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Political Tidbits is the prestigious column of Belinda Olivares-Cunanan that ran for 25 continuous years in the op-ed page of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the newspaper that she helped put up with its multi-awarded founder, the legendary Eugenia Duran-Apostol, in December 1985, just two months before the EDSA Revolution.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

2013 budget deliberations start this Monday and take priority over RH bill. Many solons on election mode already, with filing of candidacies Oct. 5. Speaker Belmonte promises to reopen RH deliberations after budget bill is passed, but JPE predicts bill will be taken up in 16th Congress already. For Camiguin Rep. Romualdo, training our young labor force and ensuring jobs for them will answer Ph “population problem,” not RH bill.










Last Wednesday night the anti-RH group of solons in the House of Representatives, led by Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez and Cebu Rep. and Deputy Speaker Pabling Garcia, was able to successfully block discussions of proposed amendments to the controversial RH bill, and called for adjournment of the session.  The anti-RH representatives were heartened by the solid support of hundreds of people all wearing red (the color of the pro-Life supporters), who filled up the right side of the gallery. Across the cavernous Batasan hall, the pro-RH side was nearly empty.
 Garcia and Rodriguez were about to question the quorum once again--- a move resorted to by the pro-Lifers whenever voting to consider  amendments to the RH bill seems to have a chance to be calendared.  Speaker Feliciano Belmonte, however, called the two senior solons to his office and persuaded them not to question the quorum anymore, as he promised that no action would be taken on the RH issue until deliberations on the annual budget (a whopping P2 trillion for 2013) are finished in the House. 

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Discussions on the budget begin this Monday, Sept. 10 and are set for the next two or three weeks, to be followed by a short break in the House. Thus, reports say the new timetable for possible opening of the period of amendments to the RH bill is being set for Oct. 16 in the House.  Regular habitués there, however, doubt that this could be truly began on that day, for they note that many solons have already been spending a lot of time in their respective provinces. This is because the filing of certificates of candidacies for the 2013 election is Oct. 5 and with or without the RH bill many solons are now more preoccupied with their candidacies and are less seen in the House.

Besides, the budget deliberations in the House promise to be quite stormy. A big group of  civic society members led by former National Treasurer Leonor Magtolis-Briones says it has discovered many “hidden” and “unspecified” items in the P2 trillion 2013 budget totaling over P284 million, and appear to be part of what they term the “election budget” of the P-Noy administration.  These civic groups have succeeded in getting the sympathy and support of a number of efficient and vocal party-list representatives such as Reps. Angelo Palmones and Raymond Palatino, who appear determined to subject the new budget to a fine-toothed comb.

XXX

In the Senate the period of amendments was started last Wednesday evening. Efforts were began by Sen. Pia Cayetano, the principal author of the bill, to introduce amendments in the hope of making the bill more palatable to the opposition groups, led by the powerful Catholic Bishops. One of the amendments offered by Cayetano involves the deletion of certain contraceptives as “essential medicines,” as Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, the lead anti-RH advocate, has sought. Then too, there’s an amendment that proposes that the provision seeking to provide post-abortion care to women be introduced by an opening statement that would first categorically establish that “abortion is a criminal act in accordance with existing laws.”

In addition to various amendments being proposed in the Senate, in order to hammer out what’s being termed the “compromise bill,” there’s also the fervent guessing game going on. Sen. Panfilo Lacson, a Palace staunch ally, opined that 14 senators are pro-RH,  which would mean that side clearly has the majority. Jinggoy Estrada, however, disputes Lacson’s opinion, asserting that it’s 10-10, with three senators still undecided. Assuming Jinggoy's count is accurate, for the pro-Lifers it becomes imperative to swing these three undecided and win two or three more from the pro-RH, for a comfortable margin.

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At this point, however, nobody really seems to know what the fate of the bill would be, with so many factors coming in (including the spooky factor of the powerful earthquake along the Pacific rim and in Mindanao).  Senate Chief  Enrile was quoted earlier as estimating that the RH bill (which he and Majority Leader Tito Sotto are  staunchly supporting)  would likely be taken up in the 16th Congress already bcause of the budget hearings on-going in both chambers, which take priority in the agenda, as well as the solons' preparations for the 2013 elections. 

The House  certainly shares the uncertainty in the Senate over the RH bill’s fate and in fact Rep. Joseph Abaya, the outgoing Appropriations committee chair who's the incoming DOTC Secretary vice Mar Roxas and also the LP Sec-Gen, was quoted as saying that the ruling party has no common position on this matter; he said that in fact, even President Aquino is being “prudent” in pushing the bill as there are “non-political issues” involved here.  The solons agree that pushing the RH bill is not as simple as the Corona impeachment campaign eight months ago, as the RH bill involves religious beliefs of individual members of Congress. 

 What many hope to achieve is to hammer out a compromise bill, but it’s a big IFFY.

XXX

Recently I had a brief chat with one of the elder statesmen of the House, Rep. Pedro Romualdo of what Rep. Rufus Rodriguez terms the “island paradise of Camiguin”---famous for its super-sweet lanzones that'll be in full harvest next month.  Romualdo, a staunch pro-Lifer, agreed that the controversial RH bill will in all likelihood be tackled already in the next Congress as most solons are already in an election mode.

I queried Rep. Romualdo on how his constituents regard the RH bill. He observed that many of the poorer women in his province used to take contraceptive pills, but later they abandoned them "as these didn’t agree with their hungry stomachs."  Besides, many of them discovered many ill-effects of these contraceptives and are now frightened about using them.   

Romualdo agreed with my observation that there is no need for the RH bill as it is to the advantage of our country to have a strong young labor force amidst countries all around us and in developed Western economies that now have graying populations and burgeoning social security problems that cannot be supported by the economy. What we need, the veteran legislator from Camiguin emphasized, is more effective distribution of economic resources so that those residing in over-populated cities could be relocated to the sparsely-populated areas of the country, such as his own region of Mindanao, and be given adequate training and gainful livelihood.

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Romualdo also admitted that a number of his colleagues are actually afraid to come out in support of the RH bill, as they realize the clout of the Catholic bishops who are now moving solidly against the bill. He recalled with a laugh how in earlier years he himself was constantly being hit by a Catholic parish priest because he was perceived as pro-RH. But now Romualdo says he has become more than ever convinced that there is no need for this extremely divisive bill as our population is now only at 1.8 percent annual growth, as per official UN statistics.  This law, he stressed, is also counter-productive to our nation’s life as it could deter the growth of our vibrant and young labor force that has become the envy of graying populations such as those in Singapore, Japan and South Korea.   

   

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