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MANILA, Philippines – (UPDATE3- 7:30 pm) Over the objections of some members to a decision to move it by one day at the President's behest, the House of Representatives on Monday voted to terminate the debates on the Reproductive Health (RH) bill after 17 months of discussions that have sharply divided the chamber.
Through viva voce, the AYES votes rang louder than the NAYS, which sent the controversial measure into the period of amendments and another crucial voting whether to pass it on second reading.
Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales made the motion to end the debates.
The voting came just few hours after 180 lawmakers attended a luncheon meeting with President Benigno Aquino III in Malacanang, where the President made a pitch to move forward the discussions on the bill.
At the start of session, the House leadership encountered objections from lawmakers who did not wish the debates to be ended.
The real battle
A number of anti-RH lawmakers, however, said they voted to end the debates to move forward with the “longer protracted battle” ahead.
“There are many anti-RH (lawmakers) who don’t want voting tomorrow but want voting now and [want to] proceed to the period of amendments next week where a longer protracted battle can be waged minus the passion of the gallery filled to the rafters,” Paranaque Representative Roilo Golez said.
An Waray party-list Representative Bem Noel said he voted “Yes” to terminate the debates, so he could vote “No” to the bill on second reading.
Manila Representative Amado Bagatsing said Monday’s voting was “not the real battle.”
“This is still a long process. There will be longer debates during the period of amendment. The voting on third reading is the finale,” Bagatsing said.
In an earlier interview, Gonzales said they are considering forming a panel of lawmakers from both the pro- and anti-RH bill camps to work on the amendments to the bill before they are presented on the floor.
A 'done deal'
A partymate of President Benigno Aquino III earlier on Monday declared as a “done deal” a move to advance by one day a vote to terminate debates on the RH bill, but the bill’s critics threw a monkey wrench on that “deal” reached at the Palace luncheon, signaling another long session of debates.
House members opposed to House Bill 4244, the consolidated version of six earlier measures, stood up to object to the motion by Gonzales to end the debates. He earlier narrated the history of long, stormy debates on the bill, a consolidated version of six measures, and formally moved to terminate debates.
After session was briefly suspended when Gonzales repeated his motion to put to a vote the termination of debates, the presiding chair, Rep. Arnulfo Fuentebella, allowed members to express their objections.
Speaker Feliciano Belmonte was seated among the congressmen, not presiding, and listening to the remarks of his colleagues as they objected to the advancing of the vote by one day.
At least 231 solons had answered the roll call.
The move was expected, after Gonzales announced Monday afternoon that the congressmen who lunched with President Benigno Aquino III had reached that consensus to vote on the termination of debates, after getting such a pitch from Mr. Aquino.
When Gonzales moved to terminate the debates, however, shortly before 6 pm, Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez objected, saying there are still lawmakers who want to interpellate the sponsors. He himself was not done with his interpellation, which is in six parts, said Rodriguez.
He said the bill is nothing but population control, and is “anti-life.” Anyone who claims it is prolife is lying, he added.
Batangas Rep. Hermilando Mandanas, who stood before Rodriguez did, also raised an objection and was given 5 minutes to speak.
Mandanas said moving by one day the vote to terminate debates deprives congressmen of a chance to interpellate.
He characterized as intimidating the atmosphere at the Malacanang lunch hosted by the President earlier.
Gonzales reiterated his motion to terminate debates, and the session was suspended.
When session resumed, Manila Rep. Amado Bagatsing said the House should stick to the August 7 voting that it had set earlier. He was seconded by Zambales Rep. Mitos Magsaysay, who also took the floor and chided colleagues, saying how could a date set by all---August 7---be set just because congressmen lunched with President Aquino?
“Nagpunta lang sa Malacanang, nagbago na ang petsa ng voting,” said Magsaysay.
Also present at the session was Sarangani Rep. Manny Pacquiao, who earlier affirmed his stance to oppose the bill.
Former President and Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo attended the session for the third time since she was released on bail on July 25.
Clad in red and wearing a neck brace and lumbar belt for support, she did not participate in the debates, but is a known oppositionist of the bill.
Navotas Representative Toby Tiangco had called for a nominal voting after the viva voce voting, but later on withdrew his motion.
“DEATH” according to Church
The gallery was packed with both pro and anti-RH bill supporters throughout the session. Oppositionists to the bill, including members of the Catholic Church wore red shirts, while RH bill advocates came in purple.
Before the beginning of the session, members of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines gave several lawmakers an image of the Mediatrix of All Grace of Lipa, and reminded them to shun the DEATH policy.
Lipa Archbishop Ramon Arguelles referred to the DEATH policy as Divorce, Euthanasia, Abortion, Total Population Control and Homosexual Union.
“This situation in many so-called progressive countries shows the lasting evil effects of those policies which they have started vainly to reverse. What dying nations are now trying to undo, let us not even try to apply in our own country,” Arguelles said in a letter to the lawmakers.