MANILA, Philippines—After fourteen years of being stuck in Congress, legislators finally put to a historic vote and passed the Reproductive Health Bill before dawn Thursday.
With 113 votes on affirmative, 104 negative and three abstention, the RH Bill was approved on second reading, the most critical voting period for a legislation.
The lawmakers went on a lengthy nominal voting, in which each lawmaker had three minutes each to explain his or her vote, after doubts were expressed about the voice vote earlier done on the bill. The tally of the votes was announced at about 2 a.m. Thursday.
The reproductive health bill gives the national government the mandate to make reproductive health services accessible to poor families through information and education and the provision of free contraceptives.
Unlike his earlier statement that the closing of the amendment period would be initiated by the opposition, House majority leader Neptali Gonzales II moved to terminate the period of amendments quarter to 8 p.m. Wednesday.
This was despite the overwhelming number of Catholic leaders present during session, led by Archbishop Ramon Agruelles, Bishops Teodoro Bacani Jr., Broderick Pabillo, Jesse Mercado, Honesto Ongtioco, Gabby Reyes and Monsignor Clemente Ignacio.
Even Nueva Ecija Representative Rodolfo Antonino’s attempts to delay the proceedings by proposing amendments which have already been suggested by other legislators and turned down by Lagman in the end proved to be ineffective.
The RH Bill also lost co-authors Deputy Speaker Jesus Crispin Remulla and Iloilo Representative Augusto Boboy Syjuco in the process.
Albay Representative Edcel Lagman, the sponsor of the bill, said that the bill was more about “human rights, maternal and infant health and sustainable development.”
“The choice belongs to couples and women who shall freely and responsibly determine the number of their children” he told fellow lawmakers, maintaining that the bill “addresses the population issue” but was not on “population control.”
“Let us have children by choice, not by chance,” he said.
Gonzales, in explaining his affirmative vote said: “Wala namang mali sa magiging resulta ng pananaw natin dito, magkakaiba lang tayo. Magkakaiba lang ang ating pamamaraan.”
“Nais kong mapaghandaan ng mga tao ang kanilang kinabukasan,” he said.
“(The RH Bill) is not about religion nor population control. This is pure and simple legislation,” said Iloilo Representative Janette Garin, a proponent of the bill. She said that the measure “responds to the call of our people.”
Her sister-in-law, Aambis-OWA Partylist Representative Sharon Garin, said it was wrong to call supporters of the RH Bill immoral. “I do not believe that we will become promiscuous or immoral because of the RH Bill. Every woman needs access to basic health services, information on reproductive health.”
Pangasinan Representative Kimi Cojuangco, who has strongly supported the bill, said that she voted for its passage “for all the women in the Philippines who cannot afford quality health care.”
Even Muslims backed the RH Bill, according to Muntinlupa City Representative Rodolfo Biazon, who said that a fatwa was even issued in support for the measure. He said that many are demanding for the passage of the bill.
Proving this, Sulu Representative Tupay Loong voted for the RH Bill, saying that the population should be at a level that is sustainable by the country.
Akbayan Representative Kaka Bag-ao, another co-author of the bill, explained her yes vote, pointing out how the measure “affirms life, upholds choice.”
“Enactment of this bill will not make anyone less Catholic or religious,” she said.
Gabriela Partylist Representatives Emmi de Jesus and Luz Ilagan voted for the passage of the bill but said that she did so “with reservation.” They are co-authors of the RH Bill but said that they were wary of provisions which they felt promoted population control.
Gonzales said that their staff has been working to prepare the amended version of the bill for easier transmission to their members.
The RH Bill has not been certified as urgent by President Benigno Aquino III and will take three days before it is put to a vote for third and final reading.
The earliest that the measure can be put to vote for third reading is on Monday, said Gonzales.
A version of the bill is also set to be voted on second reading at the Senate. With reports from PDI