Published in Manila Standard Today
By Elizabeth Angsioco
I feel like a pregnant woman about to give birth. I feel anxious, excited, happy, even as I experience the pains of giving birth. This 16-year pregnancy has been problematic but at last, the baby is about to be born. Together with the thousands of reproductive health bill advocates, we are about to give birth to the RH law.
In labor, even as we cry out because of the pain, women have to push to help bring out the baby. Relative to the RH bill, the past weeks have been exciting because most of the needed push happened.
Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago delivered her powerful three-part RH sponsorship speech that virtually quashed all arguments against the RH law’s birth.
The Social Weather Stations’ June national survey results again proved that the overwhelming majority of the Filipino people WANT government to implement and fund a comprehensive family planning program. This was another vital push.
And finally, RH made it to the Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council’s list of priority measures! This is the one of the big push steps necessary for the RH law to be born.
This last development particularly caused jubilation among RH advocates because the implication is, both the Executive and Legislative branches consider the RH bill a priority. After all, the Ledac is composed of these two branches of government.
This Ledac decision is historic. In its 16 years, this is the first time that RH made it to the priority list. Now, we expect Congress to move fast, vote on, and pass the RH bill into law.
I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again (with more conviction): the RH law may be President Aquino’s and Congress’ Christmas gift to the nation, especially to women in poverty.
In the latest meeting of the House of Representatives’ RH authors, we got glimpses of how the Ledac meeting went. We were told that of the 13 bills in the priority list, President Aquino asked Cabinet members to discuss the 12 BUT defended the RH/responsible parenthood bill himself!
As expected, anti-RH legislators like Cebu Rep. Pablo Garcia raised objections. These were responded to by the President directly and firmly. Anti-RH senators like Enrile and Sotto, upon seeing the President’s disposition, reportedly just kept quiet.
People said that from P-Noy’s words and body language, there was no doubt that he wants the RH bill passed soon.
Ben de Leon, President of the Forum for Family Planning, Inc., told me that before the Ledac, in Cabinet meetings with the President, it was Department of Health Secretary Enrique Ona who primarily took the cudgels for the RH bill. It was Ona who asked for its inclusion in the list of priorities and was supported by other Cabinet members.
The Health Secretary did not stop there. He sought a one-on-one meeting with PNoy to further explain the bill’s importance. The meeting took place in the morning of the day before the Ledac. The rest, we already know.
Ona’s and other Cabinet members’ efforts for the RH bill are deeply appreciated.
The President’s actions on the other hand, showed that he listens to what people say and takes note of realities he sees on the ground. The 16-year old girl with kids he met in one of the most depressed areas of Manila apparently made a huge impression on him. He reportedly mentioned this again in defending the bill during the Ledac meeting.
We must commend President Aquino for his decision to push for the RH bill’s passage and particularly, for including the bill in Ledac’s priorities. On this, he clearly showed regard for the needs of poor women, political will, and leadership. Saludo ako sa iyo dito PNoy!
Predictably, those who are against the bill raised a howl.
Senator Vicente Sotto said that Senate would trash the bill. Big words, but even the Senate President who is also against the bill chose his words carefully. Senator Juan Ponce Enrile only said that he did not see smooth sailing for the bill in the Senate.
Sotto’s statement runs counter to the sentiments of other Senators we have spoken with and who think that the Senate will pass the RH bill.
After the last sponsorship speech of Senator Defensor-Santiago, Sotto, as chairman of the committee on rules, said that contrary to what others say, they would want to discuss and DISPOSE of the RH bill.
My opinion is, he had to schedule the plenary discussion because of the Ledac decision and the fact that he has run out of excuses to further delay interpellation.
Perhaps I would have believed Sotto if I did not know of steps he took to delay the bill. It was he who, before discussing the RH bill, wanted to first decide on a so-called citizens’ petition against it submitted to his committee.
He even scheduled a hearing but had to cancel because his committee was questioned for doing something beyond its powers. The committee on rules only deals with procedural, NOT substantive matters.
It was also Sotto who objected to having Senator Pia Cayetano’s RH sponsorship speech earlier because hearings on bills protecting the unborn have yet to be called. This despite the fact that said bills are distinct and separate from the RH bill and, therefore, need not be discussed together with the latter.
Moreover, Sotto never officially informed Sen. Defensor-Santiago’s office of his committee’s decision on her recommendations for a more efficient process of interpellation. Sotto committed to respond during the plenary that heard Defensor-Santiago’s first sponsorship speech.
Really, does Sotto want to expedite the RH bill process?
Like in a pregnancy, care needs to be taken during birthing. On RH, we still expect obstacles. We cannot be complacent and we need to continue pushing. The big ones have been delivered and the final push – the voting – is near.
Citizens should likewise strongly push their legislators to vote for RH so we can celebrate and say, “Congratulations! The RH law is born!”
I will take up Malacañang’s proposed amendments next week.