March 19 (Bloomberg) -- The Philippine Supreme Court today called a temporary halt to the government’s plan to provide free contraceptives to the poor, dealing a blow to President Benigno Aquino’s efforts to stem a population that’s growing at twice the Asian average.
The court voted 10-5 in favor of a 120-day restraining order on the Reproductive Health Act, and set a hearing of the case for June 18, court spokesman Theodore Te said in a mobile-phone message. The government will defend the law’s merits in court, Aquino’s spokesman Edwin Lacierda said in an e-mail.
The contraceptive bill had been refiled and blocked in each three-year congressional term since it was introduced 15 years ago amid opposition from the Catholic Church. Eight out of 10 Filipinos are Catholics, according to government data.
Today’s setback shows “Aquino does not have complete control of the political situation” even after the removal last year of the nation’s top judge Renato Corona, who had been appointed by his predecessor, Benito Lim, a political science professor at the Ateneo de Manila University, said by phone.
Aquino became overconfident after defeating a church lobby against the contraceptive bill in Congress and forging a preliminary peace deal with Muslim rebels in the south last year, Lim said.
“We will observe the resolution issued by the Supreme Court and we are confident that the government will be able to defend the merits of the law,” Lacierda said.
At least six petitions were filed questioning the validity of the law, which its opponents said violates the constitution’s unconditional respect for life.
The United Nations has said the law would help reduce poverty among a fifth of the nation’s estimated 106 million people who live in slum conditions.
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