On the first business day of the year, a couple filed in the Supreme Court a suit against the newly signed Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act of 2012, which mandates the State to provide the poor with reproductive health (RH) services, including access to contraceptives, and sex education to schoolchildren.
Lawyers James Imbong and wife Lovely-Ann, who filed the suit on behalf of their two children and the Magnificat Child Development Center Inc., asked the high tribunal to stop the implementation of Republic Act No. 10354, saying it was unconstitutional.
The Imbongs claimed the law also “mocks the nation’s Filipino culture—noble and lofty in its values and holdings on life, motherhood and family.”
It was the first petition filed against the RH law barely two weeks after President Aquino quietly signed it into law following heated debates in Congress and protests by the Catholic Church.
Grounds for appeal
In a petition for certiorari and prohibition, the petitioners cited two grounds for their appeal: The RH law “introduces policies that negate and frustrate the foundational ideals and aspirations of the sovereign Filipino,” and it “cannot be implemented without exceeding the boundaries of government action, as established in the Constitution.”
Imbong was accompanied and assisted by his mother, lawyer Jo Aurea Imbong, in filing the petition in the high court. His mother, a lawyer of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), is the “collaborating counsel” in the case.
Speaking to reporters, Imbong said he did not consult any CBCP or Church officials when he drew up the petition, adding he wrote it on his own. But he said he informed the CBCP media office about the filing of the petition.
Imbong, secretary general of Pro-Life party-list group and a member of the Ang Kapatiran Party, said he expected other Catholic and prolife groups to file similar petitions.
“We filed this on the first business day of the year because we want another chance to prove that this law should not be implemented as long as we have life, family and we respect our Constitution,” Imbong told reporters.
He said the country needed to continue to respect the words of the 1987 Constitution, especially those about honoring life, family and spiritual morality—principles that he noted were absent from the reproductive health law.
Respect for life
The Constitution upholds the “ideal of an unconditional respect for life and aspires for the establishment of policies that create opportunities to harness the economic potential of every Filipino,” the petitioners said.
They said Article 2, Section 12 of the Constitution called for the protection of human life.
“The State recognizes the sanctity of family life and shall protect and strengthen the family as a basic autonomous social institution. It shall equally protect the life of the mother and the life of the unborn child,” read the Constitution.
They said there was neither a charge nor a qualification to that policy, “except that the life of the mother is equally important as the life of the unborn and rightly so. In fact, the charge is against the State itself—that it shall do one thing when it comes to the potential of human life; to protect it from the moment of conception.”
Raising kids humanely
But they said this policy was negated by Section 2 of the RH law when it stated that “the State shall also promote openness to life; provided that parents bring forth to the world only those children whom they can raise in a truly humane way.”
“This means that if a certain group of parents is not in a position to raise children in a ‘truly humane way,’ the State has a duty not to promote openness to life as regards such parents,” the petitioners said.
This conclusion, they said, was “reflective of the policy” in different parts of the RH law, citing several sections where the State is mandated to prioritize women and children in poor households for reproductive health care services and family planning methods.
Poor primary targets
“A plain reading of those provisions simply reveals the intention of the Act to bring reproductive health care services within easy reach of the poor. By doing so, the poor become the primary targets of the State’s planned-parenthood policy—a subtle way of telling the poor that the State will subsidize their right to have access to ‘modern’ methods of family planning simply because they are poor,” the petitioners said.
By contrast, the Constitution “empowers and encourages the poor to be direct agents of change and direct beneficiaries of social services and economic opportunity,” the Imbongs said.
Social service redefined
They said the new law redefined social services for the poor.
“First, social service, according to the Act, is about bringing the poor closer to having fewer children, because, after all, who else are at a social disadvantage in bringing forth children whom they can raise in a ‘truly humane way?’ The upper class? The middle class? The lower middle class? Or the poor?” they said.
Secondly, the law was about “reducing the poor population by directly reducing their numbers,” they said.
“The Act does not say it that way but it actually moves in that direction and leads the poor toward that path through the subsidy incentive it provides them,” the petitioners said.
Noting how the law has “consistently and repeatedly” referred to the poor as the preferred beneficiaries of the State-sponsored planned-parenthood, they held that people “as human capital, is a nation’s wealth.”
They said the new reproductive health law would bring about “an inexorable population decline” and would “effectively erase the modest but promising economic gains proudly claimed by the country’s economic leaders and noticed by the world.”
“Enforcing the Act is the same as ‘shooting ourselves in the foot’ and, like prodigals, throwing our winnings to the winds,” the petitioners said.
They asked the court to declare unconstitutional paragraph 9 of Section 2; the last paragraph of Section 2, Sections 3 (d), (e), (g), (i); Section 4 (r); Section 7; Section 11; Section 13, and Section 17 of the law.
They also argued that the Constitution upheld the ideal of an unconditional respect for the family’s inherent sanctity and autonomy.
But they noted the law had a mandatory sex education program and it “mocks the sanctity, autonomy and inviolability of marriage and family, making these attributes meaningless empty embellishments.”
They also asked the court to declare unconstitutional Section 4 (v), which states that “responsible parenthood means having the psychological, physical, social, cultural and economic preparedness to determine whether or not the parents’ desire to have another child is proper and timely.”
On their second argument, the petitioners said the law’s statutory standards upon which the implementing rules were to be based were unconstitutional.
They said RA 10354 could not be implemented without going beyond constitutional boundaries and limitations imposed on the government.
The petitioners asked the high court to issue a temporary restraining order/preliminary injunction even if the law had not been published.
They said the remedy for a preliminary injunction was only available “before the contemplated illegal act is done.”
The petitioners asked the Supreme Court to direct the respondents and all persons acting on the basis of the Act to stop implementing it. The respondents included Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr., Budget Secretary Florencio Abad, Health Secretary Enrique Ona, Education Secretary Armin Luistro and Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas.