Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago’s Sponsorship Speech on RH Bill (Part 2)
Read the Part 1 here.
THE REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH ACT
Constitutional and International Law
No Prohibition in the Constitution
There are a number of constitutional provisions that underlie the RH bill. But the most salient is what I would call the “Sanctity of Life” Clause found under Article 2, as a declaration of state policy:
Sec. 12. The State recognizes the sanctity of family life and shall protect and strengthen the family as a basic autonomous social institution. It shall equally protect the life of the mother and the life of the unborn from conception.
This provision does not mention the term “reproductive health” or any of its affiliate vocabularies. This is in the nature of a constitution. As explained in the 1930 case of Lopez v. de los Reyes, speaking of the Constitution:
It is an instrument of a permanent nature, intended not merely to meet existing conditions, but to govern the future. It does not deal in details but enunciates the general principles and general directions which are intended to apply to all new facts which may come into being, and which may be brought within those general principles or directions.
The Constitution should not be read like a newspaper story, on the basis of which each reader can feel free to express his own interpretation. Instead, to discover the intent and meaning of the Constitution, we have to turn to a process called “constitutional construction.”
In the 1938 case of Gold Creek Mining Corp. v. Rodriguez, the Supreme Court ruled that fundamental principle of constitutional construction is to give effect to the intent not only of the framers, but also of the people who adopted it. It is not sufficient to quote the opinion expressed in the records by one delegate to the constitutional convention; that would be only one person’s opinion. Neither would it be sufficient to claim that a certain interpretation was the intent of the people who approved the Constitution in a plebiscite.
Hence, we are left with the conclusion that the Constitution is what the Supreme Court says it is. In other words, no legislator can authoritatively construe the meaning of the Sanctity of Life Clause, and it would be pointless to debate its meaning here in the legislature. We can save a lot of time in Congress by waiting for the proper branch of government to tell us what this Clause means – the Supreme Court.
To maintain peace and order, the sovereign people agreed to lend some of their sovereignty to the government, under terms which are defined in the Constitution. 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. 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. In other words, the Constitution serves merely as a limit to the police power of the State.
Accordingly, the Supreme Court ruled in the 1924 case of People v. Pomar: “The state, under the police power, is possessed with plenary power to deal with all matters relating to the general health, morals, and safety of the people, and so long as it does not contravene any positive inhibition of the organic law . . . .” (Emphasis added.)
The Constitution, directly or indirectly, does not prohibit the RH bill. Therefore, in constitutional terms, this Senate is free to enact this bill. It is now well accepted in our jurisdiction that under the “rational basis” test, so long as an act of Congress bears some reasonable relationship to the grant of power to the national government and it is not otherwise prohibited by the Constitution, a reviewing court must find the law to be necessary and proper.
If the Senate passes the RH bill, our action would amount to a legislative construction of the Constitution. The rule is that a practical construction by Congress of a provision of the Constitution is entitled to great weight and should not be lightly disregarded. Hence, if we pass the RH bill, it will enjoy a presumption of constitutionality if it is questioned in the Supreme Court.
It has been said that even if we abolish the entire Bill of Rights, all the rights enumerated would still exist, provided that we keep the Equal Protection Clause and the Due Process Clause. These two great clauses are found in our Bill of Rights, which provides: “Sec. 1. No person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law, nor shall any person be denied the equal protection of the laws.” The right of the mother to protect herself and her baby from death-dealing poverty is a liberty protected under the Due Process Clause. Similarly, the right of the mother in the lowest social class is equal to the right of the mother in the highest social class, when both rights pertain to freedom of information. Thus, to make information on reproductive health accessible to the rich but not to the poor would be a violation of the Equal Protection Clause.
RH Bill Upholds Right to Information
Since there is no prohibition of an RH bill in our Constitution, it is constitutional for this Senate to pass the bill, until the Supreme Court rules otherwise. I would go even further. I respectfully contend that the RH bill is positively mandated by the Bill of Rights, particularly Art. 3, which provides as follows:
Sec. 7. The right of the people to information on matters of public concern shall be recognized. Access to official records, and to documents and papers pertaining to official acts, transactions, or decisions, as well as to government research data used as basis for policy development, shall be afforded the citizen, subject to such limitations as may be provided by law.
