How will the Supreme Court rule on the RH law?
If published reports are to be believed, the 15 magistrates of the Supreme Court (SC) is set to announce its ruling on the long-stalled Reproductive Health (RH) law next week, perhaps as early as April 8.
The RH law, otherwise known as the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act or Republic Act (RA) 10354, was signed by President Aquino last December 2012, capping off years of intense debates and legislative maneuverings.
However, opponents of the law immediately headed to the High Court to challenge its constitutionality. By March 2013, the SC issued, through a 10-5 vote, issued a 120-day temporary restraining order (TRO) against the implementation of the RH law.
Four months later, voting 8-7, the SC decided to extend the said TRO indefinitely. The way justices voted on the TRO extension is an excellent indicator of how they will eventually vote as regards RA 10354’s constitutionality.
Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, and Associate Justices Antonio Carpio, Mariano del Castillo, Estela Perlas-Bernabe and Marvic Leonen voted against the issuance of a TRO twice. Justices Martin Villarama and Bienvenido Reyes later joined them.
By being against the TRO, these seven justices essentially gave a green light vis-à-vis the law’s implementation. Why will you pave the way for the implementation of a disputed law if you think it is unconstitutional to begin with?
Now, let’s turn our attention to the justices who voted in favor of the TRO. It can be said that they are not necessarily against the RH law (except to the five justices who’ve been vocal against it during the oral arguments). Courts here and overseas regularly issue TROs and injunctions if the seeking party can show that it “will suffer immediate irreparable harm unless the order is issued.” In other words, suspending the implementation of the RH law may have been done out of prudence.
News website Rappler.com first broke the news last February that the RH law may be headed for defeat at the high court. The online news outlet mentioned justices Jose Perez, Teresita De Castro, Jose Mendoza (said to be the assigned writer of the ruling), and Roberto Abad as “inclined” to vote against the law. Incidentally, all four of them voted twice to stop RH law from being implemented.
The news reports prompted the opposing sides on the issue to make last ditch-efforts to sway the justices. Pro-Life Philippines president Eric Manalang called on their adherents to hold prayer vigils. He nonetheless expressed confidence that their side will have a close win depending on how two swing justices vote.
For his part, House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. said that the SC will effectively “veto the people’s will” if it rules the RH law as unconstitutional. He noted that the law was passed by legislators in both the House and Senate, in their capacity as duly-elected representatives of their respective constituencies.
Some pro-RH groups like the Likhaan Center for Women’s health used the social media to show that the law enjoys popular support. Using the hashtag #Yes2RH, the group urged adherents of the bill to take pictures of themselves while holding hand-written signs expressing support for the law.
Will the RH Law have the same fate as the Anti-Cybercrime Law?
The RH law and Republic Act 10175 or the Cybercrime Prevention Act share a lot of parallelisms although they deal with totally unrelated subjects. First, the two laws were signed by President Benigno Aquino III just three months apart.
Both laws earned fierce opposition even before they got implemented. Nevertheless, it must be pointed out that criticisms against RA 10175 only gained traction AFTER it became law. In contrast, staunch opposition to the RH law had been there since a version of the legislation was introduced in the late 1990s.
Critics of RA 10175 and 10354 went to the SC to challenge the constitutionality of the aforementioned laws. And on both instances, the High Court suspended the implementation of these laws. Just like RA 10175, the RH law has a “separability clause.”
It states that “if any part or provision of the law is held invalid or unconstitutional, the other provisions not affected thereby shall remain in force and effect.” Read the full text of 10354 here.
This is crucial in analyzing how the SC will ultimately deal with the constitutional challenge to the RH law. The SC ruling on the case involving RA 10175 shows that the High Court is unwilling to declare an entire law unconstitutional.
On that issue, the SC declared Internet libel constitutional even as it voided several of the law’s provisions. One plausible scenario therefore is for the SC to let the RH law stand as is while gutting some of its contested portions.
(UP NEXT:Will Justice Presbitero Velasco be the swing vote against the RH law?)