MANILA, Philippines - Government efforts to address the country’s runaway population and rising maternal deaths have suffered another setback following a Supreme Court order extending its freeze on implementation of the Reproductive Health Law.
The High Tribunal voted 8-7 in session yesterday to extend the 120-day status quo ante order issued last March 19 and which is to expire today.
In a press conference, SC spokesman Theodore Te said the status quo ante order would remain in effect “until further orders from the court.” He did not reveal the details of the voting by the magistrates.
In the original status quo ante order, the SC magistrates voted 10-5. Malacañang called the SC order unfortunate.
After the oral arguments on the 15 petitions questioning the constitutionality of the RH law last July 9, two justices expressed belief that the law should now be implemented. Te declined to name the two justices.
The SC set the resumption of oral arguments on July 23.
Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez welcomed the decision, saying the SC justices should remain steadfast in opposing the RH Law to “protect the country from going into the abyss of the liberal society.”
“We laud the SC ruling extending the status quo ante order against the RH law,” Rodriguez told The STAR.
“All of us pro-life pray that they would stand firm and objective and in the final decision strike down the RH law for not only being destructive of our sacred moral values, but also for being violative of the Constitution,” he said.
Sen. Vicente Sotto III said the SC decision was “God answering the prayers of the faithful.”
He said the order was a strong indication that the high court would eventually declare the law unconstitutional.
He said the Constitution mandates that the state shall protect the founding of the family as well as the right to religion.
Senator Pia Cayetano expressed her disappointment over the SC decision, saying “it sends the wrong message to women of our country.”
Cayetano, the principal author and sponsor of the RH bill in the Senate, said that she was present during the oral arguments last week and found the presentations made by the petitioners “quite weak.”
“To me, it sends the wrong message to the women of our country. As we debate this, there are women who are sacrificing, dying, losing their children and being placed in a situation where they would undergo abortion,” Cayetano said.
She reiterated her appeal to critics from the religious sector to observe the principle of separation of church and state and let the people decide on the bill based on an objective presentation of facts.
She said the Catholic Church and other religious groups may have exerted pressure on the faithful.
“Remember, this is not an abortion law. This is a law providing access to reproductive health services and information. If at all it’s a law providing access to contraceptives, not abortion,” she said.
“So I am appealing to all those concerned to have an open mind and listen to the arguments because to stand in the way of one’s religious views would be contrary to our obligation to uphold the Constitution,” she added.
Cayetano pointed out that the Constitution provides for the separation of church and state and so personal religious beliefs should not influence policy-making decisions.
Opponents of the RH Law believe the law violates the right to life under Section 12, Article 2 of the Constitution as it introduces a new definition of conception, which is implantation or when the fertilized egg cell reaches the uterus. They said this is contrary to the true definition of conception, which is fertilization.
Lawyer Ma. Concepcion Noche, one of the petitioners representing the Alliance for the Family Foundation Philippines, presented this argument before the SC in the previous oral argument. Some justices rebuffed her, saying the high court might not be the best venue to resolve an issue that even the medical profession has not conclusively resolved.
In the next hearing, lawyer Luisito Liban is expected to discuss how the law allegedly violates the rights to religion, free speech, and academic freedom, as well as the “proscription on involuntary servitude.” Another lawyer, Luis Gana, will try to convince the high court that the law violates the Organic Act of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.
Former Senate president Aquilino Pimentel Jr. has also submitted to the high court his arguments on how the law violates autonomy of local government units including ARMM.
The 15 consolidated petitions against the RH Law were filed by couple James and Lovely-Ann Imbong, non-profit group Alliance for the Family Foundation Philippines Inc. (ALFI), Serve Life Cagayan de Oro City, Task Force for Family and Life Visayas Inc., lawyer Expedito Bugarin, Eduardo Olaguer of the Catholic Xyberspace Apostolate of the Philippines, Philippine Alliance of Ex-Seminarians Inc., Dr. Reynaldo Echavez, former Sen. Tatad and his wife Ma. Fenny, a group of doctors represented by lawyer Howard Calleja, Millenium Saint Foundation Inc., Pro-Life Philippines Foundation Inc., a group of Catholic students represented by the legal office of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, Catholic lay group Couples For Christ Foundation (CFC) and Almarim Centi Tillah and Abdul Hussein Kashim.
After the petitioners finish presenting their arguments, the government through the Office of the Solicitor General will defend the RH law along with six intervenors in the case.
Named respondents in the case were Executive Secretary Pacquito Ochoa Jr., Budget Secretary Florencio Abad, Education Secretary Armin Luistro, Health Secretary Enrique Ona, and Interior and Local Government Secretary Manuel Roxas II.
The six intervenors aside from Cayetano are former Akbayan Rep. Risa Hontiveros, former Health secretaries Esperanza Cabral, Jaime Galvez-Tan and Alberto Romualdez Jr.; the group of 2005 Bar topnotcher Joan De Venecia; the Catholics for Reproductive Health and Interfaith Partnership for the Promotion of Responsible Parenthood Inc.; and Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, author of the law in the House of Representative. – With Paolo Romero, Aurea Calica, Mayen Jaymalin, Marvin Sy