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Editorial

Questions, questions


The first day of oral arguments at the Supreme Court, on the multiple petitions to declare the controversial Reproductive Health Law unconstitutional, turned out to be very instructive. The biggest lesson of all: Supreme Court justices are only too aware of the limits of their role.

The arguments began on a hysterical note, with former senator Francisco Tatad, one of the 15 petitioners, equating the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act of 2012 with genocide. Fortunately, such shameless, overheated and ultimately empty rhetoric did not merit a closer look from the justices.

It was the first counsel for the petitioners, Concepcion Noche, who found herself the target of many of the justices’ pointed questions.

Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, for instance, quizzed Noche on the fundamental lack of conflict between the actual text of the law and the Constitution’s prolife provisions. Since the law protects fertilization, “same as your position,” Carpio asked, “then why are you here?”

As we have argued in this space, the main arguments of the anti-RH Law advocates are based on a willful mistrust of the law’s actual text, the notion that it does not in fact mean what it plainly says.

Associate Justice Marvic Leonen joined Carpio in asserting the old axiom that the Court is not a trier of facts. Questioning Noche’s assumption that all the contraceptives referenced in the law are abortion-inducing, Leonen asked: “If we are to take a factual position that all contraceptives are abortifacient, don’t you think that it is irresponsible on our part?”

Carpio for his part demanded to know: “Where is the certification of the FDA (Food and Drug Administration)? You should have gone first to the FDA and test [the contraceptives]. After you have gone to the FDA, if you disagree, you come here but not now … You are jumping the gun.”

As we have argued before, the leading opponents of the RH Law have an interesting relationship to the facts: They argue as if their worst fears about the effects of the new law (population decline, increase in number of abortions, rampant immorality) are not speculation but hard fact. But in Tuesday’s oral arguments, we heard the justices chide the petitioners for asking the Court, in effect, to verify their facts for them.

The most resonant interventions from the bench involved the Supreme Court’s role in policymaking—or, rather, the lack thereof.

Carpio approached the issue from competence: “It is now a question of when does conception occur—the time of fertilization or upon the implantation in the walls of the uterus. So, you are asking the 15 members of this court, none of whom are doctors, to decide when conception happens?”

Leonen saw the issue in political terms, and characterized the underlying thrust of the petitioners’ argument as an invalid attempt to make the Court exercise a political power it does not have. “The petition against the RH Law gives lawmaking power from the Executive and Legislative to the Supreme Court.” He also said: The Court is “not a political organ but a court of law.”

Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno at first phrased her reservations in similar policy terms: “Are we in a position to supplant Congress in a policy direction?” But her main concern was philosophical: Unless there was manifest showing of grave abuse of discretion, the Supreme Court must adhere to the legal philosophy of judicial restraint: “This Court may exercise judicial restraint unless you have to show us a way out. You have to provide us tools.”

At one point, she even told Noche pointblank: “By your responses, it is clear that you are grappling with your answers, which make me think this Court might not be the right venue [for this case].”

As we have argued previously, the charge of grave abuse of discretion, the only exception to the so-called political-question doctrine, cannot be credibly raised against the RH Law. Its passage took a decade and a half; innumerable attempts at compromise, even with the Catholic Church; and then finally a close conscience vote in Congress. Without the charge, the petitions against the law have absolutely nothing to stand on.

And yet those who support the new law cannot afford to be complacent. After all, the Supreme Court voted 10-5 to hear the petitions in the first place; many of the questions that stumped Noche came from those justices who voted against. It’s a long way from oral arguments to favorable judgment.


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Short URL: http://opinion.inquirer.net/?p=56267

Tags: Antonio Carpio , Concepcion Noche , Francisco Tatad , reproductive health law , Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act of 2012 , RH law , Supreme Court

  • koolkid_inthehouse

    RH bill is a good one but lots money and effort are wasted on it from senate drama to SC.
    Why not use these energies in job creations.
    Decent full time jobs will satisfy both the pro and con on RH bill.
    - when plenty of jobs, all members of the family with valid age can work. Family earnings will increase significantly. Raising the bar on education and health.
    - they can afford to get a mortgage from the bank and buy a house wherever they want to live.
    - they can have children they want and they can afford a condom if they want to use one.
    - when everybody is working, there’s no more time to screw thus controlling population.

