August 7 is the day of reckoning for the reproductive health bill. Although this is merely a vote to stop the more than a decade of debates on the controversial legislative proposal, this has gained much importance because the results will decide whether the bill will still be processed or shelved by the House of Representatives.
The unholy ‘holy’ alliance
Interestingly, former President and now Representative Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, on her first day of work after many months of detention, said she would vote against the RH bill on August 7. She also influenced other members of the House minority to turn against the bill.
Well, Arroyo has been against RH even during her incumbency as President. Her administration withheld RH services, especially access to artificial family planning. Thousands of poor mothers died from pregnancy and childbirth-related complications during her ten-year administration.
It was like martial law on RH services.
Inside the House of Representatives, there is much talk that the bishops, through the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, are the ones behind the moves of anti-RH legislators. Arroyo’s moves may have been dictated, or these could be her own political maneuvers to get back at the pro-RH President Benigno Aquino III.
Whatever it is, the RH issue has become a battle between Arroyo and Aquino.
The men in robes are of course pleased with Arroyo. Thus, there now exists a CBCP-GMA unholy ‘holy’ alliance against the passage of the RH bill, and by extension, against Aquino.
It will be interesting to see how a President who does not like losing will act on this.
For RH advocates, the CBCP-GMA alliance could be the best thing that could happen to the RH bill at this crucial point. This can help propel the bill’s passage.
The credibility of both the CBCP and GMA is almost nil. This is true of the former because of the “Pajero bishops” scandal, penchant for disinformation, and for forcing its dogma on the whole country. For the latter, there is public perception that she cheated in elections and that her administration was corruption-infested.
If GMA appears in the CBCP anti-RH rally, I wonder how much cheering she will receive from the crowd.
CBCP claimed that it has 140 House members who will vote against the RH bill. Whether the number came by inspiration or by mathematics, I say it is untrue.
Civil society groups did a conservative head count based on actual and repeated talks with legislators and we already have 143 pro-RH House members. A significant number remains mum on their position but the surely anti-RH ones reached only a little over 70 — including those from the minority that GMA convinced to turn around.
We know that there are moves going on within political parties. The RH champions are working very hard to convince the quiet ones to vote in favor of saving our mother’s lives, reducing teen-age pregnancies and for the country’s welfare.
If the CBCP is convinced that it has the numbers, then it should join the RH advocates in calling even for the final vote on the bill.
Maneuvers to derail voting
Because the anti-RH legislators want to derail the process, they are expected to do everything so the voting is blocked.
They will definitely fight the motion to end the period of interpellation by saying that there are more House members who have yet to finish asking questions.
The anti-RH can remain outside of the session hall to make achieving a quorum difficult. If pro-RH manages to achieve it, the oppositors can come in and question quorum at any time that they feel it is lost. Thus, it is extremely important for pro-RH to stay.
Some may stand up for what they call “personal and collective privilege”. These are actually speeches done often to clarify issues involving their own persons or the House as a collective body. Such speeches may be subject to questions by other members and surely, this will be done to delay the process. We can only imagine how long these can take if the House leadership allows such speeches.
Should voting happen, the usual mode of “ayes” and “nays” will definitely be objected to and they will, in the end resort to nominal voting. That is the manner by which each House member stands up and articulates his or her vote with or without explanation. Nominal voting can take long and pro-RH legislators need to prepare for a marathon session.
I am sure that there are other things that those against the bill can do.
The key is for the HOR leadership to exercise political will to finish this important task.
We, the people can help in getting the August 7 vote. As voters, we placed the House members there to represent our interests. We should continue making our voices heard. Bishops are calling legislators one by one. We should do the same. Flood their emails, call their offices, post on their Facebook pages, tweet them.
We should make our legislators accountable to us.
firstname.lastname@example.org and @bethangsioco on Twitter