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.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Palace officials “invade” House reportedly to pressure solons to vote RH, and a good number of anti-RH solons (estimated by some as numbering 20) accordingly failed to vote last night. But so did a number of pro-RH who probably could no longer stomach RH bill too. Large undecided bloc could swing Monday's final vote. Manny Pacquiao says his two-minute KO by Marquez strengthened his respect for life, so he voted No to RH.

Yesterday afternoon the period of amendments to House Bill No. 4244, the “substitute bill on “responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health,” was underway---preparatory to an agreement between the House leadership and the anti-RH bloc to conduct voting on second reading.  Soon, however, word reached the right gallery in the House, by then filled to the rafters with anti-RH advocates all in red (in contrast to the pro-RH group in purple across the cavernous hall), that several members of President Aquino’s Cabinet had arrived in the House and were holding court in the South Lounge next door.

They were DILG Secretary Mar Roxas, Budget Secretary Butch Abad, Palace Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda and Communications Group Chief Ricky Carandang. The buzz in the anti-RH gallery was that they were calling up House members to persuade them to vote against the RH bill. 


Earlier in the week, a startling Manila Standard story last Dec. 6 quoted Alliance of Concerned Teachers party-list Rep. Antonio Tinio as saying that the Palace sought to bribe House members with P280 million EACH. This package was said to consist of the P70 million PDAF for each solon, public works projects, proceeds from the road-users’ tax and the Speaker’s bonus equivalent to one-month’s salary of P97,000.  But the twist, said the story, was that the solons had to vote for the RH bill in order to qualify for this gift package to help them in their re-election.

Otherwise, it would be given, if at all, after the May elections already---which would be useless to their campaign.  

That Standard story, never denied by Tinio, was very much in the minds of some anti-RH spectators during the visit of the Malacanang officials last night. These spectators had visions of fat envelops in paper bags being hidden from the House CCT cameras, especially since P-Noy's budget officer, Secretary Butch Abad, was around;  but of course, there ought to be more sophisticated ways of extending bribes.  


The bold presence of the high-ranking Palace officials in the House yesterday delivered the unmistakable message of high-pressure sans pretensions.  Thus, even as a few more amendments were still to be taken up, leaders of the anti-RH bloc decided to stop already, so that voting could commence.  Their aim was to prevent the ranks of the anti-RH from being raided further.

At that point, both sides had already tallied up names in their respective camps, but during the voting it became evident that a good number of solons expected to vote against the bill had either already gone home early---or they stayed away from the House completely that day.

Interestingly, a number of pro-RH solons also stayed away or abstained, e.g., Deputy Speaker Jesus Crispin Remulla of Cavite, who startled the chamber by withdrawing his co-sponsorship of the RH bill and ABSTAINING. Either Remulla, who belongs to the NP, had a change of heart and is now anti-RH, or he feels smitten because Deputy Speaker Erin Tanada,  P-Noy's dog-loyal party man, has been presiding over RH deliberations for many days now. The rule is that deputy speakers rotate at the dais.  

Apparently the anti-RH solons who stayed away had succumbed to political pressure, but they would have to reckon with their conscience in withholding their crucial vote on one of the most controversial issues in our history.  


Last night's visit of Palace officials to the House followed a series of moves by Malacanang to capture the solons’ Yes to RH votes. First the Aug. 15 lunch for all solons which was followed by the terrible flooding of the metropolis for two days. Then came the Dec. 3 Palace lunch where P-Noy reportedly gave his blessing for a “conscience vote” to the solons, but which only resulted in the lightning approval of the “Speaker’s substitute bill” that  supposedly incorporated amendments deemed acceptable to the anti-RH camp.

Then last Tuesday morning came the caucus of Liberal Party members called by DILG Secretary Roxas at his “Balay” residence, but this time the order from P-Noy was said to be to push the RH bill asap---no more conscience vote.

This was followed by two days of  amendments introduced by various anti-RH solons to the “substitute bill” which its main author, Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, however, routinely rejected. This provoked protests from anti-RH solons and moves to "divide the House"---only for these efforts to be routinely defeated after Deputy Speaker Tanada would invariably rule that the nayes out-shouted the ayes. 

