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Monday, May 18, 2009

New party-list reps aid RH bill passage

by Jesus F. Llanto, Newsbreak | 05/07/2009 4:24 PM

The entry of new party-list representatives in Congress is expected to give a boost to the passage of the reproductive health (RH) bill, lawmakers said.

In a forum on the reproductive health bill held Thursday in Quezon City, two lawmakers said the number of legislators supporting the RH bill is expected to increase as a result of the entry of additional sectoral representatives in Congress.

The Supreme Court on April 21 allowed the entry of an additional 32 sectoral representatives to fill up all the available seats for the party-list system. The 1987 Constitution states that 20 percent of the members of the House of Representatives should come from the marginalized or under-represented sectors.

Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, the main proponent of the RH bill or House Bill 5043, said they are confident that they could get half of the 27 new party-list representatives to support the legislation. The bill seeks more funding for a government campaign to promote natural and artificial family planning.

“We are going to get majority of the new members of Congress,” said Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman. “Out of the 27 sitting [new party-list representatives], majority will support the RH bill.”

Lagman added that five of the 27 have already signed as co-authors of the bill while around 15 have committed to support the measure.

The five who have signed are: Abono’s Francisco Emmanuel Ortega, Akbayan’s Walden Bello, Bayan Muna’s Neri Colmenares, Barangay Association for National Advancement of Transparency (Banat) Rep. Salvador Britanico, and Abakada Guro’s Jonathan dela Cruz.

Lagman said that this would bring the number of RH bill supporters in the Congress to 133. “We do not need 133 to pass the bill because we only need a majority of the quorum,” he said.

Iloilo Rep. Janette Garin said other representatives have also expressed their interest in supporting the bill, but she refused to divulge their names.

“The moment we release their names, the Church will be ganging up on them and it becomes detrimental on our part,” Garin said. “The moment CBCP [Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines] gangs up on them, especially since they are new in Congress, they will either withdraw their signatures or be very silent, or probably abstain.”

Lagman, however, said the entry of the new members have also increased the quorum to 134, a number that is high. “If we do not have a quorum, that’s the best weapon for the opponents to delay the passage of the bill.”

Overshadowed by Cha-cha

The “unbelievable initiative” on Charter Change, Lagman said, has delayed the debates on the RH bill and other more important issues.

“It’s consuming too much time in the house, and this has crowded out more important measures like the extension of the land acquisition component of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP), and the reproductive health bill,” Lagman said.

Since the 9th Congress, similar RH bills have been filed but they were met with strong opposition, especially from the influential Catholic hierarchy and some lobby groups that interpret some of its provisions as promoting irresponsible sex and abortion.

“It is not about sex and it’s not about religion. It’s about health, rights, and sustainable human development,” Lagman said

Recent surveys show that majority of the Filipinos support the legislation. For instance, a Pulse Asia survey in October 2008 showed that 63 percent of Filipinos support the RH bill.

The Philippines is the 12th most populous country in the world with around 88.6 million inhabitants as of 2007. Its population grew at 2.04 percent from 2000-2007 and is expected to double or reach 177 million in 2041.— with Sammie Sauler, Newsbreak intern