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Will Justice Presbitero Velasco be the swing vote against the RH law?

Pro-life Philippines president Eric Manalang recently predicted in a news conference that the Supreme Court will strike down the reproductive health (RH) law through a close vote. According to him, the outcome of the ruling will likely hinge on two swing justices whom he did not name during the event.

Writing for online media outlet Rappler last July, veteran journalist Maritess Vitug identified Justices Presbitero Velasco Jr. and Diosdado Peralta as potential swing justices. According to her, Velasco is looking for a middle ground wherein the SC “will declare only parts of, not the entire law, unconstitutional.”

Both Velasco and Peralta are appointees of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, herself an opponent of the RH bill. Vitug speculated that Peralta may be inclined to vote against the RH law because he is a former law student at the University of Santo Tomas, a Catholic education institution.

There are clues on how Velasco may vote on the case at bar. Vitug noted after the fifth and final oral argument that Velasco repeatedly questioned the need to have a RH law. He stressed for one that the Department of Health already has a policy on contraceptives even without the RH law.

Presbitero Velasco

Presbitero Velasco, Supreme Court Associate Justice, is touted as a swing vote in the RH law case

His son, former Marinduque Rep. Lord Allan Velasco, voted against the RH bill during the second reading at the House of Representatives. On that crucial round of voting, the pro-RH camp won by only nine votes, 113 to 104.

Several months before the actual vote, the younger Velasco joined the so-called 9YL, a group of nine first-term House solons opposed to the said measure. The group include actress and Ormoc City Rep. Lucy Torres-Gomez as well as Cebu Rep. Rachel del Mar.

The justice’s son bid for a second term as Marinduque congressman failed when he lost last May 2013 to challenger Regina Ongsiako Reyes. Reyes ran under the ruling Liberal Party while the younger Velasco allied himself with the opposition National Unity Party.

Despite winning by 4000 votes, Reyes was disqualified by the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) with finality for being an American citizen just three days after Election Day. Last December, the Supreme Court affirmed COMELEC’s decision (Justice Velasco understandable did not take part in the case).

Despite the rulings made by COMELEC and the SC, House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. insisted that Reyes remains the lone representative of Marinduque. He said that Reyes cannot be unseated yet since her case is still pending before the House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal.

Of course, Justice Velasco can ultimately view the RH law differently compared to his son. And who knows, he might be swayed by the plea of Belmonte that ruling the RH law as unconstitutional is like “vetoing” the will of the people. Will Velasco listen to the man who’s stopping his son from reassuming his House seat?

Needless to say, RH advocates may be better off putting their money on Peralta than on Velasco. For all intents and purposes, Velasco can be listed as a “no” vote.

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