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The RH Law is not population control Print
In the News
Friday, 25 April 2014 14:23


By Edcel C. Lagman

Philippine Daily Inquirer

12:04 am | Thursday, April 24th, 2014

With profound appreciation of the Supreme Court’s unanimous verdict upholding the constitutionality of the Reproductive Health Law on the whole and with due respect to Associate Justice Jose C. Mendoza who penned the ponencia, there is critical need, however, to clarify a number of disturbing statements, observations and obiter expressed in the ponencia.


The repeated reference by Justice Mendoza to the perfunctory statement that the RH Law is basically a population control measure was not determinative of the constitutional issues. Moreover, the recurrent observation has no anchorage in the language and spirit of the RH Law because:


• No less than Sec. 3(l) of the law provides that “[t]here shall be no demographic or population targets and the mitigation, promotion and/or stabilization of the population growth rate is incidental to the advancement of reproductive health.”


• This unequivocal provision negates population control since: (a) no specific rate or range of population growth is prescribed; and (b) the mitigation of the population growth rate is the result of affording women, couples and parents the exercise of their human right to freely and responsibly determine the number and spacing of their children.

Incidentally, surveys show that poor women would like to limit the number of their children but they do not have access to family planning information and supplies. Under the RH Law, the government shall give marginalized voluntary acceptors the requisite information, supplies and services.


• Population control is anathema to the law’s hallmark of freedom of informed choice where both compulsion and reward are proscribed. Section 3(a) mandates that “[t]he right to make free and informed decisions, which is central to the exercise of any right, shall not be subjected to any form of coercion and must be fully guaranteed by the State like the right itself.”


Likewise, Sec. 3(h) provides that “[t]he State shall respect individuals’ preferences and choice of family planning methods that are in accordance with their religious convictions and cultural beliefs, taking into consideration the State’s obligations under various human rights instruments.”


To give full meaning to the freedom of informed choice, the authors  removed voluntarily  the precursor provision of Section 13 of the original House Bill No. 16 on “Ideal Family Size” which reads: “In order to attain the desired population growth rate, the State shall encourage two (2) children as the ideal family size. Children from these families shall have preference in the grant of scholarships at the tertiary level.”


As finally enacted, the RH Law does not contain a provision similar to or identical with this provision on ideal family size. The norm of a two-child policy, which was not even mandatory, was deleted together with the reward of a college scholarship for children who belong to a two-child family. The authors considered the expectance of a reward for one’s children as impairing the freedom of choice. Also scrapped was any reference to a “desired population growth rate.”


• As correctly pointed out by the ponente, “the RH Law does not prescribe the number of children a couple may have and does not impose conditions upon couples who intend to have children” (Decision, page 94). The earmarks of population control are absent.


• Instead of a population control measure, the RH Law is a health measure, particularly for the health of women, adolescents, children and infants. It is a human rights legislation which guarantees the right to reproductive self-determination. It is a poverty alleviation program and a veritable agenda for sustainable human development.


To reiterate, the oft-repeated reference to “population control” was not necessary in adjudicating that the RH Law is constitutional. “Control” denotes coercion or compulsion which goes against the RH Law’s granting premium to the primacy of individual conscience and choice in adopting any family planning option.


On the controversial issue on the beginning of life, the ponente accurately said that the “Majority of the Members of the Court are of the position that the question of when life begins is a scientific and medical issue that should not be decided, at this stage, without proper hearing and evidence” (Decision, page 39). He also correctly added: “During the deliberation, however, it was agreed upon that the individual members of the Court could express their own views on the matter” (Decision, page 39).


Subsequently, the ponente lengthily discussed his personal view that “life begins at fertilization.” We may acquiesce to his “justifications” which straddled a little over 10 percent of the ponencia (Decision, pages 39-48).  We regret, however, that at the end of his disquisition, Justice Mendoza attributed his personal view to the Court’s collective opinion when he stated: “For the above reasons, the Court cannot subscribe to the theory advocated by Hon. Lagman that life begins at implantation” (Decision, page 48).