    Job creation will solve all the problems of dumb donkeys.

    The only drawback is that nobody in the government has a brain how to do it.

    • David_vs_G10

      Agree.

      A plutocratic kleptocracy of the brainless.

  • inquirercet

    the question of when life starts in this case is moot and academic. no where in the RH bill does it say that a fertilized egg can be aborted at any point in its existence as a zygote or an embryo much more when its attached itself to the uterine wall. this debate is only happening to appease the rcc. i predict that the sc will probably say that life begins at conception and just uphold the law anyway. what a waste of tax payers money.

    • Cano Manuel

      The church doesn’t pay taxes anyway.

    • David_vs_G10

      Life does not start from your zygote.

      As Justice de Castro said, “… conception cannot start from implantation. Because even if you implant something that is not living, it will not grow and develop”. Basic biology.

      The chemical elements are non-living/inanimates. Life evolves from more complex reactions and evolutions. The human sperm and egg cells are life -fundamental living elements that evolve into human beings.

      • inquirercet

        by your logic masturbation and menstruation cycles are murder. please try and catch up with the 21st century.

      • David_vs_G10

        You are in the 21st century. But you have not learned from the advances in science or history.

        Menstruation is part of the natural cycle of the reproductive process which renews woman’s capability to reproduce.

        As for your masturbation, read about the sin of Onan in the old testament.

        But a more worthwhile parallel for study in this discussion is the massacre of the innocents by Herod who, in an effort to quell his paranoia about a messiah, killed all the children who might be of the so-called messiah’s age.

        The RH Law, in a so-called effort to “ease the problem of poverty and allow more freedom to women and economic uplift of families” would allow them the choice of disallowing life in its formerly natural cycle.

        May I submit that this disallowing of life is a more horrible Herodic, albeit “sophisticated” 21st century version of the massacre of the innocents. There are other, non murderous ways of economically uplifting families, easing women’s motherhood burdens and expressions of freedom by re-engineering the rule of the kleptocratic plutocrats into a gentler and more humane order.

      • inquirercet

        i see you typing and talking but there is no sense in what you are saying. you base your so called 21st century science on biblical texts, which are probably fictional anyway. so you are against condom because it’s murder? i really don’t get what you are getting at. have you read the rh law? please try and use that brain of yours and stop regurgitating things from your priest. rh opponents like you is what gives this debate the one sided-ness that it has.

        i’d like this chance to quote a line from billy madison – “Mr. Madison, what you’ve just said is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever heard. At no point in your rambling, incoherent response were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought. Everyone in this room is now dumber for having listened to it. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul.”

        good riddance.

      • David_vs_G10

        You say my argument is one-sided because you want your argument to look “two-sided” but in favor or your side. And you want to call your ramblings rational?

        Your arguments are more the rationed variety, i.e. rationed by the kleptocratic plutocrats who have convinced you about their “21st century eugenics”.

  • Cano Manuel

    The fact is a poor family with a dozen children cannot afford a three-time per day meal to feed their children, send them to school and provide them a more acceptable way of life; and the government to intervene would only be spending more money doing so on behalf of the know-how deficient set of parents.

    This law will enable parents and parents-to-be to identify various methods of family planning in an effort to plan well the number of children they can afford.

    This law is not meant to sideline the impoverished. This law serves to protect and provide a better way of living by empowering the choice to the people, be it poor, the naive, the knowledge-deficient, the ignorant or the privileged. It is only the church that’s making all these stupid assumption and overhyped reaction to “save” the population from what they WRONGLY perceive as “sinful act of family planning”.

    • David_vs_G10

      I do not speak for any church.

      But civilization and reason are clear on the issue. The law seeks to retain the status quo. The kleptocratic plutocrats refuse to re-engineer a system that widens the gap between themselves and the poor.

      There isn’t even a choice for the poor to grow less poor and a little bit wealthy. As there is no choice for the plutocrats (even without kleptocracy) to grow less rich compared to a majority of less poor and growing middle class.

      The certainty of the law is for curtailment of the number of the populace – a massacre of the unborn according to the nation’s moral leaders.

      Ratio-wise, a more physical decrease in the number of the poor. Not an uplift in the economic well-being of the poor who remain poor and grow poorer – as the gap widens with more kleptocracy by the plutocrats.



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