(Video: Kabayan LA)
(HN, December 17, 2012) - Today in the Philippines both the Senate and the House of Representatives backed a bill that has been debated for 13 years, and defied the powerful Roman Catholic Church to vote in favor of state-funded contraception. Many women and supporters celebrated as news of the bill became known, though the two chambers passed slightly different versions of the bill, and they need to agree on a common version to put before President Benigno Aquino, who hopes to sign it into law by the end of the year.
This was the fourth attempt to pass a bill dealing with family planning issues in the heavily Catholic island nation with more than 80% of the population, 'religious'. The last three bills were blocked by the Church and its political allies - including revered boxer-turned-congressman Manny Pacquiao - who say the law could corrupt `moral values'. They say they will continue to oppose the new bill.
Supporters say it is a vital human rights measure in the impoverished country with one of the highest mortality rates in the region. Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago, a key backer of the law, said that, despite the Church's opposition, "there is no force more powerful than an idea whose time has come".
Opposers such as Bishop Gabriel Reyes say, "What the Church will do is to continue instructing our people, telling them the evils of contraceptives". "They should not accept it because contraceptives are not pro-poor. It's not pro-children or pro-family. It is harmful against women, children and family."
A government health survey in 2011 found that the maternal mortality rate had risen by 36% between 2006 and 2010. Many maternity hospitals are struggling to cope with the number of births - and the UN appealed to the Philippines earlier this year to pass the bill.
"An idea whose time has come" - (PERSPECTIVE)
What transpired in Congress on Monday showed us that our lawmakers can get something done if they really want to.
At the House of Representatives, the reproductive health bill was passed on third reading through a vote of 133 in favor, 79 against, with seven abstentions.
The Catholic bishops had vowed to put up a strong fight after their defeat - by a slimmer margin - last week, when 113 House members said yes to the RH bill and 104 said no. Over the weekend, letters were read to the Catholic faithful from their Church leaders who reiterated that the measure was intrinsically evil. But no, the margin got even wider.
The bishops also hoped that the rabid opponents of the bill at the Senate would be able to sway their colleagues to block it upon second reading, also on Monday. The public was treated to a last-ditch showcase of tired arguments, the usual sanctimony and silly hairsplitting about sex having to be safe but not satisfying. There were also funny moments – like when a senator claimed to be the voice of the unborn child.
Nonetheless, the bill passed both second and third reading by a vote of 13-8.
Those belonging to the losing bloc insist that President Aquino dangled incentives to those who would vote in favor of the bill, or that the lawmakers who said yes to it were motivated by political gains.
They refused to acknowledge that support for the bill grew because of its own merit, not because of politics. Lawmakers crossed party lines in expressing their sup