Imbong v. Ochoa, Jr. (G.R. No. 204819; April 8, 2014)

CASE DIGEST: JAMES M. IMBONG, et al. v. HON. PAQUITO N. OCHOA, JR., et al. CONSOLIDATED PETITIONS: G.R. Nos. 204819, 204934, 204957, 204988, 205003, 205043, 205138, 205478, 205491, 205720, 206355, 207111, 207172 & 207563

FACTS: Nothing has polarized the nation more in recent years than the issues of population growth control, abortion and contraception. As in every democratic society, diametrically opposed views on the subjects and their perceived consequences freely circulate in various media. From television debates to sticker campaigns, from rallies by socio-political activists to mass gatherings organized by members of the clergy -the clash between the seemingly antithetical ideologies of the religious conservatives and progressive liberals has caused a deep division in every level of the society. Despite calls to withhold support thereto, however, Republic Act (R.A.) No. 10354, otherwise known as the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act of 2012 (RH Law), was enacted by Congress on December 21, 2012.Shortly after the President placed his imprimatur on the said law, challengers from various sectors of society came knocking on the doors of the Court, beckoning it to wield the sword that strikes down constitutional disobedience. Aware of the profound and lasting impact that its decision may produce, the Court now faces the iuris controversy, as presented in fourteen petitions and 2 petitions-in-intervention.

A perusal of the foregoing petitions shows that the petitioners are assailing the constitutionality of RH Law on the following grounds: The RH Law violates the right to life of the unborn, the right to health and the right to protection against hazardous products, and to religious freedom, equal protection clause, involuntary servitude, among others.

It is also contended that the RH Law threatens conscientious objectors of criminal prosecution, imprisonment and other forms of punishment, as it compels medical practitioners 1] to refer patients who seek advice on reproductive health programs to other doctors; and 2] to provide full and correct information on reproductive health programs and service, although it is against their religious beliefs and convictions.

It is also argued that the RH Law providing for the formulation of mandatory sex education in schools should not be allowed as it is an affront to their religious beliefs.

While the petitioners recognize that the guarantee of religious freedom is not absolute, they argue that the RH Law fails to satisfy the "clear and present danger test" and the "compelling state interest test" to justify the regulation of the right to free exercise of religion and the right to free speech.

In this connection, it is claimed that "Section 7 of the RH Law violates the right to due process by removing from them (the people) the right to manage their own affairs and to decide what kind of health facility they shall be and what kind of services they shall offer." It ignores the management perogative inherent in corporations for employers to conduct their affairs in accordance with their own discretion and judgment.

The respondents, aside from traversing the substantive arguments of the petitioners, pray for the dismissal of the petitions for the principal reasons that 1] there is no actual case or controversy and, therefore, the issues are not yet ripe for judicial determination.; 2] some petitioners lack standing to question the RH Law; and 3] the petitions are essentially petitions for declaratory relief over which the Court has no original jurisdiction.

Meanwhile, on March 15, 2013, the RH-IRR for the enforcement of the assailed legislation took effect.

On March 19, 2013, after considering the issues and arguments raised, the Court issued the Status Quo Ante Order (SQAO), enjoining the effects and implementation of the assailed legislation for a period of one hundred and twenty (120) days, or until July 17, 2013.

The petitioners are one in praying that the entire RH Law be declared unconstitutional. Petitioner ALFI, in particular, argues that the government sponsored contraception program, the very essence of the RH Law, violates the right to health of women and the sanctity of life, which the State is mandated to protect and promote.

ISSUES: [1] May the Court exercise its power of judicial review over the controversy? [2] Is the RH law unconstitutional?

HELD: Yes, the Court may exercise power of judicial review.

Lest it be misunderstood, it bears emphasizing that the Court does not have the unbridled authority to rule on just any and every claim of constitutional violation. Jurisprudence is replete with the rule that the power of judicial review is limited by four exacting requisites, viz : (a) there must be an actual case or controversy; (b) the petitioners must possess locus standi; (c) the question of constitutionality must be raised at the earliest opportunity; and ( d) the issue of constitutionality must be the lis mota of the case.

Proponents of the RH Law submit that the subject petitions do not present any actual case or controversy because the RH Law has yet to be implemented. They claim that the questions raised by the petitions are not yet concrete and ripe for adjudication since no one has been charged with violating any of its provisions and that there is no showing that any of the petitioners' rights has been adversely affected by its operation. In short, it is contended that judicial review of the RH Law is premature.

An actual case or controversy means an existing case or controversy that is appropriate or ripe for determination, not conjectural or anticipatory, lest the decision of the court would amount to an advisory opinion. The rule is that courts do not sit to adjudicate mere academic questions to satisfy scholarly interest, however intellectually challenging. The controversy must be justiciable-definite and concrete, touching on the legal relations of parties having adverse legal interests. In other words, the pleadings must show an active antagonistic assertion of a legal right, on the one hand, and a denial thereof, on the other; that is, it must concern a real, tangible and not merely a theoretical question or issue. There ought to be an actual and substantial controversy admitting of specific relief through a decree conclusive in nature, as distinguished from an opinion advising what the law would be upon a hypothetical state of facts.

Corollary to the requirement of an actual case or controversy is the requirement of ripeness. A question is ripe for adjudication when the act being challenged has had a direct adverse effect on the individual challenging it. For a case to be considered ripe for adjudication, it is a prerequisite that something has then been accomplished or performed by either branch before a court may come into the picture, and the petitioner must allege the existence of an immediate or threatened injury to himself as a result of the challenged action. He must show that he has sustained or is immediately in danger of sustaining some direct injury as a result of the act.

