(Updated 9:11 p.m.) In a historic vote, both houses of Congress on Monday night approved on third and final reading the contentious Reproductive Health (RH) bill.
The Senate voted 13-8 to pass the bill, while the House of Representatives did the same with an overwhelming 133-79 votes with seven absentions.
"Our legislature took an historic vote today for women and families--as it successfully passed the Reproductive Health Bill," Malacañang said in a statement lauding the approval of the bill.
"We thank our Senators and Congressmen who voted for access to information and care."
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President Benigno Aquino III certified the bill as "urgent" last week, hastening the passage of the measure in both houses of Congress.
The Palace said the lawmakers "voted according to conscience" and that discussions "were heated and did not lack for passionate advocates from either side."
"Despite this, our legislators fulfilled their duties with honor: they crafted a law that can truly address the needs of our people," it said.
Day for RH bill
"There is no force more powerful than idea whose time has come," said Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago, one of the authors of the RH bill.
"Today is the day for the RH [bill]."
The bill promotes the use of both natural and artificial methods of birth control, responsible parenthood, and the education of the youth on reproductive health issues.
The influential Roman Catholic Church, which supports only natural family planning, has strongly opposed the bill.
Critics also argue that the measure seeks to curb the country's population, which currently stands at 94 million, and promotes promiscuity.
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Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, Senate President Pro Tempore Jinggoy Estrada, Senators Aquilino "Koko" Pimentel III, Antonio Trillanes IV, Manuel Villar, Bong Revilla, Vicente Sotto III, and Gregorio Honasan voted against the passage of the bill.
On the other hand, aside from Santiago, senators Edgardo Angara, Joker Arroyo, Pia Cayetano, Alan Peter Cayetano, Franklin Drilon, Francis Escudero, Teofisto Guingona III, Panfilo Lacson, Loren Loren, Ferdinand Marcos Jr., Francis Pangilinan, and Ralph Recto voted for the measure.
Senators Lito Lapid and Sergio Osmeña III were absent during Monday's session.
"I know that we are heading in the right place by passing this measure," said Sen. Pia Cayetano, the bill's sponsor.
Cayetano said the bill "is for every woman who wallows in poverty, those who do not even know na may right silang hindi mabugbog."
Arroyo, meanwhile, said the bill "promises more than it can deliver."
"Sex is not the root of poverty and children, who are our joy, are not the cause of underdevelopment. Bad politics and bad government are more likely candidates for that distinction," said Arroyo, who voted yes but with conditions.
He also said another "misgiving" is that it was only adopted by the Palace "as a demonstration of its power even over churches."
He noted, however, that he found that many "reasonable amendments" were introduced to the measure.
Arroyo, however, threatened to change his vote if those amendments are removed during the bicameral conference committee meetings.
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Recto, for his part, said that he will only vote yes on the condition that "dead provisions will not resurrect like zombies, and newly-birthed ones will not be slaughtered in this third chamber."
"If the Senate contingent will watch idly by as our amendments will be subjected to bicameral abortion, that what will be returned here will be mangled version beyond recognition, then I will exercise my option to vote in the negative," he said.
"Wide chasm of division"
Enrile, Estrada and Sotto said that their opposition to the measure was not influenced by anyone and is based on the dictates of their conscience.
Enrile said he has seen how divisive the measure is.
"This bill no doubt has inflicted a very wide chasm of division in our society for various reasons," he said.
He added by voting no, he wishes to be proven wrong.
Estrada, for his part, said he was convinced by the supposed effect of the bill on Filipino families.
"Minors are being lulled into a false sense of security that it is okay to have sex so long as it is protected sex. Wag naman sana natin pahintulutan nag patuloy na pagbaba ng moralidad sa ating bansa," he said.
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An emotional Sotto, meanwhile, said: "If we approve this measure may I ask God the father to forgive us because we do not know what we are doing."
Lacson, for his part, commended Enrile and Sotto for tenacity in fighting for their beliefs.
Years in the making
Sen. Pia Cayetano, co-sponsor of Senate Bill No.2865 or The Reproductive Health Act, first sponsored the measure on June 7, 2011.
But it only hurdled the period of interpellation almost a year later.
Cayetano, in an interview after the voting, said she prefers the bicameral conference committee meetings on the bill to start on Wednesday.
Since then, several senators have moved to introduce amendments to the bill during the period of committee and individual amendments.
Included in the major amendments are: the removal of the mandate on local government units (LGU) to provide health care services to their constituents; and the requirement of parental consent from minors who wish to gain access to RH services, including contraceptives, from public health facilities.
House approves bill on final reading
Supporters of the RH bill, formally known as House Bill 4244, managed to increase their numbers Monday to lead the measure to its passage.
House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr., who approached the rostrum during the voting and registered an emphatic "Yes" vote, led the pro-RH legislators in passing the Palace-certified measure.
Last Thursday, the RH bill squeaked through second reading at the House in a 113-104 vote with three abstentions. —with Andreo Calonzo/RSJ/HS/YA/KBK, GMA News