Although the period of debates on the Reproductive Health bill has ended at the Senate, two advocates of the bill have challenged one of its most vocal critics to a debate.
The challenge, posted by Ateneo professor Leloy Claudio and writer Miguel Syjuco to Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III is this: a debate on the RH bill and Sotto's alleged plagiarism.
The debate, if Sotto accepts the challenge, would pit the team of Claudio and Syjuco against the senator and a partner, and would be streamed on the Internet.
If Sotto refuses the challenge, the two said in an open letter on GMA News, then he should let the Senate vote on the bill.
The challenge has spread on Facebook through the Pro RH Bill fan page.
Sotto, in a privilege speech on August 29, said he was a victim of cyber-bullying. He said criticism against him for copying parts of a U.S. blogger's post for a speech against the RH Bill was an attempt "to kill the messenger" because Pro-RH advocates could not address his arguments against the bill.
But Pro RH Bill said: "We have, over and over and in different venues. What he said in the (turno en contra speech) is nothing new save for some lies. Perhaps he hasn't been really paying attention."
"So, Sen. Sotto, for you to listen to the arguments, accept the challenge of our PRO RH comrades to a tag team debate. Don't hide behind a privilege speech," the note also said.
"In your last privilege speech, you complained about cyber-bullying and claimed that your detractors refuse to refute the substantive portions of your turno en contra speeches. Should you accept our challenge, we will do exactly as you requested. Present all your evidence, and we will respond accordingly. If you want a tag-team partner of your own, there is always the [Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines]," Claudio said in his challenge.
Claudio challenged Sotto to a debate last year, which Sotto rejected, saying it would be an insult to Senators Pia Cayetano and Miriam Defensor-Santiago who could defend the bill themselves.
But Claudio told Yahoo! Southeast Asia that Sotto might be more inclined to accept the challenge this time. "He wants people to answer his points (against the RH bill) directly, and that's what the debate does," Claudio said.
Rejecting the challenge would "just prove to the world that he is a hypocrite," Claudio said.
Syjuco, author of "Ilustrado" and who wrote against Sotto in The New York Times said the "debate must occur no later than the day after your final turno en contra speech, and should cap discussion and guarantee voting in the Senate before the end of session. The wheels of democracy must be allowed to turn."
He said that if Sotto refused the challenge, "there’s evidently nothing more to discuss, and you must allow voting on the RH Bill to proceed immediately."
Yahoo! Southeast Asia tried to reach Sotto for comment but he was unavailable. A member of his staff said, however, that his office only found out about the challenge Monday afternoon.
Fourteen early winners in the party-list race have been named Friday even as the protracted count of votes continues.