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Aquino has signed RH bill, Palace confirms

Malacañang on Saturday confirmed that President Benigno Aquino III had signed into law the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act of 2012. On government-run dzRB radio, deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte also admitted that the Palace deemed it best to hold the announcement because of the "sensitivity" of the issue. In a statement on Saturday, Valte said, "Today, Republic Act No. 10354, or the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act of 2012, has been published online in the Official Gazette, after being signed by President Aquino on December 21, 2012." The law will take effect 15 days after being published in at least two newspapers of general circulation.   "The passage into law of the Responsible Parenthood Act closes a highly divisive chapter of our history—a chapter borne of the convictions of those who argued for, or against this Act, whether in the legislative branch or in civil society," Valte said. "At the same time, it opens the possibility of cooperation and reconciliation among different sectors in society: engagement and dialogue characterized not by animosity, but by our collective desire to better the welfare of the Filipino people," she added. The Catholic Church is against the passage of the RH law which promotes both natural and artificial family planning methods. The Church espouses only natural family planning. Silence Asked why the Palace was silent about the signing of the RH law, Valte said the Palace communications group received word that the the paper itself was processed only after December 26. The group later received word everything was finished the following day. "At least as far as the communications group is concerned, we deemed it best to wait a couple of days before the announcement was made... Given the level of intensity (of debates), we deemed it best to wait a couple of days," she said. When asked if the delay was meant to dodge criticism from those against the measure, Valte said, "Siguro hindi iwas batikos but given the sensitivity this has caused we deemed it best to wait a couple of days before the announcement was made." Valte also said Aquino was concerned that if he returned to Manila after his vacation, the law may not be processed before December 31. The President had wanted to sign the bill into law before the year was over. Ceremonial signing When asked if there will be a ceremonial signing, Valte said there was no such thing scheduled yet. Besides, she said Aquino has signed many bills into law without ceremonies. "We don’t have anything on the schedule. ... Maraming batas na pinirmahan ang pangulo na walang ceremonial signing," she said. Reaching out to Church Valte reiterated that while the RH bill may have been a very contentious issue between government and civil society and other sectors, "there are so many areas we can move forward on." "We have many areas of cooperation that it’s possible for us to be partners on, particularly environment and other advocacies," she said. Valte also denied the signing was kept a secret, saying Aquino already signed it and it was "shared with the public." "We can go forward with the provisions of the law itself," she said. RH Law's 14-year journey Entitled “The Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act of 2012,” the law seeks to provide improved public access to natural and artificial family planning options, better maternal care, and youth education.   The Catholic Church has strongly opposed the law, which was first introduced in Congress 14 years ago.   The Senate and the House of Representatives separately ratified the bicameral conference committee report on the controversial Reproductive Health Bill last Dec. 19. Senate Majority Floor Leader Vicente “Tito” Sotto III, who staunchly opposed the measure at the upper chamber, told GMA News Online that he was informed the law has been signed. However, he said he has no personal knowledge about the enactment, and had no further comment on the matter.   Under the new law, the government will promote programs that allow couples to have their desired number of children with due consideration to the health of babies and women. Resources will also be made available to parents in accordance with their personal and religious convictions.   It also aims to inform young people between the ages of 10 to 19 years old about reproductive health issues and responsible teenage behavior, among other things.   President Aquino had certified the controversial measure as urgent after it narrowly passed the crucial second reading at the House of Representatives in mid-December.   In a matter of days, both the Senate and the lower house finally voted on the approval of the bill, which Aquino quietly signed into law minus the customary photo opportunity with the bill’s main proponents. Fight not yet over Meanwhile, a Catholic Church official on Saturday said the fight against the controversial measure is by no means over. Vocal RH bill critic Archbishop Ramon Arguelles of Lipa, Batangas, said the Church and anti-RH groups have many courses of action to consider at this time. "Nilihim talaga iyan kasi alam din nila maraming ayaw, maraming galit," Arguelles, vice chairman of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines' Episcopal Commission on Family and Life, said in an interview on dzBB radio. "Hindi pa tapos ang laban. Palaging ipagtatanggol ng Simbahan ang buhay, hindi titigil ang Simbahan," he added. On Friday, House majority leader and Mandaluyong City Rep. Neptali Gonzales II claimed Aquino had signed the RH bill into law as early as Dec. 21. Aquino had certified the bill as urgent before Congress went on its Christmas break. Both houses of Congress passed the measure earlier this month. However, Arguelles questioned why Malacañang could not confirm or deny the signing of the measure, which the Church opposes because of its provisions allowing artificial contraception. Arguelles voiced suspicions the signing was not for the Filipino people but for the consumption of "foreign agencies" and pharmaceutical companies. "It is not for our consumption, it is for foreign consumption," he said. When asked what the Church's next move would be, Arguelles said the Church may have to confer with anti-RH bill groups first. "Maraming nasasaisip ang iba't ibang kinatawan ng simbahan including lay people. Hindi pa nagkakaroon ng pagkakaisa, everybody's proposing many things," he said. Meanwhile, Arguelles warned that after the signing of the RH bill into law, other "anti-life" bills may soon be proposed. He said these include those on divorce and same-sex marriage, and even euthanasia or mercy killing. - with Gian C. Geronimo, VVP, GMA News