It ain’t over yet.
Refusing to admit defeat, Catholic bishops on Thursday vowed to continue fighting the reproductive health (RH) bill after the House of Representatives voted 113-104 to approve the controversial measure.
Malolos Bishop Jose Oliveros and retired Lingayen Dagupan Archbishop Oscar Cruz likened the Church’s setback in the House to the defeat on Sunday of Sarangani Rep. Manny Pacquiao in the hands of Mexican boxer Juan Manuel Marquez.
But the bishops insisted that the House vote was not a “knockout” for the Church.
Some bishops were hopeful that the bill would be junked before it reached the third and final reading. “As Pacquiao would say, ‘the fight isn’t over,” Oliveros said.
Retired Novaliches Bishop Teodoro Bacani said there were still “two more rounds to go”—the bicameral conference committee and the vote on its report.
“We will see who gets the knockout punch. This has awakened a new consciousness in our people,” Bacani said.
The proposed legislation would come into force after the House and the Senate agree on a common version that would be signed into law by the President.
Cruz said there was a knockdown but not a knockout. “My admiration goes to those representatives who voted against the RH bill notwithstanding the political pressures and financial gain. That means a good number of our lawmakers still have a good conscience and conviction,” he added.
House Bill No. 4244 seeks to provide couples with information on reproductive health and access to contraceptives, and mandates sex education in school.
Cruz accused the Aquino administration of sowing disunity among the people by proposing the RH bill. The Church, he said, would continue to preach. “Whether the people will listen or not, that’s something else but the Church will not be acting like the infamous three monkeys who can see nothing, hear nothing and say nothing.”
The narrow victory that opponents said was shaky and could very well change in the third and final reading did not dampen the spirits of the bill’s supporters, who expressed optimism that their numbers would hold, if not increase, until the end.
In a nominal vote that lasted over five hours and ended in the little hours of Thursday, with 113 lawmakers in favor of the bill and 104 against it, 3 abstained and 62 were absent.
The nominal vote confirmed the results of the earlier “ayes” and “nays” voting in favor of the bill’s passage.
Reason over fanaticism
“Today, reason triumphed over fanaticism; logic over dogma; and hope over fear,” said the bill’s main sponsor, Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman.
Lagman said he would expect a wider margin next time because many of the lawmakers absent during the vote were supporters of the measure. The third reading vote would be three days after the distribution of the printed copies of the bill to lawmakers.
But the opponents saw things differently, and vowed that the third reading would be another battle. Many lawmakers were not around during the second reading vote but could show up in the final phase, they said.
The third reading voting is usually uneventful, with debates already exhausted before the second reading vote, but it may not be the case now for the reproductive health bill.
No cause for celebration
“Definitely there’s no cause for celebration [for the proponents]; the fight was too close. Things can go our way the next time around,” Zambales Rep. Milagros Magsaysay said, referring to the third reading vote.
Magsaysay said the opponents were able to show in the second reading that the measure did not have the overwhelming support of the people.
“This will send a strong signal to Malacañang and to the people that this measure was not a majority decision of the people,” she said.
Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez scoffed at the results, saying the bill managed to win only by a slim margin despite administration stalwarts being present in the House throughout the proceedings.
Rodriguez said the opponents would marshal all their forces and fight the bill’s passage during the third reading vote.
“So, we have the momentum at this time because imagine, there was only a nine-vote margin and all the only arsenal of government was here,” he said.
He was referring to the presence of Liberal Party stalwarts, Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas and Budget Secretary Florencio Abad, who stayed in the lounge during the vote. Other administration officials such as Commission on Human Rights Chairperson Loretta Rosales and Presidential Adviser for Environmental Concerns Nereus Acosta were seen on the floor.
Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales II and Lagman both said they expected a slim margin between the “yes” and the “no” votes on the bill.
Gonzales said the third reading vote would be important as it would show whether the bill’s victory in the second reading would be sustained. But he believed it would be difficult for lawmakers to change their position after the second reading.
Hard to change
“Now that the votes are recorded, it would be hard to change these,” he said.
He said the presence in the third reading vote of those who voted on second reading would be crucial. It was also important to know if those who didn’t show up on Wednesday would appear during the final vote.