In this case, the Court is of the view that an actual case or controversy exists and that the same is ripe for judicial determination.

Considering that the RH Law and its implementing rules have already taken effect and that budgetary measures to carry out the law have already been passed, it is evident that the subject petitions present a justiciable controversy. As stated earlier, when an action of the legislative branch is seriously alleged to have infringed the Constitution, it not only becomes a right, but also a duty of the Judiciary to settle the dispute.

Moreover, the petitioners have shown that the case is so because medical practitioners or medical providers are in danger of being criminally prosecuted under the RH Law for vague violations thereof, particularly public health officers who are threatened to be dismissed from the service with forfeiture of retirement and other benefits. They must, at least, be heard on the matter NOW.

The OSG also assails the propriety of the facial challenge lodged by the subject petitions, contending that the RH Law cannot be challenged "on its face" as it is not a speech regulating measure.

The Court is not persuaded.

In United States (US) constitutional law, a facial challenge, also known as a First Amendment Challenge, is one that is launched to assail the validity of statutes concerning not only protected speech, but also all other rights in the First Amendment. These include religious freedom, freedom of the press, and the right of the people to peaceably assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. After all, the fundamental right to religious freedom, freedom of the press and peaceful assembly are but component rights of the right to one's freedom of expression, as they are modes which one's thoughts are externalized.

In this jurisdiction, the application of doctrines originating from the U.S. has been generally maintained, albeit with some modifications. While this Court has withheld the application of facial challenges to strictly penal statutes, it has expanded its scope to cover statutes not only regulating free speech, but also those involving religious freedom, and other fundamental rights. The underlying reason for this modification is simple. For unlike its counterpart in the U.S., this Court, under its expanded jurisdiction, is mandated by the Fundamental Law not only to settle actual controversies involving rights which are legally demandable and enforceable, but also to determine whether or not there has been a grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction on the part of any branch or instrumentality of the Government. Verily, the framers of Our Constitution envisioned a proactive Judiciary, ever vigilant with its duty to maintain the supremacy of the Constitution.

Consequently, considering that the foregoing petitions have seriously alleged that the constitutional human rights to life, speech and religion and other fundamental rights mentioned above have been violated by the assailed legislation, the Court has authority to take cognizance of these kindred petitions and to determine if the RH Law can indeed pass constitutional scrutiny. To dismiss these petitions on the simple expedient that there exist no actual case or controversy, would diminish this Court as a reactive branch of government, acting only when the Fundamental Law has been transgressed, to the detriment of the Filipino people.

The OSG also attacks the legal personality of the petitioners to file their respective petitions. It contends that the "as applied challenge" lodged by the petitioners cannot prosper as the assailed law has yet to be enforced and applied against them, and the government has yet to distribute reproductive health devices that are abortive.

The petitioners, for their part, invariably invoke the "transcendental importance" doctrine and their status as citizens and taxpayers in establishing the requisite locus standi.

Locus standi or legal standing is defined as a personal and substantial interest in a case such that the party has sustained or will sustain direct injury as a result of the challenged governmental act. It requires a personal stake in the outcome of the controversy as to assure the concrete adverseness which sharpens the presentation of issues upon which the court so largely depends for illumination of difficult constitutional questions.

In relation to locus standi, the "as applied challenge" embodies the rule that one can challenge the constitutionality of a statute only if he asserts a violation of his own rights. The rule prohibits one from challenging the constitutionality of the statute grounded on a violation of the rights of third persons not before the court. This rule is also known as the prohibition against third-party standing.

Notwithstanding, the Court leans on the doctrine that "the rule on standing is a matter of procedure, hence, can be relaxed for non-traditional plaintiffs like ordinary citizens, taxpayers, and legislators when the public interest so requires, such as when the matter is of transcendental importance, of overreaching significance to society, or of paramount public interest."

In Coconut Oil Refiners Association, Inc. v. Torres, the Court held that in cases of paramount importance where serious constitutional questions are involved, the standing requirement may be relaxed and a suit may be allowed to prosper even where there is no direct injury to the party claiming the right of judicial review. In the first Emergency Powers Cases, ordinary citizens and taxpayers were allowed to question the constitutionality of several executive orders although they had only an indirect and general interest shared in common with the public.

With these said, even if the constitutionality of the RH Law may not be assailed through an "as-applied challenge, still, the Court has time and again acted liberally on the locus standi requirement. It has accorded certain individuals standing to sue, not otherwise directly injured or with material interest affected by a Government act, provided a constitutional issue of transcendental importance is invoked. The rule on locus standi is, after all, a procedural technicality which the Court has, on more than one occasion, waived or relaxed, thus allowing non-traditional plaintiffs, such as concerned citizens, taxpayers, voters or legislators, to sue in the public interest, albeit they may not have been directly injured by the operation of a law or any other government act.

In view of the seriousness, novelty and weight as precedents, not only to the public, but also to the bench and bar, the issues raised must be resolved for the guidance of all. After all, the RH Law drastically affects the constitutional provisions on the right to life and health, the freedom of religion and expression and other constitutional rights. Mindful of all these and the fact that the issues of contraception and reproductive health have already caused deep division among a broad spectrum of society, the Court entertains no doubt that the petitions raise issues of transcendental importance warranting immediate court adjudication. More importantly, considering that it is the right to life of the mother and the unborn which is primarily at issue, the Court need not wait for a life to be taken away before taking action.

