By Raïssa Robles
UPDATE – At 6:10 P.M. today, August 6, 2012
The House of Representatives made history by approving floor deliberations on the Reproductive Health Bill. This means the next step is the insertion of amendments.
The President will certify the bill as urgent which means its passage for Third Reading will be speeded up in the House. Upon learning this, Fr. Melvin Castro of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines said: “God have mercy on him and on us.”
By getting the House of Representatives to take the crucial vote on the RH Bill today instead of tomorrow, the presidential palace has apparently outmaneuvered the Catholic Church and other foes of the Reproductive Health (RH) law.
The anti-RH bloc was gearing up for a showdown tomorrow. Not today when classes at all levels in the National Capital Region were suspended due to flooding and stormy weather. Caught flatfooted, they’re unable to muster and deploy their usual hakot, mostly consisting of students (some of them unwilling) from Catholic schools ferried by bus.
I actually didn’t expect such a neat stroke during such foul weather.
But I guess the pro-RH advocates felt time was of the essence. They did not want more of the bill’s “sponsors” to back out due to pressure from the Church and its supporters. From what I’ve heard in the past days, the margin of votes for sending the RH Bill to the House floor for deliberations had gone down to a bare handful — just enough to fill an SUV. This meant the Church only had to pressure just a few more congressmen to fulfill its aim of blocking the measure.
The question now is, did the Church and anti-RH people have time to convince this number of lawmakers between lunch today and this afternoon?
Lunch was on the house
Because while the rest of the country ate lunch today, President Benigno Aquino and his congressional allies were busy putting the final touches to the controversial measure. Aquino met with 160 lawmakers and lunch was on him – rather, on us taxpayers.
The lunch drew 160 congressmen or 56% of the 285-member body. A very slim majority, yes, but enough to get the bill to the floor for deliberations and amendments and approved on second reading.
I’m sure the question uppermost in many people’s minds is – what did the President promise his lunch guests? And did they emerge from the Palace with doggie bags, which was what used to happen during the administration of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo?
I’m pretty sure no one inside the Palace was as crass as some aides of the previous president who had placed cash in brown paper bags (well, at least they were environmentally correct).
But I’m also sure there were lawmakers who reminded Budget Secretary Butch Abad about the release of their pork barrel and their sponsored public works projects.
UPDATE as of 5:16 PM, August 6, 2012 – what happened in PNoy’s luncheon with the House members:
Sources told me that PNoy took the high road in his discussions with the lawmakers. He uttered not a word of criticism against the bishops who had slammed him Saturday. All he said was that lawmakers had to think of what was good for the country’s future, vote according to their conscience and not according to their fears.
I guess the last one also meant they should not let the bishops scare them into a “No” vote.
As I write this, the House leadership is set to deliver the final masterstroke by merely conducting a viva voce vote. This means, Church leaders would not know who to direct their anger at. Except the senior House leaders, of course.
While pork barrel has been criticized a lot, it is part of the horse-trading in a democracy. The problem that still needs to be addressed with pork barrel, though, is the aspect of accountability and transparency. The public has to be able to trace where the pork goes and that is what is not very clear till today.
“Don’t burn the House to roast a pig”
Hmmm. It’s interesting that Fr. Joaquin Bernas’ column advising his fellow churchmen – “Don’t burn the house to roast a pig” – appeared before Aquino’s lunch with the lawmakers. Could Bernas have been presciently referring to the House of Representatives getting their pork barrel in exchange for approving the RH Bill?
I think the Church officialdom made a tactical mistake last Saturday when they threatened to campaign against lawmakers who would vote for RH. They also crossed the line separating the Church and the State when they did that.
For this reason, the next congressional elections will be very very interesting to watch. How many pro-RH congressmen will lose in the polls?
Pangasinan, especially, will be a test case for the power of the Catholic Church over the hearts and minds and conscience of voters. Vote-rich Pangasinan is the bishopric of Monsignor Socrates Villegas who equated Contraception with Corruption. It is also at the same time a bailiwick of the Cojuangcos where Congresswoman Kimi Cojuangco, one of the most vocal advocates of the pro-RH Law, is running for a second term.
I think Fr. Bernas tried to warn his colleagues not to bring the issue to a head and not to lay the reputation of the Church on the line on this matter.
It’s too late now. We might see the country reaping the consequences of these moves in the years to come.