Held back by SC
In several instances, he has never been shy at exercising the clout of his office: in the thousands of drug-related killings to prove his resolve in tackling the country’s drug problem; in the sharp rebuke that compelled the Anti-Money Laundering Commission to reveal the bank deposits of certain personalities in the news; in the very public condemnation of the United States to underline his pivot to China and Russia, and just last week, in the clandestine burial of ousted authoritarian President Marcos in Libingan ng mga Bayani despite widespread opposition from martial law victims.
So what’s stopping President Duterte from similarly going whole hog in his support of the Reproductive Health (RH) Law that he vowed, in his first State of the Nation Address, to implement fully?
It took almost 14 years for the law to hurdle various objections from Congress officials allied with conservative groups and the Catholic Church before it was finally approved in 2012. Yet the law continues to be held hostage by several temporary restraining orders, the latest being a TRO on contraceptive implants that the Supreme Court imposed in July 2015, based on a petitioner group’s claim that they are abortifacient.
On Monday, former president Fidel V. Ramos asked the high court to immediately lift the TRO, joining the calls led by the Department of Health, the Commission on Population (Popcom), several pro-choice advocates, and former health secretary Esperanza Cabral.
Cabral’s group asked the Court to rescind its Aug. 24, 2016 order rejecting the DOH’s previous appeal to lift the TRO that banned the agency from providing contraceptive implants to the public, and voiding certifications issued by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on 77 contraceptive drugs and devices.
While Popcom executive director Juan Antonio Perez III warned against the rising number of teenage pregnancies that must have been abetted by the TRO, Cabral’s group said the failure to lift it would lead to a shortage of contraceptives in the market as government-funded supplies were due to expire in 2018, including P248 million worth of hormonal contraceptives—a sheer waste of limited resources.
Which only proves, according to Cabral’s group, that “the end-goal of those opposing the RH law is to totally remove women’s access to contraceptives.” With all FDA decisions favorable to contraceptives likely to be appealed, what follows is a never-ending process that would keep contraceptives off the market.
Indeed, Perez added, the ongoing TRO would result in a limited brand or kind of contraceptives for couples to choose from, in effect depriving them of their reproductive health and rights.
While it is perfectly legal and valid for health centers to provide implants to women who request them as long as the contraceptives are not provided by the DOH, the reality on the ground shows that the implementation of the law remains spotty and irregular. This, according to a report made public by the Commission on Human Rights last week.
The report noted that policies issued by local governments often contradict provisions of the RH Law, and impact negatively on women, like the case in Sorsogon City where an executive order by Mayor Sally Lee resulted in the withdrawal of all artificial contraceptives in city and community health centers. The Manila City government meanwhile “continues to bar local funding for artificial contraceptives,” transferring responsibility for this to the national government and to private entities. Then there’s the natural fear among government employees about defying the law so, erring on the side of caution, they simply deny RH services to couples asking for them.
The result: additional financial burden to women, and health risks resulting from too many and too frequent pregnancies. Isn’t this an injustice to couples, especially women, who only want to be responsible parents raising children they can afford to?
Like Benjamin de Leon, president of Forum for Family Planning and Development, Inc., one can only urge “the SC (justices) (to) broaden their understanding. They are not scientists (who can determine the dangers of contraceptives, a job the FDA can do). They are jurists,” and as such, they must determine what is good and just for the majority—in this case, half of the country’s population.
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