When President Duterte took office, one of the first promises he made was that he would support the full implementation of the Reproductive Health (RH) Law. He said that he understood the need to provide women and girls with the right to control their fertility, and he rebuked the Catholic Church for their meddling in government policy.
As a reminder, in December 2012, the RH Bill was passed by Congress and Senate and was signed into Law by President Aquino before the end of the year. Anti-reproductive health groups immediately filed lawsuits challenging the Law’s constitutionality. In March 2013, the Supreme Court issued a status quo ante order (SQA), halting the enactment of the law for over a year. While they procrastinated, Filipinas died. Finally, on April 7, 2014, the Supreme Court declared the Law constitutional. Despite their declaration, nearly two years later, the Law has still not been fully implemented. President Duterte said he would push for an end to delays and to full implementation.
We have passed the 100 day mark in his presidency, but to date President Duterte has not moved forward on his promise to support this Law.
In the meantime, anti-reproductive health groups, via the Supreme Court (SC) have continued to chip away at one key component of the Law by preventing government distribution of the hormonal implant, Implanon. In June 2015, after an anti-reproductive health and anti-women group filed a case alleging that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Department of Health did not follow proper administrative protocol in procuring Implanon, the SC issued a temporary restraining order (TRO) that remains in place today. They are holding part of the RH Law hostage.
The Supreme Court’s recent ruling against lifting the TRO has massive implications about the role of the FDA. As Ms. Elizabeth Angsioco wrote in the Manila Standard on November 5, the “FDA issues registrations to medicines and drugs that passed its scrutiny based on scientific studies and factual analysis. FDA decision is final. The SC ruling changed this and said that FDA decision is now appealable to the Court of Appeals. This will totally change the ball game in relation to contraceptives because an FDA registration will amount to nothing but just another step in a very long judicial process of appeals and counter-appeals.”
Anti-reproductive health groups will seize on the opportunity to challenge FDA rulings on all contraceptives as their FDA approval is renewed. Not only will this endanger the health of millions of Filipina’s but it could open a Pandora’s Box as life-saving medicines such as vaccines could be challenged and held up for years in our legal system. We must not allow this to happen. The FDA is an independent regulatory body and must remain so.
If President Duterte truly supports the RH Law, he should call on the Supreme Court to come to a decision on the case filed against the FDA and DOH and immediately lift the TRO on Implanon. The President should also reiterate that the FDA is an independent regulatory body that should not be made into a pawn of the judiciary.
While the President sits on the Executive branch and thus should not be involved in the Judicial branch, it is clear from the Supreme Court’s recent decision to allow the former Dictator Ferdinand Marcos to have a heroes burial that President Duterte’s support on issues does hold some sway with some Supreme Court justices.
If President Duterte reiterates his support for the RH Law and takes steps towards its full implementation, perhaps the Supreme Court will finally act and stop allowing their offices to be used by anti-reproductive health groups to hold the RH Law hostage.