Philippine lawmakers speed birth control vote

Philippine legislators on Monday voted to terminate heated debates on a controversial birth control law after President Benigno Aquino urged its speedy passage.

A "voice vote" at the 285-member House of Representatives ended further debates on the bill which has polarised the largely Catholic nation of almost 100 million.

Congressman Edcel Lagman, the main proponent of the bill, said the loud, vocal support for accelerating its passage was a "positive indication" that it would be passed by the House this month.

"We are at the threshold of victory but we are not yet at our victory because we will have to wait for final voting," he told AFP.

Earlier Tuesday, Aquino met with leaders of the House and expressed his desire to see the law passed, his spokesman Edwin Lacierda said.

"The president echoed the view that the responsible parenthood measure had been discussed thoroughly over the past several years and expressed his desire that Congress move on to the next step in the legislative process," he said.

In the past opponents of the bill used lengthy debates and long-winded speeches to delay its passage until Congress adjourned, effectively preventing it from being passed.

The church, whose opinion on key issues helps to shape public opinion, led thousands in a rally on Saturday to call on congressmen to junk the bill.

The bill seeks to make it mandatory for the government to provide free contraceptives as well as introducing sex education in schools, which the politically influential Catholic church has rejected.

Lagman said that the next legislative process would be to open the bill for amendment ahead of its passage.

The Senate, or the upper chamber of congress, needs to separately pass the bill before it can effectively become law, and some of its leaders have openly said they would reject it.

On Monday, over 100 activists favouring the bill held a peaceful rally outside congress to press for its passage.

Women's groups as well as the United Nations have been pushing for the law to be passed, saying it would help to bring down the maternal mortality rate in the Philippines, which is one of the highest in the region.

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