Case Challenging Manila Contraception Ban Dismissed

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The Philippines Court of Appeals has dismissed a constitutional challenge to an eight-year-old ban on the distribution and use of modern contraceptives in the city of Manila. The case, Osil v. Office of the Mayor of the City of Manila, argues that this ideologically driven policy amounts to a violation of the fundamental human rights of the city's residents as protected under the Philippines Constitution and international law. Since being implemented in 2000, the ban has endangered women's health, strained personal relationships, and driven already struggling families deeper into poverty.

Despite the gravity of this situation, in April 2008 the Court of Appeals dismissed the case on procedural grounds that, according to legal experts in the Philippines, are flawed. First, it cited the absence of "tax declarations" from the petitioners as a means of proving that they are indeed indigents. Second, the court stated that the case should have been filed before the Regional Trial Court of Manila, a body with concurrent jurisdiction with the Court of Appeals. The court also ignored a request to put the ban on hold while the case is being decided. A motion for reconsideration before the Court of Appeals, filed in May 2008, is still pending.

The court's refusal to consider the legal claims made in this case raises serious doubts about the independence of the judiciary and the ability of women to obtain justice in the Philippines. The government of the Philippines has a legal obligation to protect the right of women to control their fertility by ensuring access to a full range of family planning services, including natural and modern contraceptive methods, and the judiciary has a specific obligation to ensure that local and national laws and policies are consistent with international law.

"This decision has left women with no other means of redress. Women, particularly poor women, will continue to disproportionately bear the burden of this ban. We hope that the Court of Appeals will reconsider its initial dismissal and decide in favor of women’s human rights," said Melissa Upreti, the Center's legal adviser for Asia.