RH battle shifts to funding

By Jess Diaz, The Philippine Star

Posted at Apr 11 2014 04:51 AM | Updated as of Apr 11 2014 12:51 PM

MANILA, Philippines - The battle between advocates of reproductive health (RH) and those opposed to it is apparently not yet over.

With the Supreme Court (SC) declaring the RH Law constitutional, lawmakers yesterday said they expect the fight to shift to how much the House of Representatives and the Senate should appropriate for the implementation of RH programs.

“I foresee that the next contentious issue would be funding,” Isabela Rep. Rodolfo Albano III, whose father Rodolfo Albano voted for the RH bill, said.

He said RH supporters inside and outside of Congress would try to lobby for as much funds as possible for the implementation of the law.

On the other hand, RH opponents would attempt to reduce funding for it by putting pesos and centavos to provisions that the SC has struck down, he said.

He suggested that the Department of Health (DOH) should now estimate the amount needed for the
implementation of the law and include it in its proposed 2015 budget.

“If the needed amount is part of the budget that President Aquino will submit to Congress, it will be difficult for the House and the Senate to reduce it. Even if anti-RH lawmakers succeed in making a reduction, the President can always veto it and restore his original proposal,” he said.

He said those who voted for the RH bill in the two chambers would try to keep as much funding as possible for the implementation of the law.

The original RH bill carried an appropriation of P3 billion, but anti-RH senators and House members succeeded in removing it.

Another congressman who voted for the RH bill, Teddy Baguilat of Ifugao, said the House and the Senate should make sure the law has enough funding.

He said he believes that the eight provisions struck down by the SC would complicate and prolong debates on funds the administration is expected to seek for RH programs.

He said such provisions include those pertaining to providing minors access to contraceptives without parental consent and penalizing public officers who refuse to support RH programs.

He said the law, as it now stands, “would go a long way in improving maternal health numbers and finally giving women the right to choose their destiny when it comes to reproductive health.”

“The government should go full throttle in implementing key provisions that were affirmed by the SC, such as age-appropriate sexuality education and provision of RH services to local government units,” he said.

Baguilat lamented that it took the SC more than a year to resolve the constitutionality of the law.

“And in that time, more HIV infections were recorded, more unplanned pregnancies happened and more maternal deaths were listed,” he said.

The RH bill narrowly hurdled second-reading vote in the House. The vote in an overnight session watched by church leaders opposed to the measure was 113-104.

President Aquino decided to certify the bill as urgent after the House voted on it on second reading. The margin in the final and third-reading vote widened, 133-79.

Many members of the Liberal Party who voted against the measure on second reading did not show up in the final voting.

The Senate approved the bill by a vote of 13-8.

‘File an MR’

Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago, author and co-sponsor of the RH Law, yesterday urged pro-RH groups to file a motion for reconsideration on the SC ruling on the RH Law.

“I am fairly confident that a more exhaustive study of the principles of constitutional law will support a reconsideration of all eight provisions,” Santiago said, referring to the provisions that were struck down.

She cited the following principles in statutory construction which mandate judicial affirmation of the eight provisions:

• The RH Law enjoys a presumption of constitutionality, based on the respect of the judiciary for the legislature;

• The presumption of constitutionality dictates that doubt should be resolved in favor of the law; and that the SC should reconcile the law with the Constitution;

• With respect to the provisions that did not pass muster, the court should have granted to Congress the presumption of good faith and the presumption that legislative determination of factual issues is correct.

Santiago said that under the law, the burden of proof lies on the party who alleges unconstitutionality.

“In the eight provisions, the petitioners failed to discharge the burden of proof. It is not entirely clear what quantum of proof was applied by the court to overcome the presumption of constitutionality,” she said.

Gist of law preserved

While Santiago is pushing for the filing of a motion for reconsideration on the SC ruling on the RH Law, Sen. Pia Cayetano, principal author and sponsor of the RH Law in the Senate, said she could live with the ruling since the general purpose of the law remains intact.

Cayetano said the SC’s decision to remove certain provisions of the law does not affect the objective to provide every Filipino woman, especially the poor, access to reproductive health services and information.

“On a practical level, the gist of the law is preserved, the right of reproductive health will be available to the poor so the fact that this was preserved, I’m OK with that,” she said.

Cayetano said she would wait for the ruling to come out so that she could read the arguments made by the justices regarding the removal of some provisions of the law, particularly on consent of partner when it comes to personal decisions related to reproductive health.

Comprehensive analysis

The government, meanwhile, will make a “comprehensive analysis of the implications” of the SC decision on the legality of the RH Law.

In a press briefing yesterday, Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. quoted Solicitor General Francis Jardeleza as saying that they had not yet received an official copy of the SC decision so it would be best to hold off comment.

Coloma said they would have to read and study the decision because of its deep and wide-ranging implications.

Coloma added they would have to await the decision on the status quo ante order earlier issued by the high tribunal on the RH Law, although there were reports that this had been lifted with the promulgation of the ruling on Tuesday.

This means concerned agencies such as the DOH can now enforce the law and its implementing rules and regulations, except for eight provisions struck down by the SC as unconstitutional.

The status quo ante order had been in effect since the SC issued it in March last year.

Uniting factor

Senior administration lawmakers said yesterday the SC’s decision on the constitutionality of the RH Law has somehow greatly reduced divisiveness and could be an opportunity for Filipinos to unite for ensuring the health of women and children.

Marikina City Rep. Romero Quimbo said the constitutionality of the RH Law is “a big victory by itself regardless of whatever form it may have come out from the SC.”

He said the provisions set aside by the SC as unconstitutional are covered by other laws like the Magna Carta for Women.

“What is significant here is that the SC deserves praise for coming up with a Solomonic decision that allows both ardent sides of the debate to accept it,” Quimbo said.

“The RH Law can be an opportunity for our people to unite, instead of it being a source of deep division. I think the SC allowed that to happen,” he said.

The SC voided provisions that basically punish private medical institutions and public workers who refuse to support the law if their religious beliefs forbid it.

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

Ilocos Norte Rep. Rodolfo Fariñas said since both parties to the case seem happy with the decision, “then all is well that ends well.”

Valenzuela City Rep. Sherwin Gatchalian also lauded the SC for its historic declaration, saying the law will enable barangays to help families reap the benefits of economic growth.

Equal promotion

The DOH, for its part, yesterday vowed to promote all methods of family planning in the implementation of the RH Law.

In an ambush interview, Heath Secretary Enrique Ona said the law is “very significant” to the country’s efforts to improve the lives of Filipinos.

Ona said it is up to the public to decide what type of family planning method to use.

“If they want to use the scientific method, fine and good. If they want to use the traditional church supported method, well and good. We are going to help them in any way,” he said. – With Christina Mendez, Paolo Romero, Aurea Calica, Marvin Sy, Sheila Crisostomo