Lawmakers Skip RH Bill Debates to Avoid Catholic Church Backlash in 2013 Polls

By TJ Burgonio
Philippine Daily Inquirer
6:10 pm | Sunday, November 25th, 2012


MANILA, Philippines — The lack of quorum plaguing House deliberations on the reproductive health bill could only be explained this way: reelectionist lawmakers fear “provoking’’ their outspoken parish priests.

In the countryside, there is such a thing as a “Catholic vote’’ and pro-RH lawmakers would rather “absent’’ themselves than become object of attacks from the pulpit in the run-up to the May 2013 elections, according to Secretary Manuel Mamba.

Mamba, head of the Presidential Legislative Liaison Office (PLLO), said lawmakers have been “fearful’’ of provoking their “influential’’ parish priests by appearing in the deliberations or voting on the controversial measure.

“If you’re a politician, you stay out of trouble. They (clergy) are not even the enemy; why provoke them? By voting for the measure, you’re provoking the Catholic hierarchy,’’ he said by phone.

“The elections are near. You don’t want to create enemies. In local politics, there is a Catholic vote, especially in areas where the clergy are very influential on their flock. If the clergy are popular, they have the pulpit. They can do it every Sunday,’’ he continued.

So for some pro-RH lawmakers with their eyes on the mid-term elections, the option has been “to absent themselves,’’ said the Secretary, whose office has been acting as a middleman between Malacañang and Congress in the passage of the administration’s legislative agenda.

Mamba said President Benigno Aquino III has been aware of such dynamics in local politics. Being a former lawmaker himself in Cagayan province in the northernmost tip of the archipelago, Mamba said he “fully understood’’ where the lawmakers have been coming from.

“It would have been much easier if it were put to a vote not too close to the elections,’’ he said.

Campaign for the mid-term elections goes in full swing in mid-February.

The measure, which seeks to curb population growth, is fiercely opposed by the Church. After bold predictions by House leaders it would be approved, plenary deliberations on the measure have been bogged down by a lack of quorum.

Lawmakers either skipped sessions or left after the roll call. House Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales II said most of the absentees were supporters of the measure.

Despite this, the President has not issued a fresh call on his allies in the House to bring the measure to a vote.

“The President has said his piece,’’ Mamba said, referring to Aquino’s Aug. 6 luncheon-caucus with the lawmakers in Malacañang. “He has given orders for the lawmakers to be present, have a quorum and vote on it. He will not impose whatever position they will have. What’s important is they vote on it.’’

After the caucus, the lawmakers voted overwhelmingly to terminate debates. But with the recent lack of quorum in the deliberations, no amendment has been introduced.

Undersecretary Abigail Valte, President Aquino’s deputy spokesperson, said they have not discussed with the President the matter of certifying the priority measure as urgent.

Otherwise, Malacañang has been leaving its approval up to the lawmakers, she added.

In the 283-member House, the pro-RH lawmakers have a slight edge over the anti-RH proponents, and forcing it to a vote at this stage of absenteeism would be unwise. It’s possible that more anti-RH lawmakers than the proponents would show up for the vote, observers said.

“Our problem in the House is membership. Our problem in the Senate is the leadership,’’ Mamba said.

Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III are opposed to a counterpart measure in the upper chamber.

Unlike in the House, the bill has better chances of getting approved in the Senate, with more senators backing it, according to Mamba.



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