MANILA, Philippines --- Seven opposition congressmen resigned in mass as co-authors of the controversial Reproductive Health bill, causing the bill's advocates some concern as they prepared for plenary voting on the measure on Tuesday.
Minority Leader Danilo Suarez announced their withdrawal of support to House Bill 4244 as Catholic church leaders conducted "man-to-man" conferences with other authors of the bill to step up their campaign against the measure
The House is to vote on August 7 whether to terminate or continue with the deliberations on the bill.
Aside from Suarez, the minority solons who sent Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. letters of withdrawal of authorship are Elmer Panotes (Lakas-CMD, Camarines Norte); Reena Concepcion Obillo (Una ang Pamilya); Orlando Fua (Lakas-CMD, Siquijor); Nasser Pangandaman (AA-Kasosyo); Mohammed Hussein Pangandaman (Lakas-CMD, Lanao del Sur); and Pastor Alcover (ANAD partylist).
"Some of us have always opposed the RH bill and will simply continue to do so. But others among us were not only supporters but even co-authors of the bill," Suarez said.
The withdrawal leaves only eight members of the House opposition as co-authors.
Suarez said the remaining eight legislators have yet to re-examine their stand and may change their minds during the debates.
Isabela Rep. Rodolfo Albano, a co-author, said he has not made up his mind.
Suarez said the decision to withdraw support is not an offshoot of former President and now Congerssman Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo's staunch support for the Catholic stand.
"I understand that Congresswoman Arroyo plans to cast her first vote next week, after so many months, on an issue that is close to her heart, namely, the RH Bill. This is an issue that she feels strongly about as a devout Catholic, although she never used her term in the Presidency to push things her way. But now, as a member of Congress, she will be free to vote her heart and her mind," Suarez said.
Batangas Rep. Hermilando Mandanas said several members of the House majority were also reconsidering their position supporting the bill.
Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, one of the principal authors of the bill, said they remain confident that the church's claim of waning support for the measure has no basis.
"The legislators are fully aware of the realities on the ground about gripping mass poverty spawned by an inordinately huge population growth rate because couples and women in the marginalized sectors do not have access to correct reproductive health information and effective supplies and services," said Lagman.
He said the Catholic bishops' survey that 140 congressmen will vote against the measure could be likened to a miracle of "turning water into wine."
Suarez said only eight out of the 28 members of the minority bloc are still co-authors of the measure.
As co-authors, congressmen are expected to vote for HB 4244 which sets a reproductive health policy that Catholic church considers adverse to its "pro-life" stance.
In the Senate, proponents of the Reproductive Health bill are frustrated over the refusal of some lawmakers who are staunch critics of the measure to allow discussions on the health bill.
Sen. Pia Cayetano said she is getting impatient and feels bad that the Philippines has always been in the forefront "when it comes to policies, legislation regarding women's issues" but is having difficulty passing a bill that seeks to provide ample health care particularly to Filipino families.
"I've heard worse stories in other countries (that want to pass a similar bill) so I just feel bad that the Philippines is always in the forefront when it comes to policies, legislation and when it comes to women's issues, normally, nangunguna naman tayo (we're always ahead)," said Cayetano who heads the Senate Committee on Health and Demography.
Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III earlier vowed to give the bill a thorough scrutiny despite President Benigno S. Aquino III's equivocal support for it.
Enrile debunked Cayetano's claim that the bill is already "ripe for passage" saying contentious issues concerning the measure should be resolved.
He said the health measure should not be likened to a banana or a mango fruit "which emits a fragrance when it's ripe for harvest."
"They think it is already ripe for passage but not for me. The measure is not like a banana or a mango which emits a fragrance when it's already ripe," Enrile said recently in an interview.
Malacanang, however, is hoping that when the time comes to vote on the responsible parenthood bill, lawmakers would make the decision based on the future of Filipino children, not their political ambitions in 2013.
Presidential Spokesman Edwin Lacierda yesterday reminded that the congressional vote on the measure is not about winning another elective post.
"This should not be a vote as to whether will I be re-elected if I don't vote on this bill or not. It should be a vote on the future of our country, on the future of the children that we bring into the world," Lacierda said in a Palace press briefing.
He cited that a recent opinion poll showed 70 percent of the Filipinos support the measure. "We would hope they would consider the views of the people, take note of the survey on why there is a need for responsible parenthood bill," he said.
An official of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) said Arroyo is welcome to join Saturday's prayer rally against the bill at the EDSA Shrine.
"All anti-RH people are welcome to join us on Saturday," CBCP-Episcopal Commission on Family and Life (ECFL) Executive Secretary Fr. Melvin Castro said.
(Additional reports from Hannah L. Torregoza, Genalyn D. Kabiling, Leslie Aquino and Charissa M. Luci)