'SC freeze only because oral arguments not finished'
BUTUAN CITY, Philippines – Rejoicing over a court-ordered freeze on the implementation of the Reproductive Health (RH) Law is premature, as the fight over the controversial measure is not over yet, the Department of Health said Wednesday.
Health Assistant Secretary and spokesman Eric Tayag said the Supreme Court (SC) extended indefinitely its status quo ante order on the implementation of the RH law because the oral arguments on the petition against the measure are not yet complete.
“What the SC did was to stop the implementation. We can understand that in the context that on July 23, there will be the second part of the oral argument,” Tayag told The STAR.
He said supporters of Republic Act 10354 or the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act must exercise restraint so as not to complicate matters.
“We have been patient for 13 years, why not be patient again? This is a democratic process, so let us just wait for the results,” he said.
Supporters of the measure said the SC decision would set back government efforts to manage population growth and address the rising maternal deaths in the country.
The Philippine NGO Council said up to 15 women would die from pregnancy and childbirth-related complications for each day of delay in the implementation of the law.
Eden Divinagracia, executive director of the Philippine NGO Council, said the RH law “will teach couples how to plan their family using both the natural family planning method and the modern family planning method.”
“We are saddened by the fact that Supreme Court has prolonged the suspension of the much-needed law,” said Philippine Legislator’s Committee on Population and Development executive director Romeo Dongeto.
He told The STAR that SC justices should realize that their continued suspension of the RH law is tantamount to denying countless women access to reproductive health information and services.
“By denying the implementation of the law, they are perpetrating the same problem of deaths and poverty of about 25 to 30 percent of population,” he said.
Despite the status quo ante order on the RH law, Dongeto said he is confident that the high tribunal would eventually rule in favor of the measure.
“I think at the end of the day, our justices will see the light. Eventually they will approve the constitutionality of the law. I am confident our justices will act favorably,” he added.
Benjamin de Leon, executive director of the Family Planning Forum, also expressed dismay over the SC ruling.
“I am not happy as the law is not being implemented. I don’t think you can be happy as long as there are these women dying,” De Leon said.
Unanimous for extension
Meanwhile, an SC magistrate said the justices unanimously voted for the extension of the status quo ante order and that what was voted upon on Tuesday was the length of the extension.
“It was a vote on the duration of the extension,” the justice, who declined to be named as the case is still pending, told The STAR.
SC spokesman Theodore Te reported on Monday that the high court voted 8-7 to extend the status quo ante order issued last March 19. The original order expired yesterday.
The source said eight justices voted for an indefinite suspension of the law’s implementation while seven magistrates voted to limit the extension to just 90 days.
The eight were Associate Justices Jose Mendoza, Presbitero Velasco Jr., Teresita Leonardo-De Castro, Arturo Brion, Diosdado Peralta, Lucas Bersamin, Roberto Abad and Jose Perez. ]The seven magistrates who voted for a 90-day extension were Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Aranal-Sereno, Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio and Associate Justices Martin Villarama, Mariano del Castillo, Bienvenido Reyes, Estela Perlas-Bernabe and Marvic Leonen.
Carpio and Leonen reportedly had initially pushed for the lifting of the status quo ante order even before the completion of oral arguments but later agreed to an extension.
The SC magistrates had earlier voted 10-5 for the issuance of the original status quo ante order.
The 15 consolidated petitions against the RH Law 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 Xyberspace Apostolate of the Philippines, Philippine Alliance of Ex-Seminarians Inc., Dr. Reynaldo Echavez, former Sen. Francisco 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.