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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.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Cabinet members back in House lounge last night for third voting. Tough for 20 solons who dropped out of the 104 No-to-RH bloc---suspicion would always be there that they were each bribed with the P280 million package, as ACT Rep. Tinio had asserted in Standard story. Bravo to the 79 who voted No despite intimidation and bribe offers

Last night, Monday, Dec. 17, as the House of Representatives went through third and final reading---and voting---on the RH bill, three Cabinet members, namely, Secretaries Mar Roxas, Florencio Abad and Ricky Carandang were back at the Congressional Lounge, frenziedly conferring with House solons. The presidential team last night was considerably smaller  than  that which invaded the House for last Wednesday's second reading. In addition to these three Cabinet members, also dispatched last Wednesday were Palace Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda and Presidential Adviser on the Environment Neric Acosta.
Obviously they were ordered by the Palace to make sure the House solons toed the line. For as Majority Leader Neptali Gonzalez III was quoted in newspapers as boasting earlier today, the LP was going to punish party members who’d vote against the bill. It would crack the whip---and it sure did.
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At the end of the voting last night, nine LPs who had voted in the bloc of 104 anti-RH last Wednesday deserted and voted pro-RH.

On the other hand, there were a number of LP members among the 92 or so in the House who were doubtless realistic about the heavy Palace pressures and  their own political survival; but at the same time, they  also had a deep conviction about the lack of merits of the RH bill and could not in conscience vote for it. These LPs simply chose to boycott second voting and last night they continued their desaparecido act.  One could easily appreciate the tremendous inner tension in them. 

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Prominently reported as missing in action during the two votings were LP Deputy Speaker Raul Daza who had remained in the fastnesses of Northern Samar, and LP Paranaque Rep. Roilo Golez. The latter had traded insults with RH bill main author Edcel Lagman during the period of amendments earlier last Wednesday, only to disappear later that night and miss the voting.

A distinct shocker to the anti-RH bloc was the disappearance of Leyte's senior representative Sergio Apostol in last Wednesday's voting, only to show up last night to vote Yes. A red-blazered lady in the Anti gallery sadly noted that Rep. Apostol had been in various strategy meetings of the anti-RH bloc and his parish priest was even moved one day to acknowledge him as a staunch pro-Lifer. One of the imponderables in the RH proceedings indeed.
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Malacanang’s heavy hand worked: where last Wednesday’s voting produced 113 for the bill and 104 against it, with three abstentions, last night, it was 139 for RH and only 79 vs. RH, with seven abstentions. The anti-RH lost 25 solons, of which 20 had succumbed to Palace pressures. Interestingly, the 20 No votes that dropped out, when added to the 113 Yes vote of last Wednesday, equals exactly 133---the total pro-RH vote of last night. Amazing, isn’t it, as though processed by computer!  

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On the other hand, the total number of solons who failed to show up in Wednesday's voting, 66 of them---who became the target of both P-Noy's and the bishops' importunings last weekend---was equal to the number that failed to show up last night. Again, amazing, as though by computer.

Despite the Palace's threats of withholding projects and pork, these 66  solons were brave enough to defy it again. A day after last night's third voting it's difficult to say whether the 66 no-show last Wednesday were the same 66 that failed to come last night. But it's still stunning that despite all the harrassments from the Palace, 66 again didn't show up.

I read that huge number as tacit but fearful support for anti-RH. My reasoning is that if majority of the 66 were pro-RH, they would have showed up. But they didn't. 
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The five of the original 104 at second voting who failed to cast their votes last night hadn’t changed their minds---instead they suffered flight delays, reaching the House after it had voted. One solon, realizing her flight was cancelled, hurried over land and caught a flight from somewhere else---but was still late. Cebu’s patriarch, the fiercely anti-RH Deputy Speaker Pabling Garcia, asked presiding Deputy Speaker Arnulfo Fuentebella if his son Pablo John Garcia, whose flight from Cebu was delayed, could still vote as he still managed to get to the NAIA. House rules, however, required actual presence during the voting.
Manny Pacquiao was a no show last night, after his spectacular grand return and No vote last Wednesday, for he was celebrating his birthday in GenSan. Manny should have prioritized voting. But whatever happened to Imelda Marcos who had cast her No vote last Wednesday? Bingbong Crisologo was absent from the voting last night, but luckily he made it during the repeat roll call to cast his No once again. 
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The No bloc lost another vote when after many days of presiding over the RH deliberations, Deputy Speaker Erin Tanada was taken off the dais and instead, it was tasked by Speaker Feliciano Belmonte to Camarines Sur Deputy Speaker Noli Fuentebella, who had taken pains to explain his No vote last Wednesday. Though Fuentebella found a way to convey his No vote last night, it wasn’t recorded, for under the rules, the presiding officer only votes  to break a tie.  
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After the President certified the RH bill as urgent last Friday, enabling the chamber to short-circuit the process, administration bigwigs gathered in the Palace war-room last weekend and went to work. The target was to lure the 66 who failed to show up last Wednesday. But more importantly, the Palace's major thrust was said to be directed toward the 104 No votes.