The Court cannot, and should not, exercise judicial restraint at this time when rights enshrined in the Constitution are being imperilled to be violated. To do so, when the life of either the mother or her child is at stake, would lead to irreparable consequences.


The respondents also assail the petitions because they are essentially petitions for declaratory relief over which the Court has no original jurisdiction. Suffice it to state that most of the petitions are praying for injunctive reliefs and so the Court would just consider them as petitions for prohibition under Rule 65, over which it has original jurisdiction. Where the case has far-reaching implications and prays for injunctive reliefs, the Court may consider them as petitions for prohibition under Rule 65.


The petitioners also question the constitutionality of the RH Law, claiming that it violates Section 26(1 ), Article VI of the Constitution, prescribing the one subject-one title rule. According to them, being one for reproductive health with responsible parenthood, the assailed legislation violates the constitutional standards of due process by concealing its true intent- to act as a population control measure.

To belittle the challenge, the respondents insist that the RH Law is not a birth or population control measure, and that the concepts of "responsible parenthood" and "reproductive health" are both interrelated as they are separate.

Despite efforts to push the RH Law as a reproductive health law, the Court sees it as principally a population control measure. The corpus of the RH Law is geared towards the reduction of the country's population. While it claims to save lives and keep our women and children healthy, it also promotes pregnancy-preventing products. As stated earlier, the RH Law emphasizes the need to provide Filipinos, especially the poor and the marginalized, with access to information on the full range of modem family planning products and methods. These family planning methods, natural or modern, however, are clearly geared towards the prevention of pregnancy.

For said reason, the manifest underlying objective of the RH Law is to reduce the number of births in the country.

It cannot be denied that the measure also seeks to provide pre-natal and post-natal care as well. A large portion of the law, however, covers the dissemination of information and provisions on access to medically-safe, non-abortificient, effective, legal, affordable, and quality reproductive health care services, methods, devices, and supplies, which are all intended to prevent pregnancy.

The Court, thus, agrees with the petitioners' contention that the whole idea of contraception pervades the entire RH Law. It is, in fact, the central idea of the RH Law. Indeed, remove the provisions that refer to contraception or are related to it and the RH Law loses its very foundation. As earlier explained, "the other positive provisions such as skilled birth attendance, maternal care including pre-and post-natal services, prevention and management of reproductive tract infections including HIV/AIDS are already provided for in the Magna Carta for Women."

Be that as it may, the RH Law does not violate the one subject/one bill rule.


It is a universally accepted principle that every human being enjoys the right to life. Even if not formally established, the right to life, being grounded on natural law, is inherent and, therefore, not a creation of, or dependent upon a particular law, custom, or belief. It precedes and transcends any authority or the laws of men.

In this jurisdiction, the right to life is given more than ample protection. Section 1, Article III of the Constitution provides: Section 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.

As expounded earlier, the use of contraceptives and family planning methods in the Philippines is not of recent vintage. From the enactment of R.A. No. 4729, entitled "An Act To Regulate The Sale, Dispensation, and/or Distribution of Contraceptive Drugs and Devices "on June 18, 1966, prescribing rules on contraceptive drugs and devices which prevent fertilization, to the promotion of male vasectomy and tubal ligation, and the ratification of numerous international agreements, the country has long recognized the need to promote population control through the use of contraceptives in order to achieve long-term economic development.

Through the years, however, the use of contraceptives and other family planning methods evolved from being a component of demographic management, to one centered on the promotion of public health, particularly, reproductive health.

This has resulted in the enactment of various measures promoting women's rights and health and the overall promotion of the family's wellbeing.

Thus, aside from R.A. No. 4729, R.A. No. 6365 or "The Population Act of the Philippines" and R.A. No. 9710, otherwise known as the "The Magna Carta of Women" were legislated. Notwithstanding this paradigm shift, the Philippine national population program has always been grounded two cornerstone principles: "principle of no-abortion" and the "principle of non-coercion." As will be discussed later, these principles are not merely grounded on administrative policy, but rather, originates from the constitutional protection expressly provided to afford protection to life and guarantee religious freedom.


Majority of the Members of the Court are of the position that the question of when life begins is a scientific and medical issue that should not be decided, at this stage, without proper hearing and evidence. During the deliberation, however, it was agreed upon that the individual members of the Court could express their own views on this matter.

In this regard, the ponente, is of the strong view that life begins at fertilization.

In answering the question of when life begins, focus should be made on the particular phrase of Section 12 which reads:

Section 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. 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.

Textually, the Constitution affords protection to the unborn from conception. This is undisputable because before conception, there is no unborn to speak of. For said reason, it is no surprise that the Constitution is mute as to any proscription prior to conception or when life begins. The problem has arisen because, amazingly, there are quarters who have conveniently disregarded the scientific fact that conception is reckoned from fertilization. They are waving the view that life begins at implantation. Hence, the issue of when life begins.

In a nutshell, those opposing the RH Law contend that conception is synonymous with "fertilization" of the female ovum by the male sperm. On the other side of the spectrum are those who assert that conception refers to the "implantation" of the fertilized ovum in the uterus.


