Vote on RH bill now, Aquino tells House

MANILA, Philippines - Saying he's all for it, President Benigno Aquino III wants the House of Representatives to vote on the controversial Reproductive Health bill this week.

"He said it's best we vote this week and not during the last week because that gives a small window for the Senate to discuss the bill and act on it," Ifugao Rep Teddy Baguilat told Rappler.

The President met with at least 170 members of the House of Representatives in Malacañang on Monday, December 3, to break the deadlock on the measure that mandates government to ensure Filipino families' access to family planning tools and information. The Catholic Church is opposed to it.

In another text message to reporters, Baguilat explained the President's position on the matter: "He said we can't delay it, we can't be undecided. We [simply] can't vote no because we're scared of this of that." Asked to elaborate on what the President told them, Baguilat added: "At the end of the day, can we with our conscience say to the 16-yr old child who is pregnant with her 2nd child that we didn't do anything to prevent this?"

Deputy Speaker Lorenzo "Erin" Tañada III said: "There's no exact date. We will play it by ear."

The Palace meeting was held for the President to appeal to the representatives to finally put the bill to a vote. He stressed his position in favor of the bill but maintained that he will let them vote according to their conscience.

"He will not impose a vote because it is a matter left to the conscience of each one but he asked that the vote be done because it is time to set aside the divisive issue. There are no winners if we postpone this to the next Congress," Deputy Majority Leader Marikina Rep Romero Quimbo said.

"He stressed that he is definitely in favor of it and continues to state the reasons why he supports it.... He said if he were in Congress sitting with us, he would vote in favor of it," Quimbo added.

In the meeting, President Aquino asked the solons when they can put the bill to a vote. Solons related to Rappler what happened in the closed-door meeting.

How it happened

Deputy Speaker Northern Samar Rep Raul Daza, a member of President Aquino's Liberal Party but a critic of the RH bill, said in the meeting that they can put it to a vote on December 18, before their Christmas Party.

But Aquino said it can't be that late. The House has to give the Senate time to act on bill as well, he told them.

House Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales then told the President that all they need is a quorum to put the bill to a vote. After all, they have successfully substituted House Bill 4244 to include amendments from Malacañang.

That's when the President said he wanted a vote this week.

The Malacañang statement reads: "He suggested that a week should be adequate time to consider amendments that genuinely improve the bill - in contrast to "killer amendments" - adn that at the end of that period, it is incumbent on representatives to vote."

Deputy Speaker Jesus Crispin "Boying" Remulla said "the amendment by substitution has made it more palatable to most, save for the hard liners."

But he maintained it will still be a close vote.

"I hope that it would pass. We were elected to this position to vote on controversial issues no matter the cost," said Tañada.

An anecdote

During the meeting, President Aquino told the solons the story of a 16-year-old mother he visited in the Baseco compound in Manila. The girl then just gave birth to her 2nd child. Her husband didn't have  stable job.

"He (the President) asked the representatives to consider, too, the circumstances surrounding the child born to such a young parent: what kind of a future would such a child have, in terms of basic needs like nutrition, and other future prospects down the line?," the Malacañang statement reads.

The statement added: "The President said that confronted with the girl's story, he had to ask himself, whose failure was it for the young girl and her children to be so disadvantaged? The President said that such a situation posed a challenge of conscience and leadership to all those who have put themselves forward to serve their constituents. Can you, the President asked, in good conscience, consent to the perpetuation of this state of affairs?" - with reports from Carmela Fonbuena and  Angela Casauay