Despite the many items on the agenda before Congress takes a break on June 9, these days it largely revolves on one–the Reproductive Health Bill.
RH is the buzzword for contention in debates that start past 4 p.m. and last as long as the speakers could stand.
Already 16 years in the pipeline, the bill has found a momentum in the current 15th Congress, which has already passed it on the committee level at the House of Representatives.
It’s at this period of sponsorship, debate, and amendments, a.k.a. the second reading, where the bill could pass its time.
With political careers and ecclesiastical authority at stake, RH is currently hot copy in PH, and too hot to easily pass.
The weekly fare stars around 40 congressmen who want their moment to challenge the bill’s promoters. Even the gentleman from Sarangani, Rep. Manny Pacquiao, was abruptly inserted into the list of anti-RH interpellators.
The debates have reached the level of a biology class lecture and the highest lengths of tension and tempers.
Long before they slugged it out in the plenary, it was all first on ABS-CBN’s Harapan.
In 2010, Harapan equated itself with the town hall debate–a heated, boisterous face-off of the season’s issues and candidates.
Harapan also pulled in the world as tweeters and netizens weighed in and trended the discussion. A high point in a game-changing election.
No longer in election season, it’s curious minds and confusing sides on the RH controversy that have resuscitated it.
ANC Studio 6 was packed for the forum on the night of May 8. Online, it was touted as a quencher for viewers not yet sated by the morning’s Pacquiao-Mosley boxing match.
It was ideally planned for a bigger venue like the campuses that hosted the Halalan Harapan or even the nearby Pinoy Big Brother eviction hall. None was available that soon.
Still, the night brought back memories of late-’90s face-off shows like “Debate” and “Dong Puno Live”.
As goes with televised debates, the high charges of the RH dispute surged in the Harapan studio. And, despite efforts to stick with the issues, the arguments periodically took detours.
Harapan’s discussion revolved among those deemed central to the debate: When does life begin? Should sex education be taught in schools? Is the Philippines overpopulated?
Indeed, on using contraception, the teaching of reproductive health, and providing for increasing numbers, RH bill supporters and attackers have diverged their positions on the proposal.
Some answered while raising new questions that added more dimensions to the debate. Like the contraceptives-cancer connection. The Catholic Church factor. Nationalism and the specter of hewing to foreign standards.
But since all statements were loosely timed, succeeding speakers had to use up their minute in answering those new arguments. Except for a timer placed in the studio, the debate was planned to be informal.
They shot out opposing statistics. Either the population was going up or the growth rate was slowing down. Greater contraceptive use either increased or decreased abortions.
At worst, the digressions stalled on the personal–one of many faults noted by blogger @I_amHolo.
Rep. Edcel Lagman, principal author of the bill, dished out accusations that his counterpart Rep. Roilo Golez had falsified data in the past.
Golez was defending his stance that the country’s growth rate was actually slowing down. Soon off, he answered that Lagman was entirely about RH.
What some could not do by raising their voices, they did with their bodies.
The show’s producers told the around-50 participants beforehand to refrain from jeering or cheering while the resource persons spoke. They could raise their banners, or flash thumbs-ups or thumbs-downs.
In the most heated exchanges, some resorted to making faces or sticking out tongues.
Resource persons at the far end of the line up usually became voices of calm and reason. What the earlier speakers would divert, others like Dr. Sylvia Claudio and former Gov. Joey Lina would bring back to the table.
Those pushing “Ibasura” largely resent it for moral reasons.
Contraceptive use and population management are against God’s will, against health, and against the long-term health of the nation, they said. RH forces these even on Filipinos who do not support them.
Government support and taxes for this should just be channeled to other projects. After all, sex education is already part of health classes, and pertinent provisions for mothers’ care are already in the Magna Carta for Women.
Why not focus on education and eradicating corruption?
It’s not all sex and population control for those shouting “Ipasa.”
The bill gives poor families a means to limit their family size if they want to, they said. It still bars abortion, a reality they said could be remedied by allowing greater access to information and contraception. And unwanted pregnancies could be reduced by allowing age-appropriate sex ed.
The bill is only one solution to poverty among many, the pro-RH side stressed. A solution nonetheless. None seemed to have worked under the watch of anti-RH officials.
Unless the officials offer a real solution, “Just get out of our way,” as tour guide Carlos Celdran quipped.
Unfortunately, the nearly-two hours allotted for the TV special could not accommodate the myriad issues associated with the bill, or even bring them to closure.
Hashtag #Harapan led Twitter’s trending topics for that midnight, proving that interest in the bill is high out of concern for where it could lead the country next.
Although if the plenary debates in Congress are any indication, the debate still could use a long way from the personal and emotional turns it has taken.
Still barely a quarter of the 40 congressmen have taken the interpellation stand.
After the debates and amendments, the bill will be put to vote. Should it press on, it will move to the third reading, then a bicameral committee with the Senate, and finally, to the President for his approval.
The press and the public will be following suit, but it can take all of 2 years.
If the arguments–and the consequent numbers–fail the RH bill, it returns to square one, waiting for another batch of Congress to resurrect it, and maybe, another Harapan.
Watch “Harapan – RH Bill: Ipasa o Ibasura?” by clicking here if you are in the Philippines.