This remark contradicts the majority’s desistance to resolve the medical and scientific issue of when life begins “without a proper hearing and evidence.” How then can the Court reject the submission that life begins at the implantation of the fertilized ovum in the uterine wall when the Court a priori refused to decide when life begins?

Verily, Justice Mendoza’s view is his own, not the Supreme Court’s.


Edcel C. Lagman authored the reproductive health bill in the 15th Congress as representative of the first district of Albay.

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Fascination over exceptions Print
In the News
Thursday, 17 April 2014 06:21


Fascination over exceptions


12:10 am | Tuesday, April 15th, 2014

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Why be fascinated with the exceptions and fail to appreciate the general rule? The rule, as held by the Supreme Court, is that the Reproductive Health Law is constitutional, and the exceptions are some provisions which were voided to principally respect minority views.

Did the stricken provisions render the RH Law “toothless”? Not at all. The core provisions are intact, untouched by the judicial scalpel, foremost of which are the following:

1. The mandate for government to afford the marginalized sectors free access to family planning services and supplies (Sec. 3[c]).

2. The provision on the Philippine National Drug Formulary, which includes hormonal contraceptives, IUDs, injectables and other safe, legal, nonabortifacient and effective family planning devices and supplies, as determined by the Food and Drug Administration (Sec. 9).

3. The authority of the Department of Health to procure family planning supplies for distribution to local government units (LGUs) (Sec. 10).

4. The mandate for LGUs to assist in the implementation of the RH Law (Sections 5, 6, 8, 16 and 20).

5. The provision for RH education to adolescents in all schools (Sec. 14). Importantly, RH education is mandated for all schools, both public and private. The only difference is that the Department of Education shall formulate the curriculum for public schools, which may be adopted by private schools. Otherwise, private schools shall make their own curriculum, subject to the supervisory authority of the DepEd.

Section 14 does not distinguish whether an adolescent is enrolled in a public or private school. It would be a violation of the equal protection clause if adolescents in private schools are deprived of the benefits of RH education.

6. Government to pursue public awareness programs and nationwide multimedia campaign for reproductive health.

With the constitutionality of the foregoing salient provisions sustained, the voiding of a few provisions will not diminish the efficacy of the law and deter its full implementation.

The voided provisions can be categorized into the following groupings:

(a) Protection of the right of conscientious objectors: (i) hospitals owned by religious groups are not required to refer a patient needing reproductive health care to another hospital; (ii) an RH care provider who is a conscientious objector is not obliged to follow the referral requirement; (iii) a private RH care provider who is a conscientious objector is not required to render 40-hour a year pro bono service to indigent women for PhilHealth accreditation.

(b) Requirement of spousal and parental consent in the following cases: (i) spousal  consent is needed for a married person to undergo ligation/vasectomy; (ii) parental consent for a minor to access modern contraceptives even if such minor had already a miscarriage;

(iii) parental consent for minors who would like to avail of nonelective surgical procedures.

(c) Any public official who refuses to implement the RH Law.

(d) Any healthcare provider “who fails and/or refuses to disseminate information regarding programs and services on reproductive health regardless of his/her religious beliefs.”

The foregoing situations cover exceptions to the rule, to wit:

(a) Conscientious objectors are more the exception than the rule. The vast majority of health providers, albeit Catholics, are RH advocates. Moreover, a conscientious objector must act in good faith. Conscientious objection is not an absolute license to violate the RH Law. Furthermore, a patient who is refused medical care will seek on his own another provider even without a referral.

(b) In most cases, spouses discuss and agree if one has to undergo ligation or vasectomy, especially when such a procedure is medically recommended or they have already children. Consequently, the need for spousal consent in case of disagreement is again the exception than the rule.

(c) Nonelective surgical procedures for minors where parental consent is required happen rarely.

