Manila Times - Supreme Court stops controversial RH law

20 March 2013

THE Supreme Court (SC) on Tuesday issued a status quo ante (SQA) order that stopped the implementation of the controversial reproductive health (RH) law for the next four months, or until the oral arguments set in mid-June are over.

A text message from the tribunal’s Public Information Office said that High Court justices voted 10-5 for the issuance of the order during the court’s en banc session on Tuesday.

Associate Justice Jose Catral Men­doza led the group of the 10 justices who ordered the issuance of the stay order.

The five dissenters are Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno, Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio and justices Mariano del Castillo, Estela Perlas-Bernabe and Marvic Leonen.

The 15-man tribunal has also set oral arguments on June 18 at 2 p.m., in time for the return of the members of the High Court to Manila from its summer session in Baguio City.

The stay order of the tribunal means that the law passed by the House of Representatives and the Senate, which was signed by President Benigno Aquino 3rd cannot be implemented at this time.
The law was to take effect on March 31, Easter Sunday.

At the Senate, those who are against the implementation of the law said that while the halt order of the court is only temporary, it can still be considered a victory.

Senate Majority Leader Vicente “Tito” Sotto 3rd said that the 120-day status quo ante order shows that the High Tribunal knows what is best for the country.

“Let them decide! I have full trust and confidence in their collective wisdom,” Sotto said, referring to the members of the tribunal.

Senate President Pro Tempore Jose “Jinggoy” Ejercito-Estrada and Sen. Gregorio “Gringo” Honasan 2nd, who are against the law, also welcomed the ruling, saying that it is a good move on the part of the court being the final arbiter of the law.

The Senate voted 13-8 in December 2012 in favor of the passage of the measure introduced by Senators Miriam Defensor-Santiago and Pia Cayetano.

Sen. Sergio “Serge” Osmeña 3rd, said that it would be better if the tribunal did not stop the implementation of the law, although he believes that the order doesn’t matter.

“That’s the nature of things in a democratic society. You see these things happen, you may not agree with it, but you have to accept it,” the lawmaker added.

Osmeña was absent during the voting of the bill in the senate, but he would have voted in favor of the passage of the bill.

Rep. Amado Bagatsing of Manila, who had repeatedly delayed the deliberations of the bill prior to its passage, welcomed the news. ”We are elated. The RH truly violated certain constitutional provisions like protecting the family,” he said.

Malacañang, however, was not intimated by the High Court order, saying that the government can defend the law and is ready for the coming legal battle.

Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said that the Office of the Solicitor General will be able to defend the law before the Supreme Court.

“We are confident that government will be able to defend the merits of the responsible parenthood law,” he said.

Lacierda said that Malacañang respects the High Court’s decision.

“We will observe the SQA resolution issued by the Supreme Court,” he added.
Harmful to campaign
An ally of President Benigno Aquino 3rd said that the court decision will hurt the campaign of the lawmakers who voted for the passage of the measure.

“Why wait until June for the oral arguments to be heard when this has been one of the most debated laws in history of Congress? It could have been timed to hit pro-RH legislators in our campaign,” Rep. Teddy Baguilat of Ifugao province, a member of the ruling Liberal Party chaired by President Aquino and one of the principal authors of the law, said.

“I’m disappointed. It’s bad enough majority of the justices voted to suspend the implementation,” Baguilat, who is seeking reelection, added.

Leaders of the Catholic Church recently branded supporters of the law as “Team Patay” in huge tarpaulins and posters fronting a number of Catholic churches across the country.

The list includes Senators Francis “Chiz” Escudero, Loren Legarda and Alan Peter Cayetano; Representatives Juan Edgardo “Sonny” Angara Jr. of Aurora province and Juan Castañer “Jackie” Ponce Enrile Jr. of Cagayan province; and Rep. Teodoro “Teddy” Casi­ño of Bayan Muna party-list and former representative Ana Therisia “Risa” Hontiveros of Akba­yan party-list.

So far, the anti-RH campaign launched by various church organizations has been affecting the candidacy of Cayetano who was dislodged in the No. 2 post by former Movie and Television Review and Classification Board chairman Mary Grace Poe-Llamanzares based on the latest survey conducted by Stratpolls.

Hontiveros, another candidate of the administration coalition, is also feeling the effects of the anti-RH campaign and continues to suffer poor ratings not only in Stratpolls but also in Pulse Asia and Social Weather Stations surveys.

Rep. Luzviminda “Luz” Ilagan of Gabriela party-list, who is also seeking reelection in Congress like Baguilat, is unfazed by the latest development.

“Gabriela does not consider the RH law as crucial to its reelection. Its track record of fighting for women’s rights and pursuing a genuine women’s agenda can vouch for us, with or without the RH law,” Ilagan said.

Her stance was echoed by Sen. Antonio Trillanes 4th, who is seeking reelection under Team PNoy.

“The SQA on the RH law won’t have an effect on anyone’s candidacy since it is how we voted that truly matters. The sex education starting at Grade 6 is very dangerous and unacceptable,” Trillanes said in a text message to The Manila Times, referring to one of the provisions of the measure.

Temporary setback
But for law supporters, Rep. Edcel Lagman of Albay province, Angara and House speaker Feliciano Bel­monte Jr. of Quezon City, the stay order is just temporary setback.

“The status quo ante order issued by the Supreme Court is only a temporary delay in the implementation of the reproductive health law to enable the High Court to fully assess the merits and demerits of the pending petitions challenging the constitutionality of the RH law,” Lagman, who defended the law passage before the House plenary floor, said in a statement.

The law, Lagman said, is constitutional because the right to life is not defiled, the right to health is not infringed, it upholds religious freedom and parental role in the rearing of the youth is supported by the State.

“The issuance of the SQA is normal, to give the court enough time to decide on the issue. It doesn’t mean that they have decided the case in favor of the pro or the anti,” Angara said.

Belmonte was hopeful that the main issues will be deliberated on “so that these can be resolved as soon as possible.”

James and Lovely Imbong were the first to question Republic Act 10354, or the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act of 2012, which seeks to improve public access to reproductive health services, including natural and artificial family planning options.

The couple argued that the law violates the Constitution, which upholds the ideals of an unconditional respect for life.

Several petitions were also filed before the court, the last of which were those filed by former sen. Francisco Tatad, his wife Fenny and human rights lawyer and The Times columnist Alan Paguia.

With a report from Catherine S. Valente