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MANILA, Philippines - (UPDATED 8:27PM) The Reproductive Health bill is now just a signature away from being law, as both houses of Congress separately adopted Wednesday the reconciled version crafted by a bicameral conference panel.
Some two hours after the Senate voted 11-5 to ratify the bicameral committee report as presented by the bill’s chief sponsor Pia Cayetano, House members cast their own vote with a resounding “AYE” signifying that the bicameral conference committee report has been ratified there as well.
Only the signature of President Benigno Aquino III is needed to enact into law the controversial bill, which ran 13 years in the legislative mill and was described as one of the most polarizing bills ever.
Senate vote: 11-5
Voting 11-5, the Senate ratified Wednesday the bicameral conference committee on the RH bill, right after Sen. Pia Cayetano apprised senators of the outcome of deliberations on disagreeing provisions in the Senate and House versions.
Those who voted to adopt the reconciled version of the bill are Senators Alan Peter Cayetano, the bill's main sponsor Pia Cayetano, Joker Arroyo, Edgardo Angara, Franklin Drilon, Miriam Santiago, Teofisto Guingona III, Serge Osmena, Bongbong Marcos, Loren Legarda and Panfilo Lacson.
Casting the negative vote were Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and Senators Aquilino "Koko" Pimentel III, Gregorio Honasan, Jinggoy Estrada and Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III.
Sen. Ralph Recto was in the session hall earlier but was not spotted during the voting.
“Consistent with my remarks, when I voted in the third reading, I vote No to the committee report,” Enrile said.
When Sotto asked her to take the floor and report the body, Cayetano listed among the major agreements reached in the bicameral panel:
1. Any mention of international treaties and agreements has been removed.
2. Any mention of population and development has likewise been deleted.
3. On the issue of providing reproductive health care services by health care facilities, the panel retained the Senate version that only requires public health care facilities to provide family planning methods, without prejudice to private health care facilities extending family planning services to paying patients with the option of granting free services to indigents.
4. On the issue of access to minors to contraceptives, the panel retained the Senate version, as amended by Sen. Ralph Recto, but allowed a minor who is already a parent or one who has had a miscarriage to be allowed such access.
5. On reproductive health education, the panel retained the Senate version, as likewise amended by Recto, with the amendment that the Department of Education shall formulate the curriculum for public schools without prejudice to private schools adopting the same.
6. On the issue of the role of local government units, the bicameral committee again adopted the Senate version of Recto with the additional amendment of Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr. Thus, in accordance with the Local Government Code, local government units are encouraged to comply with their mandates to provide health care services in the local government code with funding and other kinds of assistance from the national government.
7. Cayetano also informed her male colleagues, with whom she had tangled last week on the phrase “safe and satisfying sex,” that the bicameral panel adopted an even longer phrase: “responsible, consensual, safe and satisfying sex life.”
Meanwhile, the Senate approved the motion made by Sotto to commend Cayetano, as chairman of the Senate Committee on Health and Demography, for defending the Senate version in the bicameral conference committee meeting.
Sotto, Pia Cayetano gracious to each other
Sotto and Pia Cayetano, who had an ugly verbal tussle on Tuesday after she insisted on naming the members of the bicameral panel for the Senate and on having a bicameral meeting at 4:30pm while the Senate was in session---even as Sotto insisted these violated the chamber's rules---were visibly more relaxed and civil to each other on Wednesday.
Pia's brother Alan Peter even interrupted Sotto when he moved to have Pia read aloud the highlights of the bicameral conference by taking the floor briefly and saying he wanted to put on record that Sotto "did not delay" the final process for producing a ratified version of the bill that has sharply divided the nation---and sparked endless acrimonious debates among lawmakers and political and church leaders.
Sotto for his part was gracious also towards Pia Cayetano, acknowledging her for "being true to her word" to fight for most of the amendments of the Senate version when she sat down with her House counterparts.
House ratifies reconciled version
The House ratification came at around 8 p.m., with the report freshly signed by the members of the bicameral panels from the Senate and the House of Representatives following a marathon discussion that started Tuesday.
“The reproductive health bill hurdled the bicameral conference committee retaining the empowerment of women and couples to freely and responsibly determine the number and spacing of their children,” Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, the House principal author of the bill, said.
Iloilo Representative Janette Garin said that under the measure, the poor can avail themselves of "modern, natural and artificial family planning" devices such as condoms, pills and IUDs for free from government hospitals.
Minors, or those under 18, can avail themselves of such free birth control if they have given birth or had a miscarriage, she said. "We will not be promoting promiscuity," she added.
Lagman said the government is also authorized to promote reproductive health, including voluntary contraception, prioritizing the poor and the marginalized.
According to him, the national government and the local government units (LGUs) are jointly responsible for the implementation of the reproductive health law with the LGUs receiving financial and technical assistance from the national government.
Reproductive health and sexuality education is retained with the Department of Education formulating the curriculum for the use of public schools and adaptable to private schools.