A new chief justice; an amended HB 4244By Fr. Joaquin G. Bernas S. J.
Philippine Daily Inquirer
The basic, constitutional quality requirements for a chief justice are no other than “competence, integrity, probity and independence.” No one can possess all these qualities in a degree higher than all the other nominees. Not one of the nominees, for instance, can be said to possess the highest degree of competence in all fields of law. The scope of law is so broad that necessarily there are varying fields of specialization. Precisely the Supreme Court is a collegial body in recognition of this fact—and so that it can resolve the various problems that can be brought before it. In terms of competence, it can be assumed that all the nominees have sufficient competence to engage in the give-and-take debates within the Court.
The qualities of integrity, probity and independence are interrelated. How the nominees are ranked according to these qualities is crucial for President Aquino’s choice. Which of those are the most important for the goals that Mr. Aquino has in mind? His expressed dissatisfaction with those listed might give us an idea of what kind of chief justice he wants.
Amending House Bill 4244. Those seriously studying the RH bill should take a look at the amendments already offered by the authors of the bill themselves. They are contained in Rep. Edcel Lagman’s letter to Rep. Rogelio J. Espina, chair of the Committee on Population and Family Relations. However, to understand the proposed amendments, one must read and study HB 4244 and not just rely on criticisms by some who may never have read it, much less studied it.
Yes, there are a good number of misconceptions about the bill, and there can be dishonest critics who set up straw men they can merrily attack. One may ask, for instance, how many among the Church authorities have read and studied HB 4244? This is an important question because I see the amendments as efforts to adjust to the transition from an established Catholic Church whose word was law to today’s demands of freedom of religion.
I propose the pulling together of the various amendments already accepted by the authors of the bill.
Sec. 13. Role of barangay health workers. Instead of saying that they should “give priority to family planning work,” simply say they should “help implement this Act.” This should obviate the complaints that family planning is being given undue emphasis.
Sec. 15. Funding Mobile Health Services. Charge the funding to the national government, not to the lawmakers’ Priority Development Fund (PDAF) while at the same time allowing individual lawmakers to use their PDAF.
Sec. 16. Mandatory Age-Appropriate Sex Education. Give parents the option not to allow their children to attend mandatory sex education; at the same time give assistance to parents who want help in this matter. This is in conformity with the primary right of parents.
Sec. 20. Ideal Family Size. Delete the entire provision. This will preclude further misinformation about the meaning of this provision.
Sec. 21. Employers’ Responsibility. Delete this because it is simply a restatement of Article 134 of the Labor Code. Deleting it will preclude further debate.
Sec. 28(e) Prohibited Acts. Delete the provision which penalizes “any person who maliciously engages in disinformation about the intent and provisions of this Act.” There already are penal limits to the freedom of expression.
In addition to the amendments proposed by the authors of the consolidated bill, there are others which are worth considering. Let me mention a few:
On Age-Appropriate Reproductive Health and Sexuality Education
1. Private schools can opt to provide an alternative sexuality education curriculum based on the school’s religious beliefs or values. The government will monitor if there is a curriculum being implemented, whether the standard one or the alternative one.
2. If a public school cannot provide enough adequately trained teachers or there are public school teachers who cannot teach the government’s curriculum because of religion-based objections, the proper government agency would send trained instructors to teach the sexuality education classes.
3. An additional topic for the curriculum is the role of religious freedom and conscience in choosing the means of planning families.
On Prohibited Acts
Any health care service provider, whether public or private, who shall require a person to undergo sterilization as a condition for providing indigent patients with basic health care, emergency care or health care shall be penalized.
I realize that there are other urgent matters which Congress must consider. But the effort of some to block the period of amendments merely as a tactic for preventing the bill’s approval does a disservice to the nation.
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