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Reproductive health bill: Senate score even so far

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02:53 AM September 18th, 2011

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September 18th, 2011 02:53 AM

The battle lines are drawn and so far, the score is pretty even.

More than a month into the plenary debates, a good number of senators are still keeping their cards close to their chests on the issue of reproductive health.

Sen. Joker Arroyo, a senior member of chamber, said the number of “undecided” senators—himself included—remained significant enough to determine the fate of Senate Bill No. 2865.

“We don’t know what will be the voting because nobody is talking, but everybody is listening,” he told the Inquirer in an interview.

Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III agreed that the senators favoring the bill and those against it were even so far.

But Sen. Gregorio Honasan on Saturday warned his colleagues against “accelerating or railroading the process.” He said he had a decision at present, but would prefer to further listen to the discussions.

“It is better to have a prolonged and exhaustive debate, one that is rigorous and deliberate,” he said on the phone.

So far, SB 2865 enjoys the support of at least five senators. It was cosponsored by Senators Miriam Defensor-Santiago, Pia Cayetano and Panfilo Lacson. Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr. had also announced on the floor that he was in favor of the bill. So was Sen. Francis Pangilinan, who revealed his stand to the Inquirer on Saturday.

“I will support with amendments,” he said. “I am still deciding on a number of amendments, but it will be clearer after the end of the period of interpellation.”

Arroyo said the Liberal Party bloc at the Senate—save for Sen. Ralph Recto—would most likely support the bill since their party-mate, President Aquino, had included SB 2865 in his administration’s list of priority measures.

But Drilon on Saturday said he was still “undecided.” Recto, who ran in the 2010 elections on a platform promoting family values, had questioned key provisions in the bill, such as the projected distribution of contraceptives even to nonmarried couples and minors.

Sen. Loren Legarda said she would “continue to listen to the debates” and would announce her “enlightened decision” in due time.

Those against SB 2865 are Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, Senate President Pro Tempore  Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada, Sen. Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III, and Sotto. Arroyo said Sen. Manuel Villar, a member of the Catholic group Couples for Christ, was also likely to vote against the bill.

“(I am) against (it) from the start,” Pimentel said in a text message. “Why spend billions for condoms, etc.? We should be spending on education, jobs, real medicines that cure illnesses. Fertility is not an illness.”

Sotto said the RH bill could pass only via majority vote of senators present in a quorum.

Honasan said he was carefully studying the measure, considering its impact on society for years to come.

“The effects will not be felt tomorrow or next year,” he said. “They will be felt a generation from now. Remember that Europe is now depopulated. Singapore is now reviewing its population management program.”

Should the RH bill survive after the plenary debates, Arroyo said the battle would shift to the period of amendments.

“That is where it will be very interesting,” he said. “Senators would vote for every amendment. Somebody will introduce an amendment and, of course, we would want a division of the house.”

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