At one point, Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, one of the staunch anti-RH leaders, complained that Lagman was shouting his naye vote into his microphone, which was not permitted. The sharp eye that texted Rodriguez on that violation belonged to a professor from the UP College of Music, seated in the anti-RH gallery.


Last night’s nominal voting yielded 113 votes for passage and only 104 votes against---a 9-point victory for the pro-RH.  Very tight. Undoubtedly the anti-RH would have won that round, had not the Palace exerted tremendous pressure on some solons (one estimate said as many as 20 anti-solons were scared away). Voting on third and final reading is expected in the House on Monday, Dec. 17 after P-Noy certified the bill as urgent. It’s estimated that there are about 50 House members still uncommitted at this point.

In 28 years of covering the legislature this writer has seen quite a lot of excitement there, but last night’s see-sawing of votes especially toward the homestretch remains one of the most unforgettable.   


At last night’s nominal voting some solons merely registered  thumbs-up or thumbs-down, but many more stood up to talk about their stand. The pro-RH solons offered routine reasons---a number of hearts bleeding for poor women who die from childbirth daily or who have to grapple with many offspring amidst gripping poverty, or alllowing couples a choice in number and spacing of children, etc.

But I, confessing partiality to the anti-RH bloc, thought that many of the Anti advocates advanced far better reasons for rejecting the bill.  Some expertly argued violations of the Constitution in its provisions, while some lamented how this bill would destroy the moral foundations of this unique Filipino nation.

Other anti advocates such as Rep. Aurelio Gonzales of Pampanga and Rep. Roberto Puno of Antipolo fell back on their having been reared in huge families; thus they said they couldn’t understand why this bill would want to infringe on the joys of family life through contraceptives.


Word also reached the gallery last night that Manny Pacquiao had just landed in Manila and would head straight for the House to cast his vote. Like many Filipinos I was heartbroken when he was KO-ed by Marquez; but when he entered the session hall I found myself---doubtless like everyone else---“forgiving” him for my pain in the heart. Suddenly the solons gave him a standing ovation and the galleries followed, until the walls of the cavernous hall reverberated with resounding applause.

 Pacquiao stood at his desk teary-eyed---clearly overwhelmed by the unexpected shower of affection despite his KO.

Then, speaking to the hushed chamber he recalled with naturalness how he fell with Marquez’ solitary blow and was rendered unconscious for two  minutes. Jinky was crying and so was everyone in his team. When he came to, “that was when I realized how valuable life is and that is why I VOTE No to the RH bill. Lalong napagtibay ang respeto ko para sa buhay.” Mabuhay ka, Manny.

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  1. Thank you ma'am for this! Very helpful!

    1. thanks, James, pls see if you could reach your congressman or congresswoman, and get your friends and relatives to do the same. We need all the votes in this crucial battle for Ph's future and those of our children and grandchildren.

  2. thank you so much for these sharings. i assure you of my prayers for the non-passage of this demonic bill into law.the devil will truly rejoice for captivating the hearts of many if we believe his lies. let us storm the heavens with our prayers...

  3. I am glad that we have you. One of the few journalists who are not afraid to speak out the truth. I am disgusted with the Philippine media where the bias is so obvious.

    Mabuhay po kayo.

    1. Thank you, Ishmael. We all have our jobs to do. I'm fighting this RH bill as I have never fought any other issue in my 28 years as a journalist. This is because I really believe this bill will destroy the moral fiber of the Filipino people and nation. It encourages us journalists greatly that many citizens and friends follow our writing and appreciate the tough work we have to do. Kindly tell your friends about my blog as I need more exposure, after I was terminated from the Inquirer for political reasons. Many thanks and kind regards to you and your family.

    2. Hi Ishmael, I wrote an earlier response to your note, but I must have touched a wrong key here and it disappeared. Anyhow, thank you for your kind words. It has not been easy to go against the tide, but I have never been as compelled to go against an issue in my 28 years in journalism as I do now in the RH issue. This is because I truly fear the destruction of the moral fiber of our people and nation if bill becomes law. I would appreciate your telling your friends and associates about this blog. Since I was summarily terminated by the Inquirer for political reasons right after the May 2010 elections I turned to online writing, but it needs more exposure. Thanks and keep reading.