Representative Harry L. Roque filed on his first day in Congress a bill seeking to institutionalize universal health care in the country.

In his exploratory note, Roque said the Universal Health Care for Filipinos bill, “[guarantees] that every Filipino receives the medical treatment he needs with the financial assistance he deserves.”

Roque also filed a bill that seeks to accord protection to journalists at risk. Since the EDSA People Power Revolution and the restoration of democracy in the country in 1986, there have been 172 journalists killed in the line of duty in the Philippines. The massacre of 58 people, including 32 media workers, in Maguindanao province in 2009 holds the record for the “deadliest single-day attack anywhere in the world on journalists.”

The anti-endo bill provides that “where a fixed-term employee who has been continuously employed on fixed-term contracts for four years or more is re-engaged on a fixed-term contract without his continuity being broken, the new contract has effect under the law as a permanent contract unless the renewal on a fixed-term basis was objectively justified.”

Please click below for the soft copies of the bills:





Christmas holiday

It was tough to celebrate Christmas this year. For the first time in many years, I failed to give even my closest friends and ninong and ninangs presents because of my very hectic litigation calendar. Literally, I left Olongapo on the 23rd of December to ensure that I was in the loop in the latest order of the judge hearing the Laude murder case. Of course, as it is in the nature of ironies, I left a few hours before the judge issued her last orders for the year granting Joseph Scott Pemberton a stay of two months while his petition for review with the Department of Justice was pending, and two others which denied our motions to transfer the marine to a local jail and to allow media coverage. Given the nature of this Order, I was answering calls form journalists until about 8 pm of Christmas Eve!

It was great, hence, that the Mrs. had long scheduled a private time with the family after Christmas in nearby Hanoi.

It was not my first time to Hanoi. On my first, I delivered a lecture before Vietnamese government lawyers on the International Criminal Court. On that occasion, my friend, Le Dinh, also a human rights defender, had just been imprisoned and charged with violation of national security laws. In the presence of the Vietnamese Secretary of Justice, I then warned the Vietnamese that membership in the ICC entails a domestic legal system that would protect and promote fundamental rights, such as freedom of expression. This piqued the Justice secretary who in turn, lectured me about the nature of the grave offenses committed by Le Dinh.

What shocked the audience was after the Minister’s outburst, I took back the microphone to debunk his statements one by one. In essence, what I said was that “threats to national security” has long been used by despotic regimes to infringe on freedom of expression, and that the real reason for the suppression was simply that they want to suppress the truth from their people.

I did not return to Vietnam for at least three years since immediately after my lecture, the German Mission (I was invited by the European Union), had to ensure that I board my flight back to Manila. So it was a pleasant surprise that despite this incident, my visit to Hanoi with my family was absolutely hassle- free.

Like any other Southeast Asian country, Vietnam also has what we have an abundance of. The attraction in Hanoi is Ha Log Bay, which literally, is a copy of Coron bay in Palawan. But the difference is like the Thais; the Vietnamese know how to extract every single centavo from visiting tourists. And in fairness to them, the tourists would spend with a sense that the visit was worth the money.

What they have in Ha Long that we do not have in Palawan are at least a hundred cruise liners sailing through the bay and bringing the cruisers to a cave and an hour of kayaking, The cruises included all meals and had sleeping quarters which I have not seen on board any ship in the Philippines.

Yes, the vacation was not perfect. My wife, who booked the cruise, was shocked when she was informed by our guide that the ship looked differently from the promotional pictures because the latter was photo shopped. My wife also was shocked that she paid for a certain quality of rooms, which differed substantially from what we got. And yes, there too were the fumes that kept us awake until the wee hours of the morning. This in addition to the guide’s bad joke that the Vietnamese are thankful to us because we would be devastated first by typhoons that head later for Vietnam.

