Sunday, April 13, 2014

Not unconstitutional


This is my column today, April 13, 2014.
Of course the use of the double negative had relevance in the legal context—the petitions that spurred the discussion and the subsequent decision was precisely a prayer to render the Republic Act 10354 or the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act of 2012 unconstitutional.  But the double negative pronouncement was a harbinger of the tortured discussions that followed it.  In fact, I received at least three emails from people who claimed that the use of the double negative was precisely indicative of just how strongly the justices found favor in their respective positions.
Advocates of the Reproductive Health Bill claimed victory, with two-time senatorial aspirant Rissa Hontiveros-Baraquel gushing on public television about how sweet it was to hear those two words.  The jubilation was echoed by many others.  The irrepressible Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago proclaimed her unabashed affection for the high court telling them “I love you.”  The principal author of the RH Bill, former Albay representative Edcel Lagman, congratulated the high court for upholding the separation of the church and state and for “giving impetus to sustainable human development.”
Those vociferously against the RH Bill immediately doused water on the jubilation claiming that the Supreme Court decision which struck down eight provisions critically defanged the bill effectively making it a toothless tiger.  It’s a matter of opinion, of course, but it can be rightfully argued that the eight provisions were precisely the ones that could have made the law meaningful. 
These provisions dealt with the matter of “conscientious objections” by health practitioners and local governments, the need for spousal consent for reproductive health procedures, and the right of minors to access reproductive health education and services.  
No sir, the Supreme Court decision has not settled the issue, nor has it effectively ended the debate. 
There are those who have weighed in with calls to accept the so-called Solomonic decision of the Supreme Court.  People like Vice President Jejomar Binay have claimed that the government can still pursue reproductive health programs despite the lack of punitive measures against those who use religious beliefs to deny reproductive health services to those who need them. Of course the government can—but it has to put up with every obstacle thrown on its way by religious zealots and politicians desperately seeking favors from bishops and priests.  The likes of former Manila Mayor Lito Atienza who disallowed condoms and family planning services in the City of Manila during his term of office can still wreck havoc on reproductive health programs of government and private organizations. 
So I am not sure that the Supreme Court decision has brought us any closer to enlightenment or to the gateway of modern civilization.  In fact, I think what the decision has proven is that intolerance do exist in many forms and in many guises and is not limited among those imbued with lesser educational or intellectual qualifications.
In the end, I am not sure who really won last Wednesday.  But I am very sure of this:  Ordinary people, specially those who most need access to reproductive health services lost.

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