Apparently wanting to assure the passage of the Reproductive Health (RH) bill two days after the Catholic Church made a grand reminder to legislators about its still potent political clout, President Aquino called a caucus among Liberal Party (LP) members in the House of Representatives at Malacañang on the eve of the voting for the bill.
Some House members expressed fears that several legislators may resort to disappearing acts during the day of the vote to prevent being targeted by the Church during next year’s elections.
In a text message sent by the Office of Communications Assistant Secretary Renato Marfil, the caucus is scheduled at 1 p.m. today. However, there wasn’t any agenda indicated in the text advisory regularly sent to Palace reporters for reference. Even Aquino’s deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte confirmed the caucus but did not give further details about the event.
“(It is a) caucus with the LP, 1 p.m.,” disclosed Valte on government radio.
A check by this reporter showed that the caucus would be held at the Heroes Hall, the biggest function facility in Malacanang. The area, Tribune learned, was being prepared for an audience of no less than 200 persons.
A highly placed source confirmed that the President would be talking to members of the House of Representatives and share his thoughts on the controversial reproductive health bill the fate of which they would be deciding at the plenary session of the lower house tomorrow.
Of the 240 congressmen who were previously invited, 151 congressmen have confirmed attendance. The source however was unable to give the details of the list because it was a no-work day when this reporter sought for clarifications, but the LP only has 88 members at the House.
The source further hinted that all members of the House were invited to attend the “LP caucus” originally scheduled 11:30 a.m. but moved to 1:30 p.m.
The passage of the controversial RH bill appeared certain, according to Presidential Legislative Liaison Office (PLLO) chief Manuel Mamba in an interview with Palace reporters over the weekend.
Ata radio press briefing, Mamba however admitted facing one last hurdle of compelling the political allies of Malacanang, to show up and vote for the passage of the bill.
“Well, for us the congressmen have long decided about it (RH bill). What is important for us today is that they show up. The way I see it, this is a matter of stressing, not stir their mind, and from many instances of our dialogues, most of them seemed supporting the bill. That is why, we wish debates would be put to an end and we go into voting to allow time for amendments and then ultimately reach the second reading for it to be approved,” Mamba said.
He likewise accused anti-RH advocates of desperately trying to stall its enactment “because they knew well it’s headed towards passage.”
“What they’re doing is to stall it until it comes close to the election, pinning their last hope on the wrong impression that politicians would re-consider for fear of losing votes. On the contrary though, we have had several communications with the same congressmen who claimed to stand by what they have earlier stood for, averred Mamba who cited the close of the 10-year old debate.
“It’s been almost ten years since the time I was in Congress even at a point that the anti-RH would still try to ventilate question moments before congressmen gets to vote. And it is more of stalling and not taking into consideration the merits of the bill,” Aquino’s errand to the Lower House lamented.
Mamba expressed confidence that Tuesday was the day congressmen would finally be able to end the decade-long legislative stand-off
The Malacanang liaison officer to Congress said the Church could only get to influence a few to disagree on the bill, even as he identified Church strongholds as far from where the actual battle was, apparently referring to the remote barangays where government information campaign hardly gets to reach.
“The Church still wields charisma in certain areas perhaps where Church people are very charismatic. But summing it up, even a majority of priests are also for the RH bill. I talked to a lot of friends who are priests and religious people and they are supportive of the bill but would not want to be dragged publicly — because the Church hierarchy is really anti-RH. But the truth is even the young priests, most of them are also supportive of the bill,” Mamba added.
Asked whether the presence of three prominent senators in the anti-RH rally on Saturday would affect the chances of the bill’s passage, Mamba said majority of the senators supported the bill.
“Given a situation that the RH bill gets to the second reading at the Lower House, the Senate will also be prodded to put it into a vote,” he said.
Aquino’s deputy spokesman Abigail Valte added that with or without the RH bill, the government would sustain efforts meant to address population control through the distribution of condoms.
Valte said the Church need not feel bad over what the Department of Health (DoH) has been doing for sometime even as she claimed that natural family planning would get an equal fund to espouse on theirs.
“This is… on the other hand you also have separate funding for natural family planning centers. So we can’t probably say the government has preference over the other because both methods — natural and contraceptive based, funds will be made available. We will not be the one choosing the method. We would not be imposing on the type of method. It will all still depend on the families, who would decide based on the options available for them,” Valte averred.
Likewise, Aquino, who has openly admitted pushing for a legislative bill on safe sex and population control, doesn’t seem fazed with an imminent break-up with Bishop Socrates Villegas, known to be a close friend of his family.
Valte, who declined to answer media queries seeking comment on an imminent crack between the President and his mom’s ‘confidante’, said matters of a personal nature should best be answered by the President himself.
“I cannot answer that question for the President. Perhaps you should ask him the next time that you get to talk to him. It’s quite personal, so I’m sorry. The only reason that I don’t want to answer that is because that’s a personal question for the President,” she said.
Asked whether the Palace shared the belief of some bishops that contraception was corruption, she cited the President as having stated his position: pro-life and pro-quality of life, while lamenting what she claimed as a Church depriving its followers of the required and complete information from where families can base their decision or position over the issue.
She further reiterated that the Palace had maintained a position which is against abortion.
The Catholic Church made a grand display of its opposition to the reproductive health bill during Saturday’s prayer rally at the Edsa Shrine by getting thousands to join amid bad weather.
During the rally, religious leaders and anti-RH bill advocates reminded the people of the repercussions of the RH bill.
“Corruption is the cancer of the Philippines that prevents us from growing. My dear youth, contraception is corruption. The use of government money, taxpayers’ money, to give out contraceptive pills is corruption,” Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas said in a message read by former Ambassador to the Vatican Henrietta de Villa.
Reacting to Villegas’s statement as read by de Villa, Valte said, “when it comes to issues of national importance, we should focus on merits and demerits [to elevate] public discourse.”
The President in his State of the Nation Address (Sona), Aquino bragged of his optimism about the responsible parenthood bill.
Congressmen have filed a number of versions of the RH bill, all espousing on safe sex and population control using the contraceptives. These bills however differ on the volume and amount of purchase of contraceptives.