Source: Al Jazeera and agencies April 8, 2014
The Philippine Supreme Court has struck down a legal challenge to a controversial birth control law that supporters say could transform the lives of millions of poor Filipinos, despite bitter opposition from the country’s powerful Roman Catholic Church.
“The RH law is not unconstitutional,” Supreme Court spokesman Theodore Te told reporters on Tuesday, announcing the ruling denying the petitions to the law filed by church groups.
The law requires the government to provide free contraception to the poorest Filipinos, and conduct safe sex education in schools.
“This monumental decision upholds the separation of church and state and affirms the supremacy of government in secular concerns like health and socio-economic development,” said Edcel Lagman, a congressman and the principal author of the law.
The debate over the constitutionality of the law, which was signed by President Benigno Aquino in 2012, pits the government against the church in a country where at least 80 percent of the population are Roman Catholics.
The latest survey shows that 72 percent of the Philippine population supports the law.
For more than a decade, politicians have tried to pass the law, but were repeatedly blocked by the church.
Stemming population growth
Supporters say the law is necessary to stem population growth, reduce maternal death rates and help avoid unwanted pregnancies among poor women. They also contend that it could help slow down the spread of sexually-transmitted diseases, including HIV-AIDS, which saw sharp increases over the past five years.
The Philippine population has also tripled since 1970, and is expected to officially hit 100 million by 2014.
The population growth in the Philippines is one of the fastest growing in the world, but opponents argue that the growth rate is actually slowing down, in line with many other countries.
Some church leaders are urging people not to use contraceptives, even if they are given to them for free, saying they have a moral responsibility to have the law overturned.
Father Melvin Castro, of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, said contraceptives were not the answer to poverty. “They are poor not because they have no access to contraceptives but because they have no work. Give them work and it will be the most effective birth spacing means for them.”
Another concern in the Philippines is the number of women dying during childbirth. The latest family health survey estimated a 36 percent rise in 2011 in the maternal mortality rate, to 221 per 100,000 live births.
One of the hardline opponents of the legislation and a petitioner to the court, former senator Francisco Tatad, said allowing the law to take effect could force Catholics into an open revolt.
“Some of us will want to defy the power of the devil and die as martyrs, if need be, in the only cause that gives us a chance to fight for something much bigger than ourselves.”
RH ruling shows Philippines values women – Cayetano
‘Government can [now] use its full force in ensuring millions of Filipino women…will now have information. Families can plan when they want to have children,’ the lady senator says
WOMEN’S VICTORY. RH law principal sponsor Pia Cayetano says the Court ruling is a victory for poor Filipino women.
MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – After earning the ire and ridicule of some male colleagues for defending the controversial reproductive health (RH) law, a beaming Senator Pia Cayetano hailed the Supreme Court decision upholding the legality of its key provisions.
“This is the first time I can honestly say I love my job!” she said.
Yet Cayetano, who sponsored the bill in heated debates for two years in the Senate, said the court ruling is ultimately about poor Filipino women.
“Many women who have questioned this, even men, are people who have access [to reproductive health], so this is for the poor, especially poor women, who do not have the ability to access their own information and services,” Cayetano said in a press briefing on Tuesday, April 8.
“The Supreme Court decision speaks well of our system of government, speaks well of our democracy. It tells the whole world that the Filipino women are important in our country, that reproductive health rights will finally be acknowledged, that the importance of an individual’s right and couple’s rights are now going to be respected.”
The principal sponsor of the measure said the she was “extremely pleased” with the decision, which upheld key provisions, like age-appropriate sex education and requiring government hospitals to offer RH services and devices like contraceptives.
“Government can [now] use its full force in ensuring millions of Filipino women who have not had access, who do not even have information on how to plan their families, women who have aborted babies, will now have information so they can plan and will not resort to abortion. Families can plan when they want to have children,” she said.