It is a canon in statutory construction that the words of the Constitution should be interpreted in their plain and ordinary meaning. As held in the recent case of Chavez v. Judicial Bar Council:

One of the primary and basic rules in statutory construction is that where the words of a statute are clear, plain, and free from ambiguity, it must be given its literal meaning and applied without attempted interpretation. It is a well-settled principle of constitutional construction that the language employed in the Constitution must be given their ordinary meaning except where technical terms are employed. As much as possible, the words of the Constitution should be understood in the sense they have in common use. What it says according to the text of the provision to be construed compels acceptance and negates the power of the courts to alter it, based on the postulate that the framers and the people mean what they say. Verba legis non est recedendum -from the words of a statute there should be no departure.

The raison d' etre for the rule is essentially two-fold: First, because it is assumed that the words in which constitutional provisions are couched express the objective sought to be attained; and second, because the Constitution is not primarily a lawyer's document but essentially that of the people, in whose consciousness it should ever be present as an important condition for the rule of law to prevail.

In conformity with the above principle, the traditional meaning of the word "conception" which, as described and defined by all reliable and reputable sources, means that life begins at fertilization.

Webster's Third New International Dictionary describes it as the act of becoming pregnant, formation of a viable zygote; the fertilization that results in a new entity capable of developing into a being like its parents.

Black's Law Dictionary gives legal meaning to the term "conception" as the fecundation of the female ovum by the male spermatozoon resulting in human life capable of survival and maturation under normal conditions.

Even in jurisprudence, an unborn child has already a legal personality.


Records of the Constitutional Convention also shed light on the intention of the Framers regarding the term "conception" used in Section 12, Article II of the Constitution. From their deliberations, it clearly refers to the moment of "fertilization."

From the deliberations, it is apparent that the Framers of the Constitution emphasized that the State shall provide equal protection to both the mother and the unborn child from the earliest opportunity of life, that is, upon fertilization or upon the union of the male sperm and the female ovum. It is also apparent is that the Framers of the Constitution intended that to prohibit Congress from enacting measures that would allow it determine when life begins.

Equally apparent, however, is that the Framers of the Constitution did not intend to ban all contraceptives for being unconstitutional. In fact, Commissioner Bernardo Villegas, spearheading the need to have a constitutional provision on the right to life, recognized that the determination of whether a contraceptive device is an abortifacient is a question of fact which should be left to the courts to decide on based on established evidence. From the discussions above, contraceptives that kill or destroy the fertilized ovum should be deemed an abortive and thus prohibited.

Conversely, contraceptives that actually prevent the union of the male sperm and the female ovum, and those that similarly take action prior to fertilization should be deemed non-abortive, and thus, constitutionally permissible.

In all, whether it be taken from a plain meaning, or understood under medical parlance, and more importantly, following the intention of the Framers of the Constitution, the undeniable conclusion is that a zygote is a human organism and that the life of a new human being commences at a scientifically well-defined moment of conception, that is, upon fertilization.

For the above reasons, the Court cannot subscribe to the theory advocated by Hon. Lagman that life begins at implantation. According to him, "fertilization and conception are two distinct and successive stages in the reproductive process. They are not identical and synonymous." Citing a letter of the WHO, he wrote that "medical authorities confirm that the implantation of the fertilized ovum is the commencement of conception and it is only after implantation that pregnancy can be medically detected."

This theory of implantation as the beginning of life is devoid of any legal or scientific mooring. It does not pertain to the beginning of life but to the viability of the fetus. The fertilized ovum/zygote is not an inanimate object -it is a living human being complete with DNA and chromosomes. Implantation has been conceptualized only for convenience by those who had population control in mind. To adopt it would constitute textual infidelity not only to the RH Law but also to the Constitution.


A component to the right to life is the constitutional right to health. In this regard, the Constitution is replete with provisions protecting and promoting the right to health. Section 15, Article II of the Constitution provides:

Section 15. The State shall protect and promote the right to health of the people and instill health consciousness among them.

A portion of Article XIII also specifically provides for the States' duty to provide for the health of the people, viz:

Section 11. The State shall adopt an integrated and comprehensive approach to health development which shall endeavor to make essential goods, health and other social services available to all the people at affordable cost. There shall be priority for the needs of the underprivileged, sick, elderly, disabled, women, and children. The State shall endeavor to provide free medical care to paupers.

Section 12. The State shall establish and maintain an effective food and drug regulatory system and undertake appropriate health, manpower development, and research, responsive to the country's health needs and problems.

Section 13. The State shall establish a special agency for disabled person for their rehabilitation, self-development, and selfreliance, and their integration into the mainstream of society.

Finally, Section 9, Article XVI provides:

Section 9. The State shall protect consumers from trade malpractices and from substandard or hazardous products.

Contrary to the respondent's notion, however, these provisions are self-executing. Unless the provisions clearly express the contrary, the provisions of the Constitution should be considered self-executory. There is no need for legislation to implement these self-executing provisions.

It bears mentioning that the petitioners, particularly ALFI, do not question contraception and contraceptives per se. In fact, ALFI prays that the status quo -under R.A. No. 5921 and R.A. No. 4729, the sale and distribution of contraceptives are not prohibited when they are dispensed by a prescription of a duly licensed by a physician -be maintained.

