AFTER hearing oral arguments lambasting the controversial Reproductive Health (RH) Law for being unconstitutional, the Supreme Court (SC) on Tuesday decided to extend indefinitely its status quo ante order (SQAO) issued in March this year, effectively blocking the implementation of the law.
During regular en banc sessions yesterday, all of the justices agreed to delay the new law. In March, 10 justices voted to delay the implementation of the law by 120 days, while five justices—Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Aranal-Sereno, Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, Justice Mariano Del Castillo, Justice Estela Perlas-Bernabe and Justice Marvic Leonen—dissented. Yesterday, eight justices voted to extend the SQVA indefinitely—Jose Catral Mendoza, Presbitero Velasco Jr., Teresita Leonardo-De Castro, Arturo Brion, Diosdado Peralta, Lucas Bersamin, Roberto Abad and Jose Perez.
The seven magistrates who voted for a 90-day extension were Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Aranal-Sereno, Justices Antonio Carpio, Martin Villarama, Mariano Del Castillo, Bienvenido Reyes, Estela Perlas-Bernabe and Marvic Leonen.
On Tuesday last week, the High Court heard the arguments of several personalities opposed to the law signed by President Benigno Aquino 3rd in December. Former senator Francisco “Kit” Tatad said the RH law “rewrites the mandate of the Constitution by imposing population control through state-mandated contraception.” He added that the law, if allowed to stand, will bring “genocide” because it will prevent conception.
Maria Concepcion Noche, a lawyer who is also opposed to the law, said Republic Act 10354 violated a person’s constitutional right to life and health.
“A fertilized ovum is alive. It has life. This is a vital sign of life. Fertilized ovum is human. There is human life on conception,” she told the court.
The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), which has strongly opposed the law, welcomed the Supreme Court decision.
“Although only by the slimmest vote possible, we are glad that the Supreme Court has extended the SQAO,” Executive Secretary Fr. Melvin Castro of the CBCP–Episcopal Commission on Family and Life (ECFL) said.
Several individuals and groups filed separate petitions challenging the legality of the RH law at the SC, among them couple James and Lovely Imbong, Tatad, and his wife Fenny and human rights lawyer and The Manila Times columnist Alan Paguia.
Named respondents were Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa, Education Secretary Armin Luistro, Interior and Local Government Secretary Manuel Roxas 2nd, Budget Secretary Florencio Abad and Health Secretary Enrique Ona.
Senator Pia Cayetano was “extremely disappointed” by the ruling of the High Court.
“But as a member of the bar, as a member of the co-equal branch I will respect the decision,” the Senator said.
Cayetano, the sponsor of the RH bill in the Senate, maintained that the arguments initially presented by anti-RH groups showed that their petition has no basis.
“It is written throughout the law that no one is being coerced to do anything, and it is also written throughout the law that only family planning methods that are considered safe, legal and non-abortifacient will be made available,” she stressed.
The senator expressed belief that the SC ruling sends a wrong message to women who are in need of the protection given by the law.
Malacañang also said it respects the decision of the high tribunal.
“The extension is unfortunate, however, the extension will be respected by government,” Palace deputy spokesman Abigail Valte said.
“There will be no implementation while the SQA is in effect,” she added.
Status quo of deaths
Reproductive health (RH) advocates across the country are also unhappy over the new Supreme Court.
“I am saddened by the vote given by the Supreme Court. As we continue to deliberate on the RH law, 14 to 15 Filipino women die every day from pregnancy and childbirth. The Philippines has the highest teen birth rate among Asean countries,” Dr. Eden Divinagracia, executive director of Philippine NGO Council (PNGOC), lamented.
“Our religion should not intervene with the affairs of the state especially when you talk about the health of your constituents,” she added.
PNGOC is composed of 97 national and local based non-government organizations (NGOs).
“I believe that the RH law is beneficial to all whatever their religion may be. The RH Law will give you the right services for your family planning needs. The RH Law will teach couples how to plan their family using both the natural family planning method and the modern family planning method.” Divinagracia told The Manila Times.
Joy Salgado, senior advisory officer of Likhaan, another NGO, said that the country’s maternal mortality ratio is 221 deaths per 100,000 live births. Based on a United Nations study, around 5,300 women die during childbirth every year.
“We have the highest teen birth rate among ten Asean countries—five percent annually. These problems are well-documented. They hit hardest the most vulnerable: women, the poor, the young,” Salgado said. “Yet now we’re back to the debating arena. How many lives must be lost or ruined before we stop talking and start working? Those who lost in the public, scientific and legislative debates are now in the Supreme Court raising the same false charges against RH. Moreover, they are asking that the law be indefinitely suspended—in effect, that the status quo of deaths and misery be maintained—while the nation listens again to their arguments in court. Their blend of arrogance and irresponsibility is frightening,” Salgado said.
“We urge the Supreme Court to prevent further delays of the RH Law. We all know and accept the saying: Justice delayed is justice denied. Filipino women and their families, especially the poor, have suffered long enough. They too, deserve justice,” she added.
WITH REPORTS FROM JEFFERSON ANTIPORDA AND CATHERINE VALENTE