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SPEAKER Feliciano Belmonte Jr. will a seek dialogue with President Aquino to determine how to proceed with deliberations on the reproductive health bill.

The measure had not been deliberated upon in the past two weeks at the House of Representatives because of difficulty in mustering a quorum.

Belmonte said he is still “arranging” the meeting “knowing the very busy schedule of the President.”

“I am going to see the President and hear from him his latest position on RH,” Belmonte told reporters over the weekend, noting that he has to seek the President’s guidance to find out how to go about disposing of the measure.

Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, principal author of House Bill 4244, said there is still hope for the RH bill, “as long as I’m not running berserk.”

Lagman implored supporters of the bill to attend sessions starting today so that deliberations will resume, and so they can vote on the bill on second reading and on third and final reading.

“At hindi lang present, dapat nandoon sila hanggang mag-adjourn.  Sabi ko a little sacrifice para maisabatas ang RH bill,” he said.

Belmonte said the President’s possible certification of RH bill as an urgent measure “will help propel its approval.”

In his last state of the nation address, the President pushed for “responsible parenthood” but did not certify House Bill 4244 as urgent, which cast doubt on his seriousness to have the bill enacted.

Aquino later met with congressmen at Malacañang where he asked them to vote on the bill according to their “conscience.”

The House leadership is planning to put the measure to vote before the Christmas break starts on December 22.

Belmonte rejected a proposal of Cibac party-list Rep. Sherwin Tugna to force lawmakers to attend sessions under Section 75 of Rule XI of the House Rules, which states that “in the absence of a quorum after the roll call, the members present may compel the attendance of absent members.”

“I don’t think arresting my colleagues would address the problem. I believe they are sensitive and mature  to do their mandate of reporting to the House of Representatives after the media reported their absences,” said Belmonte who earlier threatened to publicize the names of absentee lawmakers.

Belmonte said he would call the leaders of administration-allied parties in a caucus to have their members attend the 12 remaining session days of the year.

Tugna said he believes many of his colleagues are being pressured by leaders of the Catholic Church which has been calling on their flock to boycott lawmakers who will vote for the measure.

“Knowing that we are a predominantly Catholic nation, representatives whose survival depends on the votes of the people will not only think twice or thrice but a hundred times before voting in favor of the RH bill,” he said.

The Catholic Church is opposing the measure mainly because it allows the use of artificial forms of contraceptives like condoms and pills. The Church wants couples to use only the natural family planning method.

Iloilo Rep. Janette Garin, one of the principal sponsors of the RH bill, defended majority leader Neptali Gonzales II who was accused last week by Pangasinan Rep. Kimi Cojuangco of deliberately delaying discussion on the measure.

Garin, a senior deputy majority leader, said, “I have personally witnessed how he (Gonzales) appealed to party leaders to muster a sustained quorum. He has personally and repeatedly talked, appealed with strong conviction to many hardcore anti-RH solons, many of which agreed to proceed with the amendments,” Garin said.

Authors of the bill have already come up with a substitute measure which they call the “compromise version.” The new version limits the distribution of contraceptives to the poorest of the poor, in a move to appease those opposing the measure, especially the Catholic Church.

Deputy presidential spokeswoman Abigail Valte yesterday said Malacañang “always had a good relationship” with the Catholic Church and other religions, and it is open to dialogues with the Catholic Church now under newly appointed Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle.

Valte’s statement contradicted President Aquino’s earlier lament that he gets more cooperation from Protestants because some Catholic bishops are very quick to criticize him.

Valte refused to comment on the call of the Catholic Church to its members not to support re-electionists who favor the reproductive health bill.

“That is a matter between the Church and its members. Hindi po dapat nakikialam ang estado sa mga ganyang bagay,” she said. – With Regina Bengco



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