Snag in the RH Law
President Duterte’s recent executive order directing all relevant government agencies to strictly implement the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act was a subtle rebuke of the Supreme Court.
The order directly confronts the temporary restraining order issued by the high court barring the Department of Health from approving new registrations for contraceptives. The high court also stopped the government from procuring, selling, distributing, dispensing, or administering, advertising and promoting skin implants that prevent conception.
In his order, the President instructed government offices to, among others, partner with civil society organizations and the private sector to attain “zero unmet need for modern family planning in their respective localities.” The subliminal message of this instruction is to work with nongovernment organizations to go around the TRO.
The TRO, which has been in force for almost two years, has effectively derailed the objective of the law to rationalize population growth in the country.
Despite repeated requests by the government for the speedy resolution of the issue, the justices do not seem disposed to give life to their earlier decision upholding the validity of the law minus some provisions that were declared unconstitutional.
The delay is in sharp contrast to the speedy action that the high court took on two cases that hardly matched the significance of the issue subject of the TRO.
In September 2014, then senator Juan Ponce Enrile filed a petition at the Supreme Court questioning his indictment and arrest for plunder (a nonbailable offense) and the refusal of the Sandiganbayan to grant him bail while undergoing trial.
With deliberate speed, in a matter of 11 months, the high court acted on Enrile’s petition and granted him bail for humanitarian reasons. What’s more surprising was these grounds are not provided in the law and Enrile did not invoke them in his petition.
No matter. A majority of the justices were only too willing to bend backward and indirectly amend the law on plunder to grant Enrile’s wish.
A similar display of speedy justice was shown in the burial of the former president Ferdinand Marcos’ remains in the Libingan ng mga Bayani.
Last August, several petitioners questioned the legality of the order of President Duterte allowing the burial. Barely three months later, the high court denied the petitions and upheld the President’s order. And without waiting for the ruling to become final, the Marcoses enforced it and surreptitiously buried their patriarch.
The high court’s spokesperson justified the hasty burial by saying that there was no restraining order issued against such action despite the fact that he knew that the losing parties had 15 days from receipt of the decision to file a motion for reconsideration.
So what’s keeping the high court from giving the reproductive health case the same kind of treatment it gave to big-time political personalities Enrile and the Marcoses?
In the first place, the issue of whether an implant—or any medical product, for that matter—is abortion-inducing and therefore prohibited is a question of fact that is better left to the Department of Health to pass upon.
As the high court has repeatedly stated in numerous earlier cases, administrative agencies have the skills to decide on matters that are within their area of expertise. And with more reason should this principle apply to the high court because its primary responsibility is to decide on questions of law, and not be a trier of facts.
It has more than enough cases to resolve in its clogged docket to take on the job of reviewer of contraceptives.
The Supreme Court’s interference in the nitty-gritty of the Reproductive Health Law is a clear case of judicial overreach, of biting more than it should chew. If it wants to perform an oversight function on the law, it should at least do it as quickly as possible to ensure the prompt accomplishment of its objectives.
Raul J. Palabrica (firstname.lastname@example.org) writes a weekly column in the Business section of the Inquirer.
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