House members on either side of the reproductive health (RH) debate have agreed that “pork barrel” would not be a factor when the measure comes up for a vote on second reading next Wednesday.
But both sides anticipate intense lobbying during the crucial period before the vote, which could alter the outcome.
Iloilo Rep. Janette Garin, a co-author of House Bill No. 4244, said she was wary of Catholic bishops approaching individual congressmen to convince them to vote against the measure.
“Admittedly, the CBCP (Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines) is a very powerful institution and the elections are just five months away,” she said in a phone interview.
Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, an anti-RH proponent, said there was nothing wrong with bishops campaigning against the bill, noting that the pro-RH side had no less than President Aquino backing it.
“Remember that the President himself expressed his preference that if he were still a member of Congress, he would vote for the bill,” he said, citing also the number of local and foreign organizations lobbying for the measure.
Pork no threat
Garin and Rodriguez rejected the possibility that the vote would be affected by the release of the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF). Commonly known as “pork barrel,” the PDAF is said to have been dangled before lawmakers in the past whenever crucial decisions are to be made in Congress.
“There has never been a threat (from the Palace) not to release the PDAF if we do not vote for the RH bill,” Garin said.
“I don’t think something like that would happen in the case of the RH bill,” said Rodriguez.
“Pork barrel has never been an issue. The bottom line is the Palace has priority measures, which it thinks can help the people,” said Garin.
Despite the fears about lobbying, Rodriguez is confident that “everything would all boil down to the conscience and conviction of individual congressmen.”
“There are congressmen who cannot be influenced by bishops or the President,” he said.
Rodriguez said pro- and anti-RH bill congressmen earlier agreed to put the measure to a vote on second reading on Dec. 12. He said the date was of particular significance to the anti-RH bloc because it is the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the patroness of the unborn.
He said as many as 136 House members would vote against HB 4244. But Garin was more guarded in her prediction, saying the RH bill had a “50-50” chance of getting passed.
“You’ll be surprised by the vote. We’ve been doing some tracking since a year ago. This is our forecast,” said Rodriguez.
Garin said pro-RH lawmakers were ready to accept a decision to reject the measure.
“We will accept the result, the decision of the majority of the members of the House,” she said.
“But if the RH bill is not passed, it would be time for us to accept that our country, our culture, our legislators are not yet ripe for a reproductive health bill,” she said.
26 off to watch Pacquiao
Speaker Feliciano Belmonte on Friday downplayed fears that the number of House members leaving for the United States to watch Rep. Manny Pacquiao’s fight would affect the House’s work, expecially now that the RH bill is headed for a crucial vote on second reading.
“(It will) affect attendance, yes, but I expect a quorum,” as he expected most of the congressmen to be back by Tuesday, said Belmonte.
“I have to try to find out who actually are going because they may just cancel each other out,” Belmonte told reporters following the suspension of the period of individual amendments on the RH bill late Wednesday night.
Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales II said at least 26 House members are expected to fly to Las Vegas for Pacquiao’s fourth encounter with his Mexican nemesis, Juan Manuel Marquez.
“Maybe some of them already flew out of the country,” Gonzales told reporters Friday.
Gonzales stressed the importance of next week’s deliberations, especially with the chamber expected to vote on the RH bill on second reading on Dec. 12.
“By next week, there will be bigger pressure on the members of the House, especially those causing the delay,” he said, obviously referring to congressmen trying to inject changes into the RH bill during the period of amendments.
“They would have their respective commitments by next week so they will receive a lot of pressure to finish this stage. It’s Christmas time. We need to vote on this already,” he said.
During Pacquiao’s third bout with Marquez in November 2011, a total of 26 House members were given authorization by the House leadership to fly to the US. But it could not be ascertained how many actually went to watch the fight at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.