Jul 152013
(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 imposed a status quo ante order on the law last March, delaying its implementation. The order was supposed to expire on July 17 but the high court extend it on Tuesday.

The SC Public Information Office said the justices voted 8-7 to extend the status quo ante (Latin for “the way things were before”) order against the health measure.

“SC, voting 8-7, ordered SQAO in RH Law extended until further orders effective immediately,” the SC PIO said.

The status quo ante order directs the parties to observe the status or situation before the implementation of the RH law.

The controversial law mandates the government to use public to distribute contraceptives, deploy midwives, and teach sex education in elementary among others.

The extension came a day before the original 120-day SQA order, issued on March 19, was to expire on Wednesday. In the original SQA order, the justices voted 10-5.

The five who dissented in the earlier voting were Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, and Associate Justices Antonio Carpio, Mariano del Castillo, Estela Perlas-Bernabe and Marvic Leonen.

The second round of oral arguments on the controversial law is scheduled for July 23, when petitioners are expected to continue presenting their arguments against the law, enacted by President Benigno Aquino III in December 2012.

During the first day of arguments last July 9, Maria Concepcion Noche, lawyer for the petitioners, insisted that the law violated an unborn child’s right to life, leading the discussion to center on when life really begins: either during fertilization or implantation.

At least three justices, led by Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, told Noche that the high court was not the proper venue for her camp’s grievances.

Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio said the petitioners seemed to have “jumped the gun” by elevating the matter to the SC without consulting with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which is mandated by the law to ensure that contraceptives to be made accessible by the government are not abortifacients.

Associate Justice Marvic Leonen, the youngest and most junior member of the tribunal, said the petitioners seemed to have given the SC an “awesome responsibility” to determine 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.”

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 local autonomy of local government units (LGUs) and the regional autonomy of the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao.

The law also “tramples upon a person’s right to religion and equal protection of the law,” added former Senate head, regarded as the Father of the Local Government Code.

There are currently 14 petitions questioning the law, with six intervenors or those who are not petitioners but wanted to participate in the case.

In his opening statement on the first day of arguments, former Senator Francis Tatad expressed his fear that the law would “rewrite the mandate of the Constitution by imposing population control to state-mandated contraception.”

The former lawmaker insisted that the law does not equally protect the lives of mothers and their unborn children. “That is simply putting family, its most intimate and private life, and their liberties under state supervision,” he said.

The government will have its turn to defend the law after all the petitioners against it have spoken before the SC magistrates.

– VVP, GMA News

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