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Supreme Court stops implementation of RH law for 120 days

(Updated 9:02 p.m.) The Supreme Court on Tuesday stopped for 120 days the implementation of the controversial reproductive health law, whose constitutionality is being challenged before the court. SC Public Information Office chief Theodore Te said the magistrates voted 10-5 in issuing a status quo ante (Latin for "the way things were before") order against Republic Act 10354, which was enacted by President Benigno Aquino III in December 2012. "SC en banc issued a 120-day Status quo Ante order in the consolidated cases involving the RH law. Vote was 10-5," Te said. The status quo ante order directs the parties to observe the status or situation before the implementation of the RH law. Those who dissented were Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, and Associate Justices Antonio Carpio, Mariano del Castillo, Estela Perlas-Bernabe and Marvic Leonen. Sereno, Perlas-Bernabe, and Leonen are Aquino appointees to the high court. The magistrates sitting en banc also set the oral arguments on the consolidated cases against the law on June 18. 'A temporary delay' Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, principal author of the RH law, meanwhile downplayed the high court's decision and expressed confidence that it will still uphold the constitutionality of the legislation after the oral arguments. "The status quo ante order issued by the Supreme Court is only a temporary delay in the implementation of the Reproductive Health law to enable the High Court to fully assess the merits and demerits of the pending petitions challenging the constitutionality of the RH law. I firmly believe that eventually the constitutionality of the RH law will be sustained," Lagman said in a statement. The lawmaker maintained that the RH law did not "defile" the right to life enshrined in the Constitution. "The RH law does not legalize abortion. In fact, it acknowledges that abortion is illegal and punishable and is not a family planning option or method," he said, adding the law "upholds" religious freedom and allows the government to support parents rear their children. "The accusation that the RH law is offensive to religious freedom is a patent aberration. The act is replete with provisions upholding the freedom of religion and respecting religious convictions. The guarantee of freedom of informed choice is an assurance that no one would be compelled to violate the tenets of his religion or defy his religious convictions against his free will and own discernment of his faith," Lagman said. 'Unfortunate' Women's rights advocate EnGendeRights said it is unfortunate the SC stopped the implementation of the RH Law. "Every day 11 mothers die from pregnancy and childbirth complications. It's unfortunate that the SC issued a 120-day status quo ante order against the Reproductive Health Law. We badly need the law to reduce unintended pregnancies and maternal mortalities... In our interviews with poor women in Manila City last November, we found that 65 percent of the women were candidates for ligation, meaning they have way surpassed their desired number of children," Atty. Clara Rita Padilla, executive director of EnGendeRights, said.  'I'm confident RH legality will prevail' Sen. Pia Cayetano, a co-sponsor of the RH Bill in the Senate, said in a statement Tuesday that the high court's order is just part of the judicial process. "It does not in any way say anything against the validity of the RH Law. It will simply allow the petitioners/opposers to air their concerns," she said. "But what bothers me is the 90-day period before the June 18 oral arguments. How many lives will be lost during this period? How many more mothers will die of birth complications? How many infants will get sick and die, and how many abortions will take place? I would like to think that it is not the intention of our Supreme Court to deprive the poor of RH services from the government. But while we wait, sadly it is the poor who will suffer. "In the end, I'm confident that the legality and constitutionality of the RH law will prevail and our people will start to benefit from it." Welcome On the other hand, Senate Majority Leader Tito Sotto, who opposed the bill during its deliberation in Congress, welcomed the Supreme Court's decision. A statement released by his office said Sotto "consistently maintained that the RH law is against our pro-life Constitution." "Sotto said the Supreme Court knows what is best for our country and that he has full trust and confidence in their collective wisdom," the statement added. — with Andreo C. Calonzo/KBK/HS/KG/BM, GMA News