Cebuano senator Serge Osmeña III followed the footsteps of his younger brother, Tomas, by not showing up at the session hall last night as the Senate passed on third and final reading the Reproductive Health bill.
Serge and Sen. Lito Lapid were marked absent as the Senate voted 13-8 with no abstention on the controversial bill that would provide government funding for contraceptives and sexuality classes in schools.
Also yesterday, the House of Representatives approved the landmark measure on third and final reading despite strong opposition by the Catholic Church, which said the measure would destroy family life.
Congressmen voted 133 to 79 with seven abstentions to approve its version of the measure. There were 199 legislators present during the voting.
On Thursday, Tomas Osmeña, who represents Cebu City’s south district, was absent when the House passed the bill on second reading, 113-104.
Before the voting, Tomas said that while he supports the measure, he would abstain in the voting because he values the friendship of his close political ally, former congressman Raul del Mar, who was intensely lobbying against the bill.
Reached for comment, Tomas said his elder brother Serge called in sick yesterday.
“He is now under medical care and they are giving him some tests, but it’s nothing serious,” Tomas told Cebu Daily News last night.
In earlier interview, Serge said he , too, was for the passage of the RH bill but would rather keep himself under the radar so as not to agitate those against the measure.
Serge co-sponsored the RH bill being pushed by former senator now Muntinlupa City Rep. Rodolfo Biazon ten years ago.
He said he remembered how his family and friends would lecture him about his stand on the issue.
“I’m a coward when it comes to that. I don’t want to fight with my elders, my mother, cousins, friends and all that,” Senator Osmeña told reporters last week.
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 President Pro Tempore Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada, Majority Floor Leader Vicente “Tito” Sotto III, Senators Gringo Honasan, Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III, Manuel “Manny” Villar, Ramon Bong Revilla Jr., and Antonio “Sonny” Trillanes IV.
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.
Bishop Gabriel Reyes told reporters after the voting that he noticed some representatives who previously voted against 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 said RH bill opponents plan to file a case in the the Supreme Court to question the bill on the grounds that it violates religious freedom.
He said they would continue to educate the people and urge families not to accept contraceptives even if these are given free.
The bill languished in Congress for 10 years as legislators avoided upsetting the conservative bishops.
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 two versions of the bill will later be reconciled in the bicameral conference committee before the final version is sent to Malacañang for President Aquino’s approval.
The President, who certified the bill as urgent, considers the RH bill a major step toward reducing maternal deaths and promoting family planning in the impoverished country, which has one of Asia’s fastest-growing populations.
Church leaders said in a pastoral letter Sunday that if passed, the bill would put the moral fiber of the nation at risk. /Inquirer, AP and Chief of Reporters Doris Bongcac