“Individuals can decide what their future will look with one or 10 children. All this information will be available in a way Filipino people to make responsible decisions,” Cayetano added.
Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago, an author of the law and co-sponsor, thanked the Court for the ruling.
“I love you, because you have faced the fears of a nation, and swept them away like cobwebs.”
“The Supreme Court opinion is, to quote a landmark case, a decision upon clashing interests resolved exclusively by the force of reason, according to law, without the power of armies, the weight of patronage, or imposing pomp. In short, it is a triumph of reason over superstition,” Santiago said.
In a landmark ruling, the Court announced Tuesday that the RH law is constitutional except for some provisions like a portion of Section 7 requiring private health facilities owned by religious groups “to refer patients not in an emergency situation to another health facility conveniently accessible.”
It took Congress over 13 years to pass the RH law in 2012 because of strong opposition from Catholic bishops. Yet President Benigno Aquino III lent the measure his political capital, and proponents pushed hard for its historic passage.
Sotto: I was right all along
While Cayetano opposed the court decision to remove some provisions, the self-styled “number one oppositor” of the law, Senator Vicente “Tito” Sotto III, said he was vindicated.
“Ang maganda eh na-strike out ang Section 7 and other provisions we questioned. I was right all along,” Sotto told Rappler in a text message. (It’s a good thing they struck down Section 7.)
He added: “I expected it. Constitutional talaga ang ibang provisions noon dahil kinopya iyon sa mga batas on women, children, and other laws.” (The other provisions are really constitutional because they just copied those from the laws on women, children, and other laws.)
Senator JV Ejercito of the anti-RH minority bloc also accepted the ruling. “We just have to respect the Supreme Court decision. Maybe someone will file a motion for reconsideration so we have to wait for it.”
Challenge to vote for pro-women leaders
Cayetano said she felt strongly about the provisions the court declared illegal, like punishment for officials who refuse to support RH programs. Yet she said it posed a challenge to supporters of reproductive health.
“Do they want a mayor who will deprive them of RH services? This challenges the voice of the women, the Filipino youth to elect officials who will give them their needs,” Cayetano said.
The senator added that proponents can also appeal that part of the ruling, or file bills in Congress.
Another provision Cayetano wanted to have been upheld was the one allowing a married individual “not in a life-threatening case” to access RH procedures without the spouse’s consent.
“What if you are a woman whose husband is an Overseas Filipino Worker or missing in action, you’re separated but not annulled? So you will wait for your condition to develop into cancer? What if you have warts, you will wait for it to spread? I believe even if you are already married, this is still my body,” she said.
Cayetano’s counterpart in the House of Representative in the 15th Congress, then Albay Representative Edcel Lagman, said the provisions struck down by the High Court didn’t diminish the law. He cited 6 “core” provisions that were fully upheld.
Santiago also questioned the removal of some provisions, saying the law enjoys presumption of constitutionality. She said she supports “with full enthusiasm” moves to appeal the ruling.
“The burden of proof lies on the party who alleges unconstitutionality. In the 8 provisions, the petitioners failed to discharge this burden. It is not entirely clear what quantum of proof was applied by the Court to overcome the presumption of constitutionality,” Santiago said.
Anti-discriminatory bills next
Senate President Franklin Drilon also welcomed the ruling, saying the Senate will monitor the implementation of the law to ensure its goals are met.
“Our eyes should be on agencies tasked to implement it, specifically the Department of Health, to ensure that the much-needed programs that would prevent maternal deaths and other health complications affecting women, wives and mothers in the country will be put into operation,” Drilon said.
Senator Juan Edgardo “Sonny” Angara, who voted in favor of the law as a congressman, said the court weighed various interests in its ruling.
Now that the law is upheld, Cayetano said the next challenge for Congress is the passage of bills amending discriminatory provisions of the Family Code and other laws.
Responding to criticism that the law merely implements the status quo, Cayetano said the measure is for succeeding generations.
