Duterte to SC: Consider RH, national issues before issuing TROs

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Photo courtesy of King Rodriguez (Presidential Photo)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, July 24) — President Rodrigo Duterte appealed to the Supreme Court on Monday to consider the national interest before issuing orders that hindered the implementation of a law.

In his second State of the Nation Address, Duterte took a swipe at the Supreme Court and branded its temporary restraining orders (TROs) as the "bane of our efficiency." He said the TROs delay projects.

"Itong TRO has been the bane of projects. Tapos yang TRO na yan would delay projects... Just give me a few, say 10%, ganun ang ugali ng Pilipino, kaya yang TRO na yan is the bane of our efficiency," he said.

A TRO is an injunction from the court, ordering parties to a conflict to maintain the status quo for a certain period of time until evidence is heard or a case is decided.

Duterte's appeal to the SC, which was not part of his official speech, reiterates his previous warnings to the Supreme Court not to delay government projects or earn his ire.

Before the SONA, Duterte has previously claimed that the courts issue too many TROs against government infrastructure projects. One of the key policies of the administration is to "build, build, build" - among them roads and bridges - in order to attract economic investments and push infrastructure above regional standards.

Duterte stated in his SONA that he has even asked Congress to draft a law that prohibits the delay of government projects as long as a bidding occurred and was not tainted with irregularity, to prevent the courts from intervening through TROs.

The SC had previously issued a TRO regarding the construction of the proposed LRT-1, MRT-3 and MRT-7 Unified Station, in light of a dispute between SM Prime Holdings Inc. and Ayala Land, Inc. The dispute was settled in 2016, after seven years, with both parties agreeing to build the station between SM North Edsa and Trinoma in Quezon City.

Businessmen echoed Duterte's call last May, saying that projects for public convenience should not face delays, since this would cause loss of jobs and opportunities for labor training.

On the other hand, Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, who was present during the SONA, had previously stated early this year that Duterte's claim of too many TROs issued was a "myth."

She previously presented data saying that the SC and Court of Appeals have each issued only one TRO against infrastructure projects since 2012 and 2013. While data is being finalized regarding TROs issued by lower courts, Sereno said she was of the impression that lower courts have not issued TROs against infrastructure projects.

TRO against RH Law

Duterte also appealed to the SC to reconsider the two-year TRO now pending against the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act, in light of the looming expiry of contraceptives in the Philippines.

On June 2015, the SC released a TRO halting the distribution of implants and prohibiting the Food and Drug Administration from granting pending applications for registration and recertification of contraceptives. The High Court denied a petition to lift the TRO in 2016.

The law's constitutionality is also under dispute in court.

"I will not attribute anything to SC. I'm sorry if I don't have the complete facts. But Congress passed the Reproduction Law," Duterte said, adding that the administration has already prepared for the law's implementation before it was contested before the SC.

Despite the judicial roadblocks, Duterte also signed Executive Order No. 12, in order to accelerate the implementation of the law, providing for collaborations between civil society and the private sector instead for better access to contraceptives.

Duterte said the contraceptives in the Health Department will expire next month. Since the TRO still stands, he has asked Health Secretary Paulyn Ubial to donate them to another country instead, so they can be utilized.

"I'm not for abortion or birth control, but I am giving the Filipino family the freedom to decide," he said.