MANILA, Philippines — The status quo ante order (SQAO) that the Supreme Court issued against the implementation of the Reproductive Health (RH) law will expire next week, July 17, before the High Court is finished hearing oral arguments on the law’s constitutionality.
Will the SC extend the SQAO or let it lapse? The next en banc meeting will be on Tuesday, July 16, or a day before the SQAO lapses.
“It will have to be decided by the en banc so it will have to wait until the next en banc meeting, which is on July 16,” said SC information chief Theodore Te said.
Anti-RH lawyer Maria Concepcion Noche appealed to the justices on Day 1 of the oral arguments, July 9, to extend the SQAO. Oral arguments will resume on July 23.
Senator Pia Cayetano, sponsor of the RH law in the Senate, said it’s possible the SC will let its order lapse.
“To my mind, if they (justices) have not been convinced that there is a serious injury within the first hearing then they don’t have basis really to extend that,” Cayetano told Rappler executive editor Maria Ressa on #TalkThursday.
The RH law, or Republic Act 10354, 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.
Day 1 of the oral arguments was a tough 5-hour grilling for the anti-RH camp, whose arguments crumbled in front of some justices. Associate Justice Antonio Carpio and Associate Justice Marvic Leonen noted that members of the High Court are not doctors who should be asked to decide on issues that have split the medical profession.
Noche maintained that conception begins with fertlization and not implantation as the pro-RH camp has been saying.
Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno also said the SC may have to exercise “judicial restraint” because the High Tribunal “may not be the best forum” to decide the issue.
Sereno stressed the “complexity” of the situation. She noted that members of the SC are not elected and yet are being asked to rule on a law that was passed by Congress and signed by the Office of the President.
But it was only Day 1 of the oral arguments.
It will still be a numbers game in the Supreme Court. An analysis by Rappler editor-at-large Marites Vitug shows there are 6 justices in favor of the RH law and another 5 who are staunchly against it. The others could be the swing votes, she said.
Day 1 of the oral arguments presented a “tricky situation,” according to Cayetano. “The petitioners would like the Court to hold certain types of contraceptives — all hormonal contraceptives —as abortifacients. Honestly, if you google you will always find arguments for and against the efficacy [of drugs] and even side effects,” Cayetano said on #TalkThursday.
She lamented how the Catholic Church has been imposing its own definition. “This is a Catholic position and they want the Catholic definition of what is allowed and what a married couples can use as contraceptive. They want that written in the law,” Cayetano said.
It shows that the Philippines is “politically immature,” she added. “It’s the fact that we cannot comprehend the meaning of separation of Church and State. Clearly these are Church issues,” she added. — Rappler.com