Highlights: RH Oral Arguments

Note: To give the public an idea of what transpires at the RH Law oral arguments in the Supreme Court (since live feeds and media coverage are not allowed from the session hall), we are posting excerpts from Tuesday’s proceedings (August 13, 2013) where Sen. Pia Cayetano responds to questions from Associate Justice Roberto Abad.

 

Excerpts from the RH Oral Arguments

Senator Pia S. Cayetano and Justice Roberto Abad

Supreme Court case on the Reproductive Health Law

13 August 2013

 

MATERNAL DEATHS, FREEDOM OF CHOICE

Justice Abad: Is pregnancy a disease?

Senator Pia: As I said in my speech, it is not a disease, but it is a special condition that requires medical attention.

Justice Abad: …[But] your solution to this problem of deaths of 5,000 [mothers] a year… [is] we will put on IUD or hormonal contraceptives to about 23 million Filipinos – our child-bearing mothers?

Senator Pia: That is absolutely false. What would be available is a wide range [of choices]. And that is very clear in the law. In fact, the law says public health facilities must provide a wide range of RH products so that people can choose.

…A doctor cannot come in and say, ‘mag-condom ka, mag-IUD ka, magpa-ligate ka.’ No. That is a decision that only a family, a couple, have to make for their own.

 

RH EDUCATION AND TEEN PREGNANCY [1]

Justice Abad: You can have sex and not be pregnant – that’s what we will tell to the teenagers! I think that’s your purpose: Teenagers should have sex. Those in schools should have sex without getting pregnant!

Senator Pia: As we speak your honor, without the RH Law, 200,000 [were the] recorded teen pregnancies in the last year and every year it’s the same. And it is increasing in this country because we consider it taboo to talk about sex. So it is not the presence of RH education that has promoted teen pregnancy. It is actually the absence [of it].

 

RH EDUCATION AND TEEN PREGNANCY [2]

Justice Abad: I think every teenager knows that if they have sex, they will get pregnant. But what will we them? ‘You have sex but don’t get pregnant by using these contraceptives.’

Senator Pia: I do not believe that any responsible Filipino counselor or doctor would make those kinds of statements. Your honor is correct that maybe, in some other countries, that is how they would put it – based on their customs – ‘You want to have sex, do this.’ [But] In the Philippines, I don’t think it will ever be that way because our customs dictate they we will always veer in the side of abstinence, in the side of prevention, in delay[ing] sex.

 

RH EDUCATION AND TEEN PREGNANCY [3]

Justice Abad: So the lesson really is to say to these kids that there’s nothing wrong about sex, provided that you don’t get pregnant. And I don’t think those are the values that we want to place in the hearts of our children.

Senator Pia: It is so important [to] teach young children that they have the right to protect their own bodies – that just because that it is their father, an uncle, or somebody who lives in your own home – they cannot touch you. They cannot touch your private parts. And if you look carefully, at Section 14 of the law, we make it very clear that these are the kinds of educational materials we want our children to have access to, so they can protect themselves.

 

RH EDUCATION AND TEEN PREGNANCY [4]

Justice Abad: But you will bring in information that may not be in the values of the family and compelling the members of that family [the students] to attend this lecture – not under parental guidance – but under strangers! Strangers to teach my children and my grandchildren the matter of sex without love. Sex without the values that our families keep!
Senator Cayetano: With all due respect your honor, that is a very limiting view of the law. That is not the intention. Every well-meaning Filipino will want to teach children reproductive health education.
…We must trust that our government agencies will be performing their duties in accordance with the law. We cannot assume that Congress is malicious, or that the Department of Education is malicious. As we speak, a priest is the head of the Department of Education.

 

WHERE CAN WOMEN GET INFO ON REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH? [1]

Justice Abad: Do I take it that without the RH Law, women are being denied access to all relevant information about planning the number and spacing of their children?

Senator Pia: Yes, your honor, without the RH Law. That is what happened in the city of Manila…

Justice Abad: So are our women prevented from listening to the radio? …From seeing movies or watching television?

Senator Pia: Of course not, your honor.

Justice Abad: …Or from receiving phone calls and text messages? Oh, so they’re allowed! …Or from reading secular books, newspapers and magazines? Or from doing ‘I.G.M.’? Do you know what ‘IGM’ means?

Senator Pia: Instagram?

Justice Abad: ‘I-Google mo!’ [Look it up on Google!] If you need any kind of information, ‘i-Google mo.’

Senator Pia: Depende po kung may computer po sila… [It depends if they have a computer…]

Justice Abad: Are they prevented from ‘I.G.M.’?

