In December 2016, this column discussed the status of Republic Act No. 10354 or the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act of 2012, commonly known as the RH Law, and the serious problems arising from its non-implementation. A reprise on that issue is necessary because of the immense proportions of those problems.
Republic Act No. 10354 was enacted by Congress in 2012, despite 15 years of intense opposition from the leaders of the Roman Catholic Church in the Philippines. That opposition consisted of representations made in both the House and the Senate, and propaganda regularly announced in Sunday masses, and in “spiritual assemblies” organized by lay church groups.
Angry bishops blacklisted congressmen and senators who voted for the passage of the RH Law and urged the faithful not to vote for those legislators in the 2013 elections. One controversial parish church even erected a billboard outside its main entrance which denounced senatorial candidates who supported the RH Law.
Parenthetically, the billboard became an election issue because it was seen as illegal election propaganda by many. The Supreme Court, however, ruled that the billboard did not violate any election law.
A year later, opponents of the RH Law challenged its validity in the Supreme Court and obtained a temporary restraining order (TRO) against its enforcement. In 2014, the Supreme Court finally upheld the constitutionality of the RH Law but voided a few of its provisions.
Surprisingly, however, the opponents of the RH Law succeeded in derailing the enforcement of the RH Law one more time. By alleging in a petition filed in the Supreme Court that certain contraceptive products sold in the market are abortifacients, and that the health and drug authorities did not conduct any hearings on these products, the anti-RH Law groups convinced the Supreme Court to issue a TRO prohibiting the Department of Health and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) from “granting any and all pending applications for registration and/or recertification for reproductive products and supplies, including contraceptive drugs and devices.”
The TRO requires all new contraceptive products and devices to undergo a protracted registration process with the FDA before they can be sold to the public. The process may take from two to three years to complete.
All complaints against contraceptive products and devices, even those obviously designed to harass the registrant, must be entertained by the FDA. The waiting period can last for an additional ten years should the FDA-approved registration be challenged in court.
Records indicate that as a result of the TRO, the certificates of product registration of at least 77 contraceptive drugs and devices have been canceled. More are expected.
Because the TRO is for an indefinite period, industry experts estimate that there will be no new contraceptives in the market by 2018. That translates to an inevitable, unmanageable geometric increase in the country’s population, which will definitely trigger more poverty nationwide.
It also creates a serious health menace because unwanted pregnancies will force unwed mothers desirous of concealing their predicament to resort to abortion without proper medical supervision. In such instances, death or infection is very likely.
Health and drug authorities in the Philippines, convinced of the paramount need to address the potential population nightmare and terrible health risks, are repeatedly urging the Supreme Court to lift the TRO. So far, there are no reactions from the court’s spokesman regarding this matter.
Meanwhile, contraceptives are fast disappearing from the pharmacies.
To underscore to the Supreme Court the urgent need to lift the TRO against the RH Law, President Rodrigo Duterte issued Executive Order No. 12, which calls for the full implementation of the law. Economic planning officials believe that the executive order will convey to the Supreme Court and to the public the message that a year and a half of inaction on the RH Law is too long a wait, and that the government cannot afford to stand by indefinitely.
Political observers add that the TRO is an undue restraint, by reason of its indefinite nature, imposed by an unelected branch of the government against an official act of an elected branch.
Church leaders claim that their opposition to the RH Law is in furtherance of their fight against abortion. That claim, however, is belied by a strong-willed Catholic nun who argues that one opposed to abortion is not necessarily pro-life, and that morality is deeply lacking if all one wants “is a child born but not a child fed, not a child educated, not a child housed.”
The nun’s view raises compeling reasons why anti-RH Law groups should stop and rethink their position. Moreover, supporters of the RH Law posit that killing an unborn child is no different from letting a child be born into a life devoid of parental love, health care, a happy childhood, and basic education.
By far, the Church sponsored anti-RH Law campaign focuses only on the right to life, and conveniently ignores another one, namely, the right of the people to decide when to conceive children, which is embraced by the more comprehensive constitutional right to privacy.
Another legal consideration that should merit attention is church interference in political affairs—something prohibited under the principle of separation of church and state mandated by the Constitution. In exchange for the prohibition against religious meddling in government affairs, the Constitution grants tax-exemption privileges to religious institutions. The Church, however, enjoys the best of both worlds —it breaches the legal divide between Church and State, but delights in its tax exempt status. Such duplicity borders on rank opportunism, something which goes against the virtues supposedly espoused by the Church.
By its nature, a TRO is something temporary. Observers argue that the one and half years of judicial indecision is far from temporary, and that any further extension of the TRO makes it tantamount to being virtually permanent. They add that the issue on contraceptive registration must be resolved once and for all before the population problem becomes a real nightmare.