RH makes it to President Aquino’s 13 priority bills
President Benigno Aquino III wants the leaders of Congress to quickly pass 13 measures, including the one concerning reproductive health (RH) that has apparently been “fine-tuned” into a responsible parenthood (RP) bill to make it more acceptable to the Catholic Church.
“We expect expeditious action [on these measures],” the President told a news conference after holding a four-hour meeting with the Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council (Ledac) at the Palace.
In the news conference attended by Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr., Mr. Aquino said Malacañang had proposed not less than 10 amendments to the former RH bill so as to “clarify and put in the concerns of other sectors.”
“There will be certain segments that view any talk about artificial means of responsible parenthood as anathema to their beliefs, so they will not be satisfied with it. But we have tried to remove certain issues that can be contentious,” Mr. Aquino said.
He was apparently referring to the Catholic Church and its opposition to any measure that would promote the use of artificial contraception.
Aside from pushing for the proposed Responsible Parenthood, Reproductive Health and Population and Development Law, Mr. Aquino also sought the immediate passage of measures amending the Human Security Act; amending the People’s Television Network Law; amending the rural electrification program; restructuring the excise tax on alcohol and tobacco products; providing for the delineation of the specific forest limits of the public domain; granting broader protection for consumers; protecting individual personal data in information and communications systems in the government and in the private sector; reorganizing the Philippine statistical system; imposing stiffer penalties for stealing or tampering with government risk reduction and preparedness equipment, accessories and other facility items; providing for additional benefits and protection to house help; expanding the coverage of the science and technology scholarship program; and amending the Twenty Percent Balanced Housing Law.
The President decided to include the RP bill in the Palace priority list on Monday night, after reading last weekend the consolidated reproductive health bill pending in the House, his spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said.
According to Lacierda, the President himself made certain modifications in the measure with the help of Health Secretary Enrique Ona.
Mr. Aquino said at the news conference that among the provisions that he had removed was one that limited the “ideal family size” to two children.
He also said the measure now proposed that sex education be included in the curriculum of students in the sixth grade up to high school. (Previously, the proposal was sex education for fifth-graders.)
He described this provision as “a good compromise” to the Church, which wanted sex education for students aged 12 years old and in consideration of the fact that some girls experience menarche (or first menstruation) at 9-10 years old.
“Some of them are already at risk of having unwanted pregnancies,” Mr. Aquino said. “So we need to educate them.”
Another modification was made on the provision that required all hospitals to provide artificial contraceptives.
The fine-tuned measure exempts “Church-based hospitals,” the President said.
“Church-based hospitals can practice their faith in recognition of freedom of religion, as enshrined in Article III of the Constitution,” he said.
Not watered down
Mr. Aquino said the RP bill still ensured that contraceptives, both natural and artificial, would be made accessible and free in keeping with certain requirements of the law.
He said it would also include funding for the “teaching and guiding” of natural family planning, apparently to show that his administration was not biased in favor of artificial family planning.
He vehemently disagreed that the RP bill was a compromise bill, saying this seemed to indicate that it was a “watered down” version.
“There are certain provisions that, upon reflection, are not necessary to achieve the desired aims, and that is what we’re trying to achieve with a consensus-building process with the legislature. And this fulfills the mandate of Ledac,” the President said.
But Enrile said he believed that the proposed measure was in for “a full-blown debate” in the Senate.
“[As for] the others, I would like to inform the public that we will look at these very closely. We will give every bill a fair hearing and pass them as soon as possible once we have studied them,” he said.
Actually vote on bill
Belmonte said the House would be able to give the new priority measures “the same attention” given to the first set of bills presented by Mr. Aquino in February.
He agreed that some of the new measures, like the RP bill, were contentious.
“In the case of the RP bill, the President made a statement that perhaps we do not have to keep on repeating the same questions to get back the same answers, and so forth. And I think all of us are more or less in agreement with that,” the Speaker said.
He said the House would continue to discuss all the measures, “but let it reach the point where we actually vote on [a bill], so that we do not just add another year to the 14 or 15 years that this whole thing has been pending.”
It was the second Ledac meeting held by the President since he took office in 2010.
Not venue for debate
Communications Secretary Ricky Carandang said that during the discussion of the RP bill, Rep. Pablo Garcia registered his objection and was reminded by the President that the meeting was not a venue for debates on the merits of the measure.
“We believe reasonable members [of the clergy] will not find the bill objectionable… The more moderate will understand certain sensitivities were taken into account in the framing of the bill,” Carandang said.
He said Malacañang believed the measure would be “acceptable to the greatest number of stakeholders, all of them both advocates and oppositors.”
The meeting was attended by Enrile and a Senate delegation led by Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III, Minority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano and Senators Franklin Drilon and Ralph Recto.
The House contingent was made up of Belmonte, Deputy Speakers Lorenzo Tañada III, Pablo Garcia and Jesus Crispin Remulla, Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales II, Minority Leader Edcel Lagman, Senior Deputy Majority Leader Janette Garin, Deputy Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas, and Representatives Joseph Emilio Abaya, Enrique Cojuangco, Hermilando Mandanas and Rodante Marcoleta.
Other lawmakers said the RP bill had a better chance of becoming law than the Freedom of Information (FOI) bill, with the President continuing to defer action on the latter.
Eastern Samar Rep. Benjamin Evardone said in a statement that the inclusion of the RP bill on the list of priority measures should give it a “big boost.”
But without the President’s endorsement, the FOI bill will not spark interest among lawmakers including his allies, Evardone said at the weekly forum Ugnayan sa Batasan.
“There are a lot of issues that have to be straightened out on the FOI [bill], including privacy issues and potential abuse,” he said.
House Minority Leader Edcel Lagman took note of Mr. Aquino’s endorsement of the RP bill which, he said, reflected the desire of the majority of the people.
He cited a survey of the Social Weather Stations in June showing that 82 percent of Filipinos favored family planning education and the use of public funds for artificial methods.
“No less than the President personally defended during the Ledac meeting his determination and decision to include the [RP] bill among his priority measures. Most of the clarificatory amendments suggested by Malacañang are reasonable and acceptable,” Lagman said in a statement. With a report from Gil C. Cabacungan Jr.
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