For the greater good

HIDDEN AGENDA - The Philippine Star

What is legally right may not be morally right or for the greater good.

On June 17, 2015, the Supreme Court issued a temporary restraining order against the full implementation of Republic Act 10354 or the Reproductive Health Law after the Alliance for the Family Foundation Philippines (ALFI) argued some of the contraceptive drugs and devices covered by the law have abortifacient attributes. Last September, the high court upheld the stay order on the use and distribution of the contraceptives.

The RH Law guarantees universal access to methods of contraception, fertility control, sex education and maternal care. It requires government health centers to provide condoms and birth control pills for free, as well as for public health workers to undergo family planning training. 

The RH bill was signed into law by President Benigno Aquino III in December 2012. The full implementation of this law was supposed to take effect Nov. 30, 2015 after the Food and Drugs Authority (FDA) shall have certified that the artificial contraceptives to be distributed by the Department of Health (DOH) are non-abortifacient.

 The TRO issued by the SC prevented the DOH and the FDA from “granting any and all pending applications for registration and/or recertification for reproductive products and supplies, including contraceptive drugs and devices.” 

In his first state-of-the-nation address last July 25, President Duterte promised to implement the RH Law  to curb population growth and assist the poor in family planning.         

Relying on this commitment, four non-governmental organizations as well as a legislative population committee, have petitioned the high tribunal to rescind the Aug. 24, 2016 order of the SC second division.

 The Forum for Family Planning and Development, Inc., the Filipino Catholic Voices for Reproductive Health, the Philippine NGO Council on Population Health and Welfare, the Philippine Center for Population and Development, the Philippine Legislators’ Committee on Population and Development Foundation Inc. and the Democratic Socialist Women of the Philippines have urged the SC to recognize them as intervenors and have argued that the assailed order “undermines the constitutionally guaranteed right to life and health of Filipinos and impedes the rights of women embodied in RA 9710 or the Magna Carta for Women and the RH Law.

 The groups warned that depriving Filipinos of access to government and privately available reproductive health services and contraceptive options would result in unwanted pregnancies, endanger the lives of mothers, lead to untrammelled population growth in the country, and perpetuate poverty in the country.

 The SC order barred the FDA from registering and re-certifying all contraceptive products and supplies until it had conducted hearings allowed all petitioners to be heard on each and every application and renewal of registration.

 But the petitioners-intervenors contend that this decision will have the effect of depriving Filipinos access to contraceptive drugs and devices because the FDA is bound to hear all oppositions (about 77) to such products.

 They said the order violates the Constitution, the laws, and the internationally recognized right to universal access to health-care services, in connection with the right to health, gender equality, women empowerment and responsible parenthood.

 They noted that the unplanned pregnancy rate which now stands at 40 percent in the Philippines, along with teenage pregnancy and maternal deaths arising from the complications of unwanted pregnancies, will increase many-fold. Preventable maternal deaths are expected to balloon from its already unacceptable rate of 14 deaths per day. Last month, Health Secretary Paulyn Ubial filed a motion seeking to lift the SC TRO, saying the government and the public in general will suffer grave and irreparable injury if the order is not lifted.

She warned the delay in the issuance of certificate of product registration (CPR) may compel the public to obtain unregistered contraceptives and counterfeit products from the black market and which have not been tested by the FDA.

Ubial said the TRO also applies to the registration and reregistration of other family planning commodities already in the market. As of last month, 14 registrations have already expired. By next year, another 14 will be lost and no longer available by end-2017. By end-2019, only five will be available in the market if the TRO stays.

There are those who have warned that unless the TRO is immediately lifted, the supply of contraceptive drugs and devices in the market or those provided by the government for free is bound to dry up.

With the TRO, women will be forced to rely on the unreliable rhythm method as the TRO has mandated the FDA to conduct hearings on any and all opposition to new contraceptive products applying for CPRs.

Even long-established contraceptives will no longer be available once their respective CPR lapses and they undergo the re-certification process because of the TRO. An application for a CPR takes one to two years to complete while a re-certification requires a seven-month processing period or even longer. Observers say that with the TRO, those opposed to the government’s family planning program and the use of contraceptives in general will have a field day filing opposition after opposition against the grant of a CPR to a new contraceptive product or the re-certification of contraceptives already used for decades. 

Worse, any decision of the FDA on a particular contraceptive is appealable to the Court of Appeals so that the grant of a new CPR or renewal can take such a long time.

For comments, e-mail at [email protected]

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