MANILA, Philippines—What clinched the vote for the reproductive health bill at the House of Representatives?
Four key emissaries of President Aquino were conspicuously present at the South Lounge of the Batasan building and stayed on until every vote was cast—and counted—in favor of passing House Bill No. 4244 on second reading, the Inquirer has learned.
Led by Interior Secretary Mar Roxas, the group included Budget Secretary Florencio “Butch” Abad, Presidential Spokesman Edwin Lacierda and Secretary Ricky Carandang, according to a number of House members who spoke with the Inquirer.
“They were lobbying for a yes vote,” Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez protested in an interview moments after the result was announced at around 2 a.m. on Thursday.
“The administration’s people were here and so it really tilted the balance (in favor of the RH bill)—Abad, Mar Roxas, Lacierda and Ricky Carandang. What happened to the independence of the legislators? The Executive should not meddle with the legislature.”
Speaking on condition of anonymity, another administration congressman said Roxas particularly “looked a little concerned” when anti-RH votes were making a late surge toward the end of the five-hour nominal voting.
“Towards the end of the vote when it was close, I personally heard Mar say, ‘Sino pa bang pwedeng pauwiin dyan?’” the senior House member told the Inquirer. “Mar looked a little concerned, moving from his table to the table occupied by his staff where they had a tally.”
The RH bill moved past the second reading, with 113 House members voting in favor of passing the measure and another 104 voting against it.
Three congressmen abstained while 62 were absent during marathon proceedings watched closely by a massive contingent of pro-life groups and RH bill supporters occupying opposite galleries in the plenary hall.
Catholic bishops remained in their seats in the gallery until Deputy Speaker Erin Tañada read the final voting result.
But it was the presence of Roxas and company that made the difference, according to Rodriguez.
“This just showed that the administration was not really asking for a ‘conscience vote’ because they were directing those who could be influenced to vote for the bill,” he said. “This is a Pyrrhic victory.”
Cebu Rep. Pablo John Garcia, who voted against the bill, tweeted shortly after midnight Thursday: “So many Cabinet members at Congress’ South Lounge tonight I thought it was budget deliberations.”
Antipolo Bishop Gabriel Reyes, who watched the entire proceedings, lamented the supposed pressure coming from Malacañang.
“In this fight against this bill, the dice is loaded against those who are against the bill because Malacañang is pressuring them,” he told the Philippine Daily Inquirer.
“I think this is a sad day for the country. I hope those who voted in favor of the bill will live to see the day when they will see the harm that this bill will cause to the country.”
Reyes added: “The truth is not always with the majority. The truth is not determined by pork barrel, by promises of public works and other government projects. It’s not determined by political convenience.”
Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales II said he was not sure how he and other pro-RH bill congressmen were able to muster enough votes.
“I cannot really answer what clinched it for them,” he told reporters. “For us in the Liberal (Party), I cannot say if it was because of the meeting called yesterday because there were also many members who voted against the bill.”
But it was the vote that Parañaque Rep. Roilo Golez never cast that drew suspicion among pro-life groups.
A senior LP leader and known opponent of the RH bill, Golez was present on the floor and even introduced amendments before HB 4244 was put to a voice vote at 8:15 p.m. But he was registered as “absent” during voting.
“He was a disappointment last night after evading a principled stand against the RH bill. He became a standard bearer of political expediency and political cowardice. Shame on them,” said John Carlo de los Reyes, president of Ang Kapatiran, a lay Catholic political party.
Golez claimed he opted to “walk out” because of the “party order to vote for RH.”
“I defied the party order by walking out. I would rather die than to vote for RH,” he told the Inquirer.