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Supreme Court extends order stopping RH law

(UPDATED 1:00 p.m.) - In a close vote, Supreme Court justices on Tuesday extended indefinitely the status quo ante order (SQAO) stopping the implementation of the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Law.

The SC Public Information Office said the justices voted 8-7 to extend the order, issued last March against the health measure, delaying its implementation. The order was supposed to expire on July 17, Wednesday.
"SC, voting 8-7, ordered SQAO in RH Law extended until further orders effective immediately," the SC PIO said in a statement.
The order directs the parties to observe the status before the implementation of the RH law, which was signed by President Benigno Aquino III in December 2012.

The Catholic Church and other groups have opposed the legislation, which allows the government to use public funds to improve maternal health, promote better parenting, and educate the youth on reproductiive health issues, among others.
There are currently 14 petitions questioning the law, with six intervenors or those who are not petitioners but wanted to participate in the case.

The SC's 15 magistrates started hearing oral arguments against the law last week. The second round of oral arguments on the controversial law is scheduled for July 23.

In the original 120-day order, issued on March 19, the justices voted 10-5 to suspend the law's implementation. The five who dissented were Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno and Associate Justices Antonio Carpio, Mariano del Castillo, Estela Perlas-Bernabe, and Marvic Leonen.

In a press briefing, SC-PIO chief Theodore Te said the record for Tuesday's voting was not immediately available: "I am not informed of who voted for which position. I am just told it's 8-7."

Oral arguments

In the hearings last week, former senator and anti-RH law petitioner Francisco Tatad expressed his fear that Republic Act 10354 would "rewrite the mandate of the Constitution by imposing population control to state-mandated contraception."
Tatad claimed that under the RH law, couples are only given the options of periodic continence and contraception. "They cannot choose not to choose between the two methods. They must practice birth control or suffer the consequences," he said.
Former Senate President Aquilino "Nene" Pimentel Jr, another lawyer for the petitioners, meanwhile said the law should be "dumped into the garbage heap in Montalban, Rizal," as it allegedly "transgresses" the autonomy of local government units (LGUs) and the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao.
The law also “tramples upon a person's right to religion and equal protection of the law,” added the former Senate head, who is regarded as the Father of the Local Government Code.

Lawyer Maria Concepcion Noche, another critic of the law, insisted that the RH law violated a person's constitutional right to life and right to health.
She argued that life begins during conception, when a sperm cell meets an egg cell and forms an ovum or zygote.

Not the proper venue
Several Supreme Court justices, including Sereno, have said the high court does not seem to be the right forum to contest the controversial RH Law.

During her interpellation of Noche, Sereno said the high court might have no choice but to exercise "judicial restraint" on the 15 petitions assailing the law.
"Are we in a position to supplant moves of Congress on a policy decision?” Sereno asked. “Can we say this is a better way? We are limited. First because we are unelected and because we have already defined metes and bounds."
Meanwhile, Carpio said the petitioners seemed to have "jumped the gun" by elevating the matter to the SC without consulting first the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which is mandated by the law to ensure that contraceptives to be distributed are not abortifacients.
Leonen, the youngest and most junior member of the tribunal, said the petitioners seemed to have given the SC a huge task in determining when life actually begins, whether during fertilization or implantation.
"That's an awesome responsibility given to some secular individuals, 15 of us, not 24 senators elected, not the 200 plus representatives, not the two of them acting together, not even the President elected by a popular vote," he said.
He added: "We are not a political organ that vetoes an act of another organ."

Govt confident on RH law
The government will have its turn to defend the law after all the petitioners against it have spoken before the SC magistrates.
A palace spokesperson has said the government is confident the RH law, which was backed by Aquino and his allies in Congress, can withstand legal questions before the SC,
"We're confident that the Office of the Solicitor General will ably represent the position of the government in this particular matter," deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said.
She added that the President expects Solicitor General Francis Jardeleza to be able to answer all questions on the constitutionality of the legislation, which will allocate government funds for both natural and artificial means of contraception.
- VVP/YA, GMA News