Questions of quorum, dress code stall RH bill debates in House

It took the House of Representatives two hours to finally start discussions on the controversial Reproductive Health (RH) bill on Tuesday afternoon after lawmakers opposing the measure raised the need to check attendance and delivered a privilege speech supposedly to “delay" the debates.

Just minutes after the sessions opened, Manila Rep. Amado Bagatsing, who opposes the RH bill, questioned the presence of a quorum on the House floor, obliging the lower chamber’s secretary-general to do a roll call of the names of all 283 lawmakers.

After it was established that 203 House members were present, Bagatsing put forth a motion to raise a question of privilege, prompting the lower chamber’s leadership to allow him to deliver a privilege speech on his supposed graft case before the Office of the Ombudsman.

After taking up almost half an hour delivering his speech, Bagatsing asked for additional minutes to speak. Another anti-RH bill congressman, Northern Samar Rep. Raul Daza, suggested that House members nominally vote on Bagatsing’s request, which will allow each lawmaker to explain his or her vote.

Iloilo Rep. Janette Garin, one of the proponents of the RH bill, then stood up and said Daza could not make such a proposal, since he is not even in proper attire.

“These are obviously delaying tactics. Why can’t we just go on and proceed with the discussions?" she told reporters at the sidelines of the House plenary on Tuesday.

After House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. talked to both parties during a short recess, proponents of the bill were finally allowed to deliver their sponsorship speeches.

As of posting time, House population committee chairperson Rep. Rogelio Espina and the bill’s main proponent Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman have already delivered their speeches.

Garin, Akbayan party-list Reps. Arlene Bag-ao and Walden Bello, Muntinlupa City Rep. Rodolfo Biazon, Iloilo Rep. Augusto Syjuco Jr. and Gabriela party-list Reps. Luzviminda Ilagan and Emerenciana de Jesus are also scheduled to speak at the House plenary.

The session hall gallery was jampacked with students, members of religious groups and RH bill advocates who witnessed the initial deliberations on the controversial measure.

Health secretary Enrique Ona and other officials from the Department of Health, as well as the Population Committee, were also present in the gallery.—JV, GMA News

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