Pro, anti-RH groups in show of force
MANILA, Philippines – Outside the Supreme Court in Padre Faura, Manila, critics and supporters of the Reproductive Health law held their own show of force on Tuesday, July 9, as Justices open oral arguments on the consitutionality of the law.
The Catholic Church, which has threatened President Benigno Aquino III and other supporters of the law with excommunication, held prayer vigils and masses on Tuesday morning ahead of the Court hearing.
"We ask the Holy Spirit to enlighten and inspire the lawyers who would be arguing for our position... and enlighten the justices of the Supreme Court," Bishop Gabriel Reyes told a mass in Manila held ahead of the opening of proceedings.
Wearing red shirts, Anti-RH law groups marched to Padre Faura hours and held a prayer vigil for lawyers who are representing 15 petitioners against the law.
Filipinos For Life movement President Anthony Perez said they were staging the rally to “celebrate life.”
The law requires government health centers to hand out free condoms and birth control pills, benefiting tens of millions of the country's poor who would not otherwise be able to afford or have access to them.
According to Perez, student volunteers from St. Paul Manila, University of Sto. Tomas, Don Bosco Mandaluyong, San Sebastian Cavite, and Siena College also came to support the anti-RH law groups.
Sienna College Academic Coordinator Tito Doroja said the college did not force their students to join the rally. “We still stand by the side of the Catholic Church that these teachings, although legal, are immoral,” Doroja said.
Think of the moms
Supporters of the law that took 13 years and 14 months to pass also held their own rally. Mostly women, they wore purple and carried purple umbrellas.
Proponents say the law will slow the country's population growth, which is one of the fastest in the world, and reduce the number of mothers dying at child birth.
"In the Philippines we lose 14 to 15 mothers a day due to pregnancy-related complications," international medical charity Merlin and its Philippine partner Likhaan said in a statement.
"But with this law, we are closer than ever before to being able to provide a low-cost solution which will directly save the lives of women and their babies, whose loss to their families and communities cannot be quantified."
The Supreme Court suspended the law in March so that the Justices could hear the 15 formal petitions from a range of Church-backed groups arguing that it was unconstitutional.
The opponents argue the law erodes a section of the constitution that protects the "right of spouses to found a family in accordance with their religious convictions."
“For so many years we have been fighting to have a law that would ensure the reproductive rights of the women, especially women workers, and it is a sad day today that the implementation of the law is long delayed,” Partido ng Manggagawa secretary-general Judy Ann Miranda said.
Miranda added that the delay in the implementation of the RH law has only increased the rate of women dying from pregnancy and childbirth complications.
“This is the tragedy of the Catholic Church’s unscientific and false allegations against proven safe and effective contraception. This is the injustice that the Catholic Church is promoting by consistently imposing its anti-women beliefs to our society,” Miranda said.
RH law advocate Sen Pia Cayetano, one of the interveners for the RH law said that she is confident they have a strong case. “To deny RH services from our people would be a denial of human rights and a grave social injustice, especially against women and the poor,” Cayetano said adding that she welcomes the opportunity for them to present before the High Court their arguments on its constitutionality and legality.
In a text message to Rappler, SC spokesperson Theodore Te said that given the various issues at stake, only the petitioners against the RH law would likely be able to present their arguments Tuesday afternoon at the Supreme Court. The next hearing will be next week, on July 23. – with reports from Ace Tamayo and Agence France-Presse/Rappler.com