The Massacre Victims of Luneta and Maguindanao

The victims of the Luneta massacre —Chinese tourists from Hong Kong —and the victims of the Maguindanao massacre have much in common. Both were victims of multiple murders at the hands of state agents. The Luneta Hong tourists died in the hands of Rolando Mendoza and the inept PNP members, many of whom also shot and killed them. The Maguindanao massacre victims were killed by suspects, all of whom are government agents—from elected officials to state multipliers such as the civilan volunteer organizations (CVOs) and the Citizen Armed Force Geographical Unit (CAFGUs).

Both sets of victims have been waiting for a long time for justice. In the case of the Luneta hostages, their plight is slightly worse off because no one at all has been charged for the killings. The Maguindanao victims, on the other hand, stand to wait hundred sof years for justice given that four years later, more than 80 of the suspected perpetrators still have to be arrested.

Further, while all of them are victims of violations of the right to life, not one of them has received satisfaction in the form of an apology from the state. Neither has any of them received compensation from the state.

President Aquino and his cohorts have offered identical reasons why the Philippine government has not and will not apologize nor pay compensation to them. In the case of the Luneta victims, its is because Mendoza—not Mendoza – was solely at fault. In the case of the Maguinadanao massacre, it is because it was former President Gloria Arroyo and her allies at fault, and not the Aquino administration.

The President’s refusal to both apologize and pay compensation to all victims of the violation of the right to life is a continuing breach of international human rights law. Under the articles of state responsibility, a state incurs responsibility for an internationally wrongful act when it breaches a norm of international law and when it is committed by a person whose acts may be attributable to the state. Both of these elements are found in the Luneta and the Maguindanao massacres.

Under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, states have the duty to protect and promote, among others, the right to life of their people. This is a guarantee against the arbitrary taking of life. But since the Philippines no longer has the death penalty, all killings are hence unlawful in the Philippines. The only question to invoke international responsibility for these killings is this: Who perpetrated them? If it is through a state agent or a private person acting upon orders or control of the state, then the state will be in breach of the obligation anent the right to life.

It is crystal clear that the killers in both massacres are state agents. Mendoza was with the PNP, albeit then suspended, while the rest of the bullets were “friendly fire” from other PNP officers. Meanwhile, the fiasco that led to the firefight, including the decision not to take down Mendoza earlier and to use force belatedly were formulated by other state agents. For this decision, a committee headed by Justice Secretary Leila De Lima recommended that criminal charges be filed against those who formulated the botched policy. Those recommended to be charged included then-Mayor Alfredo Lim, then-PNP General Jesus Versoza, and then-DILG Undersecretary Rico Puno. Strangely enough, until today, none of these individuals have been charged for anything.

In the case of the Maguindanao massacre, there can be no doubt that while the criminal cases against the suspected murderers are still on-going, all of those charged for the multiple murder are all state agents. There were two governors: of ARMMM and Maguindanao, mayors, vice-mayors, military men, and members again of the PNP. There too were CVOs and CAFGUs whose members are auxiliary members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines as force multipliers. In fact, although these paramilitary groups consist of members of a private army, they were nonetheless conferred the status of state agents by reason of an Executive Order issued by Mrs. Arroyo which, until now, remains in force.

But where do the victims differ?

Their nationalities. And boy, this makes a hell of a big difference.

The Luneta massacre victims are of course Hong Kong residents and nationals of China. The Maguindanao massacre victims are all Filipinos. This means that while the Luneta victims can expect their rights to be espoused by their state, the Maguindanao massacre victims cannot look forward to any support from their own state. True, the latter’s criminal cases have been prosecuted in the name of the Republic by public prosecutors. Big deal. Every single one of the victims has their own private prosecutors anyway. This is evidence that the victims have not relied on the state alone even for the conviction of the suspects for murder. Moreover, given the proximity of the accused to the then-administration of PGMA, many of them believe that even the manner by which the prosecution was initiated: against 197 accused and hence, guaranteed to take forever, was a means to ensure impunity for the very influential family accused of committing the murders. But meanwhile, anent their claim for satisfaction in the form of apology and compensation, the Maguindanao victims, unlike their Hong Kong counterparts, could only fend for themselves since it is their own state that has decided against issuing to them an apology and paying them compensation.

