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Much faster passage of RH bill seen; both sides claim victory

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08:00 PM December 16th, 2012

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By: Leila B. Salaverria, December 16th, 2012 08:00 PM

Majority Leader Neptali “Boyet” Gonzales Jr. INQUIRER FILE PHOTO

MANILA, Philippines — The suspense over the House of Representatives’ third and final reading on the controversial reproductive health bill is expected to be shorter this time around.

Unlike the five-hour second reading vote, the third reading process today will be much faster because under House rules, all lawmakers would first have to signify their vote before any of them would be allowed to explain the positions they have taken, according to Majority Floor Leader Neptali Gonzales II.

This means that the verdict would already be known by the time the representatives, if any, begin justifying their stance, Gonzales said.

During the second reading nominal vote last week, many representatives opted to hold speeches– some brief and to the point, others meandering– explaining their stance before casting their vote. The bill’s passage, on 113 yes votes, 104 no votes and three abstentions, was only known after more than five hours.

The reproductive health bill seeks to distribute contraceptives and make other family planning methods available for free, giving priority to the poor. It bans contraceptives that prevent the implantation of a fertilized ovum, as some consider this abortion.

It also provides for age-appropriate mandatory reproductive health and sexuality education in public schools, among other provisions.

Proponents of the measure, including main sponsor Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, are confident that they will retain their second-reading vote victory, citing the voting history on their side, and the fact that all second reading votes have been sustained up to the end.

The President’s clear support for the bill, by certifying it as urgent, will also work in its favor, added Gonzales.

But opponents said the earlier victory was too close at 113-104, and Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez said “divine providence,” as well as the attendance and voting of some 62 previously absent lawmakers, would ensure that the bill would be rejected in the end.

Lagman, in a statement, predicted the ultimate victory of the bill in the House, citing the ayes and nays and nominal voting results rejecting various motions and amendments of the bill’s critics.

Lagman also decried the statements of the bill’s critics who have refused to embrace the earlier voting results.

“The continuing resistance of a few Catholic bishops and their lay allies is inordinate intransigence even after a clear majority in the House of Representatives has spoken in accord with the overriding resolve of the Filipino people in favor of the RH bill,” Lagman added.

Gonzales said the President’s certification of the bill as urgent, thereby underscoring his desire for the measure, could sway more lawmakers into approving it on third reading. The President has made it very clear that he wanted the bill passed, and members of his Liberal Party were expected to support him in this endeavor, he added.

He believes the second reading victory would be sustained. House leaders have kept up their task of calling and sending text messages to colleagues to get them to attend the Monday session and join the voting.

Rodriguez said opponents of the measure have also stepped up their drive to get more lawmakers to attend the session, and he urged those who were absent or who have abstained to take a definite stand on the bill, and preferably vote against it.

He said many absent lawmakers were known opponents of the bill and have committed to vote against it in the final reading, and they were more numerous than the absent supporters. The President’s certification would have no effect on opponents of the bill, he believed.

He also said the third reading vote could very well be a “historic” moment since it could be the first time a second reading passage of a measure would be overturned.

Other bills passed on second reading usually had an overwhelming majority, but this was clearly not the case for the reproductive health bill. The margin of victory was too narrow, he added.

The opponents’ faith has also been unshaken, he added.

“Have they not heard of divine guidance? There is divine providence and the power of prayer,” he said over the phone, when asked about comments that all second reading votes have usually been sustained in the third reading.

He said Catholic bishops would turn up in the gallery again to watch the third reading vote and to pray for the victory of bill’s opponents.

As to whether administration officials would troop to the House to watch the voting again, Gonzales could not say.

The presence of officials, led by Interior Secretary Mar Roxas, during the second reading vote drew flak from critics of the bill, who said they pressured lawmakers into approving the measure despite the President’s earlier statement that it would be a conscience vote.

Gonzales earlier said the Liberal Party officials were there to watch the crucial vote since they have openly declared their support for the bill, and added this was no different from the presence of Catholic Church officials on the floor to sway lawmakers into rejecting the measure. Some of the prelates have also vowed to warn voters against those who are for the bill.

He denied that lawmakers were threatened with the loss of their pork barrel should they vote no to the bill.

Lagman defended the administration lobby, saying “legislation is the joint responsibility of the legislative and executive departments.”

The President sometimes endorses legislators’ bills as priority measures to the Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council, and he has the power to certify the immediate enactment of certain measures. The President is also necessary into turning a bill into a law by either signing it or allowing it to lapse.

Rodriguez also said he knew of no threat from the administration to withhold the pork barrel from lawmakers opposing the RH bill.

But he hopes the administration would allow the House to be independent when it comes to the reproductive health bill.

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