Proponents of the measure knew the fight would be a close one based on the “thorough political mapping” they conducted. They did not want to reveal the numbers beforehand so as not to dishearten fellow supporters of the bill, Lagman said.
If there was one surprise for him, said Lagman, it was the withdrawal of Cavite Rep. Jesus Crispin Remulla as coauthor of the bill and his abstention.
Remulla said he would just submit a written explanation of his position later.
Lagman surmised that Remulla withdrew his support for the measure because he did not get an amendment he had wanted pertaining to the automatic review and a sunset provision that Lagman said would have killed the bill prematurely.
Before the vote, Iloilo Rep. Augusto Syjuco also withdrew as coauthor of the bill and later voted against its approval.
Cebu, Bicol ‘no’ votes
Lawmakers from Cebu and the Bicol region were also among those staunchly against the bill.
Cebu Representatives Eduardo Gullas, Pablo Garcia, Pablo John Garcia and Benhur Salimbangon, along with Cebu City Rep. Rachel del Mar, all thumbed down the bill. Fellow Cebu lawmakers Ramon Durano, Gabriel Quisumbing and Tomas Osmeña were absent.
Also voting against the measure were lawmakers from the Bicol region—Al Francis Bichara of Albay, Arnulfo Fuentebella and Salvio Fortuno of Camarines Sur, Renato Unico and Elmer Panotes of Camarines Norte, Cesar Sarmiento of Catanduanes, Scott Lanete of Masbate and Deogracias Ramos of Sorsogon.
A good number of those who voted to kill the measure said it went against the teachings of the Catholic Church, including the value of life and human dignity.
Families split on vote
Among those who voted for the RH bill were Cagayan Rep. Jack Enrile, whose father, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, is a known opponent of the bill.
But blood or family ties do not necessarily translate into similar positions on the matter.
Lanao del Norte Rep. Imelda Dimaporo voted for the measure, but her daughter, Lanao del Norte Rep. Fatima Aliah Dimaporo thumbed it down.
Malabon Rep. Josephine Lacson Noel is an ardent supporter of the bill, while her husband, An Waray Rep. Florencio Noel, voted against it.
The nominal vote confirmed the earlier ruling of presiding officer Deputy Speaker Lorenzo Tañada III that during the voice vote, the “ayes” for the bill’s passage overpowered the “nays.”
Very close fight
But it was a very close fight until the end, with a last-minute rally of successive “no” votes narrowing the gap and putting many spectators in the gallery on the edge of their seats.
The announcement of the final vote was initially met with muted responses, since Tañada reminded the gallery not to show any emotion when he announces the results.
But after Tañada banged the gavel and adjourned the session, purple-clad supporters of the bill in the gallery erupted in cheers and applause, while its red-clad opponents in the audience quietly left the hall.
Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle said the House decision was tragic and unfortunate.
“But we do not take it as a defeat of truth—for truth shall prevail, especially the truth about human life, marriage and the family,” Tagle said.
In a statement he issued before he left for Vietnam, Tagle called for “healing” after the heated debates over the proposed law while adding that the vote would spur the Church to work harder to defend the “sanctity of life.”
Parañaque Bishop Jesse Mercado said the Church may have lost the vote but the faithful should be more vigilant and responsive to the ways of the Holy Spirit.
Balanga Bishop Ruperto Santos said he would continue to inform the people about the dangers of the RH bill and to “pray harder for their enlightenment and be touched by God.”
Surigao Bishop Antonieto Cabajog said the vote was a “good wake-up call for the Church to really preach the Gospel in season and out of season.”
Maternal, infant health
Lagman said the passage on second reading of the bill was a “signal victory for Filipino women and children who will reap the benefits of improved maternal and infant health which the bill seeks to guarantee.”
He praised his colleagues who he said did not give in to intimidation from Catholic bishops in the session hall.
“They have indeed proven that the voice of the people is the voice of God,” he said.
“These legislators are truly the guardians of the peoples’ rights, health and sustainable development, and not centurions of the dominant church,” he later added.
He said supporters of the measure were victorious because of their “unshakable faith” in their cause to ensure that every child born was wanted, and that women should not die from mistimed, unplanned pregnancies.
Originally posted at 05:47 pm | Thursday, December 13, 2012