Meanwhile, the fact that Hong Kong has already taken steps to espouse the claim of their nationals against the Philippine government can only be the source of envy for the victims of the Maguindanao massacre. For while their own government has denied them their rights as victims, at least their Hong Kong counterparts can still hope to get satisfaction and compensation. Perhaps there is solace for them in this thought.

Some clearly are luckier then others. Sad.


It took a celebrity to call attention to the inherent weakness of our criminal justice system. By now, only Filipinos in Mars have not heard of what happened to the comedian. Apparently, he visited a woman who speaks like Melanie Marquez. Then he was beaten black and blue, probably sexually humiliated, illegally detained and made to confess to a rape. He was brought to a police station in Taguig where remarkably, the police did not bother to inquire how he sustained his injuries and was not assisted to get medical assistance. Instead, the police blottered what the alleged woman victim claimed was an attempted or consummated rape. But because a rape is a personal crime and requires the consent of the woman to be initiated, no charge of rape was made. The woman declined to press charges against him.

Navarro was also brought to the station in the company of the men who admitted to have beaten him up allegedly in defense of the woman who cried rape. The neighbors  though in the condominium unit where the alleged rape and the torture occurred have spoken to the media and said  that they did not hear any strange occurrence form the unit on the date and time involved. Of course the determination of what actually happened will still have to be threshed out in a court of law. All the actors in this real life drama are wealthy and have retained the most expensive lawyers in town. But meanwhile, and as observers, we cannot help but question the actuation of the police when Vhong was brought to their station for blotter purposes. Why for instance, did they not inquire as the reason why he sustained serious physical injuries, which on the basis of media images, could not have been missed by the police? Why was he not brought immediately to a government doctor for mandatory forensic and medical examination? Why was the woman who cried rape not referred to the woman’s desk officer so she can be counseled on the issue of whether to press charges or not? Why was the woman herself not advised to have a medical examination to document the alleged rape? But worse, given that Vhong Navarro allegedly confessed to a rape, why was he, despite his sorry physical conviction, not asked if he was voluntarily giving his statement? Why did the police not take steps to ensure that the celebrity was not a victim of torture? Torture has long been considered amongst the most serious crimes committed not only in domestic jurisdictions, but also against humanity itself. Presidents, such as Pinochet, Milosevic, Marcos, and Senegal’s Habre have been prosecuted for it despite their pleas of sovereign immunity. In Pinochet, the UK House of Lords ruled that while sovereign immunity continues to be recognized under international law, torture is an international crime and can never be a sovereign act. Hence, presidents accused of committing them should not enjoy immunity from suit. Furthermore, under the Convention Against Torture, which has been rarified by the Philippines, police authorities are under a positive obligation to investigate where information exists to suggest that torture may have been committed. Certainly, the injuries sustained by Navarro, coupled with information that he was beaten by a group of persons albeit allegedly in defense of strangers and a confession, should have prompted authorities to conclude that they are probably dealing with a case of torture. Torture is defined under both international law and our domestic law as the “infliction of physical or mental pain” for the purpose, among others, of extracting a confession.  (The Philippines has two laws with contradictory definitions of torture. RA 9851 does not require the perpetrator to be a state agent. RA  9745 does) All the elements of the international crime appear to be present in the Vhong Navarro incident. Eventually, the question is: if one of the country’s most recognizable personalities could be a victim of torture with our police oblivious to this fact; what happened to ordinary people? One can imagine the fate of the faceless and faceless detainees in our police camps why have routinely been subjected to torture by the police themselves. Already, Amnesty International and the Commission of Human Rights have declared the existence of a torture chamber in a camp intended for the Special Forces of the PNP. What these organizations have uncovered is a long-standing practice of torturing detainees, those who still have to be found guilty of the commission of any crime, for sheer fun and pleasure of our men in uniform. With this kind of a culture amongst our law enforcers, should we still be surprised that Vhong did not get any form of police assistance at a time when he actually needed it? I can only commiserate with the plight of Vhong. But still, he should still consider himself lucky. He has the support of  his fans and his television station solidly behind him. For if he were an ordinary Filipino who was tortured, he would surely have become just another anonymous number in the statistics of the number Filipinos who have been tortured and denied any and all forms of remedies.

