Law students debate on legalizing medical marijuana in PH

Jee Y. Geronimo
Law students debate on legalizing medical marijuana in PH
The Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Bill is still pending with the House committee on health, more than a year after it was filed in 2014

MANILA, Philippines – Is it time to legalize the medical use of marijuana in the Philippines? 

Debaters from the Ateneo de Manila University Law School and the University of Sto Tomas (UST) Law School discussed the issue at “The Law and Policy Debate: An Inter-university Dialogue” held at the House of Representatives on Tuesday, June 9.

It has been more than a year since Isabela 1st District Representative Rodolfo Albano III filed House Bill 4477 or the Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Bill, and it already has 69 co-authors to date.

The two debate teams argued on the necessity to passs HB 4477, with Ateneo on the affirmative side, and UST on the negative side. (READ: PH doctors say no to medical marijuana bill)

While no team was declared a winner, Ateneo’s second affirmative speaker Pearl Simbulan was chosen as both Best Speaker and Best Interpellator.

Simbulan argued that legalizing medical marijuana will provide more options to patients who need it. It will also allow research and development on the “better uses” of marijuana to continue.

The adjudicators were former Philippine Permanent Representative to the World Trade Organization Manuel Teehankee, Likhaan director and co-founder Junice Melgar, and Malou Tiquia, host of CNN Philippines’ current affairs program Agenda.

Debate arguments

Below are the arguments of each speaker:


LEGALIZE MEDICAL MARIJUANA. Patrick Vincent Cocabo (L), Pearl Simbulan (C) and John Michael Villanueva (R) from Ateneo Law School argue that legalizing medical marijuana is a necessity in the Philippines. Photo by Kristine Pauline Ongtengco

1st affirmative speaker: John Michael Villanueva

  1. There is a necessity to pass this bill in order to comply with the constitutional mandates and international obligations of promoting the right to health.
  2. There is a need to distinguish between the ill and the criminals, which can only be done by this bill.

2nd affirmative speaker: Pearl Simbulan

  1. Legalizing medical marijuana is the only and the best comprehensive approach to health. What we think in legalizing medical marijuana is that we provide the optimal care: [providing] a range of options that a physician who is in the best position to make these decisions can do for the patient.
  2. Because we illegalized blanketly marijuana, research on these kinds of things stopped, and it has become harder for us to discover even better uses of marijuana.

3rd affirmative speaker: Patrick Vincent Cocabo

“The question should not be whether marijuana is good or bad, but rather, how can we control it? What is the best strategy to save lives?”

  1. Government regulation is important. 
  2. The bill provides an important mechanism of checks and balances of citizen accountability. 


NO TO MEDICAL MARIJUANA. Marie Sybil Tropicales (L), John Paul Fabella (C) and Jackielyn Bana (R) from UST Law School argue against legalizing medical marijuana in the Philippines. Photo by Kristine Pauline Ongtengco

1st negative speaker: Marie Sybil Tropicales

  1. Medical marijuana should not be legalized because at present, its detriments outweigh its benefits. Medical marijuana is not necessary for legislation because essentially, it is not a cure in itself.

2nd negative speaker: John Paul Fabella

“The contentious documented benefits of medical marijuana cannot outweigh its adverse effects to the government and society.”

  1. On a socio-political level: Legalization sends a wrong message to public, especially to the youth, that marijuana is medically benevolent and not a harmful drug. The state cannot afford to risk our society to the dangers of increased marijuana use by implying a stance that it is not harmful.
  2. Legalizing medical marijuana is not advantageous to the government.
  • Documented benefits are highly contentious at the moment and inconclusive.
  • It undermines law enforcement by forcing officers to distinguish medical users and recreational users.

3rd negative speaker: Jackielyn Bana

  1. Is government ready for this? There are too much gray areas in the policy implementation at present, that no matter how noble the objective of the law is, that no matter how flawless its features are, it all go to waste because of the corrupt implementation of the laws.
  • Example: Regulating tobacco, alocohol, sleeping pills, and prescription drugs
  • This country has a problem with strict and faithful implementation of government policies and regulations. 
    • What guarantee do we have that a seriously addictive drug could be regulated when simple regulations on tobacco and alcohol products prove to be impossible to impose?
    • Once marijuana is legalized, there is no possibility of regulating it.

    Adjudicators comment

    The adjudicators welcomed the law students’ interest in discussing the advantages and disadvantages of legalizing medical marijuana in the Philippines. (READ: Solon: Let’s start talking about medical marijuana)

    “I’m happy that the youth are taking positions especially on an issue which is very, very real in your sector,” Tiquia said after all interpellations were done. She lauded the bill for being “very rigid,” and disagreed with UST’s Fabella that regulating marijuana means legitimizing it. 

    Melgar noted how “selective” the bill is on legalizing marijuana only for medical use. (READ: When medicines fail, marijuana is moms’ last hope)

    “All the public knows about marijuana is the stereotype, that it’s all for getting high, and nobody shines a light on the few instances where it is the most compassionate for children who have epilepsy, for patients who have cancer,” Melgar added.

    HB 4477 is still pending with the House committee on health. Albano said it is possible to enact the bill during the 16th Congress, but admitted the probability is “iffy” and will depend “on how fast they will settle the issue on the BBL (Bangsamoro Basic Law).”

    Albano said Congress is “focused” on the Bangsamoro Basic Law, which reached the House plenary on June 1. 

    Tuesday’s debate was organized by the Teehankee Center for the Rule of Law and Ateneo’s St Thomas More Debate and Advocacy Society, in partnership with the Office of Representative Albano and the Office of Ang Nars party-list Representative Leah Paquiz. –

    Medical marijuana image from Shutterstock

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    Jee Y. Geronimo

    Jee is part of Rappler's Central Desk, handling most of the world, science, and environment stories on the site. She enjoys listening to podcasts and K-pop, watching Asian dramas, and running long distances. She hopes to visit Israel someday to retrace the steps of her Savior.