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At Large

After ‘Ondoy’

Who woulda thought? Less than three years after Tropical Storm “Ondoy” inundated most of Metro Manila and environs in 2009, here we go again.

I’m writing this column in the house next door, which fortunately is owned by my in-laws Bel and Danny Galvez and family, and which even more fortunately underwent a renovation last year, turning their typical one-storey bungalow into a three-story duplex. The bright, open spaces are such a contrast to our living conditions during Ondoy, when we were forced to crowd into their roof deck at the height of the floods.

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The rains have stopped for a while, and I hope they have stopped if not for good, then for a reasonable span of time to give us a chance to dry our damp items in the sun and move back to our own home. We “evacuated” when water began to seep in through our laundry area in the back, and this time, we took our Ondoy lessons to heart and began packing early.

Actually, we had a portent of the deluge to come Monday night, when rainwater began to pour into our bedroom through a broken gutter. While the hubby braved the rainy night to do some emergency repairs, my daughter and I vainly tried to rescue my handbag collection—such as it is—which bore the brunt of the unwelcome waterfall. And so we woke up to a rainy morning in a room littered with soggy handbags and wet paper, and watched in growing horror as the floodwaters in our street rose with alarming speed.

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It is not yet a deluge of biblical or even Ondoy proportions, but the nightmare has come rushing back.

We waded through murky floodwaters to get to our vehicle, hoping to join my sister who is currently confined in a nearby hospital. Our son had spent the night as bantay (watcher) but we called him home early morning to help with transferring household goods (especially electronics) to his second-floor room. On the drive to the hospital, we turned the corner and found the main artery flooded waist-deep, and my son decided to turn back, unwilling to risk damage to the vehicle. So my thoughts rush to my sister even as I write this. The nurses in the hospital assure us that they will look after her, and she is so much better and in fact on the verge of being discharged. All things considered, we are in a safe, dry place, protected from the elements and enjoying life’s little amenities. Life is still “good.”

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Given that almost all news media are now devoted to covering the rains and floods, I have no way of knowing how the RH bill, which had occupied our attention the last few days, has fared in the House of Representatives.

With Monday’s decision to end all plenary debates in the House, the bill now enters the period of amendments and, once passed on second reading, will go through usually nominal voting to be passed on third reading, after which it shall be transmitted to the Senate. The passage of a reproductive health measure is so close we can almost taste it!

And to be fair, a lot of credit for moving the bill through the legislative process must be given to Aquino. I, and many others, had thought his mention of “responsible parenthood” in his State of the Nation Address was an ad-lib, a flippant throwaway line. But as it turns out, it was in fact in the original version. And if it was brief and terse, it was designed to say as little as possible within the parameters of the President’s message. Reportedly, when urged to amend the line to “reproductive health,” the President balked and asked: “Do you want me to incur the bishops’ ire?”

Well, even with the brief mention of “responsible parenthood,” Aquino did end up the target of the bishops’ righteous anger. And perhaps realizing that it was futile to seek the Catholic prelates’ blessings on an issue like “responsible parenthood” (once the bishops’ preferred term) or reproductive health, Aquino was moved to flex political muscle to push the bill through the House and Senate.

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Representative Edcel Lagman, the original and dogged sponsor of the bill in the House, says that during the “all-members meeting” P-Noy hosted in Malacañang to push the bill forward, the President made a “calibrated pitch” for responsible parenthood, rallying congresspersons to “terminate the interminable and repetitive debates on the controversial measure.”

Lagman says the President “suggested” to the legislators to “cast a conscience vote on the bill.” He called on them to: exercise courage to “make a decision as leaders of their respective constituencies;” “not to be cowed by intimidation of reprisal at the polls;” and to address major problems like health and education, “which are aggravated by a ballooning population.”

Aquino also reportedly cautioned those present about the bahala na attitude of many couples which “results in inordinately large families.” The session with the legislators then closed with the admonition that parents should beget children “by choice, not chance.”

Apparently, the message hit home, and when they reached the Batasan halls, the legislators ended up voting overwhelmingly to end the period of debates, nudging forward the “RH bill” towards final enactment. All we can do now is hope that the House leadership moves with dispatch and transmits the bill posthaste to the Senate, and that the cautious senators, many of whom have kept a studious silence on the issue, do not allow any threatened filibuster going over issues that have been debated over and over again, to delay passage of this urgent measure.

Three years after Ondoy, seeing the consequences of overpopulation paired with inadequate planning and environmental degradation once more wreaking devastation on our land, it’s time we took responsibility for the things we can do on our own. Pass the RH bill now!

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TAGS: At Large, Ondoy, opinion, Representative Edcel Lagman, Reproductve Health Bill, Rina Jimenez-David, weather
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