By Lira Dalangin-Fernandez
With only 101 of the more than 200 congressmen present after the roll call, the House leadership adjourned the session for lack of a quorum.
The bill's troubles were further compounded when Congresswoman Amelita Villarosa withdrew her signature from House Bill 5043 or An Act Providing for a National Policy on Reproductive Health, Responsible Parenthood and Population Development, bringing down the number of co-authors to 95.
But Albay Representative Edcel Lagman, the bill's main author, was unfazed and expressed confidence that the bill would still hurdle the plenary debates.
Anti-reproductive health bill lawmakers have tried to stop Lagman's sponsorship speech early in the session.
Cebu Representative Pablo Garcia raised a point of order, saying that copies of the bill have yet to be distributed for the members of the House to study.
Quezon City Representative Mary Anne Susano echoed Garcia's view and said the measure was being pushed because of the millions in pesos appropriated for it in the budget.
But Majority Leader Raul del Mar said that there was an agreement among lawmakers that they would allow Lagman to deliver the sponsorship speech and that interpellation would begin next week to give time to the lawmakers to study the bill.
Susano then raised a point of order anew and said that there was no longer a quorum that prompted a suspension of the session.
Before a packed gallery composed of the supporters of the bill from mostly civic organizations on one side and pro-life advocates and religious groups in blue on the other side, Lagman was supposed to deliver his four-page sponsorship speech.
The bill promotes the use of both artificial and natural means of family planning, among others.
"The bill is principally about rights, health, and sustainable human development. The bill is fully transparent. There is no hidden agenda. There are no caveats," Lagman said in a copy of his speech.
"The use of contraceptives for family planning does not make acceptors bad Catholics. But having more children whom parents can ill-afford to feed, educate, medicate, guide and love makes hem irresponsible regardless of their religion," he added.
The Catholic Church, religious groups, and even President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo have expressed opposition to the bill.
"While the bill may not be the panacea to all our ills, it is
definitely not the source of baseless paranoia," Lagman said.
On September 9, the committee on rules approved the plenary hearing of the controversial House Bill 5043 or the "Reproductive Health, Responsible Parenthood and Population Development Act of 2008."
Arroyo, a devout Catholic, is backing the Church's position against artificial contraception as Congress tries to legislate a population management policy.
Lagman, the bill's author, hailed the endorsement of the bill for plenary consideration as a "victory for Reproductive Health advocates who have been waiting for the enactment of this bill for almost a decade and the 96 co-authors of the measure who are unwavering in their support for the bill's eventual enactment."
The bill was first jointly referred to the committee on health and committee on population and family relations which approved it in June.
In August the committee on appropriations approved the appropriation cover of the measure.