THE Supreme Court said Thursday that it has issued no legal impediment to the government’s plan to implement the Reproductive Health law aggressively even as the Catholic Church maintained that contraception “corrupts the soul.”
“I’ve already clarified many times that there is no TRO [temporary restraining order] against the RH law,” Supreme Court spokesman Theodore Te said as President Rodrigo Duterte signed Executive Order No. 12, which mandates an aggressive implementation of the law to provide universal access to reproductive health programs.
Te said a TRO that was sustained against the Health Department merely stopped it from distributing specific contraceptives, including Implanon implants, but did not refer to the RH law.
The Court also struck down certifications and recertifications issued by the Food and Drug Administration on 77 contraceptive drugs and devices for violation of the constitutional requirement of due process.
In these instances, the Court said, certifications were issued without notice and without public hearings, despite opposition from the petitioner, the Alliance for the Family Foundation Philippines Inc., which believes that the implants can lead to abortions.
While the SC sustained the TRO and voided the certifications, it has remanded the case to the FDA for processing of new certifications.
The SC specifically ordered the FDA “to observe the basic requirements of due process by conducting a hearing, and allowing the petitioners to be heard, on the re-certified, procured, and administered contraceptive drugs and devices, including Implanon and Implanon NXT; and to determine whether they are abortifacients or non-abortifacients.”
It ordered the agency to start hearings of the applications within 30 days from receipt of notice.
In the same ruling, the SC also directed the FDA to formulate rules for screening, evaluation and approval of all contraceptive drugs and devices to be used under the RH law.
Te pointed out that the Court gave a deadline for the FDA to comply with the ruling and suggested that RH advocates should instead follow up with the agency on its compliance.
The SC also ordered the DoH to formulate rules for purchase and distribution of the products and also to generate the complete list of government’s programs and services under the RH law for distribution to all health care service providers.
Implanon and Implanon NXT are thin rods inserted under the skin that release hormones that prevent pregnancy for up to three years.
The SC issued the TRO on the distribution of said drugs in June 2015 for an indefinite period in reaction to a petition of Alliance for the Family Foundation Philippines Inc., which claimed that such contraceptives have abortifacient character. The order covers “procuring, selling, distributing, dispensing or administering, advertising and promoting” the said products.
The order also stopped the FDA from granting pending applications for contraceptives and other reproductiv health product.
The Health Department, through the Office of the Solicitor General, earlier sought the lifting of the TRO, saying it would waste the supply already purcahsed by the government and being kept in warehouses where they could expire.
It also argued that the continued restraint would result in a depleted supply of contraceptives in both public and commercial market. This, the DoH alleged, may increase induced abortion and maternal deaths in the country.
As President Duterte signed EO No. 12, the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines said the Church’s stand on contraception would never change.
CBCP president, Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas said the church’s stand has not changed, and that contraception “corrupts the soul.”
In his pastoral message, the CBCP head said, “We must stay by the truth, but we must always be loving as we stand for the truth.”
“We might not see eye to eye, but we can work hand in hand for the good of the country. There will be many more disagreements, but let us not allow our disagreements to disunite us further, because we have enough disunity already. So let us look for the things that unite us. That is the spirit,” the archbishop said.
“Let us be friends beyond the RH law or any other order similar to that law,” the CBCP said.
Manila Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle echoed the CBCP’s pastoral letter , saying that the poor can better be served with education, health and less corruption, and not contraceptives.
“The Catholic Church is against any law that promotes both natural and artificial family planning methods. The Church espouses only natural family planning,” the Cardinal said.
The Church must continue to uphold the sacredness of human life, to teach always the dignity of the human person and to safeguard the life of every human person from conception to natural death, he said.
Also on Thursday, a children’s protection watchdog said the Department of Education for promoting the distribution pf free condoms to high school students, saying this distracts it from more important issues such as the shortage of classrooms and the poor quality of education.
“The condom distribution of DepEd and the DoH is inseinstive and irresponsible,” said Kharlo Manano, secretary-general of the Sanlinlahi Alliance for Children’s Concerns.
He added that the distribution of condoms in schools would only encourage students to engage in premarital sex.
Lawmakers on Thursday were divided over the executive order signed by the President .
Buhay party-list Rep. Lito Atienza, who is against family planning, hit the executive order.
But former Speaker and Quezon City Rep. Feliciano Belmonte, Jr., Reps. Rodolfo Albano III of Isabela, Robert Ace Barbers of Surigao de Norte, Tobias Tiangco of Navotas and Ben Evardone of Eastern Samar backed the President’s EO.
“I fully support it. I could not understand why the SC [issued a TRO] and left it pending,” Belmonte said.
Last year, the SC upheld the constitutionality of the RH Law, but struck down some provisions such as the power of the government to compel private hospitals and those owned by religious groups to refer patients to other facilities that offer reproductive health services.
The Court also did not favor the provision which allows minors to avail of family planning services without parental consent if they have already given birth or suffered a miscarriage.
Barbers said it is necessary that Filipino married couples are well informed about their rights on issue of family planning.
“I support the intent of the EO because at the end of the day, it is still the choice of the couple wether to use it or not,” Barbers said, noting that the availability and accessibility of condoms will not compel anyone to use it.
Albano said the studies abroad have shown that the use of condoms have effectively addressed issues on unwanted pregnancies and the spread of HIV.
“Thailand did that and stopped the epidemic on aids and unwanted pregnancies. So why should not President Rodrigo Duterte do it also?” Albano said. With Rio N. Araja
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