THE FIGHT is far from over.

Pro-life groups are challenging the constitutionality of Republic Act No. 10354, otherwise known as “An Act Providing for a National Policy on Responsible Parenthood,” after President Benigno Aquino III clandestinely signed the bill last Dec. 21.

Lawyer James Imbong and wife Lovely-Ann filed a petition against the reproductive health (RH) law before the Supreme Court last Jan. 2 to strike it as unconstitutional.

Faculty of Civil Law Dean Nilo Divina said that upon filing, such petition seeks a temporary restraining order (TRO) to prohibit the government from spending taxpayers’ money to achieve the purposes of the law. The Supreme Court will then have to either issue the TRO immediately or set a hearing, Divina said.

Lawyer Jo Imbong, who is handling the case, told the media that the petition was not on behalf of the Catholic Church but on behalf of the unborn, who are protected by the Constitution. She said the act, which mandates a national contraception and sterilization program, would wreak havoc and destroy Filipino families. Jo Imbong, who is also a lawyer for the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), is the mother of James Imbong.

The petitioners said they are “Catholics who have deeply held religious beliefs upon which faith their conscience is rooted against complying with the mandates of the act.”

“This case will present the illegality of the Act as it mocks the nation’s Filipino culture–noble and lofty in its values and holdings on life, motherhood and family life–now the fragile lifeblood of a treasured culture that today stands solitary but proud in contrast to other nations,” the couple said in the petition.

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Atty. Jo Imbong echoed her son and daughter in-law, saying the RH law, an imposition of western lobby groups, would destroy Filipino culture and identity.

The Alliance for the Family Foundation Philippines, Inc. (ALFI), a non-profit organization, filed a second petition last Jan. 9, saying the act violates constitutional provisions protecting life and health.

ALFI president Maria Concepcion Noche told reporters they are against the act’s provision promoting abortifacients such as hormonal pills. Noche added that the RH law mandates health providers to offer reproductive health services even if these are against their religious convictions.

Many other groups have also filed petitions against the RH law.

Divorce, abortion next

Divina said the RH law is the prelude to other contentious issues such as the legalization of abortion and same-sex marriage.

“There is hope, however, that the act may be overruled by the Supreme Court, challenging its constitutional nature,” Divina said in an interview.

Divina said members of the Supreme Court are usually divided in terms of dispositions. The issue is about defining conception—whether it begins from fertilization or implantation.

“If you have read the law, it says the state protects the unborn [from the moment of] conception, but the argument lies on how you identify conception,” Divina said.

Another contentious provision is the ambiguity of the right to choose, he said. “If you don’t follow, you will be penalized. So, are they being consistent?” he asked.

Not impressed

In his column in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Fr. Joaquin Bernas, S.J., a known critic of the Church’s stand on the RH bill, said he was not impressed with the constitutional points being raised by anti-RH groups.

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“The arguments I have seen can be reduced to one sentence—the law is unconstitutional because it does not hew closely to the teaching of the Catholic Church on contraception,” said Bernas.

He pointed to the Compendium of the Social Teaching of the Catholic Church, which, he claimed, bars the Church from discriminating against other religious groups.

Catholic vote movement

With the passage of the bill, some Catholic groups launched the “Catholic Vote Philippines” movement in a bid to “encourage Catholics to vote as Catholics.”

The movement was formed on the day the House of Representatives approved the bill on second reading.

The group’s purpose is to educate voters in electing government officials based on Christian moral standards.

However, CBCP President Archbishop Jose Palma said the hierarchy won’t endorse any candidate or party.

Bernas, meanwhile, said he was dismayed by moves to campaign against pro-RH candidates.

“I am rather disturbed by preachers who use their opposition to the law as a way of defeating electoral candidates who favor or have favored the law,” he said.

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