Showing magnanimity in victory, President Aquino on Tuesday extended an olive branch to critics of the reproductive health (RH) bill, including Catholic bishops, and called for unity in the implementation of the proposed law.
The Senate and the House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved the measure on Monday night after 13 years of fierce opposition from the Catholic Church in what Malacañang hailed as a “historic vote.”
Speaking at the Bulong Pulungan Christmas party at Sofitel Hotel, the President wished for the unity of Filipinos in the face of international financial challenges and after the acrimonious debate on the RH bill.
“That issue (RH bill), I think, has been finished and the last steps will be done probably by today or by tomorrow. When it becomes a law, let us move on … to ensure that all the positive attributes of the bill really is what happens,” Mr. Aquino said at the forum aired on government radio.
In an obvious appeal to critics of the bill, mainly bishops, the President said: “Let’s not treat our people who have divergent opinions as the enemy. There are no enemies within the country. Between Filipinos, we shouldn’t treat each other as the enemy, but, rather as people united by so many ways, amongst them belonging to the same race.”
“To those who agree with me, I’ve been asking, ‘Look, this is not a battle where there are victors and losers. This is a battle where the country, especially the women and the children, can be victors. We have to work to ensure that everybody’s committed to doing that,” he added.
After all, if all Filipinos were “united in facing so many problems, it makes my job that much easier,” the President said.
Both chambers of Congress were expected to immediately convene the bicameral conference committee to reconcile their versions of the bill.
For his part, Budget Secretary Florencio Abad, senior political adviser to the President, downplayed a threat by Malolos Bishop Jose Oliveros to bring the fight to the Supreme Court.
“It’s rather strange that they are already threatening legal action when the bill has yet to be finalized by the bicam (bicameral conference committee) and ratified by both chambers of Congress,” Abad said in a text message.
He said it was premature to make such threats at this stage, “unless what they’ll raise to the SC is the very concept of this RH, which I think will and cannot prosper.”
In a separate statement, Abad said that with the approval of the measure, the administration was “closer to addressing high maternal and child mortality rates” in the country by giving Filipinos the “necessary means to plan their families better.”
“Too often, unwanted pregnancies result in abortions, which present real and immense risks for mothers, and which usually end in the tragic loss of an infant’s life. Meanwhile, babies from impoverished families are born with fewer opportunities for adequate education and healthcare, undermining their growth as productive members of Philippine society,” Abad said.
“At the moment, the administration spends billions to subsidize the basic needs of severely impoverished families, the majority of which are burdened by more children than their parents can afford to raise. Through the RH bill, we aim to properly educate married couples so they have a larger understanding of the choices available to them, allowing them to raise families they can properly manage and attend to,” he said.
The measure would also ensure wider government expenditure space for budgetary items such as education, healthcare and economic services.