A demonstrator says 'yes' to the implementation of the RH Law. (Photo by Edgar Aguilar)
The decision of the Philippines Supreme Court to allow the implementation of the controversial Reproductive Health Law, which was 16 years in the making mainly because of the opposition of the country's Catholic bishops, is actually a victory for the prelates.
Most of the provisions opposed by the bishops have been rejected by the court, including the critical provisions of Section 7, which was "access to family planning."
By rejecting the provision, the government is now restricted from providing a full range of "modern family planning methods," including medical consultations, supplies and artificial contraceptives to people, especially for those who cannot afford it.
A provision of Section 23, which would have prohibited health care service providers from refusing to extend services and information on account of "religious convictions, personal circumstances, or nature of work" has also been declared unconstitutional by the court.
It is not, therefore, surprising for Archbishop Socrates Villegas, president of the bishops' conference, to "encourage" Catholics "to maintain respect and esteem for the Supreme Court" for deciding on the reproductive health issue "based on existing laws in the Philippines."
He was thankful that the court has watered down the law and consequently upheld the importance of “adhering to an informed religious conscience” even among government workers.
Fr. Melvin Castro, the head of the bishops' Family and Life Commission, was more explicit in saying that the court decision is a "partial and a major victory" for those who opposed the implementation of the law.
Some people in the know, who do not want to be quoted, said "consultations" between government officials and Church leaders were held for a "win-win solution" to the impasse before the Supreme Court could come out with a decision this week.
Might this "win-win solution" be the reason for the Church leaders' announcement a few days before the court decision that President Benigno Aquino is attending the reopening of the Manila Cathedral today? Imagine if the court decided to implement the law as it was written, would Aquino be willing to face a hostile Catholic congregation and stand beside the bishops, some of whom threatened him with excommunication?
The "solution" might have been also a face-saving move for the government to be able to implement the law and uphold the "wisdom" of legislators and experts who have been arguing for the passage of the measure to address the country's ballooning population.
On the other hand, allowing the implementation of the law en toto could have forced Catholics into an "open revolt." Former senator Francisco Tatad, a staunch opponent of the law, said it could mean "civil disobedience at the very least, actual revolt at the most extreme."
Claims of "victory" by the bishops and advocates of the RH law are expected. But the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Will the law address the widespread poverty and the exponential birth rate of 3.54 percent, one of the highest in the world?
The World Health Organization noted that more than a third of Manila's 14 million population live in slums while more than a quarter of the country's population live on 62 cents a day, and at least 15 mothers die daily in complications related to child birth.