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Bicam approves RH bill, retains 'safe, satisfying sex'


Despite fears that the RH bill could still be watered down in the bicameral conference between the two houses of Congress, one of the most contentious pieces of legislation in Philippine history sailed through one of its last stages on Wednesday intact, including the much debated portion recognizing the right to a "safe and satisfying sex life."
Members of the bicameral conference committee on the Reproductive Health bill signal their approval of the bicameral report on Wednesday. GMA News
The Senate bill's principal author, Sen. Pia Cayetano, said she would attempt to have the bill ratified later in the day. It is expected to be signed into law before the end of the year by President Aquino, who had pushed the bill as an "urgent" measure, hastening its approval. The committee will submit a unified legislation that has to be ratified by both the House of Representatives and the Senate before it can be submitted to President Aquino for enactment into law. The bill seeks to improve public access to reproductive health services, including natural and artificial family planning options. It also promotes better maternal care, responsible parenthood, and youth education on sexual and reproductive health issues. The Catholic Church has staunchly opposed the bill. Reference to sex life retained intact Cayetano said the phrase "safe and satisfying sex life" was retained in the definition of reproductive health in the controversial measure.
"Of course, of course paninindigan ko yan. And nadagdagan pa siya ng consensual," she said.
 
The proposed Senate Bill 2865 defines reproductive health as "the state of complete, physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence or infirmity, in all matters relating to the reproductive system and to its functions and processes. This implies that people are able to have a safe and satisfying sex life, that they have the capability to reproduce and the freedom to decide if, when, and how often to do so. This further implies that women and men attain equal relationships in matters related to sexual relations and reproduction." Senators Tito Sotto, Chiz Escudero, and Juan Ponce Enrile had all objected to the reference to "a safe and satisfying sex life," creating a gender divide on the issue, with Senator Miriam Santiago vociferously defending the phrase on the Senate floor. The proposal to delete the phrase was defeated during the period of amendments, with only six senators, all male, voting in favor of the move.
 
Cayetano said there was even a move to include "loving" to the adjectives before sex life. 
 
"Sabi ko ang haba na nun, di ko na kaya i-memorize. Tanggalin na natin yan. I was the one who objected to it because who doesn't want to be in a loving, committed [relationship], that's a given. But the reality is for the bill, you need to give people access to RH even if they are not loving," she said. "Unfortunately you have to have access regardless if you love the person you're having sex with," she added. Mandatory sex education Earlier Wednesday, Cayetano said she would push for the resolution of contentious provisions in the RH bill with just one bicameral conference committee meeting, paving the way for its approval and ratification on the same day. She said among the most contentious provisions are the roles of the local and national government in providing RH services, the access of minors to contraceptives, and mandatory RH education. "That [ratification today] would be ideal. Medyo confident naman ako na yung mga issues na 'yun kaya naman ma-resolve," Cayetano told reporters before the start of the bicameral conference committee meeting in Pasay City. "Wala kaming session tomorrow [Thursday] unless magpatawag ng special session so we really have to try to do it today," she added. The Senate will go on holiday break starting next week. Wednesday's plenary session will be the last for the year. Parental consent After the bicameral committee meeting, Cayetano said they had resolved the remaining contentious provisions in the RH bill. She said among the Senate's amendments that were adopted with some variations were the provisions on giving RH services to minors only with parental consent, and the lighter responsibility for local government units in the provision of RH services. "We preserved the Senate version which states that there will be full access to RH services to all except minors, unless they have the written consent of the parents and except certain cases for minors like when they are already a parent or they have had a miscarriage. In other words, they are sexually active so access will be allowed," she said. Cayetano also said they have retained the provision mandating RH education for adolescents, meaning those between 10 to 19 years old, except for private schools. "[But] the DepEd will provide for something like a standard curriculum that the private schools may adopt," she said.
 
On the part of the LGU mandate, Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman said they tweaked the bill to say that LGUs will still have to help in the distribution of RH services provided that the national government gives them financial and technical support.
 
On the other hand, Iloilo Rep. Janet Garin said the RH bill will still cover both private and public health facilities.
 
"We made it very clear that there must be a referral system in place so that if a patient goes to a private hospital and the particular services are not available, they will be referred to a hospital nearby that can provide the services," she said.
 
Another important provision, she said, is the expanded scope of the midwifery profession.
 
"They will be allowed to administer emergency drugs especially in areas where there are no doctors," she said.
 
Garin said part of the funding for the RH measure will come from sin taxes. "We leave it up to the DOH to give the specifics," she said. "Satisfying and pleasurable"
 
In separate interviews after the bicam meeting, Senators Vicente Sotto III and Ralph Recto said they were quite happy with the bill.
 
"It was both satisfying and pleasurable. My amendments were not aborted. I expect to vote in favor [kasi] na-retain lahat ng amendments ko," added Recto, who introduced the amendments on parental consent and the mandate on LGUs.
 
He and Sen. Joker Arroyo had earlier threatened to take back their vote for the RH bill if the amendments of the Senate are removed.
 
The Senate is expected to vote on its ratification later in the day.
 
"Happy naman kami kaya lang I don't know if the others will vote for it. We might have the same vote," said Sotto.
 
The Senate had earlier voted 13-8 to pass the measure on second and third reading. — LBG/YA/HS, GMA News
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