Senator Pia: Many poor women – and we are talking of 2.5 million women in the fifth poorest quintile – do not have access to ‘I.G.M.’ They may have access to the radio, but we are not certain [if they could get information on RH]. In fact, without this law, there has not really been a very strong, consistent program. I do not hear much about information on Reproductive Health on the radio.

 

WHERE CAN WOMEN GET INFO ON REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH? [2]

Justice Abad [Arguing that women can readily get information on Reproductive Health through the internet using the search engine Google]: Well, you’ll be surprised how many of our people are on the internet…

Senator Pia: No, I do know your honor, but how about for women with eight children? Half of whom cannot eat in the morning, half of whom cannot eat at night? They do not have time to ‘I.G.M.’ [‘i-Google mo,’ or use Google]

Justice Abad: They do! They have neighbors…

Senator Pia: Not if you live in a kariton [pushcart], your honor.

 

WHERE CAN WOMEN GET INFO ON REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH? [3]

Justice Abad: Are our women prevented by force or intimidation from attending secular seminars [to get information on Reproductive Health]?

Senator Pia: Yes. In the city of Manila [during Mayor Lito Atienza’s term] they are threatened that they will not be given and they are humiliated by even having to ask…

Justice Abad: Well I thought we respect religious …

Senator Pia: Precisely your honor.

Justice Abad: So what’s wrong with that? Our faith? If they say that’s bad for our faith?…

Senator Pia: There is nothing wrong your honor with a Church espousing whatever religious beliefs they have…

Justice Abad: And you call it ‘intimidation’…

Senator Pia: Your honor I call it ‘intimidation’ if the one intimidating is the State. And it happens in certain LGUs, including the city of Manila, where women were not allowed and were embarrassed to even ask for access to reproductive health [information and services].

Justice Abad: I don’t know if that would be intimidation because… not so many people go to Church, I must admit.

 

WHERE CAN WOMEN GET INFO ON REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH? [4]

Justice Abad: We are not so backward that this law can claim that it is what our women need: To give them access to information relevant to reproductive health. If they want information, there are many places where to get information. They are not prevented from doing so!

Senator Pia: I disagree, your honor, with all due respect…  You will not hear that on radio, your honor. …You need to speak to a health professional and you need to weigh the kinds of contraceptives based on your lifestyle.

…We will assume [health professionals in health centers] will do their job. But definitely a better job than a radio commentator. And I must hasten to add, that it is not only access to information but it is access to the [Reproductive Health] products, as well. Because to the very poor, the government will be making these available for them – for free.

 

ARE CONTRACEPTIVES SAFE?

Justice Abad: ‘Safe’ is free from danger. But we all know that contraceptives – intra-uterine [devices], as well as [contraceptive] drugs and medicine – they are not safe.

Senator Pia: In that case, all medicines will not be declared as safe as well your honor. [She earlier explained that contraceptives, like medicines, all have side effects.]

 

REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH VS ‘SEX’ EDUCATION [1]

Justice Abad: The government, claiming the right to teach what it wants in public schools, would have all children in these schools learn how to use contraceptives… is that correct?

Senator Pia: That is incorrect, your honor. There is nothing in the law.

Justice Abad: Ahh… they will not be taught this?

Senator Pia: There is nothing in the law that says children will be taught how to use contraceptives.

Justice Abad: No! It is says there, ‘All the methods will be made available in the schools, they will be taught about the full range of methods…’

Senator Pia: There is nothing. I would be happy to see what part of the law his honor read that [from] because that is not in the law, your honor. What is in the law is ‘Age-Appropriate Reproductive Health Education.’ It may not be appropriate to talk to five-year-olds or ten-year-olds about the use of contraceptives. In fact, it is not age-appropriate.

 

REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH VS SEX EDUCATION [2]

Justice Abad: But this is sex education, is it not?

Senator Pia: We are talking about Reproductive Health which is broader than sex education, your honor.

Justice Abad: Yes, ‘sex education,’ that’s what I’m saying. So whatever the age is, it will be about sex education?

Senator Pia: No, your honor.

Justice Abad: Ahh… no?!

Senator Pia: Reproductive health is not equal to sex education. Those are entirely different things.

Justice Abad: Well, reproductive health is about reproduction, and reproduction is about sex! I don’t know what [else]!

 

REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH VS SEX EDUCATION [3]

Justice Abad: Why would we still have sex education in schools if we will not teach sex? What’s the use of this law?

Senator Pia: Precisely your honor, the law teaches reproductive health.

Justice Abad: So this is not about sex education?

