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The RH Bill Emoticons



Emoticons are emotional graphics or visual ways to express the way a person feels when words alone are not enough. This also best describes what has happened and still happening in the country on tackling the most devisive piece of legislation, the Reproductive Health (RH) Bill. Laughing at Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago's pick-up line jokes has been overshadowed by too many varied emotions in this year's never ending soap opera on the RH Bill.


The drama begun in the early evening on August 6 before the great deluge, so-to-speak. At the time when Habagat (southwest monsoon in the northern hemisphere) enhanced by Typhoon Haikui passing outside the Philippine area of responsibility started pouring its heavy rains in Metro Manila and nearby provinces, the House of Representatives voted to end the debates on the RH Bill in order to move it to the next stage of the legislative process which is the period of amendments, and then vote on the floor.


The following day, when people in most parts of Luzon were people were awakened to heavy downpour, landslides and massive flooding, a Twitter post made by Zambales Representative Milagros "Mitos" Magsaysay, a very vocal anti-RH lawmaker, landed in an article of a national paper where she said, “Heaven must be crying, we should undo what has been done.” The report noted that Magsaysay was referring to the decisions made by the majority of the lawmakers on the RH Bill. Magsaysay reacted to the article and said her tweet had nothing to do with the RH bill nor the vote the night before, but it was about the environment."


The following week, on August 13, the rains turned to tears when Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III delivered a tearful first of three parts "turno en contra" speech on the RH Bill, saying he is against the proposed law because of his own family's experience with contraceptives. It turned out that 37 years ago on this date, his five-month old first son, Vincent Paul, died of a weak heart because his wife, actress Helen Gamboa, allegedly conceived their son while she was using contraceptive pills. Almost instantly, the Senator was stormed  by several comments and criticisms from netizens and pro-RH bill advocates.


Aside from being "theatrical," Sotto's speech was allegedly copied from an American blog, The Healthy Home Economist, by Sarah Pope. He then brushed off the allegations and said he cited the book of Dr. Natasha Campbell McBride. He said, “Bakit ko naman iku-quote ang blogger? Blogger lang ‘yon.” But later, Sotto's staff admitted that the Senator's speech included portions copied from the blog. Weeks later, in the last part of his turno en contra speech, netizens were again alerted and accused Sotto of committing the same blunder, this time translating parts of a 1966 speech of then US Senator Robert Kennedy without attribution. But Sotto insisted in media reports, "The people who think this is plagiarism should think again. I did not copy it. I translated it. Do they know the spelling of ‘copy’ and ‘‘translate’? Mahina tuktok nila.’’


One thing led to another, the drama turned into comedy as people were coining new words like "sotto copy" or "sinotto" to mean as strong as "to plagarize" or as wittingly digital as "to copy-paste."


But the comedy turned to anger when Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile said in a radio interview on September 2, that the continuation of the deliberations on the measure may be suspended until June next year due to the lengthy deliberations during the period of amendments from individual lawmakers. Senator Pia Cayetano accused Enrile and Sotto of delaying tactics and conditioning the mind of the people that they have not enough time to deliberate on the controversial RH Bill. Of course, they denied this allegation.


The RH Bill did not only provoke so many emotions inside the chambers of Congress, it also sparked school bashing. On September 30, the University of Santo Tomas' student publication, Varsitarian, published an editorial entitled “RH bill, Ateneo, and La Salle: Of lemons and cowards.” slamming fellow Catholic schools where a number of professors have issued statements supporting the controversial piece of legislation.


The Guideon, the student publication of Ateneo called the use of offensive language in the editorial as unacceptable and that the paper should "reevaluate itself" to be "worthy of its reader's respect," while the LaSallian, the student publication of De La Salle, although commending the Varsitarian for taking a courageous stand against RH bill said, "the method of expression used to express the matter veered away from the real issue, while creating new and unnecessary ones."


Towards the end of October, the new and compromised version of the RH Bill was announced by the House of Representatives. Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, principal author of the bill, said that the essence of the original bill was kept intact but was just made more acceptable to those opposed to the original.


Among others, the new version prioritizes the distribution of contraceptives to the poorest of the poor, who have no access or cannot afford these devices that would help them plan their family size. It also prohibits contraceptives which prevent the implantation of a fertilized ovum in the uterus, which are deemed abortifacients.


As the 15th Congress is coming to a close before the May 2013 elections, let us hope that the RH Bill will finally be enacted into law, that is, during our lifetime.