Congress kills controversial RH Bill, but proponents not giving up

The congress will not be discussing the Reproductive Health Bill 5043 in their final session today, February 3, because it is too contentious, reports GMA News.

"Yung RH, di na talaga namin kukunin because it's controversial [We will no longer tackle RH bill because it's controversial]," House Speaker Prospero Nograles told GMA News. "There are 20 congressmen who have lined up to interpolate [it]… Mauubos yung oras ng House [The House's time will be eaten up.] Otherwise, we will be tied with debates on bills that we can't produce anymore."

Nograles told the Inquirer that aside from the RH Bill, other conflict-ridden bills will likewise not be tackled in the final session in lieu of measures that have greater chances of being passed.

The RH Bill, which seeks to promote and actualize steps that will ensure the reproductive health through both natural and artificial means, has been filed and re-filed ever since its conception in the Aquino regime, according to the Philippine Star. The bill has been discussed repeatedly in the past Congresses to no avail due to the strong opposition of both the Catholic Church and pro-life groups, reports the Inquirer.

Senatorial candidate and Akbayan Representative Risa Hontiveros, one of the fervent fighters for the bill, said that they won't give up the bill until the congress adjourns its plenary session. She told GMA News, "Di namin isusuko na patay na yun hanggang huling araw ng session. Malay mo, may himalang mangyari. [We will not concede that the RH Bill is dead until the last day of session. Who knows, a miracle might happen.]"

In the past month, Rep. Hontiveros expressed her concerns against the Catholic Church's call not to vote for RH Bill proponents. Hontiveros was quoted by GMA News saying, "Kaysa pa guidelines laban sa authors ng RH bill, mas nakatulong sana kung ang nilabas mga guidelines laban sa mga kandididato na... 'di lumalaban sa katiwalian. [Instead of issuing guidelines against [the RH Bill] authors, they should have issued guidelines against those who are not fighting off corruption.]"

The Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) told GMA News that any voter who would support the RH Bill would be accomplices to evil. Their statement goes, "It would not be morally permissible to vote candidates who support anti-family policies, including reproductive health, or any other moral evil such as abortion, divorce, assisted suicide and euthanasia."

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Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, author of the RH Bill, told the Star that the Church's guidelines won't necessarily stir Catholics to oppose it saying, "A majority of Catholics will not abide by the guidelines [of the BCP] because they have long accepted that family planning and even contraceptive use is acceptable and moral…   We have educated the Filipino people to accept the reality that there is a need to practice family planning according to their religious and personal beliefs."

The Catholic Church has been known to force candidates to flip-flop on their stands on the controversial bill. Late last year, the Manila Standard Today reported that presidential aspirant Gilberto Teodoro and his wife, Tarlac Rep. Nikki Teodoro, both withdrew their support from the RH Bill claiming that the measures proposed would waste government funds on abortifacients and other ineffective reproductive-health measures.

In a recent interview with GMA News, former Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro said that he is supporting the "moral choice" on the RH Bill. "You have to please disparate sectors. You cannot make something succeed if there is massive opposition against it. That's the practical reality of things."

In a statement given to SPOT.ph, performer and ardent RH Bill supporter Carlos Celdran said that a possible reason for the bill's further stalling is the potential backlash that might arise affecting the candidates' chances at election or re-election.

"The Bill is shelved till the next congress so technically, and sadly for the election season, there is no bill to argue over right now. And considering the time restraints and predictable divisiveness of campaign season, I doubt any of the major candidates will take a firm stand on it. Personally, I would look at a candidate's track record and past actions to determine what their position would be after the election," said Celdran.

Elizabeth Angsioco, head of the Democratic Socialist Women of the Philippines (DSWP) and RH Bill proponent, said that the legislators were more concerned in protecting their electoral and political interests rather than passing a Bill that would benefit majority of the poverty-stricken women in the country.

"Congress' decision not to pass the RH Bill is proof that many of our politicians especially those in position, will sacrifice public welfare in the name of political expediency. Our legislators turned a blind eye to the great benefits addressing RH issues will bring our people, especially women in poverty. They also chose to shy away from the electoral mileage that being pro-RH may possibly bring them."

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Angsioco further urged the Congress not to get swayed by the Church's guidelines citing survey results which showed that more voters actually favor candidates who are strong supporters of the RH Bill. "Legislators need not fear the Catholic hierarchy because the perceived 'Catholic vote' is at best a myth as shown by previous election results." Such was the case with Estrada, Biazon, and Flavier, who were all RH Bill supporters that won.

Rep. Lagman said that he is hopeful that the bill will be taken up by the next administration, "This is not the end of the road for the RH bill. We still have the 15th Congress (July 2010-June 2013)."

According to GMA News, Speaker Nograles said that he is open to hold a special session on February 5. "The special session is a judgment call of the President, if she feels that some of her measures are not yet acted upon. But the problem is, can we have a quorum?" he told the Star.

GMA News reports that Congress will end sessions for the campaign period and would only resume session for the canvassing of votes on May 31.


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