Senator Pia: It is about reproductive health education, not sex education. If I may, I believe his honor is of the view that when we refer to ‘Reproductive Health Education,’ we’re talking about the ‘sexual act’ alone and the ‘use of contraceptives.’ That is a very limiting view of reproductive health.

 

REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH VS SEX EDUCATION [4]

Justice Abad: I think you are trying to cover the whole thing [Reproductive Health Education] with a lot of good things. But we have nothing against the good things. What we are against is the bad things!

Senator Pia: Well, I don’t know. Because some people would consider it ‘bad’ if you try to tell a child that her private parts, and I will use the proper term – the vagina and the penis – are private parts that neither your father should touch.

Justice Abad: Oh, those are not bad parts…

Senator Pia: …This goes into sensitive topics that we do not like to discuss. These are subject matters that we want to be available so that our children can protect themselves.

 

REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH VS SEX EDUCATION [5]

Senator Pia: Your honor, I will bring back the example of many children who are abused [in their own homes]. How do you expect the mother, who is out of the country, and the father who abused his own child, to be the one to give the consent [allowing the child to attend RH lessons in class]? That is why the State must come in and protect these children.
Justice Abad: Then we should provide something for that. Special circumstances like that. Those are anecdotal…

Senator Pia: Then I would have proven my point your honor. That doesn’t make the law unconstitutional.

Justice Abad: But the law doesn’t specify [the particular case, e.g. incest]…

Senator Pia: Just because the law does not specify that one particular situation does not mean that the intention, which is clearly written in the law, is unconstitutional.

 

CONSCIENTIOUS OBJECTION

Justice Abad: Would the law allow a physician who has a bias against artificial contraceptives on account of his religious beliefs, to advice a patient who shares the same belief against the evil of such contraceptives?

Senator Pia: Your honor, to me, that is a very simple question. Every literature for every medicine and contraceptive provides the side-effects and the ill effects. And so all the doctor has to say is, ‘These are the possible consequences’… There is nothing wrong with a doctor discussing that with any patient, whether or not they share the same belief.

 

SEX AND MORALITY

Justice Abad: Is not sex an area where immorality can easily take hold? As in prostitution, women trafficking, pedophilia, not to mention, promiscuity? Sex is an area where morals are involved, don’t you think so?

Senator Pia: Morals are involved in many aspects of our life: Sex and many other things.

Justice Abad: You’re not answering me. My question is: Is not sex an area that has a moral concern?

Senator Pia: It depends on the topic. I agree to a certain extent, [but] not always. As I said, I can discuss sex and reproductive health in a manner that has no moral function. Like when I explain how a baby grows.

 

ROLE OF PARENTS AND STATE IN EDUCATING YOUTH

Justice Abad: …Parents under the Constitution have the natural and primary right and duty to educate their children for the development of their moral character. Can the government compete with parents in the molding of the character of their children?

Senator Pia: Is it a competition?

Justice Abad: Can the government compete with parents in the molding of the character of their children under the Constitution?

Senator Pia: I am not aware your honor that government is in competition with the family. Consistent with the Constitution, the intention of this law is [for the State] to support [the parents].

 

CONTRACEPTIVES IN THE ESSENTIAL DRUGS LIST

Justice Abad: Let’s face it, contraceptives is not medicine. Unless… well… there are some of them that will be intended as medicine. Medicine is to cure illness. This is a new thing that will be put in this official drugs list, you see? And it is not medicine because it is not intended for cure. The benefit that will be obtained there is not being healed of any [disease]… of heart attack or any difficulties or serious problems, but to be able to have sex without responsibility…

You cannot treat [contraceptives] like medicine where we can ignore the side-effect because we save human life. But this one, no. You will ignore the side-effects so you can have sex without having to answer for it. That’s what it says. That’s what it is about.

Senator Pia: With all due respect, your honor, your understanding of the law is incorrect. Section 9 includes very clearly, ‘other safe, legal and non-abortifacient devices.

…So what we are saying in this law is these types of contraceptives have been passed upon by the WHO and the FDA, and are part of the WHO essential list, and have been part of the FDA essential list. And we want it to stay there subject to FDA’s determination – per brand, per batch, if necessary – that it is safe. We cannot take that away from FDA. We never intended to arrogate these powers. These belong to FDA alone, not ours, and not this court’s. #

Photos: Senator Pia S. Cayetano, Justice Roberto Abad (file photo from http://sc.judiciary.gov.ph/aboutsc/justices/j-abad.php), Session hall of the Supreme Court where the oral arguments are held.

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