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Legal Experts Challenge Constitutionality of Seven Balanga Barangays Restricting Access to Contraceptives; Barangay Officials May Be Dismissed

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“Legal experts Dean Pacifico Agabin and Professor Alfredo Tadiar and legal organizations such as the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers and EnGendeRights filed their position papers with the Sangguniang Panglunsod of Balanga, Bataan last Monday, September 5, challenging the constitutionality of the barangay ordinances restricting access to contraceptives.  The Mayor and Vice-Mayor were also furnished copies of the four position papers last Monday. 

 

The same position papers were also mailed yesterday to the seven Sangguniang Barangays urging them to junk said ordinances for being unconstitutional.

 

There are two more position papers, one by the Alternative Law Groups and another one by EnGendeRights on adolescent reproductive rights, which will be submitted within the next few days to the Balanga Sanggunian Panglunsod and the seven Sangguniang Barangays urging them to junk said ordinances.

 

The seven barangays with restrictive ordinances are Barangay Cupang Proper, Barangay Cupang West, Barangay Puerto Rivas Ibaba, Barangay Puerto Rivas Itaas, Barangay Puerto Rivas Lote, Barangay Tortugas, and Barangay Tanato.  The seven barangay ordinances penalize the sale,  promotion, advertisement, and prescription of modern contraceptives including hormonal contraceptives and intrauterine devices (IUDs), prohibit barangay funds to be used for the purchase or provision of such contraceptives, prohibit barangay officials from soliciting, accepting, or dispensing such contraceptives,  penalize business enterprises by declaring void their barangay permits for violating the provisions of the ordinances, penalize the conduct of sex education to minor students if this is done without prior consultation and written permission of the parents, and solely promote the so-called natural family planning method (NFP) in the seven Balanga barangays.

 

There are reports from local residents that the Sangguniang Barangay of Catangi drafted an identical ordinance but the Sangguniang Barangay decided to withhold the signing of its draft ordinance upon hearing that the seven barangay ordinances were going to be challenged.

 

“The provisions of the seven barangay ordinance in Balanga, Bataan can be struck down for being ultra vires, prejudicial to public welfare, unconstitutional, inconsistent with existing laws such as the Local Government Code of 1991, Magna Carta of Women (RA 9710), Philippine AIDS Prevention and Control Act of 1998 (RA 8504), and for violating international laws,” said Atty.  Clara Rita Padilla, executive director of EnGendeRights.

 

Atty. Padilla added, “The ordinances prohibit rights that are constitutionally guaranteed.  The ordinances infringe on the rights to reproductive health, equal protection of the law and privacy by unduly restricting access to legal, safe, and effective methods of contraception.  These ordinances contribute to the unintended pregnancies and maternal deaths related to pregnancy, childbirth, and unsafe abortion which could be averted with increased access to modern contraceptives.”

 

“The ordinances passed by the seven barangays erroneously define contraceptives as abortifacient.  This definition is not based on medical science but on the barangay officials’ conservative religious beliefs.  The constitutional guarantees on separation of church and state and non-establishment of religion prohibit using conservative religious beliefs as basis for crafting our laws. Public officials must enact laws that ensure women’s right to life and health and public health and not those that aid religion.  As decided by our Supreme Court, our standard in law should be secular standard and not religious standards.  All these constitutional guarantees are there to maintain public good and uphold human rights,” Atty. Padilla continued.

 

Good governance demands ensuring the right to control one’s fertility with proper access to information, supplies and services on reproductive health including modern contraceptives and the right to sexuality education.  

 

In light of the obligation of the Philippine government to protect women’s rights to equality, non-discrimination, life and health under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the Magna Carta of Women, it is imperative that the Sangguniang Panglunsod and Sangguniang Barangays junk these unconstitutional ordinances. 

 

Dismissal or Suspension of Barangay Officials who Enforce the Ordinances Despite Suspension

 

The Sangguniang Panlungsod of Balanga City exercised its power of review on the ordinances and returned the same with its comments to the seven Sangguniang Barangays.  Having done so, the effectivity of the barangay ordinance is suspended.  Any barangay official who is enforcing the suspended ordinance may be suspended or dismissed under Sec. 58 of the Local Government Code (LGC). 

 

Results of interviews with Barangay Officials and Health Centers at the Seven Barangays conducted on Wednesday, September 7, 2011:

 

Cupang Proper

 

Health Center-   The Center does not allow injectables even if the women come to them with their own injectables.  They don’t prescribe pills.  One local organizer witnessed how a health provider outrightly rejected a woman last Wednesday who came to the Center seeking to get a ligation and they refused that woman saying ligation is prohibited at the Center. 

 

Barangay-  One barangay council member said they will warn a pharmacy if they found out that pharmacy was selling contraceptives.

 

Cupang West

 

Health Center- The Center does not prescribe pills.

 

Puerto Rivas Lote

 

Health Center – The Center does not prescribe contraceptives. 

 

Barangay- The barangay hall has a tarpaulin claiming to show how pills kill fetuses.

 

Puerto Rivas Ibaba

 

Health Center – The Center does not allow injectables and actively promotes NFP.  The Center does not prescribe contraceptives. 

 

Barangay- The barangay actively conducts an education campaign discouraging the use of contraceptives.  They have a plan to conduct a 27-week campaign to be held every Thursday educating its residents on why modern contraceptives should not be used.  They also have a tarpaulin claiming to show how pills kill fetuses.

 

Tortugas

 

Health Center – The Center does not allow injectables and pills and does not prescribe contraceptives. 

 

Barangay- The barangay is actively promoting the use of NFP and aims to have educated all couples in their barangay on NFP by the end of 2011.

 

Mounting Repression

 

There are reports that even before the ordinances were passed, all the health centers in the seven barangays did not provide free pills or free injection.  Health service providers claim that they have an express order to prohibit pills coming from the City Health Officer.  There are also reports from Barangay Health Workers that they are afraid of injecting women with injectables for fear of reprisal.

 

EnGendeRights staff personally witnessed how Barangay Health Workers were extremely fearful of attending our consultation leading to their strained decision not to attend our consultation for fear of losing their much-needed honorarium which was their main source of living.

 

These are examples of mounting repression by local government units in restricting access to modern contraceptives and infringing on the rights to sexual and reproductive health

 

Need for the Immediate Passage of a Comprehensive RH Bill into Law

 

“The fact that anti-choice fundamentalist groups have passed these restrictive ordinances provides additional rationale for the passage into law of a comprehensive Reproductive Health Care Law which identifies a clear program on reproductive health, disallowing restrictions on modern contraceptives, requiring budgetary allocation to make information and services on reproductive health more accessible especially to the poor and to adolescents who lack access to such information and services.   These restrictive ordinances and the human rights violations provide evidence on the urgent need to immediately pass a comprehensive reproductive health care bill (RH bill) into law.  A comprehensive RH law will prohibit local government officials from enacting these kinds of unreasonable and discriminatory ordinances,” said Atty. Padilla.

 

Filing of Complaints with the CHR and DILG

 

We are also filing of complaints against these local government officials with the Commission on Human Rights and the Department of Interior and Local Government so that these reproductive rights violations will not be committed with impunity. Atty. Clara Rita “Claire” A. Padilla, Executive Director, EnGendeRights, Inc.

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