In the 1989 case of Valmonte v. Belmonte, the Supreme Court ruled that “the right to information goes hand-in-hand with the constitutional policies of full public disclosure and honesty in the public service.” Critics might argue that the right to information under Sec. 7 was meant to cover only official records; but there is nothing in Sec. 7 or in the Records of the Constitutional Commission to support this view.
We are therefore compelled to follow the rule of constitutional construction that where the law does not distinguish, courts should not distinguish. Ubi lex non distinguit, nec nos distinguere debemus. In the 1903 case of Velasco v. Lopez, the Court also ruled: “Courts are not authorized to distinguish where the law makes no distinction. They should instead administer the law not as they think they ought to be, but as they find it without disregard to consequences.” And in the 1946 case of Lo Cham v. Ocampo, the Court ruled that the general term or phrase should not be reduced into parts and one part distinguished from the other, so as to justify its exclusion from the operation of the law.
RH Bill Upholds Right to Privacy
Although the Bill of Rights does not specifically provide for a right to privacy, nevertheless it is a right protected by the Constitution, under the Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause. The development of the contemporary concept of a constitutionally protected “right of privacy” in sexual matters can be traced to the 1942 case of Skinner v. Oklahoma, decided by the US Supreme Court.
In Skinner, the Court struck down an Oklahoma law which authorized the sterilization of persons previously convicted and sentenced to imprisonment two or more times of crimes of moral turpitude. This opinion did not mention a “right of privacy” relating to sexual matters. But it established interests in marriage or procreation as areas of special constitutional significance.
In the landmark 1965 case of Griswold v. Connecticut, the US Supreme Court held that Connecticut laws were invalid, because they restricted the right of married persons to use contraceptive devices. The majority of the justices created a new “right to privacy.” Justice Douglas found that the “penumbras” and “emanations” of several guarantees of the Bill of Rights established this right to privacy.
In the 1972 case of Eisenstadt v. Baird, the US Supreme Court invalidated a law which prohibited distribution of contraceptives to unmarried persons. Thus, under the rulings in Griswold and Eisenstadt, the state 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.
In the 1977 case of Carey v. Population Services International, the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated a law which allowed only pharmacists to sell non-medical contraceptive devices to persons over 16 years old, and prohibited the sale of such items to those under 16 years old. The majority opinion ruled that the burden on an adult’s freedom of choice could only be justified by a compelling state interest. The Court said that distribution only through pharmacists was not justified.
In the Philippines, the right to privacy was first recognized in the 1968 case of Morfe v. Mutuc. It was similarly upheld in the 1998 case of Ople v. Torres. Most recently, the right to privacy was again upheld in the 2006 case of Sabio v. Gordon. Since the Philippine Supreme Court has already recognized the right to privacy in several cases, then this right also applies to sex, marriage, and procreation, as shown by the American cases. Because of our judicial history, today, American cases are no longer decisive, but American cases remain authoritative in Philippine jurisdiction.
Constitutional Right of Parents Over Child Education
The Constitution provides: “The natural and primary right and duty of parents in the rearing of the youth for civic efficiency and the development of moral character shall receive the support of the Government.”
There is no equivalent provision in the United States Constitution. But in a 1990 decision, the US Supreme Court upheld what is called the constitutional “right of parents . . . to direct the education of their children.”
This parental right was discussed in the 1972 case of Wisconsin v. Yoder. The U.S. Supreme Court held that Wisconsin could not require members of the Amish Church to send their children to public school after the eighth grade. The majority opinion cited due process rulings concerning parental rights. They focused on the Free Exercise Clause, and used the two-part balancing test, meaning striking a balance between public interest and individual rights. The two parts are:
1. A significant burden on the free exercise of religion would have to be shown.
2. This burden would be balanced against the importance of the state’s interest, and the degree to which it would be impaired by a religious exemption.
The U.S. Court found that the parents’ refusal to send their children to school was based on religious belief. However, the Court found that there was a significant burden on the free exercise of religion. The Yoder decision was based on both the Free Exercise Clause, and the parental interest in directing the education of their children that was protected by the Due Process Clause.
