MANILA: Philippine legislators said Monday they were set to terminate heated debates on a controversial birth control law after President Benigno Aquino urged its speedy passage.
Congressman Edcel Lagman, the main proponent of the bill, said Aquino met with leaders of the House of Representatives and expressed his desire to see it passed.
He said he was confident a majority of the 285-member House would agree to end divisive debates on the bill which has polarised the largely Catholic nation of almost 100 million.
The bill seeks to make it mandatory for the government to provide free contraceptives as well as introducing sex education in schools, which the politically influential Catholic church has rejected.
"It can be done tonight. It is just a termination of the debates but it is a big step towards approval of the bill," Lagman told AFP before the start of the session late Monday.
Lagman said once congress voted to end the debates, the next legislative process would be to open the bill for amendments ahead of its passage.
Aquino's spokesman Edwin Lacierda confirmed the president met with the legislators to speed up the bill's passage.
"The president echoed the view that the responsible parenthood measure had been discussed thoroughly over the past several years and expressed his desire that Congress move on to the next step in the legislative process," he said.
The church, whose opinion on key issues helps to shape public opinion, led thousands in a rally on Saturday to call on congressmen to junk the bill.
The Senate, or the upper chamber of congress, needs to separately pass the bill before it can effectively become law, and some of its leaders have openly said they would reject it.
On Monday, over 100 activists favouring the bill held a peaceful rally outside congress to press for its passage.
In the past opponents of the bill used lengthy debates and long-winded speeches to delay its passage until Congress adjourned, effectively preventing it from being passed.
Women's groups as well as the United Nations have been pushing for the law to be passed, saying it would help to bring down maternal mortality rates in the Philippines, which is one of the highest in the region.