This would be understandable, for after all, reports said that over the weekend  these 104 solons had talked and vowed to one another as well as to their respective bishops that they’d hold together---walang iwanan. Decimating their ranks would be double victory.

Sadly, however, under terrible pressures from the Palace, 20 broke away.
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Over the weekend, a northern Mindanao solon got a call first from Majority Leader Gonzalez, which was then passed on to Budget Sec Abad;  finally P-Noy came on the line. The solon quietly told the President sorry, but he was sticking to anti-RH. Another outspoken anti-RH solon from Mindanao, Cagayan de Oro’s Rufus Rodriguez, also got a call from P-Noy and Rufus was happy to point out to him serious defects of the bill. Rufus, of course, voted No last night, but he told media, “I was happy to be given the opportunity to debate with no less than the President.”
A solon in Luzon whose wife belongs to the LP was called by a ranking Cabinet member one hour before the voting, and asked whether he could switch to Yes. He politely said he couldn't. 
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Rules of the House allow members on third voting to explain their votes only after the voting, and anti-climactic as it was, majority stood up to do so before the by then already half-empty chamber. Zambales Rep. Mitos Magsaysay, a powerful image in flaming red, denounced the heavy-handed tactics employed by House leaders. Directly addressing Speaker Belmonte who was just three feet away, Mitos said, “Bakit tatakutin mo ang mga tao mo? Why, aren’t we the true voice of the people, with the true mandate? Sana ni-level mo na lang ang playing field.”
The Speaker kept his eyes cast down during her tirade, appearing to be reading something. But his loyal subaltern, Majority Leader Gonzalez, stung to the quick, stood up to hotly contest Magsaysay's denunciation; but by then  the lady in red had left the session hall to respond to media calls in the lobby.
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 Passions will continue to run high through the Christmas Season among the Filipino people over this highly divisive measure;  but in Congress the tensions could be rekindled in the third week of January when the solons return from the Christmas break, up to adjournment for the election campaign period on Feb.8. This is because the implementing rules and regulations (IRR) of the RH law to be signed any time now by the President will have to be fleshed out.
As the saying goes, the devil is in the details and the IRR will constitute a new battleground altogether.
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The question now is, after such bitter fight marked by the naked influence and use of power by Malacanang, will the 286 solons be able to work harmoniously and with civility? Those who will have the most difficult time from hereon would be those among the 104 who had voted No last Wednesday, only to succumb to Malacanang’s order. 
This is because there will always be the suspicion that they changed their votes on account of the P280 million per solon reported to be dangled by the Palace to those voting Yes.
 Recall that ACT party-list Rep. Antonio Tinio last Dec. 6 asserted in a startling Manila Standard front-page story that the Palace is dangling this package to each House member, which is said to consist of the regular pork barrel of P70 million each, plus PW projects, road users’ tax and the Speaker’s bonus equivalent to one month’s salary.
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That Standard story was never denied by Tinio, so that it would be tough to live this suspicion down for the 20 solons who shifted from No to Yes. Who received and who didn’t? This question will linger in the minds of the people and among the House members themselves.

The pressures from Malacanang were tough and terrible, and in fact it's even a wonder that 79 solons refused to cave in and still voted anti-RH last night. Bravo, repeated bravo to the 79. They do us Filipinos proud. May pag-asa pa tayo. Not all is lost.

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