Weak leadership or cynical games?
There is a reason why Philippine Presidents want clear majorities in the two legislative houses: To make sure pet bills are passed. Chief Executives detail their pet initiatives in their State of the Nation (SONA) speeches at the start of every Congress and then reiterate their wishes as the legislative mill grinds on.
When governance experts grade leadership performance, the ability to shepherd pet measures through Congress is a key segment. Congress leaders, of course, are also measured by the same stick.
In President Benigno Aquino’s last SONA, allusions to the Reproductive Rights bill got the loudest, longest ovation. This is what he said:
“Sana nga po, ngayong paubos na ang backlog sa edukasyon, sikapin nating huwag uling magka-backlog dahil sa dami ng estudyante. Sa tingin ko po, responsible parenthood ang sagot dito.”
He did not specifically mention the RH bill but proponents — and national surveys show most Filipinos back reproductive rights initiatives — thought it was a clear endorsement of the measure. Later on, anti-RH legislators, including Sen. Tito Sotto, would claim Mr. Aquino fell short of an endorsement. Still, as abs-cbnnews.com notes, Malacanang had earlier released the President’s 5-point statement of principle on reproductive rights.
- Aquino is against abortion.
- He is in favor of giving couples the right to choose how best to manage their families so that in the end, their welfare and that of their children are best served.
- Aquino believes that the state must respect each individual’s right to follow his or her conscience and religious convictions on matters and issues pertaining to the unity of the family and the sacredness of human life from conception to natural death.
- In a situation where couples, especially the poor and disadvantaged ones, are in no position to make an informed judgment, the state has the responsibility to provide.
- In the range of options and information provided to couples, natural family planning and modern methods shall be presented as equally available, Aquino said.
Yet, this year, clear signs of trouble loomed for the RH Bill. This was RG Cruz’s report in September, with a subheadline quoting Majority Floorleader Neptali Gonzales as saying “sana magalit na si Presidente” (I hope the President gets mad) so allies finally push the bill.
MANILA – President Aquino finds it difficult to push the Reproductive Health (RH) bill among his congressional allies the same way he pushed for the impeachment of Chief Justice Renato Corona.
Aquino’s political leaders in the House of Representatives concede that the President has to contend with the religious beliefs of his own allies for this purpose.
House Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales said, “mahirap kay Presidente to issue a marching order. The so-called opposition sa RH aren’t political in nature, it’s part of their religious belief, it’s very difficult to impose. This is one time na mahirap talaga kami. As I’ve said in my stint as floor leader, this is first time I’ve seen a bill na divided ang members of the House and no demarcation between majority and minority.”
Liberal Party secretary-general, incoming Department of Transportation and Communications Secretary and current House Appropriations chair, Cavite Rep. Joseph Emilio Aguinaldo Abaya, said Aquino “respects the independence of the 2 bodies of government, thus he merely requests. How effective is that convincing that will be is within his prerogative. If ever such strong requests are made, I think there’s time.”
Abaya added, “ang tingin ko, dinadahan din ni presidente, alam niya di lang parang impeachment ito, there are certain non-political issues he has been very careful. Sa Liberal Party, it’s always consensual, we haven’t gone to that part, what’s clear is the request that we end the debate and I think clearly, he said we will put it to a vote.”
Speaker Sonny Belmonte huddles with Majority Floorleader Neptali Gonzales. Photo from balita.ph
Cruz quoted Gonzales as claiming he and Speaker Feliciano Belmonte back the RH Bill while three deputy speakers oppose it.
Despite an August cacus with Mr. Aquino where legislators pledged to terminate floor debates on the RH bill, the measure continues to languish. This, even if last October, Belmonte announced the House was pushing a new bill indicating compromise between pro and anti-RH forces.
Amendments have not been discussed. In the last few session days, many legislators stayed away, leading to a lack of quorum.
The current impasse seems to be an anti-bloc effort to evade a showdown. Cagayan Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, who is against the RH bill, challenged the pro-bloc to come up with a quorum.
“If they can do that, then we can tackle and debate the amendments line by line, sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph, section by section. That will take us till kingdom come.”
Gonzales was still saying he wished the President would get mad and call another meeting. By that time, Pangasinan Rep. Kimi Cojuangco, an RH bill advocate, was running out of patience.
Cojuangco, who is very visible on the social network site, Twitter, posted:
kimi cojuangco @kimicojuangco
So for those that keep asking me when are we going to take up amendments #RHBILL, I dont know! Only MFL knows
She reminded Gonzales of his responsibility as a House leader:
kimi cojuangco @kimicojuangco
MFL Boyet Gonzales, the lack of quorum only reflects your weak leadership so I challenge you get the members of HOR to appear & take up #RHB