Women Fighting Manila’s Contraceptive Ban Press On

Carolina Austria

Arguing that their petition to overturn Manila's ban on modern family planning services is an issue of "transcendental importance," Manila residents ask the Court of Appeals to hear their case.

Manila residents who petitioned
to lift former Mayor Ateinza’s ban on modern family planning methods
suffered a setback recently when the Court of Appeals
dismissed the Petition

they filed early this year.

The appellate court’s resolution
directed the petitioners to file their case before the regional trial
court but counsel for the petitioners argued that the case, being one
of "transcendental importance," involved pure questions of law,
which the Court of Appeals had the jurisdiction to decide. In the past,
the Philippine Supreme Court has ruled that the Courts in cases involving issues of transcendental
legal questions with serious implications on public interests may set
aside procedural technicalities and consider a petition. The
Petitioners are hoping that the Court will consider this case, a plea
to lift the ban on comprehensive family planning methods in Manila,
such an issue. The ban, which was instituted by former Mayor Atienza,
has been in effect for over nine years.

Dr. Junice D. Melgar, chair of the Reproductive Health Advocacy Network (RHAN) Policy and Legislative
Committee, confirmed that the petitioners remain very committed to the
case and from early on, indicated their willingness to take the case
all the way to the Supreme Court, if necessary. (Dr. Junice Melgar
was interviewed by Al Jazeera early in March and spoke about the case.

Elizabeth Pangalangan, legal counsel for the petitioners, also pointed out that the parties
filed the case as indigents, pleading with the Court to exempt them
from the payment of applicable court and docket fees. In a Motion for
Reconsideration questioning the Court of Appeal’s dismissal, the petitioners
claimed that they would suffer "substantial injustice" following
a dismissal from the court. The only recourse left for the petitioners
if this were to happen is to re-file the case before the Manila Regional
Trial Court.

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Claire V. Luczon, executive director of Womenlead and chair of the RHAN Legal Committee, supported
the call of the Petitioners to keep the fight going. She clarified that:
"The case is very important not just for the resident petitioners
whose rights were prejudiced by the Atienza ban but for all Manila residents
who remain unable to access complete reproductive health care in the
City’s public health facilities simply because the ban has not been

Meanwhile, as the Petitioners await the Court of Appeal’s final decision on their Motion for
Reconsideration, like other Manila residents,
for modern birth control options they have to rely on both private NGO sources as well as nearby cities for
their family planning needs

Atienza imposed his views on
Catholic teaching adopting the ban on contraceptives in Manila but current Mayor
Alfredo Lim, who is himself a devout Catholic, professes respect for the "choice"
of couples in family planning. The conflicting positions on Family Planning
by the former and current Mayor is nothing new in Catholic circles.
A 2006 Catholics for Free
Choice study
that Catholics’ views on family planning differ almost everywhere
in the world and that even Catholic theologians emphasize the importance of individual
"conscience" in making a decision on contraceptive use.

Despite the pronouncements
of Mayor Lim, who says that, unlike Atienza, he favors
and supports free and informed consent as to family planning methods,
not all of Manila’s facilities have been able to reinstate modern
methods in their service delivery because the City has yet to include
a budget for the services. This February, Quezon City, a neighboring
city, passed an ordinance

providing for reproductive health care for its constituents on a vote
of 25-1 and allocated a budget of 12 million pesos for the program.
While the new Mayor has welcomed private organizations and donations
of reproductive health care services to benefit his constituents, the
remaining question is whether he will have a change of heart on lifting
the policy which as it is worded, "discourages" modern family planning
methods and favors only Natural Family Planning (NFP).

"The only reason the case
is directed against the City and the Office of the Mayor is because
obviously, he has the power to make the change and junk the policy,"
Luczon added. In fact, the Mayor can lift the ban sans a direct order
from any Court and institute a comprehensive reproductive health program
with the assistance of the City Council.

What this really means is that
despite the pending case, the ball, is clearly in the Mayor’s court.

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