Access to electricity is a human right

I was one of those who called over the weekend for Congress to declare a state of national emergency and grant the President the power to temporarily take over the running of both the power generation and distribution industries. This was in response to Meralco’s statement that the temporary restraining order issued recently by the Supreme Court against what could have been Meralco’s biggest increase in electricity cost will lead to power disruptions and brownouts.

I made this call amid testimony made by officials from the Energy Regulatory Commission in the Senate that there is now evidence of “detectable collusion” among power generators. This, they said, was because power generators are also players in the spot market where Meralco purchases its electricity:  “gaming in the spot market and shutting down without justification are clear indications of collusion.”

In response thereto, the chairman of the committee, Senator Antonio Trillanes, concluded: “It’s clear there’s conflict of interest. It appears you shut down here and then you sell there; it’s higher there”.

In the first place, the business of power generation and distribution are imbued with the public interest. This is because these industries sell an indispensible commodity, electricity, to the general public. This is why these businesses are recipients of a franchise to operate. This is a privilege bestowed on the state only to those who are deserving—this is not a right. This is also why when we privatized these industries through the Epira law, Congress still granted the ERC the power to fix rates for electricity. Simply put, these businesses are subject to close regulation because their business will affect the welfare of the general public who are the end users of their commodity.

But my call for the temporary takeover was not only because these companies have breached their obligations to provide a convenience to the general public. On the contrary, I advocated their temporary takeover because in addition to being mere recipients of a state privilege—which can hence be revoked when the interest of the public requires this—what is involved here is a human right, which a State is duty bound to take progressive steps to realize.

Perhaps the confusion over access to electricity as a human right is because there is a dearth of human rights treaties that explicitly mention that it is a human right. In fact, there is only the Convention on the Elimination on Discrimination Against Women that provides for it as a right: “States should take steps to ensure that … women … shall enjoy adequate living conditions particularly in relation to … electricity”.

Despite this paucity of literal sources for the right to access to electricity, it is accepted in the field that this right is covered by Article 11 of the International Covenant on the Economic Social and Cultural Right (ICESCR), which imposes an obligation on State Parties to the Covenant to “recognize the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living, including adequate food, clothing and housing, and the continuous improvement of living conditions.”  Essentially, this obligation requires every nation to provide human habitation with all the other accompanying facilities in it such as electricity. As opined by a leading NGO: “Inadequate power supply is one issue that generates feelings of helplessness, sometimes anger or outright disgust. Experience has clearly shown that the absence of electricity constitutes one single major factor impeding the full achievement of these rights.”

Thanks to an exposure trip sponsored by the Bertha Foundation to India, I have since discovered that a Mumbai High Court was the first to apply this right to access to electricity in domestic law. In ruling that informal settlers have the right to access to electricity, the High Court ruled: “access to electricity should be construed as a human right. Denial of it would amount to violation of human rights… Lack of electricity supply is one of the determinative factors, affecting education, health and a cause of economy disparity, and consequently, inequality in society leading to poverty. Electricity supply is an aid to get information and knowledge. Children without electricity supply cannot even imagine competing with others.”

A concurring opinion to this decision said: “Lack of electricity denies people equal opportunities in the matter of education and consequently suitable employment, health, sanitation and other socio-economic rights. Right to electricity of a person… is integral to the achievement of socio-economic rights…It is the fundamental duty of the authorities to show compassion to those who are living in huts and tenements for long. When socio and economic justice is the mandate of the Constitution, it is a travesty of justice to deny electricity to the petitioners.”

Let’ s hope that our very own Supreme Court does not only find grave abuse and discretion in this latest Meralco increase. Let’s hope it also goes further and recognizes access to electricity as a human right.

Human rights highlights in 2013

imagesThis will be an annual tradition. For as long as I have a column to write, I will devote my first column of the year to a summary of the highlights for human rights in the Philippines.