(d)  Public officials who refuse to support the RH program or hinder the implementation of the law constitute the exception because generally public functionaries will obey the law consistent with their oath of office.

However, a healthcare provider, whether public or private, who knowingly withholds information or intentionally provides incorrect information regarding programs and services on reproductive health is culpable, as held by the Supreme Court, because such prohibited acts “connote a sense of malice and ill motive to mislead or misrepresent the public as to the nature and effect of programs and services on reproductive health.”

Consequently, while refusal to disclose information or render service is exempt and nonactionable, knowingly giving misinformation about RH programs is penalized.

Edcel C. Lagman authored the Reproductive Health bill in the 15th Congress as representative of the first district of Albay.

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Lagman: Priests violating seal of confessional to hit RH law Print
In the News
Monday, 18 March 2013 08:47

Lagman: Priests violating seal of confessional to hit RH law


1:17 am | Monday, March 18th, 2013
1 18 17

Catholic priests have taken to violating the seal of the confessional just to demonize the reproductive health (RH) law, according to one of its principal authors, Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, who deplored the “malevolent propaganda” against the law.


Lagman on Sunday twitted Fr. Melvin Castro, head of the Episcopal Commission on Family and Life, for saying that based on the observation of priests, many young people were aware of the sin of using artificial contraception because of the RH law, and were driven to confession because of it.


Lagman said a majority of Catholics in the country were supportive of the RH law, as repeatedly shown by surveys.

Castro said prelates had reason to thank Lagman for this surge of awareness.


Castro said some women had confessed to having an abortion, but added that he and other priests made sure not to violate the seal of the confessional, which made it mandatory for priests to maintain strict confidentiality when it came to the sins confessed to them.


Seal violated

But Castro’s statements did not sit well with Lagman, who contended that such claims betrayed the penitents who gave their confidence to men of the cloth.

“Some Catholic priests would even venture into violating the sacramental seal of confession to revive a lost campaign against the reproductive health law,” he said.

The lawmaker added that the “revelation of penitents’ confessions is a blatant violation of the centuries-old Church injunction for confessors not to betray or disclose both the subject of the confession and the identity of the penitents.”


Violating such a seal could be penalized with excommunication, Lagman said.


He noted that even the Philippine Rules of Court considered confessions absolute privilege communication.


Catholics for RH law

Based on “repeated national surveys,” many Catholics were in favor of the RH law that the Church staunchly opposes, Lagman said.

One feature of the law is contraception by choice, he noted.


Academics from Jesuit-run Ateneo de Manila University have said that supporting the RH measure is not inconsistent with being Catholic, since it adheres to the core principles of Catholic social teaching, Lagman pointed out.


These include the sanctity of human life, the dignity of the human person, the preferential option for the poor and vulnerable, integral human development, human rights and the primacy of conscience.


Lagman cited a study by the UP Population Institute, which showed that 90 percent of Filipino youth believed the government should provide them with relevant family planning services, including contraceptives.


International studies

He also said that the United Nations Development Program, United Nations Population Fund and the World Health Organization’s Department of Reproductive Health and Research had unanimously declared that “it is universally recognized that contraception is the most effective intervention to prevent unintended pregnancy, abortion, child and maternal mortality and morbidity.”


“Empirical studies also show that the correct and regular use of contraceptives could reduce abortion rates by as much as 85 percent,” he added.

Church officials are against the RH law for requiring the government to provide contraceptives for free to those who may want it.


The Church believes that some of the artificial means of contraception induce abortion. Some opponents also contend that the RH law would promote promiscuity.

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) had been at the forefront of the bitter battle to defeat the RH bill in Congress. The bishops and anti-RH members of the House of Representatives and the Senate lost the battle.


President Aquino signed the RH measure into law last December. On March 15, the Department of Health approved the implementing rules and regulations of the RH law.


After its defeat, the CBCP is continuing the fight this election season by enticing voters not to support those who voted for the bill’s passage into law. Thus, the rise of “Team Patay (Death)” posters on church premises.

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