MANILA, Philippines—Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno questioned on Tuesday night the “utopian” views taken by the lawyer arguing against the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health (RH) law on how parents in the country should plan the sizes of their families, and on how the State has prioritized its health programs over others.
“Our government has the choice of what kind of programs it will prioritize and given its limited resources on how it chooses to go,” Sereno told lawyer Luisito Liban, who was the lone anti-RH law speaker who spoke in the resumption of the oral arguments on the RH law, which lasted more than four hours on Tuesday.
Liban said the Chief Justice was right to say the government, especially Congress, had a lot of choices except the choice to violate the Constitution.
But Sereno made it clear that the high court was “not the decision maker on the resource allocation made by the government.”
Liban was tasked to argue why the suspended RH law violated Constitutional provisions on the freedom of religion and freedom of speech.
But he also made a big case on how Congress prioritized the RH law when maternal deaths only accounted for a few cases compared to other serious illnesses.
In his presentation, Liban, the second anti-RH law speaker, said that 80 percent of the RH law was about contraception and declared as discriminatory the provision in the law making sex education mandatory in public schools. He argued that parents should be the ones to teach sex to their children as part of their rearing of their family.
Sereno was the last to ask questions on Liban’s presentation and spent the most time in grilling him on the issues he had raised, compared to the other justices that included Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio as well as Associate Justices Teresita Leonardo-De Castro, Jose Perez, Roberto Abad, Estela Perlas-Bernabe, Prisbitero Velasco, Jose Mendoza and Marvic Leonen.
At the start of her questioning, Sereno said that the “line of reasoning” of Liban “goes to trying to craft a utopian society.”
She pointed out to Liban’s statements in court that emphasized the use of natural methods of planning the family and not promoting “alien culture” such as the American lifestyle.
Sereno also asked Liban whether those Catholics who use contraceptives and thus violate his or her faith were not serious about their faith. He agreed and said he was speaking for the “true Catholics.”
She asked how many Catholics use the pill but Liban said such statistic was not imporant.
She then asked whether Catholics then were committing a sin or was it ignorance on their part if they use contraceptives. Liban replied that based on the Catholic faith, it would be a “sin if you use contraceptives.”
The Chief Justice also told Liban that there was nothing coercive in the provision on sex education for public schools, saying that students could always opt not to attend it.
To which Liban pointed out that this might lead to students failing the subject.
Sereno then took exception to Liban’s argument that Congress resorted to “cherry picking” when it prioritized other concerns like addressing maternal deaths than “taking care of serious problems.”
On this outburst by Liban, Sereno said that the high court was “not the representative of the people” but Congress.
“We do not claim to be representatives of the people,” she said, adding that what Liban and other advocates should do was to elect people in office with “the right priorities” as she maintained that the high court was not there “to cure the problems of Congress.”
But Liban said the high court was there to exercise checks and balances and to “look at the arbitrariness of legislation.”
This prompted Sereno to counter whether Liban thought that the 14 years Congress spent in debating the RH law could be seen as arbitrary as he had described.
Liban pointed out that the law would require government to disburse P3 to P4 billion for the implementation of RH law but Sereno said that the amount was “just a fraction” of the P2.3 trillion budget that the government has for this year.
Liban then said the P3 to P4 billion for the RH law should have been spent for building more hospitals and the training of the poor so they could get jobs.
But the Chief Justice pointed out that based on the State of the Nation Address of President Aquino on Monday, the government had separate allocations for the building of more hospitals and skills training.
The high court will resume the oral arguments on August 6.