Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile has acknowledged that the chamber will soon pass its version of the reproductive health (RH) bill.
“My reading is that the pro-RH has the numbers,” Enrile, a staunch opponent of the measure, said in an interview over dzBB. “It looks like [it’s going to be approved]. It might be very close.”
The House of Representatives is expected to approve its version of the RH bill on third and final reading Monday. It approved the measure on second reading on Thursday by a vote of 113-104-3.
The Senate and the House will have to reconcile their versions before the measure becomes a law.
Enrile said the bill, once it became law, could be questioned for violation of a constitutional provision on protection of life.
He warned that the country might not have a sufficient number of workers, and worse, people to defend the country against its more aggressive Asian neighbors.
But Enrile said he could question its constitutionality in the Supreme Court only after he left the Senate. “I will have to respect the position as part of the institution that approved it but I can raise an issue against it,” he said.
Proof that the pro-RH senators had the numbers was the vote on the individual amendments, Enrile said.
Vote of conscience
He said nobody would stop the vote, saying it was going to be a “vote of conscience.”
Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III, another fierce critic of the bill, said it was about time the measure was approved and enacted so the people would realize the “folly of passing it.”
“By all means, let’s put it to a vote once and for all so that we will prove that we’re just frittering money away on this bill, and the people would not benefit from it,” Sotto said by phone.
The measure would allow the distribution of contraceptives and make other family planning methods available for free, giving priority to the poor. It would ban contraceptives that prevent the implantation of a fertilized ovum, as some consider this abortion.
It would provide for age-appropriate mandatory reproductive health and sexuality education in public schools.
Malacañang expressed confidence that the RH bill would be passed by Congress this week.
Last week’s approval of the RH bill on second reading in the House could prove to be the “turning point” for the approval of the key legislation in both chambers of Congress, Budget Secretary Florencio Abad said.
After the vote, Abad, a senior political adviser to the President, said it became clear that there was a majority of supporters for the bill in both the House and the Senate.
He observed that even the senators had to wait out for the House vote before resuming debates on the RH bill.
In the Senate, “there is clearly a majority support for the RH bill as indicated by the voting on the amendments because the senators held off further debates until the House took action on the bill,” Abad said in a text message.
And then on Thursday night, the President certified the RH bill as urgent to hasten its passage by Congress before it adjourns this week for the holiday season, he added.
“The President has repeatedly emphasized that responsible parenthood is a critical and urgent public health intervention designed primarily to address the plight of the poor. This position resonates with and has gained traction among legislators,” Abad said.
The budget secretary said Congress needed to approve the bill, otherwise it might be too late. “We have to pass the measure this week if the bill is to become a law at all,” he said.
While the lawmakers are “men and women of faith,” they are also “elected public servants with constituents, especially the poor to take care of,” Abad said. “In the RH bill, both concerns can be addressed.”
Shorter this time
The suspense over the House final verdict on the RH bill is expected to be shorter this time around.
Unlike the five-hour voting on second reading, the bill’s third reading today would be faster because under House rules, all lawmakers would have to signify first their vote before any of them would be allowed to explain their stand, according to Majority 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 bill’s second reading last week, many representatives opted to hold speeches—some brief and to the point, others meandering—explaining their stance before casting their vote.