An independent senatorial candidate has asked the Supreme Court to allow him to join the suit filed by various groups against Republic Act No. 10354—the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act of 2012—not for offending moral or religious beliefs but for restricting the freedom of speech.
In an 18-page petition for intervention, lawyer Samson Alcantara of the Social Justice Society, a political party, particularly assailed Section 23 (a) (1) of RA 10354 for restricting the freedom of speech, being too wide in scope, vagueness and violating the right to due process.
Two other petitions seeking to declare the RH law unconstitutional were also filed on Thursday by former Sen. Francisco Tatad, his wife, Fenny, and lawyer Alan Paguia, and by the Doctors for Life and Filipinos for Life. This brought to nine the number of petitions filed against the controversial law so far.
“The long and short of the debate about the so-called responsible parenthood act and the means and methods to achieve it is this: The government does not have all the answers and so must not impose the threat of punishment on those who entertain other or contrary ideas, labelling them as incorrect or the like,” Alcantara said in his petition.
Free play of ideas
“Governments and authorities through history have been proven wrong now and then. Therefore, government must allow for the free play of competing ideas in the marketplace as a better guarantee of arriving at the truth, or better alternatives instead of simply imposing its own predetermined concepts,” he said.
Section 23 (a) (1) punishes a health care service provider, whether public or private, that shall “knowingly withhold information or restrict the dissemination thereof, and/or intentionally provide incorrect information regarding reproductive health programs and services.” These include the right to informed choice and access to a full range of legal, medically safe, nonabortifacient and effective family planning
Violators of the provision face one to six months in jail or a fine of P10,000 to P100,000. If the offender is a public officer, he shall be suspended and may even be removed and his retirement benefits forfeited, depending on the gravity of the offense.
Six petitions against the RH law had been filed in the Supreme Court by James and Lovely Ann Imbong; the nonprofit group Alliance for the Family Foundation Philippines Inc.; Serve Life Cagayan de Oro City; Task Force for Family and Life Visayas Inc.; Eduardo Olaguer of the Catholic Xybrspace Apostolate of the Philippines; and lawyer Expedito Bugarin.
The high court last week consolidated the petitions but did not issue a temporary restraining order against implementation of the RH law.
Congress passed the RH bill on Dec. 19, despite strong opposition from the local Catholic Church. Two days later President Aquino signed it into law.
According to Alcantara, Section 23 (a) (1) “violates the guarantee of freedom of expression in prohibiting and penalizing speech not in accordance with state-mandated speech.”
“With the preferred status given to the freedom of expression, it follows that it demands more from the government to justify any restriction placed on speech, such as the provision in the RH law prohibiting and penalizing, the dissemination of ideas or views which may be characterized as incorrect just because it does not conform to authorities’ ideas,” the lawyer said.
The high court has not acted on the earlier petitions for a temporary restraining order (TRO) on the law, which is now being implemented. For the past two en banc sessions where the high court took up the petitions, it did not issue any TRO but merely consolidated the older petitions to the new ones and asked the Office of the Solicitor General to comment on the questions raised there.
“The RH law cannot co-exist with the Constitution. The Constitution must prevail by declaring the RH law stillborn,” said the Tatad couple and Paguia, in their petition for certiorari and prohibition with preliminary injunction or TRO.
One of the arguments they raised in opposing the RH law was that the State cannot invade the privacy of married couples “in their exercise of their most intimate rights and duties to their respective spouses.”
In the second petition filed Thursday, the groups represented by lawyer Howard Calleja presented six arguments, which included that the law violated the Doctrine of Benevolent Neutrality under the Freedom of Religion Clause, which is under the Bill of Rights.
“Although no law should establish or promote any religion, the law should also accommodate the religious beliefs of individuals and not force them to act against their beliefs,” they said, noting the law disregarded the fact that majority of Filipinos were devout Catholics “who firmly believe in procreation and do not subscribe to the belief that pregnancies should be controlled or prevented.”