Senate Bill No. 2865 provides in Section 13 for age- and development- appropriate reproductive health education. If there is any objection to Sec. 13, 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. Such an amendment would make the Yoder case inapplicable to the Philippines.
RH Bill is PH Obligation Under International Law
The Constitution under Article 2 on the Declaration of Principles provides in Sec. 2 that the Philippines “adopts the generally accepted principles of international law as part of the law of the land.” Therefore, when the Philippines becomes a party to an international treaty or convention, its principles become part of our international obligation. If our country fails to discharge these obligations, we can be held liable under international law, and we run the risk of being branded as a rogue state, or as a pariah in the international community. That is what would happen if we fail to pass the RH bill.
Conservative Catholics are still opposing the RH bill. But as early as 1968, the Philippines already participated in the International Conference on Human Rights, and became a party to the Final Act, known as the Proclamation of Teheran, which explicitly provides:
The protection of the family and of the child remains the concern of the international community. Parents have a basic human right to determine freely and responsibly the number and spacing of their children.
As a Philippine commitment, the Proclamation of Teheran was followed by the 1976 International Covenant on Economics, Cultural, and Social Rights. It provides in Article 12:
1. The States Parties to the present Covenant recognize the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.
2. The steps to be taken by the States Parties to the present Covenant to achieve the full realization of this right shall include those necessary for:
(a) The provision for the reduction of the stillbirth-rate and of infant mortality and for the healthy development of the child;
Subsequently, the Philippines became a party to the 1979 UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, also known as CEDAW. This innovative and ambitious treaty already had 187 states parties as of 7 July 2011. It provides:
Women have the right to decide freely and responsibly on the number and spacing of . . . children and to have access to the information, education, and means to enable these rights.
States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in the field of health care in order to ensure, as a basis of equality of men and women, access to health care services, including those related to family planning.
The Philippines further became a state party to the Programme of Action of the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development, which includes the following commitments:
– Ensuring women’s ability to control their own fertility, as one of the cornerstones of population and development policies.
– Making family planning universally available by 2015 or sooner, and calling on Governments to make these resources available.
– Reducing infant, child, and maternal mortality; and ensuring universal access by 2015 to reproductive health care, including family planning, assisted childbirth, and prevention of sexually transmitted infections, including HIV/AIDS.
To summarize, the Philippines is already committed to our RH law, and to debate this commitment at this time is too late and pointless.
Principle of Pacta Sunt Servanda
The Philippines is a party to the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties. It defines a treaty as “an international agreement concluded between States in written form and governed by international law, whether embodied in a single instrument or in two or more related instruments, and whatever its particular designation.” The instrument can be designated as a treaty, convention, protocol, covenant, charter, statute, act, declaration, etc.
The Philippines is a party to various treaties which impose the obligation to protect reproductive health. If we fail to pass the RH bill, it is highly likely that the Philippines would be designated as “in breach of international obligation.” The law of treaties plays a role in international law similar to that played by the law of contracts in municipal law. Since the Philippines is a party to various treaties providing for reproductive health of mother and child, for Congress to fail once more to pass the RH bill is tantamount to breaking a contract with other states.
The Vienna Convention provides: “Every treaty in force is binding upon the parties and must be performed by them in good faith.” This provision embodies two principles: the principle of pacta sunt servanda; and the principle of good faith. The Latin term pacta sunt servanda means that agreements must be kept. The term “good faith” in law means faithfulness to one’s duty or obligation.
The Philippines is a party to a number of treaties imposing the duty to protect the health of mother and child. These treaties in principle are binding only on the parties. But their effect goes further than that. These treaties are so-called “law-making treaties,” because they have a strong law-creating effect. Unlike contractual treaties, law-making treaties are not dissolved, after their legal obligations have been observed. Law-making treaties create general norms for the future conduct of parties.
Law-making treaties include the conclusions of international conferences and resolutions of the UN General Assembly. The “Final Act” or other statement of conclusions of a conference of states is a form of multilateral treaty, even if it was not adopted unanimously. The resolutions of the UN General Assembly in general are not binding on member states. But when such resolutions are concerned with norms of general international law, their acceptance by a majority vote constitutes evidence of the opinions of governments.