MANILA, Philippines—President Benigno Aquino III, who had a falling out with the leadership of the influential Catholic Church for pushing for the passage of the reproductive health (RH) bill, seemed to be in no rush to sign the measure, which was finally passed last week by both chambers of Congress.
In a radio interview, deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said her boss has yet to sign the RH bill, whose bicameral version was ratified by the Senate and House of Representatives before adjourning for their traditional Christmas break last Thursday.
She assured the public, however, that the consolidated version of House Bill No. 4244 and Senate Bill No. 2865 would be definitely signed by the President “before the end of the year.”
Few more days won’t hurt
Valte said a few more days would not hurt RH advocates, considering that the measure had already hurdled 13 years of legislative debates.
“The long (awaited), the very hotly contested and acrimonious, the long been discussed—perhaps, for 10 million years—Responsible Parenthood Bill was passed under the leadership of President Aquino. He will sign it before the end of the year,” Valte said.
With the long weekend, the President won’t be back in Malacañang until the next working day (Dec. 26), a Wednesday. Monday and Tuesday have been declared as a nonworking day and regular holiday, respectively.
Valte said she has yet to receive advice from the Office of the President when Mr. Aquino is due to sign it.
Certified as urgent
The measure affords everyone universal access to modern family planning methods, giving a woman the choice to determine the number of her children, meeting a teenager’s need to be protected from an unplanned pregnancy and educating citizens about sexual health.
On Dec. 14, the day after the House passed HB 4244 on second reading, President Aquino certified the measure as urgent, ensuring the enactment of the controversial measure that had pitted the Aquino administration against many of the fiercely conservative leaders of the Catholic Church.
The presidential imprimatur cut short the process in the plenary, emboldening three women senators—Miriam Defensor-Santiago, Pia Cayetano and Loren Legarda—to press for the passage of SB 2865. The chamber eventually passed the measure, 13-8, late Monday.
No force more powerful
“There is no force more powerful than an idea whose time has come and that idea today is the RH bill,” Santiago said.
In certifying the measure, Mr. Aquino said it was time for Congress to decide on the bill based on a “conscience” vote.
In an interview with reporters in Malacañang last week, the President said he wants the divisive issue settled before the start of the new year.
The President had expected that the certification would ensure the passage of the measure in both chambers of Congress since it removed the three-day rule—or waiting period—between the second and third readings of the pending bill.
The President said that anti-RH groups had not put forward a viable solution to the runaway population growth, save for a blanket denial of the bill’s benefits.
“At the end of the day, what I heard from RH bill opponents is that they don’t suggest that if you have a problem, here’s the solution. They always say, ‘you can’t do that, you can’t do this, you can’t do everything,’” said Mr. Aquino.
‘There’s really a way’
“So if you have a problem there must be a solution, and I think the RH bill presents, especially this massively amended form, that there’s really a way to address a situation like this. Can anybody here imagine that this 18-year-old lady (in a slum area in Baseco compound, Tondo, Manila,) will be able to improve the lot of her three offspring?
“Is she capable of raising them and giving them opportunities? If we do nothing, the three (children), in their turn, will repeat the same mistakes, will be in a worse situation, will produce more children who will face a much harsher situation. That’s why I really feel that we have to address the problem, and not pretend we’re ostriches,” he said.
The President also shared his belief that “genuine leaders” could not put off a decision on a “divisive issue.”
“The issue has been divisive for too long; the time has come to put the matter to rest,” the President said.