For the year 2013, here are what I consider the highlights:

1. The detention and maltreatment of Tausug Filipinos on a mission to reclaim Sabah. First on my list is the maltreatment suffered by the Filipinos as a consequence of the decision of Sultan Jamalul Kiram of the Sultanate of Sulu to reclaim Sabah. Not only is the Sultanate’s title as clear as the light of day. The arbitrary arrest of Filipinos, which really was a witch hunt, coupled with the disproportionate use of force employed by the federation of Malaysia, and the arrest of journalists from ABS-CBN, GMA and Al Jazeera covering the event, highlight the sorry state of human rights in the Southeast Asian region. I highlighted this event because it should be taken as a reason for our own state to comply with the letter and spirit of human rights law: do not do to others what you do not want to be done to your own people;

2. The challenge to the 2012 Cybercrimes Prevention Law. Not since the first quarter storm and the 1986 people power revolution have we seen the youth of this country united in their opposition against an Orwellian attempt to infringe on freedom of expression in the medium intended to institutionalize the free market place of ideas. What is noteworthy is not just the petitions filed against the law, but the use of the Internet as a medium for protest. Regardless of how the Supreme Court rules on the legality of the law, the fact is the youth have rediscovered activism in a new medium—in cyberspace.

3. The Palace position that it would not pay compensation to victims of the Ampatuan Massacre. The year 2013 was the year when the PNoy administration made clear its position that it would not pay compensation to the victims of the Ampatuan massacre. This is clearly a breach of the state obligation under human rights law to provide compensation to victims of violations of the right to life. Independent of the guilt of the accused in the pending criminal cases against the Ampatuans and their cohorts, the state has the obligation to pay compensation to those whose loved ones were killed by state agents despite the state’s obligation to protect and promote the victims right to life.

4. The Philippine position not to support UN Human Rights Council resolutions condemning the attacks against civilians in Syria. Alleging that neutrality to the ongoing systematic attacks perpetrated by the Assad regime against its civilian population was the best means to protect Filipinos in Syria, the Philippine government declined to support any UN Human Rights Council resolution condemning the attacks against civilians in Syria. In adopting this position of neutrality, Filipino policy makers assumed that bullets used by the Assad regime could distinguish between a Syrian and a Filipino worker in Syria. Clearly, the duty to protect our nationals in troubled spots like Syria requires our government to support all initiatives to uphold and promote both human rights and humanitarian law in these troubled lands. This, in fact, is the only means that we can ensure that our diaspora do not fall victim to rampant and systematic human rights violations;

5. Indiscriminate violation of International Humanitarian Law in the Zamboanga siege. Regrettably, IHL, as the law applicable in armed conflicts, found additional application as a result of the Zamboanga siege. Regrettably, both the MNLF and the AFP were noted to have committed grave breaches of the law which is accepted by all countries in this planet as being non-derogable. Both parties to the conflict were observed to have been guilty of indiscriminate attacks against civilian populations.

The AFP order to indiscriminately detain individuals who cannot recite the Lord’s Prayer as possible MNLF members deserves special mention as this violates both the right of the people to be secure in their persons and the right of the people to liberty;

6. The Supreme Court decisions invalidating the PDAF, the Presidential Social Fund and Illegal Disbursement of the Malampaya funds. The decision declaring the pork barrel expenditures as unconstitutional impacts on human rights because hopefully, government funds could now be used to discharge the state obligation to take progressive steps in the realization of economic, social, cultural and economic rights. Hopefully, the hundreds of billions in taxpayers money which used to go to the pockets of our corrupt politicians can now be used to give realization to such basic rights such as the right to food, water, housing, and public health;

7. Finally, the temporary restraining order issued by the Supreme Court on the implementation of the Reproductive Health Law. This was a big blow to the right of the people to heath, the right of privacy, the right to make very personal decisions such as the number of offsprings that spouses would want, and the right of women to non-discrimination.

I hope that 2014 will usher in both a Happy New Year to all and better compliance with human rights and humanitarian law in the Philippines.

