SC upholds RH Law
Edu Punay (The Philippine Star) - April 9, 2014 - 12:00am

BAGUIO CITY, Philippines – Voting unanimously, the Supreme Court upheld yesterday Republic Act No. 10354 or the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act, but struck down certain provisions.

In summer session here, justices of the high court voted to declare unconstitutional eight provisions in the controversial law and in its implementing rules and regulations (IRR).

Voided were portions of Section 7 of the law, which require private hospitals owned by religious groups to refer patients to other health facilities and allow minors suffering miscarriage access to modern family planning methods without the consent of their parents.

The SC also struck down Section 17, which requires healthcare providers to grant free services to indigent women as prerequisite to securing PhilHealth accreditation.

Also voided were provisions in Section 23 penalizing health workers who fail or refuse to disseminate information on RH programs regardless of his or her religious beliefs, or those who refuse to refer non-emergency patients to another facility regardless of religious beliefs, or public officials who refuse to support RH programs regardless of his or her religion.

Also branded as unconstitutional is a provision in the IRR allowing married individuals not in an emergency or life-threatening case to undergo RH procedures without the consent of their spouses.

The high court also declared unconstitutional Section 3 of the law’s IRR, which defined “abortifacient” as only contraceptives that “primarily” induce abortion.

The magistrates, who came up with 10 different opinions, voted differently on these provisions.

But except for the eight provisions, all 15 justices voted to declare “not unconstitutional” all other provisions questioned in the consolidated petitions.

The SC did not use the term “constitutional” in deciding on the legality of the RH Law, saying it used the double negative term since the constitutionality of the assailed law was assumed in the case.

The grounds used by the high court in making the decision, however, were not immediately known as copies of the ruling as well as those of separate opinions had not yet been released.

Associate Justice Jose Mendoza penned the decision, while Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno wrote her separate opinion in Filipino.

 

Ready for implementation

At Malacañang, deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said the executive department is ready to implement the law.

“We have been ready from the day that it was signed by the President,” Valte told a news briefing, but clarified they haven’t read the SC decision yet.

“We would have to wait to read the entire decision, especially given the fact that the report states that some parts were declared unconstitutional,” she said.

“Given that the Responsible Parenthood Law has several important aspects, we would like to be given the time to read the main decision,” Valte said.

“I would need to read the entire decision, as well as the votes, the concurring opinions, as well as the dissenting opinions, if any,” she added.

The high tribunal issued on March 19 last year a 120-day status quo ante order halting the implementation of the law signed by President Aquino in December 2012.

When the order expired in July last year, the SC voted 8-7 to extend it for an indefinite period.

The decision of the SC effectively lifts the status quo ante order, according to a court insider.

In defending the law before the SC, the government had the support of several private groups and individuals who acted as “intervenors” in the case. Aside from former congresswoman Risa Hontiveros and former health secretary Esperanza Cabral, the other intervenors were principal RH Law authors Sen. Pia Cayetano and former Albay congressman  Edcel Lagman, former health secretaries Jamie Galvez-Tan and the late 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.

Opponents of the RH law argued that it “negates and frustrates the foundational ideals and aspirations of the sovereign Filipino people as enshrined in the Constitution.”

They cited Article II, Section 12 of the Constitution, which stipulates that the state “recognizes the sanctity of family life and shall protect and strengthen the family as a basic autonomous social institution.”

They also cited constitutional provision mandating the state to “equally protect the life of the mother and the life of the unborn from conception.”

“The natural and primary right and duty of parents in the rearing of the youth for civic efficiency and the development of moral character shall receive the support of government,” they said, quoting the Constitution.

Petitioners said at least 11 provisions in RA 10354, which reportedly allow couples the choice to suppress life, violate the Constitution.

They added that the new law, once implemented, would violate constitutional guarantee of freedom of religion and expression.

The consolidated petitions 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 Xybrspace Apostolate of the Philippines, Philippine Alliance of Ex-Seminarians Inc., Dr. Reynaldo Echavez, former Sen. Kit Tatad and his wife Ma. Fenny, a group of doctors represented by lawyer Howard Calleja, Millennium 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. – Delon Porcalla

ABIGAIL VALTE ALBERTO ROMUALDEZ JR. ALMARIM CENTI TILLAH AND ABDUL HUSSEIN KASHIM ASSOCIATE JUSTICE JOSE MENDOZA AT MALACA CATHOLIC BISHOPS CHIEF JUSTICE MA CONFERENCE OF THE PHILIPPINES LAW LIFE
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