Senate, House approve RH bill on final readingBy Maila Ager and Matikas Santos
Supporters of the Reproductive Health Bill cheer its passage at the House of Representatives through a vote of 133-79 Monday evening. VIDEO/ MATIKAS SANTOS
MANILA, Philippines – Both chambers of Congress passed on third and final reading Monday night the Reproductive Health Bill that would provide government funding for contraceptives and sexuality classes in schools.
The landmark measure was approved despite strong opposition by the Catholic Church, which said the measure would destroy family life.
Voting 13-8 with no abstention, the Senate passed the RH bill on third and final reading.
At the House of Representatives, lawmakers voted 133 to 79 with seven abstention to approve its version of the measure. There were 199 legislators present during the voting.
The 13 senators who voted in favor of the bill were: Edgardo Angara, Joker Arroyo, Alan Peter Cayetano, Pia Cayetano, Miriam Defensor-Santiago, Franklin Drilon, Francis “Chiz” Escudero, Teofisto Guingona III, Panfilo “Ping” Lacson, Loren Legarda, Ferdinand “Bong-Bong” Marcos Jr., Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan and Ralph Recto.
The eight who voted against it were: Senate President Juan Ponce-Enrile, Senate Pro Tempore Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada, Majority Leader Vicente “Tito” Sotto III, Senators Gringo Honasan, Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III, Manuel “Manny” Villar, Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr., and Antonio “Sonny” Trillanes IV.
Senators Serge Osmena III and Lito Lapid were absent during the voting.
Arroyo said he voted yes “conditionally” as he threatened to change his vote if the amendments by the Senate will not be retained in the bicameral conference committee.
He noted that the original versions of the Senate and the House of Representatives were “onerous’ and “so provocative” that one, he said, could not expect the Catholic Church to surrender its doctrinal and moral position on such a life and death issue without putting up a fight.
The bill without amendments, Arroyo said, was “vulnerable to constitutional challenge especially on religious grounds.”
“The Court may strike down even the good provisions along with the bad,” he said.
And to address those weaknesses, Arroyo said the Senate introduced reasonable amendments to make sure the measure ‘less dogmatic, less provocative and more constitutionally accepted.”
“Many of these amendments were mislabelled as killer amendments. I can see none that are,” he said.
“I hope they will be respected in the bicameral conference committee rather than dismissed out of hand for I shall change my vote I cast today should that happen. I vote yes, conditionally,” Arroyo added.
Meanwhile, Bishop Gabriel Reyes told reporters in an ambush interview after the voting that he observed some representatives who previously voted against the bill had changed their vote.
“Some [lawmakers] whom I know had gone to the other side,” Reyes said. Others had simply not attended, he said.
He alleged that there was pressure from Malacañang on lawmakers by threatening to hold their pork barrel if they vote against the bill.
Reyes also said that they are planning to file a case before the Supreme Court to question the bill on the grounds that it violates religious freedom.
He also said that they will continue to educate the people on the evils of the RH bill and urge them to reject contraceptives even if these are given free.
The bill languished in Congress for 10 years as legislators avoided upsetting the conservative bishops, who helped mobilize popular support for the 1986 “people power” revolt that toppled dictator Ferdinand Marcos and the 2001 overthrow of another president, Joseph Estrada.
But in a sign of changing times and attitudes, particularly across generations, reformist civil society groups and Aquino threw their weight behind the bill despite the threat of a backlash.
An independent survey in June last year found 68 percent of respondents agreed that the government should fund all means of family planning. An October survey of 600 teenagers in Manila, the capital, also carried out by the Social Weather Stations, found that 87 percent believed the government should provide reproductive health services to the poor.
The United Nations said early this year that the bill would help reduce an alarming number of pregnancy-related deaths, prevent life-threatening abortions and slow the spread of AIDS.
The UN Population Fund says 3.4 million pregnancies occur in the Philippines every year, half of which are unintended while a third are aborted, often in clandestine, unsafe and unsanitary procedures. It says 11 women die of pregnancy-related causes every day. Nearly 70 percent of women use no contraception at all.
Reproductive health programs are patchy and often unavailable to the poor. Some local governments have passed ordinances banning the sale of condoms and their distribution in health clinics.
“Many Filipino women have faced difficulties and sometimes death because of the absence of a comprehensive and consistent reproductive health policy. This law can change that,” said Carlos Conde, Asia researcher at New York-based Human Rights Watch.
After initially approving the bill last week 113-104 with three abstentions, the House of Representatives was expected to vote in favor of it Monday. The Senate was to separately vote on it Monday, after which the two versions were to later be reconciled and signed by Aquino.
House Deputy Speaker Eric Tanada said that 60 more lawmakers who were absent last week were expected to vote, but that he believed the measure would pass. With a report from AP