Philippine lawmakers today voted to speed up legislation that will give poor families access to free contraceptives, marking a victory for President Benigno Aquino over the country’s influential Catholic Church.
The 284-member House of Representatives agreed a day ahead of schedule to end a debate on the bill that has languished in congress for 14 years, allowing amendments to be considered next week. Aquino earlier met some of the chamber’s legislators over lunch, House Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales told reporters in Manila.
“Even though it’s as slow as a tortoise, the bill is moving forward,” said Gonzales. “It has never gone this far.”
The legislation, which consolidates six previous versions, seeks to provide universal access to birth control in an effort to rein in population growth that is twice the Asian average. Aquino, who has said he’s ready to be excommunicated over the bill, is confident Congress will pass the measure, according to his spokesman, Ricky Carandang.
“Today’s vote was a precursor of what the eventual vote should be,” said Carlos Celdran, a birth-control proponent who was jailed for a day after protesting at a 2010 meeting of bishops in Manila’s cathedral. “The previous administrations never really supported it. Now that it’s a priority, I’m pretty confident it will be passed,” he said in a telephone interview.
Lower house lawmakers will be able to vote on the second and final reading of the bill once amendments have been introduced, Gonzales said. If the proposals are approved, the Senate must ratify a similar bill that has to be reconciled with the House version. Only then can Aquino sign the bill into law. In today’s vote, 231 congressmen participated.
Aquino met with some lawmakers at noon today and persuaded them to address health and education issues caused by unbridled population growth, Congressman Edcel Lagman, one of the bill’s authors, said in an e-mailed statement before the vote.
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