But by and large, Hanoi remains one of the most charming destinations in Southeast Asia. The city is colorful and vibrant, with lakes scattered all over the city. The old quarters of the city stand in stark contrast to its colonial parts . Certainly, Ha Long Bay deserves to be in the company of our underground river as one of the new seven wonders of the world. But to reiterate, the comparative advantage of our Vietnamese neighbors is that despite their communist background, they appear to have a better developed tourism infrastructure intended to maximize their earnings from any arriving tourist. This can be irritating to some tourists, but definitely good policy for government. When will our Department of Tourism aim to be at par even with Vietnam? We know of course that it is now impossible to be at par with Thailand and Malaysia in this regard!

In addition to our three-night stay in Hanoi, I motored to Baguio for an overnight stay. The Mrs. does not like the long drive to the North and hence, I drove up all by my lonesome self. My mission was to see how much of a difference the newly constructed TPLEX in the trip to Baguio made. And yes, I was very pleased to find out that the new expressway constructed by corporate genius Ramon Ang had cut short the travel by at least half. For while it took us about seven hours to get to Baguio before, the highway had cut travel time to only three and a half hours. Now I only have to persuade the Mrs. that the travel time to the mountain city is abbot the same as any plane ride to any Southeast Asia destination.

Because of the Hanoi and Baguio trips, I feel absolutely refreshed and ready to face the task at hand. Yesterday, we filed our opposition to Pembertons’s Petition for Review at the Department of Justice. Today, we have our first trial date for the Maguindanao massacre. Fortunately, in just about eight days, the Pope has given us another five days of holiday.

Maybe then I can persuade the wife to go up to Baguio? Sana!

The high court should not abdicate its duty to protect freedom of expression

After the oral argument on the 'Anti-Cybercrime Act of 2012' at the Supreme Court (Jan. 15, 2013)

After the oral argument on the ‘Anti-Cybercrime Act of 2012’ at the Supreme Court (Jan. 15, 2013)

“The high court should not abdicate its duty to protect freedom of expression. No less than the U.N. Human Rights Committee has already declared that Philippine Criminal Libel Law is contrary to Freedom of Expression. The Court’s decision failing to declare libel as unconstitutional is therefore contrary to Human Rights Law.

“Centerlaw and our client, Alexander Adonis, welcome the other provisions of the Act such as the Take Down clause and the decision to strike down the real time gathering of information. This is indeed a major victory for privacy and the right of the people
to be secure in their communication.

“We will continue the fight to nullify criminal libel. Cyber libel is an infringement on free speech.”

Centerlaw issued this statement following today’s announcement that the Philippine Supreme Court ruled that online libel is constitutional.

Centerlaw, through Harry Roque, argued before the Supreme Court on January 15, 2013 that Republic Act 10175 or the anti-cybercrime law is against the law. Four other lawyers argued, representing 15 groups that petitioned against the law.#

The Centerlaw team after the oral argument on the 'Anti-Cybercrime Act of 2012' at the Supreme Court (Jan. 15, 2013)

The Centerlaw team after the oral argument on the ‘Anti-Cybercrime Act of 2012’ at the Supreme Court (Jan. 15, 2013)

PDI’s Rina Jimenez-David on Free speech and Reproductive Health (24 January 2014)

Philippine Daily Inquirer columnist  Rina Jimenez-David discusses in her column today her experience when she attended the hearing at the Pasay City on a petition for a temporary restraining order against the Asia Pacific Conference on Reproductive and Sexual Health Rights. Today is the last day of the international forum being held at the Philippine International Convention Center.

Here is the link to the  column:

Here is the link to the conference program of the 7th Asia Pacific Conference on Reproductive and Sexual Health and Rights

At Large
Free speech and RH
By Rina Jimenez-David
Philippine Daily Inquirer
12:56 am | Friday, January 24th, 2014

