Congress ratifies RH bill, clearing final hurdle before PNoy signs it into law

The reproductive health (RH) bill is now one signature away from becoming law after both the Senate and House of Representatives ratified the controversial measure Wednesday night, just hours after the bicameral conference committee came up with a consolidated version of the controversial measure. The Senate first ratified the bill shortly before 7 p.m. with 11 senators voting in favor of the report and five senators opposing it. An hour later, the House also ratified the bill by a voice vote, with House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. presiding over the session himself. The Reproductive Health Bill as consolidated by the bicameral conference committee and sent to the House and Senate for ratification. The ratification clears the final hurdle for the bill in Congress, and paves the way for its approval by President Benigno Aquino III, who had certified it last week as urgent. The President had earlier identified the RH bill as one of his priority measures.

The proposed legislation seeks to improve public access to reproductive health services, including natural and artificial family planning options. It also promotes better maternal care, responsible parenthood, and youth education on sexual and reproductive health issues. The Catholic Church has staunchly opposed the bill. The ratification came after the bicameral conference committee approved a unified bill consolidating the two versions of the Senate and House of Representatives earlier in the day. It took just a few hours for lawmakers from both chambers of Congress to come up with a unified version of the Palace-backed measure. The reconciled version retained the much debated phrase “safe and satisfying sex life” under the definition of reproductive health. Among the important provisions passed by the bicameral committee are the requirement of parental consent from minors who are not yet married or are with children; mandatory reproductive health education for those aged 10 to 19 years old; and the responsibility of the national government to assist local government units in the distribution of RH services. Not perfect, but better "Despite the sometimes acrimonious debates, I am happy to note that there is no blood on the floor. We can come to terms with each other despite any differences that have existed," Belmonte said in a speech after the ratification. Sen. Pia Cayetano, co-author and co-sponsor of the RH bill in the upper chamber, said she was thankful to the Senate and House panels for "working collectively to come up with a unified version of the RH bill. "I defended the RH bill Senate version faithfully even though it was hard because of amendments I did not agree with. In the end, I believe we have an RH bill that is better than it was when it left each House. Not perfect, but better," she said. At a press conference earlier in the day, RH bill co-authors House deputy majority leader and Iloilo Rep. Janet Garin and Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman were also thankful for the passage of the measure. Garin expressed gratitude to the lawmakers who were initially against the bill, but who eventually accommodated their wishes. "Pinapasalamatan din namin sila sa kanilang pagtugon sa panawagan ng lahat...the common goal of everybody was to come up with a legislative measure that will really answer the need of the Philippines," she said.— DVM/YA/ELR, GMA News

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