Bucking intense pressure from the powerful Roman Catholic Church, both the House of Representatives and the Senate passed on third and final reading their respective versions of the controversial reproductive health bill Monday evening. A bicameral conference committee will soon be formed to reconcile the two versions of the bill before it can be sent to President Benigno Aquino III for final approval. Check this page on the Senate website for an explanatory note on how the legislative process works.
This is the farthest the bill has gone since it was first introduced in Congress in the 1990s. This time, it did not take the Lower House five hours to render a verdict on the RH bill. For the third reading, House solons were required to cast a vote first regarding the measure before being allowed to explain their stand.
The lengthy perorations of certain lawmakers last Wednesday night dragged the proceedings until Thursday midnight. Shortly after the presence of a quorum has been confirmed early Monday night, the House leadership immediately put the RH bill to a vote. In contrast to the close vote during the second reading, the pro-RH bill camp won decisively this time – 133 votes in favor, 79 votes against, and 7 abstentions.
The Senate also gave a decisive victory for the advocates of the RH bill. Today’s RH bill proceedings in the Upper House began with Senator Vicente Sotto III introducing 33 amendments to the proposed legislation. This led to a repeated back-and-forth between Sotto and Senators Pia Cayetano and Miriam Defensor-Santiago. Once Sotto was done with his individual amendments, Cayetano moved to have the bill voted on the second reading. Santiago backed her motion. The vote on the second and third reading yielded the same 13-8 result in favor of the RH bill.
Senators Arroyo and Recto voted “yes” on the condition that the amendments made on the Senate version will make it through the bicameral conference committee. Curiously, Senators Lito Lapid and Sergio Osmena III did not take part in today’s proceedings. Their votes may be crucial in case Arroyo and Recto decide to switch sides in the end.
In a pastoral letter released just as the nation marks the beginning of the annual Simbang Gabi, the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) once again slammed the RH bill. Penned by Lingayen Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas, the statement describes the RH bill as being “gift wrapped to look like a gift for maternal health care (even if) it will lead to greater crimes against women.” The CBCP also hailed opponents of the bill as “heroes” of the nation.
For its part, international advocacy group Human Rights Watch (HRW) said the RH bill is “a massive step forward to promote women’s health” and that its passage “marks the start of an era in which public policies can save lives, promote healthy family planning, and respect human rights.” HRW Asia researcher Carlos Conde added: “The Aquino administration should be credited for having the political will to muster support for the bill in Congress despite the threat of a political backlash.”