Lito Atienza faces class suit

- Evelyn Macairan -

Family planning advocates said yesterday they are readying a legal suit against former Manila mayor Lito Atienza for his opposition to artificial contraception.

Elizabeth Pangalagan, executive director of the Reproductive Health, Rights and Ethics Center, said the groups were looking at either administrative charges or a civil suit against Atienza for removing all contraceptives from city clinics when he was mayor of Manila.

The suit aims to “hold (Atienza) liable for acts which caused injury to women,” Pangalagan said.

Her group and other organizations presented testimony on how Atienza, a devout Catholic, introduced a policy in 2000 banning city government clinics from issuing contraceptives or informing people how to use or obtain them.

Atienza stepped down as Manila mayor earlier this year but was later appointed environment and natural resources secretary by President Arroyo, also a devout Catholic.

Dr. Junice Demeterio-Melgar, executive director of Linangan ng Kababaihan (Likhaan), said their group, along with other civic groups, are “contemplating on filing A tort case against Atienza and ask for remedies on injuries and damages done to the women.”

Atienza is the president Pro-Life Philippines, a group that advocates natural family planning.

Melgar said they will question the legality of Executive Order 003 series of 2000, otherwise known as “Declaring Total Commitment and Support to the Responsible Parenthood Movement in the City of Manila and Enunciating Policy Declarations in Pursuit Thereof.”

She said that while they have not yet set a date for the filing of the case, they will file a class suit before a Manila court and challenge Atienza’s executive order before the Supreme Court.

The EO said the “city promotes responsible parenthood and upholds natural family planning not just as method buy as a way of self-awareness in promoting the culture of life while discouraging the use of artificial methods of contraception like condoms, pills, intrauterine devices, surgical sterilization and other.”

The family planning advocates came out with a report yesterday in which they claimed that “while the order does not explicitly ban ‘artificial’ contraception, it has in practice resulted in a sweep of these supplies and services from health city centers and hospitals, depriving many women—especially poor women—of their main source of affordable family planning supplies.”

The women reportedly suffered physical, emotional, financial, mental anguish because they have been deprived of availing of artificial family planning methods, the groups said.

They cited the case of Tina Montales, 36, who wanted to undergo tubal ligation after her fourth pregnancy, but could not because the local hospital no longer offered the said service.

Atienza’s order, according to the groups, reportedly violates the Philippine government’s obligations under national and international law. The Constitution guarantees the rights to liberty, health, equality, information and education for all citizens, as well as the right of spouses to found a family in accordance with their personal religious convictions, they said.

When asked why it took them seven years to voice an objection, Melgar said they had problems looking for a complainant since most Manila residents were afraid to come out for fear of earning Atienza’s wrath.

“Atienza reportedly had a reputation that he could take away what he had given to them. Now they are more courageous since he is no longer the mayor,” she said.

Melgar clarified that they support both the natural and artificial methods of family planning.

“Ours is to provide a choice to the people, give them the full spectrum when they need it,” she said.

Likhaan has also taken the initiative to meet with incumbent Mayor Alfredo Lim to request that he revoke EO 003. They said Lim assured them that he would promote both the family planning methods.

Should he fail to revoke the EO, Melgar said there is a possibility that they would include Lim as a respondent.

She said they did not name national officials in the suit, because the function of delivering basic health services to the people has already been devolved to local executives.

She said that apart from the filing a class suit, a lot of work has yet to be done before Manila could offer once again a complete family planning program to its constituents.

She narrated that during Atienza’s nine-year term as mayor, the delivery of family planning services to city residents deteriorated. The family planning advocates said city officials had to reconstruct the health infrastructure, such as acquiring contraceptives and providing training to city health workers.

Another family planning advocate, Dr. Jonathan David Flavier, said Manila has to invest P1 million to cover the acquisition of new contraceptives for one quarter.           – With AFP








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