Written by WENDELL VIGILIA - SPEAKER Feliciano Belmonte Jr. will a seek dialogue with President Aquino to determine how to proceed with deliberations on the reproductive health bill.

The measure had not been deliberated upon in the past two weeks at the House of Representatives because of difficulty in mustering a quorum.

Belmonte said he is still “arranging” the meeting “knowing the very busy schedule of the President.”

“I am going to see the President and hear from him his latest position on RH,” Belmonte told reporters over the weekend, noting that he has to seek the President’s guidance to find out how to go about disposing of the measure.

Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, principal author of House Bill 4244, said there is still hope for the RH bill, “as long as I’m not running berserk.”

Lagman implored supporters of the bill to attend sessions starting today so that deliberations will resume, and so they can vote on the bill on second reading and on third and final reading.

“At hindi lang present, dapat nandoon sila hanggang mag-adjourn. Sabi ko a little sacrifice para maisabatas ang RH bill,” he said.

Belmonte said the President’s possible certification of RH bill as an urgent measure “will help propel its approval.”

In his last state of the nation address, the President pushed for “responsible parenthood” but did not certify House Bill 4244 as urgent, which cast doubt on his seriousness to have the bill enacted.

Aquino later met with congressmen at Malacañang where he asked them to vote on the bill according to their “conscience.”

The House leadership is planning to put the measure to vote before the Christmas break starts on December 22.

Belmonte rejected a proposal of Cibac party-list Rep. Sherwin Tugna to force lawmakers to attend sessions under Section 75 of Rule XI of the House Rules, which states that “in the absence of a quorum after the roll call, the members present may compel the attendance of absent members.”

“I don’t think arresting my colleagues would address the problem. I believe they are sensitive and mature to do their mandate of reporting to the House of Representatives after the media reported their absences,” said Belmonte who earlier threatened to publicize the names of absentee lawmakers.

Belmonte said he would call the leaders of administration-allied parties in a caucus to have their members attend the 12 remaining session days of the year.

Tugna said he believes many of his colleagues are being pressured by leaders of the Catholic Church which has been calling on their flock to boycott lawmakers who will vote for the measure.

“Knowing that we are a predominantly Catholic nation, representatives whose survival depends on the votes of the people will not only think twice or thrice but a hundred times before voting in favor of the RH bill,” he said.

The Catholic Church is opposing the measure mainly because it allows the use of artificial forms of contraceptives like condoms and pills. The Church wants couples to use only the natural family planning method.

Iloilo Rep. Janette Garin, one of the principal sponsors of the RH bill, defended majority leader Neptali Gonzales II who was accused last week by Pangasinan Rep. Kimi Cojuangco of deliberately delaying discussion on the measure.

Garin, a senior deputy majority leader, said, “I have personally witnessed how he (Gonzales) appealed to party leaders to muster a sustained quorum. He has personally and repeatedly talked, appealed with strong conviction to many hardcore anti-RH solons, many of which agreed to proceed with the amendments,” Garin said.

Authors of the bill have already come up with a substitute measure which they call the “compromise version.” The new version limits the distribution of contraceptives to the poorest of the poor, in a move to appease those opposing the measure, especially the Catholic Church.

Deputy presidential spokeswoman Abigail Valte yesterday said Malacañang “always had a good relationship” with the Catholic Church and other religions, and it is open to dialogues with the Catholic Church now under newly appointed Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle.

Valte’s statement contradicted President Aquino’s earlier lament that he gets more cooperation from Protestants because some Catholic bishops are very quick to criticize him.

Valte refused to comment on the call of the Catholic Church to its members not to support re-electionists who favor the reproductive health bill.

“That is a matter between the Church and its members. Hindi po dapat nakikialam ang estado sa mga ganyang bagay,” she said. – With Regina Bengco


Aquino order can ‘change equation’ of RH bill: lawmaker

A DIRECTIVE from President Benigno Aquino III to immediately pass the Reproductive Health (RH) bill can "change the equation" of debates on the controversial measure, a lawmaker said Tuesday.

"Aquino's certification of the (RH) bill as urgent, that changes the equation. We can pass it on second and third reading on the same day," Aurora Representative Juan Edgardo Angara said in a press conference.

Although the RH bill was included in the list of priority measures of the Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council, Aquino never certified the highly divisive bill as urgent.

Since it resumed session two weeks ago, the House of Representatives has not tackled the substitute bill containing the amendments to the proposed RH law. Last week, there were not enough warm bodies present on the floor to constitute a quorum.

The period of debate has been terminated on August 7 but the House of Representatives has since failed to start discussing the amendments on the RH bill.

On Monday, the Senate has already started voting on proposed amendments to its version of the measure.

"We reached the period of amendments ahead of the Senate, but they seem to be moving at a faster pace. Of course, it is easier to accept amendments from 24 senators than it is from 287 congressmen," Angara said.

Angara added that some congressmen seem to have had enough of the debate on the RH bill and "they just want to vote" on the measure.

"It's still early in the game to give up hope," the pro-RH lawmakers said.

Citizens Battle Against Corruption party-list Representative Sherwin Tugna, for his part, said that the RH bill cannot be equated with the other measures that have Aquino's backing.

"You cannot equate the RH bill with the sin tax bill and other bills that have been supported by the administration because this is something that crosses party lines and is truly divisive. Each representative's stand is merely dictated by their constituents," he said. (Kathrina Alvarez/Sunnex)

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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