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.
@ayeemacaraig seems the court tried to balance the state interests with the autonomy of private individuals/orgs to practice acc to belief— Sonny Angara (@sonnyangara) April 8, 2014
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