Fences and hope in Madiba’s South Africa

Pretoria, South Africa—Fences. They’re all over Madiba’s South Africa. They are part of South Africa’s everyday life, a testament to its recent history.

And they’re not just ordinary fences. They’re built of steel or hard concrete. Many of them do not just have spikes on top of them. Instead, they have electric wires. Nope, they’re not just intended to shoo away intruders. They have enough electricity to kill.

Sadly, these fences are considered necessities. In fact, they are installed and maintained by monolithic security companies that served as precursors to companies like Blackwater in Iraq. They’re private but are now relied upon by the rich Caucasians as key to their survival in Madiba’s Africa.

Not all is well with Nelson Mandela’s South Africa. While the nation truly mourns the loss of one of humanity’s greatest freedom icon, the future of the country for whom Mandela would have died appears to be unsettled.

Breakdown of peace and order is the primary concern. Almost everyone that I have spoken to here has been a victim of a violent crime: a consul and his wife whose room at a bed and breakfast in the good part of town was broken into, a UN official robbed at gun-point, an elderly Filipina who was hogtied by robbers who broke into her house. Senior diplomats have not been spared, triggering security concerns for Vice-President Jejomar Binay’s security who moves around town with only a handful of security personnel. There was the Thai diplomat whose vehicle was hijacked in broad daylight, the Uruguayan Ambassador whose diplomatic residence was broken into. Mrs. Yoko Ramos, our Ambassador’s wife, says that the security concern in genteel Pretoria is so bad that her “four-year-old daughter and her yaya do not venture into the secured garden of the Philippine Ambassadors residence” already located in the best part of town.

Why is there a breakdown of peace and order? Why has Madiba’s country become the crime capital of the world?

Certainly, an explanation is that South Africa remains to be a society in transition. It has only been 19 years when the icon now lying in state about 2000 meters from my hotel room became President of a country that was notorious for apartheid—the systematic racial segregation of the black and whites. I first read about this racist policy in grade school and was moved to tears when I read about it on a current affairs handout. But unless you personally see the charm of the areas intended for the whites- such as Joberg and Pretoria—and compare it with the black enclaves of Soweto, one cannot have a clear picture of how pernicious the system of apartheid was.

But beyond being a transition society, it is also an economy of such harsh contradiction.

I expected Joberg to be a giant slum area much like Mumbai which I saw in 1996. But it isn’t. For all intents and purposes, the Dutch and the British have transformed this part of Africa into a not-so-little Europe. And looks are deceiving. For while Joberg and Pretoria are amongst the most picturesque cities in the world, it has one of the harshest economy with 35 percent  of the population, almost all of whom are black, currently unemployed. And unless one ventures two hours beyond the limits of Victorian Pretoria into the wilds of the Northeast, one does not see the metal houses occupied by majority of the blacks today. Yes, they’re no different from the slums of Malabon or Pasay. But slum dwellers here, unlike in Metro Manila, have to live through very cold winters and chilly summer nights of 18-20 degrees Celsius.

But they still mourn and celebrate the life of Madiba. It was he, after all, who led the revolution against the racist apartheid regime. In so doing, he sent the message to all that people are equal no matter what their skin colors may be. And while he himself spent decades in prison and was a victim of torture, he rejected the temptation of revenge and preached forgiveness until his dying moments. By the standards of many, it was his willingness to forgive that makes Nelson Mandela a saint.

So is there hope for Madiba’s land now that he has moved on to the great beyond?

Certainly. It has the natural resources that have made it the economic powerhouse of Africa. It is the world’s second-largest producer of fruits, much of it consumed by its former colonizers in Europe. It is an industrial economy, largely because it has had to live through many years of economic isolation. But more importantly, it will survive because Nelson Mandela, one of the greatest men to have roamed this earth, taught them that freedom should come with hope and the ability to forgive.

Our Ninoy and Cory Aquino will surely relish Nelson Mandela’s company in the great beyond. Meanwhile, though, I’m sure both are wondering: why is their son, President Noynoy, not here?


I am here in Pretoria as coach to the UP Law Team that competed in the 5th World Human Rights Moot Competition. Our thanks to the hospitality extended to us by Ambassador Bong Vingno and his wife, Madame Yoko.

