Peer pressure within the Liberal Party of President Aquino was a factor in prompting 6th district Rep. Luis Quisumbing to stay away from the plenary hall where voting ended past 1 a.m. Thursday.
Quisumbing, a first-time solon, said he decided to abstain, although he personally is against the RH bill, to give way to the President’s “vision” of change.
The three other absent Cebu lawmakers were 5th district Rep. Ramon “Red” Durano VI, Lapu-Lapu City Rep. Arturo Radaza and Cebu City south district Rep. Tomas Osmeña.
The battle isn’t over yet.
An Archdiocese of Cebu official said the Catholic Church won’t stop asserting that the bill undermines morals and that the decision of lawmakers would have consequences in the 2013 elections.
“We cannot control the freedom of man. The Lord even failed to stop Adam and Eve from committing sin when there were only two of them in the beginning of the world,” said Msgr. Achilles Dakay, media liaison officer.
“We have to respect our congressmen but when they seek public office, we will also respond with our ‘yes’ or ‘no’. We must tell the people not to vote for them legislators.”
Quisumbing, in an interview, explained his absence.
“I’ve been consistent in my stand against the bill from the start . However, I also support the president,” he said. Quisumbing, a first-time lawmaker left the Garcia-led One Cebu party and switched to the Liberal Party this year.
Quisumbing said that during last week’s meeting in Malacañang, he heard President Aquino say that the RH bill was part of his reform agenda.
“Since the president is so passionate about it …including the RH bill in his reform agenda, I decided to abstain to allow the vision of the president to continue to take form. With his vision and platform, we can expect a better country”, Quisumbing explained.
Quisumbing said there was no direct order from Malacanang to vote in favor of the RH bill.
However, the conspicuous presence of four Cabinet members in a Congress lounge closely monitoring the floor voting until 2 a.m. sent a clear message. Secretary Mar Roxas, Butch Abad, Ricky Carandang and Ramon Lacierda were there.(See related story on page 4)
SIX VOTE AGAINST
Cebu congressmen contributed six of the 104 “no” votes against the RH bill, which will still undergo third and final reading, next week.
Only one Cebuano, party list Rep. Raymond Mendoza of the Trade Union Congress of the Philippines, voted “yes”, saying the RH bill “pro-worker”.
“This is our commitment to our workers and their families who wanted the bill passed because reproductive health is part of basic labor rights,” said Mendoza.
Cebu is the first Christian settlement in the Philippines, and has one cardinal and a Cebu archbishop who heads the nation’s organization of bishops, so it’s no surprise that legislators hew closely to the Catholic Church’s position against the RH bill.
The six lawmakers who rejected the RH bil, were 1st district Rep. Eduardo Gullas, 2nd district Rep. Pablo Garcia, 3rd district Rep. Pablo John Garcia, 4th district Rep. Benhur Salimbangon, Cebu City north district Rep. Rachel Marguerite “Cutie” del Mar and ANAD partylist Rep. Pastor Jun Alcover Jr.
Osmeña, a pro-RH bill advocate, earlier on said he would abstain out of respect for his close friendship with former congressman Raul del Mar, a papal awardee, who joins the Catholic Church’s objection to the bill.
The reclusive Rep. Radaza of Lapu-Lapu city was in Congress but left the session early “because of health reasons”, according to his trusted aide Charles Vailoces. Injuries from an old motorcycle accident have left Radaza using crutches to move about.
Vailoces said Congressman Radaza, whose party is Lakas- NUCD CMD, is pro-life and sides with the Catholic Church on the matter.
It’s not clear whether Radaza was avoiding an awkward vote that would antagonize the administration party.
Meanwhile, if Durano wrestled with the same dilemma, then skipping the nominal voting spared him from showing disrespect for a new political ally.
Durano’s family struck an alliance in July with the Liberal Party to unite behind the candidacy of Vice Gov. Agnes Magpale, an aunt of the lawmaker.
CDN tried to reach Durano but he did not respond to calls or text messages to his mobile phone. ABS-CBN television reported that Durano was among of those who didn’t show up during the voting.
WHY IT’S NO
Congressman Gullas voted “no” to a bill he said would misdirect government resources.
“This bill, Mr. Speaker, entails the expense of billions of precious resources from our public coffer to prevent life from beginning, all for the sake of upholding freedom of choice.”
He said the funds would be better spent improving condtions of health and social peace, and uplifting lives.
Above all, said Gullas, he values human life.
“What is good and right, Mr. Speaker, is not a matter of freedom of choice. There are enduring moral principles that determine what is good and right- and the primacy of sanctity of human life is the ultimate good not only for each of us as individual citizens but for the greater Filipino national society as well”, he said.
Party list Rep. Alcover of Anad said the RH proposal was an “evil bill because it attacks the church and divides the nation.”
Rep. Salimbangon also voted “no”, said Rep. Pablo Garcia whose son Rep. Pablo John did the same.
Pablo Garcia said distributing condoms and other contraceptives was contrary to doctrines of the Catholic Church. He noted that the government would spend P3 billion in a year, mostly for contraceptives that will be distributed to poor families, while the budget for general health is only P1 billion.
“The ones who will benefit most are foreign pharmaceutical companies,” he warned.
While other countries like Singapore are reversing their family control programs, due to lack of young workers, this has enabled many Filipinos to find jobs abroad and send money home, he said.
“That’s why now is not the time to reduce the population. The youths are an asset for our economic growth,” he said.
Garcia, one of the most veteran legislators in Congress, said the bill will likely be passed because the Aquino administration campaigned hard for it — unless the bishops and clergy take aggressive action.
“Kay ang uban maikog man sab sa simbahan, labi na karon nga nagsingabot ang election (The other congressman don’t want to offend the church especially now that elections are approaching.)
Rep. Rachel Marguerite del Mar also voted no.
“There is something terribly wrong when a bill disrespects basic religious beliefs and treats it as if it were separate – or could be separated – from the daily life of a Catholic who must live his faith,” she said in explaining her vote.
She said the bill “mocks the revered authority of the Catholic church… by allowing and encouraging unrestricted sale, distribution and use of contraceptives and artificial methods of birth control.”
The RH bill or the Responsible Parenthood, Reproductive Health and Population and Development Act of 2011 is a consolidated bill awaiting approval by the House of Representatives and the Senate. /Jhunnex Napallacan, Correspondent