“I must have led a blameless life,” I quipped to my companions as we stood outside the Pasay City Hall of Justice Wednesday afternoon. For the first time in my life, I was going to enter a court room and experience a court hearing, and what do you know, the case involved an issue concerning reproductive health—and free speech, freedom of assembly, and freedom of religion, even.
The case involved a petition for a temporary restraining order against the Asia Pacific Conference on Reproductive and Sexual Health Rights being held at the Philippine International Convention Center (today, Friday, is the last day).
In the petition filed by Pro-Life Philippines Foundation Inc., it was alleged that if the conference, which involves about 1,500 participants from all over the Asia and Pacific region, including the Philippines, would be allowed to push through, it would result in “offenses against decency, good customs and public policy.”
The petitioners zeroed in on two workshops that were to take place yesterday: one on “Women’s Right to Safe Abortion Services,” and another on “Access to Medical Abortion.” As the counsel from Pro-Life insisted, because abortion is illegal in our statutes, holding such workshops is likewise illegal in this country, much less in a government-owned (PICC is owned and managed by the central bank) facility.
The petition, let me point out, was filed on the eve of the conference’s opening, and if the TRO had been granted, it would have led to the padlocking of the PICC premises, and, to my mind, the blackening of the image of the Philippines not just to the numerous foreign delegates, but to the whole world, laying to waste our Department of Tourism’s drive to promote conference tourism.
* * *
Though initially fazed, the conference organizers decided to fight the petition in court and contacted friends in the legal profession to come to their defense.
Acting as counsel for the Philippine NGO Council on Population, Health and Welfare, the lead organizer, were lawyers Harry Roque, Beth Pangalangan and Joven Dellosa. As agreed among themselves, Roque tackled the “free speech” aspect while Pangalangan handled the arguments for “academic freedom.” Dellosa focused on the “material” damage that would result if the TRO were granted.
Lawyers Sophia Obreta-Palad and Hermie Ocampo from the Office of the Solicitor General represented the Department of Health and the Population Commission, which were also named as respondents. Representing the PICC and Bangko Sentral Governor Amando Tetangco was Olive Cornejo. Former congressman (and RH champion) Edcel Lagman sent a written argument (I guess he couldn’t navigate the stairs up to the third-floor courtroom), and Sen. Pia Cayetano, another RH stalwart, walked into the courtroom midway through the arguments.
For a first-timer in a courtroom, I found my initial exposure dismaying, to say the least. The corridors were filled with broken-down chairs and rusty filing cabinets. The wooden benches in the courtroom were rickety and the paint was peeling. To be fair, however, the Hall of Justice, which stands right beside City Hall, is undergoing renovation.
* * *
But enough of the cosmetic.
As Roque argued, “no abortions will be performed at the conference.” What would take place was mere “talk,” with foreign delegates presenting papers on the treatment of abortion-seekers at the hands of police and “the health, justice and prison systems”; “the sociocultural-economic aspects of decision-making that influence uptake of safe abortion services among women”; and a comparison of the situation of women in Iran and Indonesia seeking abortions.
Roque argued that to stop these speakers, among others, from just talking about the topic and presenting the findings of their studies is to curtail free speech and the unfettered exchange of ideas which are the lifeblood of democracy. Pangalangan argued that the researchers and scholars had every right to share the findings of their papers, and that this was all in the service of enlightenment.
Dellosa argued that stopping the conference would result in “irreparable harm” to the organizers as it had taken them two years to prepare for the conference, and that millions of pesos had already been spent to book flights and accommodations and pay the PICC. The PICC counsel argued that as the mere “venue” for the conference, it had nothing to do with the contents or conduct of the discussions.
Gita Sen, a world-famous economist and women’s studies authority, graciously agreed to represent the foreign delegates just in case Judge Petronillo Sulla wanted to hear from one. I wonder what she thought of the Philippine judicial system after the hearing, never mind Philippine court buildings.
At the end of the hearing, Judge Sulla merely told the Pro-Life lawyer to “consider your petition filed,” although, as others pointed out, if he wanted to issue the TRO, he could have done so then and there.
* * *
Fortunately, other voices, other views prevailed at the formal opening of the conference. A presentation by El Gamma Penumbra encapsulated, in dance and images, the main issues surrounding reproductive health.
Health Secretary Enrique Ona reiterated the government’s support for reproductive health, saying that despite the “challenges and struggles,” the Aquino administration remained committed to advancing the “health and fulfillment of women and men.”
Also present at the opening were Kate Gilmore, deputy executive director of the United Nations Population Fund, and its former director Nafis Sadik, the “mother” of the groundbreaking Cairo Conference on Population and Development.