P Noy: Why have thou forsaken us?

maguindanao1I wondered what P Noy would say in this year’s SONA about the Maguindanao massacre and other cases of extralegal killings in the country. Since becoming President, he has consistently said something about this malaise. This may be because when he still seeking the people’s mandate, he sought an audience with our clients and promised that the prosecution of the perpetrators of the massacre would be on top of his priorities. This was why one of our clients, Myrna Reblando, wife of slain Manila Bulletin journalist, “Bong” Reblando, the only full time journalist of a national broad sheet to perish in the massacre, agreed to publicly endorse him in a television advertisement broadcasted at the tail end of the campaign period in 2010. That endorsement earned Myrna front seat sitting in P Noy’s inauguration at Luneta.

In 2010, while not expressly mentioning the Maguindanao massacre, P Noy did promise that he would “punish” the perpetrators of extrajudicial killings. In 2011, he expressed confidence that the Department of Justice will go after those behind these extrajudicial killings. In 2012, he expressly promised that he would accord the victims of the massacre justice. Earlier this year, the Secretary of Justice declared that the prosecution of the case would be finished within the term of P Noy.

I then expected that the President would reiterate De Lima’s promise to finish the prosecution of the case before 2016. Alternatively, I was hoping that our recent expose that about 14 of the victims almost entered into a settlement with the accused would prompt the government to discharge its duty to pay compensation to the victims as a consequence of the Philippine state’s breach of its obligation to protect and promote the right to life of the victims. While Deputy Presidential mouth Valte exhibited her gross ignorance of human rights law when she said that this administration will not pay compensation to the victims since it was not responsible for the massacre; I was hoping that those with brains in the administration, such as Secretary Leila De Lima or Secretary Ronald Llamas, maybe upon the prodding’s of CHR Chair Etta Rosales, would already correct the mistake of the mouth named Valte.

So for 1 hour 45 minutes, I, with millions of other Filipinos, eagerly awaited the Presidential pronouncement on how he would protect and promote the most important right of all rights, the right to life.

My heart was hence tattered into pieces when after an hour and forty-five minutes of waiting, the President concluded his SONA without mentioning a single word on either extrajudicial killings or the Maguindanao massacre. My immediate reaction was one of panic. Oh my God, I said, the President is not even sure that the trial of the century could be concluded during his term! If it could not be done during the term of one who had not benefitted from the Ampatuans of Maguindanao, what would happen to the case should the President to be elected in 2016 be indebted anew to the family of the accused? It would certainly be hopeless for the victims.

The fact that I felt this sense of despair is actually to commend P Noy. I have always acknowledged that he is one of the few politicians who did not benefit from the Ampatuans of Maguindanao. On the contrary, he was one of those who allegedly got zero votes in the province in the 2007 elections. This is reason to be confident that there would be a level playing field in the prosecution of the massacre during his administration. But the reality is outside of P Noy, almost all of the contenders in 2016, unless the likes of Grace Poe, Chiz Escudero, or Allan Cayetano make a go for the Presidency, have had some ties with the Ampatuans of Maguindanao. This means that the possibility of a conviction, at least during my lifetime, has dimmed. This is because P Noy’s silence on the massacre is an implied admission that no one is certain when the prosecution of the country’s worse massacre will conclude.

It was also worrisome that despite the fact that there have already been 15 cases of extrajudicial killings of journalists in P Noy’s three-year-old administration, the President was equally silent on what he intends to do with the perpetrators of these killings. This prompted the Human Rights Watch to declare, “We are dismayed that President Aquino, in his State of the Nation Address today, chose not to talk about the continuing culture of impunity in the Philippines. We are disappointed that he did not take the opportunity to communicate to the military and the police that they will be held accountable for human rights violations. President Aquino’s failure to denounce abuses against outspoken activists, environmentalists, clergy and journalists sends the wrong message to abusive security forces and corrupt politicians”. The Center for International Law, for its part declared: “The President’s failure to state how he intend to finish the prosecution of the massacre case points to a lack of political will to punish those who will violate freedom of the press and the right to life”.

