” Lagman said.
The President also believes the substitute bill, which is now the new version of the measure, was “sufficient to address the objections and reservations of critics, thus obviating the need to prolong the period of amendments,” Lagman said.
He also said that as per the President, lawmakers must vote on the bill in order to put an end to a divisive issue, legislate solutions, give children the chance to live dignified lives and serve their constituents.
The President also warned against “killer amendments,” which he said would be unacceptable, according to Akbayan Rep. Walden Bello.
For the President, only “constructive amendments” were welcome, Bello added.
As for opponents of the bill, Mr. Aquino said they should propose a better alternative to the measure rather than just be against it, according to Bello.
The House recently adopted the substitute bill, which contains new provisions that supposedly address the concerns of its opponents.
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.