Groups opposed to the reproductive health measure are not giving up even after President Benigno Aquino III quietly signed it into law four days before Christmas.
Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez welcomed the President’s decision not to make a “big fuss” of the signing, but said questioning Republic Act No. 10354 in the Supreme Court would be a logical next move.
“It’s always an option,” he told the Inquirer.
Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said the low-key signing of the RH bill was proof of the administration’s ardent desire to move on from the highly divisive issue.
Catholic lawyers are preparing to question the constitutionality of RA 10354, or the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act of 2012, in the Supreme Court even as Malacañang called for reconciliation.
“The last recourse would be the Supreme Court,” said Jaro Archbishop Angel Lagdameo, a former president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines.
“But we need to know what amendments were introduced and further study the new form of the approved law. (It’s) time to move on. The future will tell where wisdom has been,” he added.
RA 10354, which was published online in the Official Gazette on Saturday, will take effect 15 days after its publication in at least two newspapers of general circulation.
The law makes contraceptives more widely available, especially to the poor, and introduces schoolchildren to sex education.
The Philippines has one of Asia’s highest birth rates, with the United Nations estimating that half of the country’s 3.4 million pregnancies each year are unplanned.
Definitely not over
Maternal mortality also remains high, with 162 deaths for every 100,000 live births, while 10 women die every day from pregnancy or childbirth-related complications, according to the Commission on Women.
Rodriguez, who battled with RH bill proponents in the House of Representatives, said he would meet with like-minded House members and senators beginning next week to plot their next move.
“It’s not yet over, definitely not,” said Rodriguez, a former dean of San Sebastian College of Law.
Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, principal author of the RH bill in the House, said Mr. Aquino’s quiet signing of the bill on Dec. 21 was done “in order not to exacerbate the conflict with some Catholic bishops and start the reconciliation process to ensure widespread support in the implementation of the law.”
Still, the signing of the bill without fanfare did not sit well with some Church and law leaders.
Ricardo Boncan, spokesperson of the Catholic Vote Philippines alliance, said it was “highly dishonorable” for the President to sign the law in secret and away from the media spotlight.
“We find the nonpublicized signing of the RH bill into law by President Aquino to be highly dishonorable and unprincipled because he did it right after stating that he was in no hurry to sign the bill before Christmas,” Boncan said.
Catholic Vote Philippines is the alliance of lay Catholic groups that have vowed to oust pro-RH politicians in the 2013 elections.
“We will exhaust all legal remedies to fight this unjust, unethical and antipoor and antilife law,” Boncan said.
On Saturday, a day after the media learned that the law had been signed, Malacañang urged critics of the measure to move on.
Reading from a prepared statement, Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte officially confirmed the signing of the measure during an interview with state-run Radyo ng Bayan.
“The passage into law of the Responsible Parenthood Act closes a highly divisive chapter of our history—a chapter borne of the convictions of those who argued for, or against this Act, whether in the legislative branch or in civil society,” said Valte.
Valte enunciated the desire of the President and his Cabinet to end the highly acrimonious congressional and media tug-of-war that pitted the Aquino presidency against so many leaders of the Catholic Church.
She said that the law “opens the possibility of cooperation and reconciliation among different sectors in society: Engagement and dialogue characterized not by animosity, but by our collective desire to better the welfare of the Filipino people.”
But Fr. Melvin Castro, executive secretary of the Episcopal Commission on Family and Life, said the Church’s fight against the “culture of death” would continue.
“If such signing did not merit media and public attention, it only goes to show that such law is not meritorious at all,” Castro said.
Moral ‘time bomb’
Sorsogon Bishop Arturo Bastes blasted the President for “planting a moral time bomb” when he signed the RH bill into law.
“Indeed, P-Noy will be known as the RH president, which is not a title of honor. His conscience will be bothering him day and night because he has planted a moral time bomb in our Catholic country,” said Bastes.
“Our opposition to that immoral law will persist,” he added.
Drop in ratings
Boncan said the drop in the President’s approval ratings was due to his “lack of vision” and his “wrong priorities.”
“Instead of the RH bill, the FOI (freedom of information) bill and the antidynasty bills should have been given priority,” he said.
“It will definitely affect his (Liberal Party) candidates and Catholic Vote Philippines will not make people forget this come election time,” he added.
Asked why it took eight days before the Palace announced that the President had signed the RH measure into law, Valte said Mr. Aquino earlier mentioned that he wanted to sign it before the end of the year.
She said Mr. Aquino signed it on Dec. 21 because he would leave after Christmas for a vacation.
“And the President might be thinking that if he would be signing it after he goes back to Manila, it might not be processed (for validation and documentation) before the end of the year,” she added.
Valte said a clean copy of the law was processed when regular office resumed on Dec. 26, after a four-day Christmas break.
“So we received word that everything was finished late on Dec. 27. At least as far as the Communications Group is concerned, we deemed it best to wait for a couple of days before the announcement was made, given the level of intensity of the debates that were had on this matter. We deemed it best to wait a couple of days before the announcement was made,” she said. With a report from AFP