PDI editorial: “When does religious faith become bigotry?”

Philippine Daily Inquirer editorial (24 January 2014) discusses why the last-minute lawsuit to stop an international forum on reproductive health is  anti-freedom of expression.

Here is the link to the editorial:


When does religious faith become bigotry? When it assumes the worst about those who don’t share the same religion or religious point of view. When does morality become antithetical to democracy? When it uses the fundamental rights that the Constitution guarantees, such as free speech and freedom of assembly, to deny to those it deems immoral the exercise of those very rights. And when does opposition to the Reproductive Health Law become an act of outrageous desperation? When organizations like the Pro-Life Philippines Foundation seek to stop international forums like the 7th Asia Pacific Conference on Reproductive and Sexual Health Rights, through a last-minute lawsuit.

The petitioners, all Catholic Church-affiliated advocates against the Reproductive Health Law, want the Pasay Regional Trial Court to issue a temporary restraining order on the conference, now on its third and last day at the Philippine International Convention Center. On what ground? On the assumption that the forum, by including sessions on abortion in its program, promotes abortion itself, which is illegal in the Philippines.

The argument is intellectually dishonest.

We can see the intellectual dishonesty reflected in lawyer James Imbong’s statement to GMA News: “Most of the talks are about right to abortion.” But in fact, in the program of the general conference, there are only four sessions related to abortion, out of about five dozen sessions. That’s right. There are about 70 separate items in a packed agenda. The petitioners object to four. How can any reasonable person describe “most of the talks” as being about the right to abortion?

But Pro-Life Philippines president Eric Manalang made Imbong sound like the embodiment of intellectual integrity, when he reduced the entire conference to one subject: “Their topic is about abortion and its availability to women and the youth.”

Mischaracterizing the conference program is not only unchristian, scanting both the resource persons’ preparations and the experience on which their presentations are based; it is also stupid—because anyone can easily access the program on the Web.

So anyone can see, for example, that there are sessions on “Harmful practices: Ending child marriage and female genital mutilation” (Wednesday, meeting room 8, by UNFPA Indonesia); “National Maternal, Neonatal Child Health & Nutrition Programs: Improving access, utilization and quality of services,” which includes a presentation from Cambodia on “Better birthing care through regular clinical skills practice” (Thursday, meeting room 2); and “Partnership and local alliances,” with a presentation, among others, from the Philippines, on “Mindanao Working Group in reproductive health, sexuality and gender: Collaboration among universities, civil society organizations and local government units” (today, meeting room 5).

In truth (and the reader can check the veracity of our claim), there are many more topics like these than about abortion. How can any person dedicated to the welfare of women in general and pregnant women and vulnerable children in particular object to such subjects being discussed, their lessons shared, at an international forum?

The sessions on abortion include one on “Improving women’s access to post-abortion care,” with presentations from Pakistan, Bangladesh, Cambodia, and the United States. There is another one on “Women’s rights to safe abortion services,” with panelists from the United Kingdom, India, Australia and China, and also one on

“Access to medical abortion,” with speakers from Australia, Pakistan and Malaysia. These are the presentations the petitioners want to gag?

“Our laws prohibit abortion. Propagating and teaching it is a criminal act,” Manalang said. Again, the leap of

logic is breathtaking. There is no question that abortion is prohibited in the Philippines, in the same way that there is no question about the dire consequences of terrorism. But will an international forum on what turns vulnerable or disaffected members of a society into terrorists propagate and teach terrorism?

Defense lawyer Harry Roque hit the legal nail on the head. “No abortions will be performed at the conference.” The petitioners make the egregious mistake of confusing talk—which a democratic polity should welcome—with performance. That’s because their desperate intolerance makes them assume the worst.