As for the victims, three of them, Monette Salaysay, Editha Tiamzon, and Cipriana Gatchalian tearfully asked on the occasion of the 44th month commemoration of the massacre held only a day after the SONA: “why have thou forsaken us?”


Joinder of issues on the RH Law

As expected, the pro-lifers stuck to their mantra in their challenge to the RH law. They cited that since the constitutional drafters contemplated “fertilization” as the beginning of life, the RH law, insofar as it mandates the widespread use of the pills and IUD’s, which according to them prevent the implantation of the fertilized zygote into the womb of a mother, are abortifacient and hence, unconstitutional.

All could have been well in their argument had it not been for the fact that nowhere in the language of the Constitution is the word “fertilization” used. As initially observed by Senior Associate Antonio Carpio, the 1987 Constitution speaks of “conception’ as the beginning of life. He further underscored that while it us undeniable that at least 4 members of the Constitutional Commission talked of “fertilization” as the beginning of life, the over-all intent, nonetheless, was to ensure that the US Supreme Court decision of Roe v. Wade, the decision that legalized abortion, will never be adopted by the Philippine Supreme Court. There was nothing, said Carpio, that would indicate that the framers intended to prohibit Congress from passing any law that would promote the use of contraceptives as part of the people’s right to heath.

But it was Justice Diosdado Peralta who went to the crux of the matter. Where there is a conflict between the alleged intention of the framers of the organic law and the will of the people that ratified the Constitution, should not the court also ascertain the intent of the people? Justice Peralta was emphasizing the point that since the word “fertilization” was not used in the language of the Constitution, the people could only have intended to define the beginning of life at conception, the latter being the term used in the Constitution. And because conception was not defined in the Constitution, the people must have intended not to provide for such a definition in the Constitution. This maybe be, among others, because the people intended to leave such a definition to the realm of science.

The UP tandem of Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Serreno and Justice Marvic MVM Leonen then underscored that the Court has limited jurisdiction to interpret the Constitution. It cannot make laws. Justice Leonen, reminiscent of the thoughts expressed by our common law professor, former Justice Vicente V. Mendoza, elucidated that the thresholds to justiciabiity was intended to limit the exercise of judicial functions to” actual disputes or controversies” amongst parties with” standing”, or those who have shown to have suffered a material injury as a result of a decision by a judicial or quasi-judicial body. Justice Leonen then pondered whether petitioners should first go to FDA and complaint there that certain pills and IUD’s are abortifacients before going to the Supreme Court. The technical points expressed by J. Leonen and the Chief Justice underscore the fact that the Court is composed of unelected members who must give utmost deference to the acts of duly elected representatives of the people in Congress.

Of course the petitioners against the RH laws had very strong supporters in the Court. Justice Roberto Abad expressed strong objections against any artificial intervention in the reproductive system of human beings. This was supported by Justice Teresita De Castro who expressed the opinion that a zygote cannot otherwise be implanted in the womb if it not a living thing. While the Justices appear to have expressed their opinions on the raging controversy involving the role of contraceptives and religion in our society, the truth is that my own experience has taught me that the interrogations of the Justices are not reliable indication of how they will vote in the case.

Although there have only been two speakers representing the petitioners, what was achieved yesterday was a clear joiner of issues. In my mind, it is clear that if the court decides that life begins at fertilization, all contraceptives that go beyond preventing fertilization are prohibited. The use of these devices may consequently even be declared as criminal. If, however, the Court should decide that the Constitution only said that life begins at conception without defining when this takes place, then the use of contraceptives that have the effect – even if it is not exclusively- for preventing implantation, may not automatically be illegal. The FDA though may, by law, ban their use for public consumption.

Corollary to the issue of when life begins is the issue of how to interpret the constitution. Is it pursuant to the intent of the framers? Or should it be using the ordinary meaning of words used in the Constitution. Finally, there too is the issue of should the Court, because they are not physicians or scientists, dare venture an answer to the issue of when life begins?
These are, as admitted by CJ Sereno, very complicated issues. However the Court decides them, we will know soon enough.