MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) - He's not the majority leader for nothing. All Mandaluyong Rep Neptali Gonzales II needed were 1) a quorum and 2) a go-signal from Speaker Feliciano "Sonny" Belmonte Jr to do what he's got to do to outmaneuver critics of the controversial Reproductive Health bill (RH bill).
Gonzales - a known supporter of the RH bill - successfully jumpstarted the period of amendments in the House of Representatives, which has long been delayed by parliamentary tactics. Gonzales substituted the original version of House Bill 4244 with the additional amendments adopted by the sponsors after the committee level approval.
"It's a small victory," Gonzales told reporters after the session. The session was immediately adjourned after the plenary accepted Gonzales' move. That was also a matter of strategy. It's better to adjourn than allow anti-RH lawmakers to question the vote.
"As I told you, once we have the quorum, we are going to win the battle and eventually the war," said bill sponsor Albay Rep Edcel Lagman.
"Now we have moved forward, actually fast forward, because the amendment by substitution had been approved by the plenary and that will be the basis of individual amendments. But considering that the amendment by substitution is replete with amendments addressing the concerns, the objections and reservations of the oppositiors, then we would expect that there will be few individual amenments," Lagman added.
Under the substitute bill, the government shall provide public access to “medically safe, legal, accessible, affordable and effective” reproductive health care services and supplies "which do not prevent implantation of a fertilized ovum" as determined by the Food and Drug Administration.
The substitute bill also states that the government shall prioritize the needs of marginalized households.
Rabid RH bill critics Deputy Speaker Pablo Garcia of Cebu tried to stop Gonzales. It was a war on the complicated rules of the House of Representatives. Garcia questioned Gonzales's move to introduce committee amendments when there was no record of committee meetings.
It's an open secret that the list of amendments was a result of informal meetings among House members. The list was meant to address concerns of some House members who had issues with some provisions of the bill.
In the end, Gonzales said Garcia gave him the opening that he needed. Instead of introducing the list as committee amendments, he adopted them as his own amendments to the bill. Bill sponsor Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman accepted the subsitution and the plenary - through a viva voce vote - accepted.
There was no question that the RH bill advocates responded to the call for quorum. The aye vote to approve Gonzales's substitution overwhelmed the soft "nay" vote.
"It was viturally overwhelming for the approval of the motion to adopt to adopt the amendment by substitution. I would expect that amendmetns which are not consistent with the amendment by susbsitution will be voted out," said Lagman.
Daily battle with quorum
But Garcia refused to concede. He vowed to appeal the vote when session resumes on Tuesday, November 27.
"Those amendments were not regularly presented. We will pursue our appeal," Garcia told Rappler.
When asked how he's going to counter Garcia's appeal, Gonzales said he's ready to face the House leader - if there's quorum.
It's going to be a daily battle with attendance. If there's quorum, the war between the House leaders will resume Tuesday.
Lagman said the timetable remains. They want the RH bill passed before the Christmas break.
There's a possible boost for the RH bill. Belmonte said he's going to meet with President Aquino to discuss the fate of the bill next week.
After the session on Monday, Gonzales and RH bill advocate Pangasinan Rep Kimi Cojuangco also faced the media to show that they've patched up their differences.
Cojuangco earlier accused Gonzales of deliberately dribbling the RH bill in plenary supposedly because he has succumbed to the pressure from the Catholic Church.
"The majority floor leader has proven to me [that he is for women's rights] and I ask for forgiveness because of my doubts. I hope we can work together for the good of all women and Filipino families through the RH bill," Cojuangco said.
Gonzales said he never took Cojuangco's attacks personally. "I will assure Kimi that I understand her. I was not hurt. Ganoon talaga. I know she's very passionate about her advocacy. I also know that tomorrow, many of the anti-RH solons will also hate me. It goes with the territory. It's part of my job," added Gonzales. - Rappler.com