Manila (Philippine Daily Inquirer/ANN) - Philippine President Benigno Aquino III is banking on senators and congressmen to "work out compromises" to get Congress to approve the controversial reproductive health bill, Malaca?ang said on Friday.
"At this point we leave it to the House and the Senate to work out whatever deals or compromises they see fit as far as the RH bill is concerned," Strategic Communication Secretary Ricky Carandang told reporters in an ambush interview at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport.
The RH bill has finally moved into the period of amendments in the House of Representatives and the Senate.
House Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales earlier urged the President to intervene and issue marching orders for the approval of the key measure.
Over the past days, Secretary Edwin Lacierda, presidential spokersperson, repeatedly said that Malaca?ang was deferring to Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. and Gonzales to "direct traffic in the period of amendments."
The legislation mandates government to promote both natural and artificial birth control methods and introduce sex education in schools.
Carandang said the senators' move to water down their version of the RH bill could be an attempt to make it more acceptable to a greater majority of Filipinos, more than anything else. "So let's watch the process and see what happens," he said.
Sen. Pia Cayetano had moved on Wednesday for the deletion of an entire subsection in the bill that Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III said could be used to effectively legalize abortion in the country.
In introducing the committee amendments, Cayetano said she hoped "to put the issue to rest and allay fears that the RH Bill will promote abortion." Cayetano proposed replacing the controversial portion with a direct statement: "Abortion is a criminal act in accordance with existing laws."
On the inclusion of certain birth-control devices on the list of essential drugs, Cayetano proposed that the bill just say that the Philippine National Drug Formulary System be observed in including or excluding birth-control supplies in the essential drugs list "in accordance with existing practice."
Both amendments were adopted unanimously.
Not all anti-RH legislators were appeased. Sen. Gregorio Honasan even used the amendments as yet another argument to vote against it.
Honasan argued that Cayetano's amendments "mangled [the RH bill] beyond] recognition" and so there was even less reason to vote for its passage.
He claimed the bill was "redundant" because there were already existing laws and programs for the protection of women and children.
"What's the point in pushing this bill further?" Honasan told the Inquirer.
Expect some senators to introduce "killer amendments," he added.
Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, another anti-RH advocate, said he was unimpressed with Cayetano's assertions that the bill was not a population-control measure, something that Cayetano tried to stress by an amendment that deleted "population and development" from the title.
"Even if you remove that, it's still the same. It's still population control. You can't anymore erase that," Enrile said.
Majority Leader Vicente Sotto, who delivered many speeches against the bill, said he would wait for the final committee amendments and the individual amendments before commenting.