MANILA, May 19, 2011—In what started out as a seemingly one-sided debate Wednesday between a neophyte and a veteran legislator, with the newcomer looking hesitant in some instances, Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman ended up admitting to the newbie that certain provisions of the Reproductive Health (RH) Bill he had been claiming amended were, in fact, still intact in House Bill 4244.
Sarangani Rep. Emmanuel "Manny" Pacquiao queried the bill's principal author on the provision regarding a two-child ideal family size, saying that such a measure may lead to a population drop in the country.
Lagman replied that the bill's authors had already removed the two-child ideal, adding that it would take a century before a feared "demographic winter" would set in.
After expressing his concern over the bill’s P3 billion proposed annual budget, the world boxing champion then focused on mandatory sex education, which the bill requires for students from Grade 5 to 4th Year high school in all schools as well as for out-of-school youth.
"Puwede po bang tumanggi ang isang estudyante sa pamamagitan ng kaniyang mga magulang?" the solon asked, airing his concern that more students will be unable to graduate from high school should they miss their sex ed classes.
"Ang compulsory sex education ay labag sa constitution," he added.
Lagman replied that the provision on mandatory sex education had also been amended.
"Wala na nga pong obligasyon na ito, tinanggal na nga ito," the Albay congressman said. "Walang basehan 'yung apprehension na walang makaka-graduate. Exempted sa pag-attend, exempted din sa pagkuha ng periodic tests. Ang mga estudyante po ay makakagraduate."
The Sarangani congressman then brought up the question of whether or not employers will be required to provide condoms and other artificial contraceptives to their employees, as stipulated by the RH bill.
He expressed concern that this would disregard the religious convictions of employers who believe that the measure goes against their beliefs.
"Amended na ang provision na ito. Hindi mo yata narinig dahil nag-eensayo ka para sa laban mo," Lagman countered. "Incomplete ang impormasyong ibinigay sa iyo. Hindi ito sapilitan."
In an unexpected turn in the line of questioning, the pound-for-pound fighter then asked the solon from Albay why there were amendments to the bill when they were still in the period of interpellations. Once a bill has passed the committee level, amendments may only be proposed and accepted during the period of amendments that comes after the period of interpellations.
Lagman responded by relating the March 22 deviation he and ACT-TEACHERS Party List Rep. Antonio Tinio carried out in which the proposed amendments were merely voiced out. This took place after the Committee on Population and Family Relations had already formally approved the Committee Report.
Pacquiao then asked Lagman by what rules these supposed amendments were accepted, as the period of amendments were yet to be reached. Lagman was unable to provide an answer.
In other words, the so-called amendments that Lagman and the bill's co-authors have been insisting are still proposed amendments. The current version of House Bill 4244—which contains provisions on mandatory reproductive health and sex education (Sec. 16), ideal family size (Sec. 20), and employers' responsibility to provide RH services to employees (Sec. 21), as well on malicious disinformation under "punitive acts" (Sec. 28)—stands.
Friday, 20 May 2011