The legislative intent in the enactment of the RH Law in this regard is to leave intact the provisions of R.A. No. 4729. There is no intention at all to do away with it. It is still a good law and its requirements are still in to be complied with. Thus, the Court agrees with the observation of respondent Lagman that the effectivity of the RH Law will not lead to the unmitigated proliferation of contraceptives since the sale, distribution and dispensation of contraceptive drugs and devices will still require the prescription of a licensed physician. With R.A. No. 4729 in place, there exists adequate safeguards to ensure the public that only contraceptives that are safe are made available to the public.

Thus, in the distribution by the DOH of contraceptive drugs and devices, it must consider the provisions of R.A. No. 4729, which is still in effect, and ensure that the contraceptives that it will procure shall be from a duly licensed drug store or pharmaceutical company and that the actual dispensation of these contraceptive drugs and devices will done following a prescription of a qualified medical practitioner. The distribution of contraceptive drugs and devices must not be indiscriminately done. The public health must be protected by all possible means. As pointed out by Justice De Castro, a heavy responsibility and burden are assumed by the government in supplying contraceptive drugs and devices, for it may be held accountable for any injury, illness or loss of life resulting from or incidental to their use.

At any rate, it bears pointing out that not a single contraceptive has yet been submitted to the FDA pursuant to the RH Law. It behooves the Court to await its determination which drugs or devices are declared by the FDA as safe, it being the agency tasked to ensure that food and medicines available to the public are safe for public consumption. Consequently, the Court finds that, at this point, the attack on the RH Law on this ground is premature. Indeed, the various kinds of contraceptives must first be measured up to the constitutional yardstick as expounded herein, to be determined as the case presents itself.

At this point, the Court is of the strong view that Congress cannot legislate that hormonal contraceptives and intra-uterine devices are safe and non-abortifacient. The first sentence of Section 9 that ordains their inclusion by the National Drug Formulary in the EDL by using the mandatory "shall" is to be construed as operative only after they have been tested, evaluated, and approved by the FDA. The FDA, not Congress, has the expertise to determine whether a particular hormonal contraceptive or intrauterine device is safe and non-abortifacient. The provision of the third sentence concerning the requirements for the inclusion or removal of a particular family planning supply from the EDL supports this construction.

Stated differently, the provision in Section 9 covering the inclusion of hormonal contraceptives, intra-uterine devices, injectables, and other safe, legal, non-abortifacient and effective family planning products and supplies by the National Drug Formulary in the EDL is not mandatory. There must first be a determination by the FDA that they are in fact safe, legal, non-abortifacient and effective family planning products and supplies. There can be no predetermination by Congress that the gamut of contraceptives are "safe, legal, non-abortifacient and effective" without the proper scientific examination.


At the outset, it cannot be denied that we all live in a heterogeneous society. It is made up of people of diverse ethnic, cultural and religious beliefs and backgrounds. History has shown us that our government, in law and in practice, has allowed these various religious, cultural, social and racial groups to thrive in a single society together. It has embraced minority groups and is tolerant towards all -the religious people of different sects and the non-believers. The undisputed fact is that our people generally believe in a deity, whatever they conceived Him to be, and to whom they call for guidance and enlightenment in crafting our fundamental law. Thus, the preamble of the present Constitution.

The Filipino people in "imploring the aid of Almighty God" manifested their spirituality innate in our nature and consciousness as a people, shaped by tradition and historical experience. As this is embodied in the preamble, it means that the State recognizes with respect the influence of religion in so far as it instills into the mind the purest principles of morality. Moreover, in recognition of the contributions of religion to society, the 1935, 1973 and 1987 constitutions contain benevolent and accommodating provisions towards religions such as tax exemption of church property, salary of religious officers in government institutions, and optional religious instructions in public schools.

The Framers, however, felt the need to put up a strong barrier so that the State would not encroach into the affairs of the church, and vice-versa.

The principle of separation of Church and State was, thus, enshrined in Article II, Section 6 ofthe 1987 Constitution, viz:

Section 6. The separation of Church and State shall be inviolable.

Verily, the principle of separation of Church and State is based on mutual respect. Generally, the State cannot meddle in the internal affairs of the church, much less question its faith and dogmas or dictate upon it. It cannot favor one religion and discriminate against another. On the other hand, the church cannot impose its beliefs and convictions on the State and the rest of the citizenry. It cannot demand that the nation follow its beliefs, even if it sincerely believes that they are good for the country.

Consistent with the principle that not any one religion should ever be preferred over another, the Constitution in the above-cited provision utilizes the term "church" in its generic sense, which refers to a temple, a mosque, an iglesia, or any other house of God which metaphorically symbolizes a religious organization. Thus, the "Church" means the religious congregations collectively.

Balancing the benefits that religion affords and the need to provide an ample barrier to protect the State from the pursuit of its secular objectives, the Constitution lays down the following mandate in Article III, Section 5 and Article VI, Section 29 (2), of the 1987 Constitution.

In short, the constitutional assurance of religious freedom provides two guarantees: the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause.

The establishment clause "principally prohibits the State from sponsoring any religion or favoring any religion as against other religions. It mandates a strict neutrality in affairs among religious groups." Essentially, it prohibits the establishment of a state religion and the use of public resources for the support or prohibition ofa religion.

On the other hand, the basis of the free exercise clause is the respect for the inviolability of the human conscience. Under this part of religious freedom guarantee, the State is prohibited from unduly interfering with the outside manifestations of one's belief and faith.

