Miriam: RH bill can’t be held hostage by one senator

By Marvin Sy (The Philippine Star)

MANILA, Philippines – Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago yesterday said she will not allow the Reproductive Health (RH) bill to be held hostage by the whims of one person and have it take a backseat indefinitely.

Santiago and Sen. Pia Cayetano, co-author of the RH bill, are currently exploring available options, including an attempt to end the period of interpellation and move to vote on the measure.

“We cannot be held hostage by the fact that one senator is not ready with his interpellation. Decisions are not made by a single person, not even the Senate president, but always by majority of senators present,” Santiago said.

“So if we avail of the remedy to make a motion to end the period of amendments and it is carried by a majority of those present then that would be the end of the amendment period,” she added.

Cayetano tried to take up the RH bill at the start of plenary session the other day as she appealed to Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and Sen. Ralph Recto to introduce their proposed amendments already.

Enrile, however, told Cayetano that he was not yet ready to introduce his amendments to the bill.

According to Santiago, Enrile should be reminded of a similar situation several years ago where he was pushing for the approval of a bill but a senator wanted to continue deliberations.

She recalled the statement made by Enrile then that the Senate could not be subject to the will of one senator alone.

Santiago said that what Enrile did was clearly a delaying tactic.

The normal procedure in plenary debates, Santiago said, would involve the senators who wish to propose amendments to “beg the indulgence” of the sponsors for more time if they are not yet ready.

“It is discourteous to the sponsor because in effect you are impeding her progress in pushing the bill through in giving such an indefinite, open-ended answer,” she said.

Palace a mere observer

Unlike the sin tax bill and the 2013 national budget that have been prioritized by the Aquino administration, Malacañang hinted yesterday that the RH and Freedom of Information (FOI) bills will have to take a backseat.

“We’ll just wait for the developments in the House (of Representatives),” presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said of the FOI bill that remains pending in the public information committee of Rep. Ben Evardone.

As for the RH bill, Lacierda said: “We are watching with keen interest, and we look forward to being updated in the independent process of the legislation in the RH (bill).”

He described the new version of the RH bill introduced by its main proponent Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman as a “positive development.”

Aquino’s spokesman also denied an article in this newspaper that quoted Secretary Ricky Carandang of the Presidential Communications Development and Strategic Planning Office as saying the FOI bill is “dead.”

Meanwhile, Enrile reiterated yesterday that the Senate is not condoning any act of plagiarism as he weighs the issues of ethics and parliamentary immunity as an offshoot of the controversy involving majority leader Vicente Sotto III.

Apparently stung by criticisms in the social media, Enrile clarified his statements on the issue of plagiarism and immunity.

“As far as plagiarism is concerned, I don’t think there’s anyone who can say that we are going to condone or abet any act of plagiarism in this chamber,” Enrile said in his privilege speech.

Election lawyer Romulo Macalintal also defended Sotto on accusations that he may have plagiarized some blogs and authors when he delivered his speech against the RH bill.

Macalintal said Sotto’s privilege speech might not be subjected to questions because it was made while the Senate was in session.

The group Cyber RISE or Responsible Internet Users for Social Empowerment, also sent a letter to Sen. Alan Cayetano, chairman of the Senate committee on ethics and privileges, saying that Sotto was being attacked personally due to his objection to the RH bill. – With Delon Porcalla, Christina Mendez, Helen Flores

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