The reproductive health (RH) bill continued to move at an agonizing pace in the House of Representatives, but Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales II on Wednesday said it was “only a matter of time” before the period of amendments was terminated and the measure finally put to a vote.
Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez said he and other lawmakers opposed to House Bill No. 4244 were gearing up for the vote on second reading, but asked that individual amendments be completed first.
Rodriguez was confident that the RH bill would eventually be defeated via a 136-95 vote.
“We are going to marshal our forces this week,” he told the Inquirer, acknowledging that results of recent nominal voting on individual amendments indicated a “slight lead” in favor of pro-RH House members.
Rodriguez said many anti-RH lawmakers failed to show up during the period of amendments because they had to attend to their constituents affected by Typhoon “Pablo.”
Rodriguez himself flew to Cagayan de Oro at 4:30 a.m. Wednesday, less than six hours after RH deliberations were suspended. He was to fly back to Manila in the afternoon to attend the session.
7 sessions left
But with only seven sessions left before Congress goes on a Christmas break, Gonzales said he was expecting a number of House members to move for the termination of the period of amendments.
“It’s only a matter of time before the period of amendments is terminated because many of us, including anti-RH congressmen, also want to vote on the bill,” he said. “At the end of the day, I think the pro-RH (congressmen) will win, but not by a comfortable margin.”
Gonzales said putting the measure to a vote would depend on the “feel of the floor.”
Rodriguez sought to correct the impression that he and several of his anti-RH colleagues were merely trying to delay the proceedings by introducing individual amendments.
Stuck on Page 2
“It’s very important for the public to understand that this is such an important bill that would affect our future generations. So let us be patient,” he said.
The chamber remained stuck on Page 2—the declaration of policy—of the 27-page substitute bill to HB 4244, as Rodriguez’s group pushed for amendments seeking the protection of the life of the unborn and respect for the freedom of religion.
Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, sponsor of HB 4244, earlier agreed to key amendments to the government guarantee on “public access to relevant information and education.”
These now include “moral” reproductive healthcare services “that do not violate the freedom of religion.” Also covered are supplies which do not prevent the implantation of a fertilized ovum “in the uterus.”
Lagman also agreed to include the constitutional guarantee that the state would “equally protect the life of the mother and the unborn from conception.”
But Lagman objected to Rodriguez’s proposal to include “where human life begins” after the term “conception” in the declaration of policy. The chamber spent more than an hour deciding on the amendment.
In the end, the proposal lost in the nominal voting that ended shortly after 10 p.m. A total of 81 lawmakers voted against the Rodriguez proposal, while 57 voted in favor of it. One lawmaker abstained.
The session was promptly suspended, but Zambales Rep. Milagros Magsaysay protested, saying the result showed that only 139 House members cast their votes, a number below the required quorum.
Earlier in the evening, Deputy Speaker Pablo Garcia sought to include a guarantee that “the state shall refrain from taking any action or measure that will tend to make any woman or couple to violate the tenets or teaching of their religion.”
“Suppose the state will find that the diet of the Muslims is deficient in protein. Will the state promote the free distribution of pork in the markets of Muslim Mindanao and include that in a law?” he argued.
“And that is precisely is what the state is doing through this bill, promoting the sales of contraceptives, condoms, which are in direct violation of the fundamental tenet of the Catholic Church.”
Lagman rejected the amendment, and so did the chamber via nominal voting, 100-74.