RH bicam: Satisfying, pleasurableBy Cathy C. Yamsuan and Leila B. Salaverria
Philippine Daily Inquirer
What was supposed to be a meeting marked by fireworks and verbal jousts turned out to be “reproductive,” “satisfying” and “pleasurable.”
These were the words the senators used to describe the bicameral conference on the reproductive health (RH) bill where the Senate and the House of Representatives reconciled the conflicting provisions of the versions they approved separately.
On Wednesday night, the Senate (11-5) and the House (which resorted to voice voting) ratified the bicameral report on the RH bill. The ratification came just two days after both chambers of Congress approved it on third and final reading.
“In fairness to Sen. Pia Cayetano, she really defended the Senate version as what was her commitment. I think that was what touched (Senate Majority Leader) Tito Sotto who joked about sponsoring the bicameral report on the floor,” Sen. Panfilo Lacson said after the nearly five-hour meeting.
Cayetano, principal sponsor of the RH bill, and Sotto have engaged in several hostile exchanges on the Senate floor about the RH bill.
Sotto is staunchly against the measure and remains so even after he joined the bicameral panel set to iron out the kinks on the RH bill.
Members of the Senate and House panels had geared for battle before holding the bicameral meeting, thinking clashes would occur as either panel defended its version of the measure.
“It turned out very conciliatory. Even Sotto was very accommodating. It was a very reproductive afternoon,” said Lacson, one of the authors of an RH bill later consolidated in the report that Cayetano presented to the floor in August 2011.
A smiling Sen. Ralph Recto said the meeting was “satisfying and pleasurable” as he stepped out and also lauded Cayetano for standing her ground.
Before the meeting, Cayetano named three areas where possible clashes could occur between the Senate and House teams.
These included whether local government units (LGUs) would be given primary responsibility for the implementation of the RH law as Recto proposed; the age range for schoolchildren to be given RH education; and, whether minors would need written parental consent to avail themselves of artificial birth control from health centers and government hospitals.
Among the agreements reached during the bicameral meeting were:
- Adolescents between 10 and 19 years old would be given access to “age- and development-appropriate” RH education in public schools. The Department of Education was tasked with coming up with the curriculum for public schools, which private schools may adapt.
- The national government and LGUs would share responsibility in the implementation of what would be the RH law. “Financial and technical support” would be given by the national government to the LGUs.
- Minors could avail themselves of artificial birth control methods in health centers and government hospitals only if they present written parental consent. The only exception would be minors who already have children or young females who have suffered miscarriages.
Before the session, Senate media overheard Sotto tell Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile that all the individual amendments that the two of them and Recto had introduced in the bill were all preserved in the bicameral version.
“You mean it is finished?” a surprised Enrile asked.
Sotto answered in the affirmative but asserted he would still vote against the bill by the time it was ratified.
“I still cannot vote in favor knowing how that bill came into being. It is a foreign imposition and I cannot accept that,” he said.
Enrile also said he would still not vote for the controversial measure.
A matter of faith
“My vote is a matter of faith, conscience and my notion of what is the national good,” he explained.
Sotto and Enrile are the senators most vocal against the RH bill. They believe it would promote promiscuity, bring about an aging population supported by fewer younger people and benefit only multinational companies manufacturing contraceptives.
In Malacañang, President Aquino said he wanted the bill signed into law before the end of the year.