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Sotto: Senate will throw RH bill into garbage bin

Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III on Wednesday distanced the chamber from the 13 priority measures, including the reproductive health (RH) bill, pushed by President Aquino at Tuesday’s Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council (Ledac) meeting.

“Those were the priority bills of the executive branch, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re the priority measures of Congress, particularly the Senate,” Sotto told the Inquirer.

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He said the Senate contingent attended the Ledac meeting in Malacañang carrying 41 bills for discussion, but the gathering saw only the Palace “presenting its own priorities.”

Sotto called for “a smaller Ledac” similar to meetings held during the term of President Fidel Ramos to consolidate priority measures prepared both by the Palace and the two chambers of Congress.

He said this approach would ensure that the bills to be presented in the actual Ledac meeting would be “really reflective” of the priorities of the executive and legislative branches.

Protection of unborn

Sotto said the RH bill was not in the Senate’s official list. He said the bill mentioned by Mr. Aquino on Tuesday referred only to the version being deliberated on at the House of Representatives.

Still, he said, the Senate would expedite debates on the bill cosponsored by Senators Miriam Defensor-Santiago and Pia Cayetano, “so we can dispose of [it].”

“To the garbage bin,” he added. “People might think that we are doing some dilatory tactics here, but we are not. We want to begin debates as soon as possible so we can shred the bill to pieces.”

Sotto, along with Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and Senate President Pro Tempore Jinggoy Estrada, has introduced the proposed Protection of the Unborn Child Law, a countermeasure to the RH bill.

The President had announced that Malacañang had proposed at least 10 amendments to the RH bill.

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“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,” he had said.

Not in his road map

Sotto also said Malacañang’s priority measures generally “would not address” the concerns included in its own Philippine Development Plan, the President’s belated road map during his term.

But he did not elaborate when asked about the specific bills.

Besides the RH bill, Mr. Aquino also called for amendments in the Human Security Act, People’s Television Network Law, and the rural electrification program. He also pushed for measures that would restructure the excise tax on alcohol and tobacco products, and provide delineation of the specific forest limits of the public domain.

On the phone on Wednesday with the Inquirer, Communications Secretary Ricky Carandang acknowledged that the four-hour Ledac meeting was mostly spent discussing Mr. Aquino’s 13 priority measures.

“But the President promised to look at [the Senate leaders’] proposals. He asked them for some time to study the proposals,” Carandang said. “So we are not ignoring their proposals.”

He said that apart from the priority measures, Enrile’s proposal that the issue of the coconut levy be resolved was also discussed.

‘Typical President Aquino’

At the House, Bayan Muna Rep. Teodoro Casiño said the 13 priority measures were minor bills requiring little effort to get approved—and hence, typical of Mr. Aquino’s style.

He said that except for the RH bill and the “sin taxes,” the measures “do not address” the country’s basic woes.

“They are noncontroversial bills that are sure to pass with little effort, making it a ‘segurista list’ of measures typical of the President’s laid-back management style,” Casiño said in a statement.

Neither were the priority measures “radical or bold enough” to prompt Malacañang and Congress to band together to get these approved, according to Casiño.

“These are the kind of bills that will pass by the very nature of the legislative mill. These are bills that we can pass in three months if we want,” he said.

Casiño said it was “disappointing” that Mr. Aquino wasted the Ledac’s clout and influence on bills that were “sure to pass.”

5 urgent measures

He said the five urgent measures that should be passed by Congress were the amendments to the Electric Power Industry Reform Act, the universal health care bill, the rice industry development bill, amendments to the build-operate-transfer law, the antitrust bill, the Freedom of Information bill, and the whistle-blowers’ protection bill. With reports from TJ Burgonio and Christine O. Avendaño

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TAGS: 13 priority measures, Legislative Executive Development Advisory Council (Ledac) meeting, President Benigno Aquino III, reproductive health (RH) bill, Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III
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