Miriam: RH bill follows Constitution

Posted at 08/17/2011 7:50 PM | Updated as of 08/18/2011 12:06 AM

MANILA, Philippines - Nothing in the Constitution prohibits the reproductive health (RH) bill from being enacted into law, its author in the Senate said on Wednesday.

In the second part of her co-sponsorship speech on the controversial measure, Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago argued that the bill upholds the rights to information, privacy, and of parents over their children's education.

Santiago said the Constitution's "sanctity of life" clause found in article 2, which opponents of the bill have often cited, does not mention "reproductive health."

"If there is no applicable provision in the Constitution, the implication is that the power has been reserved to the people in their sovereign capacity," she said. "Thus if there is no prohibition in the Constitution, then it is deduced that the people's representatives in the Congress are free to legislate on the matter."

Santiago added that the RH bill is mandated by the Bill of Rights, particularly Article 3 Section 7, which says that the right of the people to information on matters of public concern shall be recognized.

The RH bill provides for universal access to information on reproductive health services.

"Critics might argue that the right to information under section 7 was meant to cover only official records, but there is nothing in section 7 or in the Records of the Constitutional Commission to support this view," Santiago said.

"To make information on reproductive health accessible to the rich but not to the poor would be a violation of the Equal Protection Clause."

The senator also said the RH bill upholds couples' right to privacy in terms of sex, marriage, and procreation, as it gives them the power to choose their preferred family planning method.

Citing US Supreme Court decisions, she explained that the government has no power to forbid the use of contraceptives by adults.

"However, the state has the power to restrict the manufacture and sale of contraceptive devices to ensure that the products meet health, safety, and anti-abortion standards," Santiago said.

She added that the bill, if enacted into law, would uphold parents' right over their children's education.

Santiago pointed out that Senate Bill 2865 provides for age-appropriate reproductive health education.

"If there is any objection ... it can easily be met by a potential amendment which in effect shall adopt the option for parents provided in the Constitution for the teaching of religion in public elementary and high schools," she said.

Lastly, Santiago said passing the RH bill would fulfill the Philippines' obligations under international law.

She reminded her colleagues in the Senate that the country is party to several treaties upholding parents' basic human right to freely and responsibly choose the number and spacing of their children.

The senator mentioned the 1968 Proclamation of Teheran; 1976 International Covenant on Economic, Cultural and Social Rights; 1979 UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discriminatiom Against Women; and the 1994 Programme of Action of International Conference on Population and Development.

"If we fail to pass the RH bill, we are breaking our contract with other states," Santiago said.