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MANILA, Philippines – Legislators and advocates of Reproductive Health (RH) bill are hopeful that President Benigno Aquino III’s passing mention of the phrase “responsible parenthood” in his State of the National Address (SONA) will give the controversial measure the final push to become a law.
Religious leaders under the Global Peace Interfaith Council of the Philippines (GPIC) also expressed backing for the bill on Monday.
“I hope na magkaroon na ng katuparan ang batas na iyan para hanggat maaga magkaroon ng liwanag,” Archbishop Deogracias Flores , GPIC national president, said.
Albay Representative Edcel Lagman, one of the main proponents of the bill in the House of Representatives, said he was so “energized” by the President’s endorsement that he couldn’t focus on the other aspects missing in the speech.
“After being energized by the President’s endorsement, please don’t ask me what is missing because whatever is missing is completely covered of his endorsement of the RH bill,” Lagman said in an interview.
The exact quote of the President, however, was made in the context of education, and did not cite the bill explicitly: “We are ending the backlogs in the education sector, but the potential for shortages remains as our student population continues to increase. Perhaps Responsible Parenthood can help address this.
In an ambush interview after the SONA, Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III said he did not think that single sentence amounted to an endorsement of the RH bill.
But Lagman said the passage of the RH bill would complement the Aquino administration’s determination “to solve the backlogs in education and ills in health.”
“The President is cognizant that no development agenda will succeed without the government addressing simultaneously and positively the population issue,” he added.
Malabon Rep. Veronique Lacson-Noel and Quezon Rep. Lorenzo Tanada III also welcomed the President’s endorsement, saying that this should help firm up the stance of the lawmakers to support the bill.
Golez: Congress vote another matter
But Paranaque Rep. Roilo Golez and An Waray partylist Rep. Florencio Noel said the mention of the bill in the SONA does not mean that it could hurdle the votes in the House.
“He said responsible parenthood, and even if the pro-RH were cheering when it was mentioned, many of our colleagues did not clap their hands,” Golez said.
Golez also stressed that even if the President pushed for the bill, he did not mention any funding for it.
“This means that the budget should be for schoool classrooms, books, airports, etc., not for condoms,” he said.
Noel said that the reality on the floor was different when it comes to tackling the RH bills. It may pass on second reading, but we still have the period of amendments, and I don’t think the President’s endorsement will sway us,” he said.
Phrase sends ‘strong message’
Sen. Pia Cayetano, chairperson of the Senate Committee on Health and Demography and sponsor of Senate Bill No. 2865 or the Senate's version of the RH bill, said that although Aquino did not categorically endorse the bill, his mention of "responsible parenthood" alone sends a "very strong message" about his support for the bill.
Cayetano even defended Aquino's non-mention of the bill itself.
"For me I’ve been working very hard on this measure…and so I believe that the President was trying to be considerate of the position of some other groups by using another term but I think this is a very strong message that he supports the measure," Cayetano said in an interview.
However, several netizens on Twitter expressed disappointment that Aquino did not specifically endorse the bill itself.
But Cayetano believes Aquino was endorsing the bill. "Of course. Definitely. That’s what he said. His statement was very clear that he made reference to the classrooms na sabi niya yung dami ng estudyante at yung sagot dyan ay responsible parenthood so what
does that mean? It means parents should be planning their families, right? That no matter how many classrooms you build if they have 10 children that they cannot afford to feed or send to school then we will always have a shortage. Very clear yung message on that," she said.
Senator Aquilino "Koko" Pimentel III also believed Aquino was pushing for the passage of the RH bill. "Kasi yun yung pending so when he referred to the responsible parenthood concept, isa lang naman pending sa Senado so I believe he was referring to the pending RH bill," Pimentel said.
Although he said he has no objections with the concept of "responsible parenthood," he said the details of this should be threshed out.
"But you look at the details, especially budgetary implications. How much does the bill require to be sent year after year and for what? If it is only to purchase condoms, injectibles, pills and IUDs dun ako nag-oojbect because these are products that are legal and allowed to be sold anyway, so those who need them can just go to the nearest pharmacy and buy them," he said.