The establishment and free exercise clauses were not designed to serve contradictory purposes. They have a single goal to promote freedom of individual religious beliefs and practices. In simplest terms, the free exercise clause prohibits government from inhibiting religious beliefs with penalties for religious beliefs and practice, while the establishment clause prohibits government from inhibiting religious belief with rewards for religious beliefs and practices. In other words, the two religion clauses were intended to deny government the power to use either the carrot or the stick to influence individual religious beliefs and practices.

Corollary to the guarantee of free exercise of one's religion is the principle that the guarantee of religious freedom is comprised of two parts: the freedom to believe, and the freedom to act on one's belief. The first part is absolute.

The second part however, is limited and subject to the awesome power of the State and can be enjoyed only with proper regard to the rights of others. It is "subject to regulation where the belief is translated into external acts that affect the public welfare.


In the case at bench, it is not within the province of the Court to determine whether the use of contraceptives or one's participation in the support of modem reproductive health measures is moral from a religious standpoint or whether the same is right or wrong according to one's dogma or belief. For the Court has declared that matters dealing with "faith, practice, doctrine, form of worship, ecclesiastical law, custom and rule of a church...are unquestionably ecclesiastical matters which are outside the province of the civil courts." The jurisdiction of the Court extends only to public and secular morality. Whatever pronouncement the Court makes in the case at bench should be understood only in this realm where it has authority. Stated otherwise, while the Court stands without authority to rule on ecclesiastical matters, as vanguard of the Constitution, it does have authority to determine whether the RH Law contravenes the guarantee of eligious freedom.

While the Constitution prohibits abortion, laws were enacted allowing the use of contraceptives. To some medical practitioners, however, the whole idea of using contraceptives is an anathema. Consistent with the principle of benevolent neutrality, their beliefs should be respected.

Resultantly, the Court finds no compelling state interest which would limit the free exercise clause of the conscientious objectors, however few in number. Only the prevention of an immediate and grave danger to the security and welfare of the community can justify the infringement of religious freedom. If the government fails to show the seriousness and immediacy of the threat, State intrusion is constitutionally unacceptable.

Freedom of religion means more than just the freedom to believe. It also means the freedom to act or not to act according to what one believes. And this freedom is violated when one is compelled to act against one's belief or is prevented from acting according to one's belief.

Apparently, in these cases, there is no immediate danger to the life or health of an individual in the perceived scenario of the subject provisions. After all, a couple who plans the timing, number and spacing of the birth of their children refers to a future event that is contingent on whether or not the mother decides to adopt or use the information, product, method or supply given to her or whether she even decides to become pregnant at all. On the other hand, the burden placed upon those who object to contraceptive use is immediate and occurs the moment a patient seeks consultation on reproductive health matters.

Moreover, granting that a compelling interest exists to justify the infringement of the conscientious objector's religious freedom, the respondents have failed to demonstrate "the gravest abuses, endangering paramount interests" which could limit or override a person's fundamental right to religious freedom. Also, the respondents have not presented any government effort exerted to show that the means it takes to achieve its legitimate state objective is the least intrusive means. Other than the assertion that the act of referring would only be momentary, considering that the act of referral by a conscientious objector is the very action being contested as violative of religious freedom, it behooves the respondents to demonstrate that no other means can be undertaken by the State to achieve its objective without violating the rights of the conscientious objector. The health concerns of women may still be addressed by other practitioners who may perform reproductive health-related procedures with open willingness and motivation. Suffice it to say, a person who is forced to perform an act in utter reluctance deserves the protection of the Court as the last vanguard of constitutional freedoms.

At any rate, there are other secular steps already taken by the Legislature to ensure that the right to health is protected. Considering other legislations as they stand now, R.A. No. 4 729 or the Contraceptive Act, R.A. No. 6365 or "The Population Act of the Philippines" and R.A. No. 9710, otherwise known as "The Magna Carta of Women," amply cater to the needs of women in relation to health services and programs.

Granting that there are still deficiencies and flaws in the delivery of social healthcare programs for Filipino women, they could not be solved by a measure that puts an unwarrantable stranglehold on religious beliefs m exchange for blind conformity.


All this notwithstanding, the Court properly recognizes a valid exception set forth in the law. While generally healthcare service providers cannot be forced to render reproductive health care procedures if doing it would contravene their religious beliefs, an exception must be made in life threatening cases that require the performance of emergency procedures. In these situations, the right to life of the mother should be given preference, considering that a referral by a medical practitioner would amount to a denial of service, resulting to unnecessarily placing the life of a mother in grave danger.


The Court declines to rule on its constitutionality or validity.

At any rate, Section 12, Article II of the 1987 Constitution provides that the natural and primary right and duty of parents in the rearing of the youth for civic efficiency and development of moral character shall receive the support of the Government. Like the 1973 Constitution and the 1935 Constitution, the 1987 Constitution affirms the State recognition of the invaluable role of parents in preparing the youth to become productive members of society. Notably, it places more importance on the role of parents in the development of their children by recognizing that said role shall be "primary," that is, that the right of parents in upbringing the youth is superior to that of the State.

It is also the inherent right of the State to act as parens patriae to aid parents in the moral development of the youth. Indeed, the Constitution makes mention of the importance of developing the youth and their important role in nation building.

Furthermore, as Section 14 also mandates that the mandatory reproductive health education program shall be developed in conjunction with parent-teacher-community associations, school officials and other interest groups, it could very well be said that it will be in line with the religious beliefs of the petitioners. By imposing such a condition, it becomes apparent that the petitioners' contention that Section 14 violates Article XV, Section 3(1) of the Constitution is without merit.