“We have the RH law so the future president, the future health secretaries are now going to be guided by the RH law. This current secretary might not have needed it. He might have been proactive but we want to make sure that everyone will be like that and so the DOH budget will not be questioned every year because the law now says it should be given.” – Rappler.com Ayee Macaraig April 8, 2014
gulfnews.com April 8, 2014
Philippines approves controversial birth control law
Catholic Church vowed to continue fighting what it terms ‘evil’ reforms
Manila: Millions of poor people in the Philippines will have access to free contraceptives for the first time after the nation’s top court on Tuesday approved a deeply controversial birth control law.
The Supreme Court’s ruling was hailed by supporters as a triumph in the battle to ease crippling poverty, empower women and curtail a population explosion in the Southeast Asian nation of 100 million people.
But the Catholic Church, which had led a bitter campaign for 15 years against efforts to introduce any form of family planning laws, expressed anger and vowed to continue fighting what it terms “evil” reforms.
“The RH law is not unconstitutional,” Supreme Court spokesman Theodore Te told reporters as he announced the ruling, striking down more than a dozen petitions against the reproductive health law from church-backed groups.
The legislation requires government health centres to supply free condoms and birth control pills, as well as mandating that sex education be taught in schools.
It also requires that public health workers receive family planning training, while medical care after an abortion will also be legalised.
The issues are so controversial in the Philippines because nearly 80 per cent of the population are Catholics, an inheritance of three centuries of Spanish colonial rule.
And while Pope Francis has recently urged a break from the Church’s obsession with its ultra-strict dogma, local Catholic leaders have sought to continue with deeply conservative social policies.
The Philippines is the only country where divorce remains illegal. Abortions are also outlawed.
“This monumental decision upholds the separation of church and state and affirms the supremacy of government in secular concerns like health and socioeconomic development,” legislator Edcel Lagman, the main author of the law, said after the ruling.
Women’s rights groups and other supporters of the law said the law would be a powerful tool in cutting the Philippines’ fertility rate of 3.54, one of the highest in Asia that has contributed to the nation’s brutal poverty.
More than a quarter of the population live on the equivalent of 62 cents a day, according to the government, with many million housed in horrific urban slums and unable to afford contraceptives.
“The full and speedy implementation of the law will be critically important in reducing maternal mortality and ensuring universal access to reproductive health care,” the United Nations said in a statement welcoming the ruling.
It noted that the number of women dying while giving birth in the Philippines had remained high over the past two decades, and the nation was expected to miss a 2015 development target to cut maternal deaths to 52 per 100,000 live births.
Between 14 and 15 mothers die each day from complications during childbirth in the Philippines, according to the British medical charity Merlin.
A spokeswoman for Philippine President Benigno Aquino, who defied church threats of excommunication to shepherd the law through parliament in 2012, said the government was ready quickly to start implementation.
The government had been poised to begin implementing it last year, but the appeals to the Supreme Court led to a temporary restraining order.
Nevertheless, the Church and other opponents insisted they would continue campaigning against the law, and potentially lodge an appeal.
Decisions by the Supreme Court can be appealed, but the tribunal rarely reverses its own rulings.
Oscar Cruz, an outspoken senior member of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, said approval of the law could “open the floodgates for other un-Catholic laws, like legalising abortion or divorce”.
One of the most hardline opponents and a petitioner to the court, former senator Francisco Tatad, said allowing the law to take effect could force Catholics into open revolt.
“This means civil disobedience at the very least, actual revolt at the most extreme,” Tatad wrote in a commentary in the Manila Times on Tuesday ahead of the ruling.
Church leaders have helped lead two revolutions that toppled unpopular presidents in recent history.
However church-backed groups have not attracted massive crowds to previous rallies against the law.
Polling over many years has also shown that most Catholic Filipinos have largely embraced less conservative views on social issues.
A survey last month by the respected Social Weather Stations polling group said 72 per cent of respondents were in favor of the law.