Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Philippine Reproductive Health (RH) Bill Faces Congress Voting

By Cielito M. Reganit

Lawmakers at the House of Representatives on Monday finally started considering individual amendments to the Reproductive Health (RH) Bill but only after several delays that pushed the formal deliberations on the controversial bill past 6 p.m.

Monday's session began with palpable anticipation as 210 lawmakers came in attendance in what was expected to be a "showdown" on the contentious bill.

Pro-RH legislators, led by its main proponent, Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, are pushing for the bill's passage before December 22 when sessions go on recess whereas the bill's detractors have vowed to either block its passage or to insert "killer provisions."

But before considerations on the substitute version of House Bill 4244 could even begin, Cagayan de Oro City Rep. Rufus Rodriguez gave a lengthy privilege speech questioning China's move to board and expel ships from the West Philippine Sea.

When the RH Bill was finally opened to deliberations, Palawan Rep. Dennis Socrates stood on a personal and collective privilege questioning the acceptance of the measure's substitute version.

This was followed by another lengthy delay when lawmakers on both camps deliberated on whether to allow Socrates to extend his speech which eventually led to nominal voting that wasted another hour.

When deliberations finally started, Cebu Representative Pablo Garcia and Rodriguez suggested line by line amendments on initial sections of the proposed measure.

Among the amendments Garcia proposed for Section 2 of the substitute bill was to insert a constitutional provision wherein the State shall protect the mother and the unborn, to delete the term "universal" on reproductive health being a universal human right, and to replace "all persons" with "married persons" in terms of the beneficiaries of the RH Bill.

Lagman allowed the insertion of the constitutional provision, but initially rejected the deletion of the word "universal" saying it should stay as the Philippines is a signatory on several international conventions recognizing reproductive health as a universal human right.

However, when Garcia suggested that nominal voting be conducted on his proposed amendment, Lagman relented and allowed for its deletion to save time.

But when Garcia again invoked another round of nominal voting when his amendment limiting the RH Bill only to married couples was rejected, Lagman was adamant.

Lagman used his right to explain his "no" vote to lash out at anti-RH lawmakers and urged them not to abuse nominal voting as part of their strategy to hinder the measure's developments on the floor.

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