A statute or act suffers from the defect of vagueness when it lacks comprehensible standards that men of common intelligence must necessarily guess its meaning and differ as to its application. It is repugnant to the Constitution in two respects: (1) it violates due process for failure to accord persons, especially the parties targeted by it, fair notice of the conduct to avoid; and (2) it leaves law enforcers unbridled discretion in carrying out its provisions and becomes an arbitrary flexing of the Government muscle.

Moreover, in determining whether the words used in a statute are vague, words must not only be taken in accordance with their plain meaning alone, but also in relation to other parts of the statute. It is a rule that every part of the statute must be interpreted with reference to the context, that is, every part of it must be construed together with the other parts and kept subservient to the general intent of the whole enactment.

The Court need not belabor the issue of whether the right to be exempt from being obligated to render reproductive health service and modem family planning methods, includes exemption from being obligated to give reproductive health information and to render reproductive health procedures. Clearly, subject to the qualifications and exemptions earlier discussed, the right to be exempt from being obligated to render reproductive health service and modem family planning methods, necessarily includes exemption from being obligated to give reproductive health information and to render reproductive health procedures. The terms "service" and "methods" are broad enough to include the providing of information and the rendering of medical procedures.


The petitioners also claim that the RH Law violates the equal protection clause under the Constitution as it discriminates against the poor because it makes them the primary target of the government program that promotes contraceptive use. They argue that, rather than promoting reproductive health among the poor, the RH Law introduces contraceptives that would effectively reduce the number of the poor. Their bases are the various provisions in the RH Law dealing with the poor, especially those mentioned in the guiding principles and definition of terms of the law.

"According to a long line of decisions, equal protection simply requires that all persons or things similarly situated should be treated alike, both as to rights conferred and responsibilities imposed." It "requires public bodies and institutions to treat similarly situated individuals in a similar manner." "The purpose of the equal protection clause is to secure every person within a state's jurisdiction against intentional and arbitrary discrimination, whether occasioned by the express terms of a statue or by its improper execution through the state's duly constituted authorities." "In other words, the concept of equal justice under the law requires the state to govern impartially, and it may not draw distinctions between individuals solely on differences that are irrelevant to a legitimate governmental objective."

The equal protection clause is aimed at all official state actions, not just those of the legislature. Its inhibitions cover all the departments of the government including the political and executive departments, and extend to all actions of a state denying equal protection of the laws, through whatever agency or whatever guise is taken.

It, however, does not require the universal application of the laws to all persons or things without distinction. What it simply requires is equality among equals as determined according to a valid classification. Indeed, the equal protection clause permits classification. Such classification, however, to be valid must pass the test of reasonableness. The test has four requisites: (1) The classification rests on substantial distinctions; (2) It is germane to the purpose of the law; (3) It is not limited to existing conditions only; and (4) It applies equally to all members of the same class.

"Superficial differences do not make for a valid classification."

For a classification to meet the requirements of constitutionality, it must include or embrace all persons who naturally belong to the class. "The classification will be regarded as invalid if all the members of the class are not similarly treated, both as to rights conferred and obligations imposed. It is not necessary that the classification be made with absolute symmetry, in the sense that the members of the class should possess the same characteristics in equal degree. Substantial similarity will suffice; and as long as this is achieved, all those covered by the classification are to be treated equally. The mere fact that an individual belonging to a class differs from the other members, as long as that class is substantially distinguishable from all others, does not justify the non-application of the law to him."

The classification must not be based on existing circumstances only, or so constituted as to preclude addition to the number included in the class. It must be of such a nature as to embrace all those who may thereafter be in similar circumstances and conditions. It must not leave out or "under include" those that should otherwise fall into a certain classification.


The OSG counters that the rendition of pro bono services envisioned in Section 17 can hardly be considered as forced labor analogous to slavery, as reproductive health care service providers have the discretion as to the manner and time of giving pro bono services. Moreover, the OSG points out that the imposition is within the powers of the government, the accreditation of medical practitioners with Phil Health being a privilege and not a right.

The point ofthe OSG is well-taken.

It should first be mentioned that the practice of medicine is undeniably imbued with public interest that it is both a power and a duty of the State to control and regulate it in order to protect and promote the public welfare. Like the legal profession, the practice of medicine is not a right but a privileged burdened with conditions as it directly involves the very lives of the people. A fortiori, this power includes the power of Congress to prescribe the qualifications for the practice of professions or trades which affect the public welfare, the public health, the public morals, and the public safety; and to regulate or control such professions or trades, even to the point of revoking such right altogether.

Moreover, as some petitioners put it, the notion of involuntary servitude connotes the presence of force, threats, intimidation or other similar means of coercion and compulsion. A reading of the assailed provision, however, reveals that it only encourages private and non-government reproductive healthcare service providers to render pro bona service. Other than non-accreditation with Phil Health, no penalty is imposed should they choose to do otherwise. Private and non-government reproductive healthcare service providers also enjoy the liberty to choose which kind of health service they wish to provide, when, where and how to provide it or whether to provide it all. Clearly, therefore, no compulsion, force or threat is made upon them to render pro bono service against their will. While the rendering of such service was made a prerequisite to accreditation with PhilHealth, the Court does not consider the same to be an unreasonable burden, but rather, a necessary incentive imposed by Congress in the furtherance of a perceived legitimate state interest.

Consistent with what the Court had earlier discussed, however, it should be emphasized that conscientious objectors are exempt from this provision as long as their religious beliefs and convictions do not allow them to render reproductive health service, pro bona or otherwise.


With respect to the argument that the RH Law violates natural law, suffice it to say that the Court does not duly recognize it as a legal basis for upholding or invalidating a law. Our only guidepost is the Constitution.

While every law enacted by man emanated from what is perceived as natural law, the Court is not obliged to see if a statute, executive issuance or ordinance is in conformity to it. To begin with, it is not enacted by an acceptable legitimate body. Moreover, natural laws are mere thoughts and notions on inherent rights espoused by theorists, philosophers and theologists. The jurists of the philosophical school are interested in the law as an abstraction, rather than in the actual law of the past or present. Unless, a natural right has been transformed into a written law, it cannot serve as a basis to strike down a law. In Republic v. Sandiganbayan, the very case cited by the petitioners, it was explained that the Court is not duty bound to examine every law or action and whether it conforms with both the Constitution and natural law. Rather, natural law is to be used sparingly only in the most peculiar of circumstances involving rights inherent to man where no law is applicable.

At any rate, as earlier expounded, the RH Law does not sanction the taking away of life. It does not allow abortion in any shape or form. It only seeks to enhance the population control program of the government by providing information and making non-abortifacient contraceptives more readily available to the public, especially to the poor.


In general, the Court does not find the RH Law as unconstitutional insofar as it seeks to provide access to medically-safe, non-abortifacient, effective, legal, affordable, and quality reproductive healthcare services, methods, devices, and supplies. As earlier pointed out, however, the religious freedom of some sectors of society cannot be trampled upon in pursuit of what the law hopes to achieve. After all, the Constitutional safeguard to religious freedom is a recognition that man stands accountable to an authority higher than the State.

In conformity with the principle of separation of Church and State, one religious group cannot be allowed to impose its beliefs on the rest of the society. Philippine modem society leaves enough room for diversity and pluralism. As such, everyone should be tolerant and open-minded so that peace and harmony may continue to reign as we exist alongside each other.

As healthful as the intention of the RH Law may be, the idea does not escape the Court that what it seeks to address is the problem of rising poverty and unemployment in the country. Let it be said that the cause of these perennial issues is not the large population but the unequal distribution of wealth. Even if population growth is controlled, poverty will remain as long as the country's wealth remains in the hands of the very few.

At any rate, population control may not be beneficial for the country in the long run. The European and Asian countries, which embarked on such a program generations ago, are now burdened with ageing populations. The number of their young workers is dwindling with adverse effects on their economy. These young workers represent a significant human capital which could have helped them invigorate, innovate and fuel their economy. These countries are now trying to reverse their programs, but they are still struggling. For one, Singapore, even with incentives, is failing.

Indeed, at the present, the country has a population problem, but the State should not use coercive measures (like the penal provisions of the RH Law against conscientious objectors) to solve it. Nonetheless, the policy of the Court is non-interference in the wisdom of a law.

WHEREFORE, the petitions are PARTIALLY GRANTED. Accordingly, the Court declares R.A. No. 10354 as NOT UNCONSTITUTIONAL except with respect to the following provisions which are declared UNCONSTITUTIONAL:

[1] Section 7 and the corresponding provision in the RH-IRR insofar as they: a) require private health facilities and non-maternity specialty hospitals and hospitals owned and operated by a religious group to refer patients, not in an emergency or life-threatening case, as defined under Republic Act No. 8344, to another health facility which is conveniently accessible; and b) allow minor-parents or minors who have suffered a miscarriage access to modem methods of family planning without written consent from their parents or guardian/s;

[2] Section 23(a)(l) and the corresponding provision in the RH-IRR, particularly Section 5 .24 thereof, insofar as they punish any healthcare service provider who fails and or refuses to disseminate information regarding programs and services on reproductive health regardless of his or her religious beliefs.

[3] Section 23(a)(2)(i) and the corresponding provision in the RH-IRR insofar as they allow a married individual, not in an emergency or lifethreatening case, as defined under Republic Act No. 8344, to undergo reproductive health procedures without the consent of the spouse;

[4] Section 23(a)(2)(ii) and the corresponding provision in the RH-IRR insofar as they limit the requirement of parental consent only to elective surgical procedures.

[5] Section 23(a)(3) and the corresponding provision in the RH-IRR, particularly Section 5.24 thereof, insofar as they punish any healthcare service provider who fails and/or refuses to refer a patient not in an emergency or life-threatening case, as defined under Republic Act No. 8344, to another health care service provider within the same facility or one which is conveniently accessible regardless ofhis or her religious beliefs;

[6] Section 23(b) and the corresponding provision in the RH-IRR, particularly Section 5 .24 thereof, insofar as they punish any public officer who refuses to support reproductive health programs or shall do any act that hinders the full implementation of a reproductive health program, regardless of his or her religious beliefs;

[7] Section 17 and the corresponding provision in the RH-IRR regarding the rendering of pro bona reproductive health service in so far as they affect the conscientious objector in securing PhilHealth accreditation; and

[8] Section 3.0l(a) and Section 3.01 G) of the RH-IRR, which added the qualifier "primarily" in defining abortifacients and contraceptives, as they are ultra vires and, therefore, null and void for contravening Section 4(a) of the RH Law and violating Section 12, Article II of the Constitution.