In the News: We Don’t Need No (Sex) Education

Or so say several groups of plaintiffs that have separately commenced court proceedings against the government’s sex education program.  The various plaintiffs, who appear to be members of parent groups or pro-life organizations, have requested the courts to order the Department of Education (DepEd) to stop pilot-testing a sex education program aimed at school children.  The pilot-testing program will be implemented this academic year in fifth-grade, sixth-grade and high school classes in selected schools in various locations throughout the country.  The government intends to eventually implement the program on a nationwide basis.

The program is a joint project of the DepEd and the United Nations (UN), and was developed pursuant to the Philippines’ commitments at several international conferences.  The avowed objectives of the program are to reduce of the country’s high population growth rate, limit unwanted teenage pregnancies and prevent the spread of HIV and AIDS.

The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) has attacked the program, warning that it encourages promiscuity among the youth. According to the CBCP, sex education is better left to parents and taught within the confines of the home.  Other stakeholders such political parties and feminist groups have also weighed in on the issue.

The controversy seems to have reached the level of no less than President Noynoy Aquino. According to newspaper reports, although Mr. Aquino concedes that some review of the program might be necessary, he does not agree with the conservative position of “zero education.” Mr. Aquino is reported to have said that “zero education means ignorance and ignorance might lead to wrong decisions.”

Which laws might be relevant to this issue?

Article II, section 13 of the Constitution provides that “[t]he State recognizes the vital role of the youth in nation-building and shall promote and protect their physical, moral, spiritual, intellectual, and social well-being.”  Article XIV states that “[t]he State shall … establish maintain and support a complete, adequate and integrated system of education relevant to the needs of the people and society” (section 2[1]) and that “… educational institutions shall … strengthen ethical and spiritual values, [and] develop moral character and personal discipline” (section 3[2]). Presumably, the plaintiffs base their cause of action on these provisions, as well as their claimed right as parents to “mold their children’s values.”

The problem with such an approach, however, is that in Basco vs. Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (G.R. No. 91649, 14 May 1991), the Supreme Court ruled that those Constitutional provisions are not self-implementing.  According to the Court:

[T]hese are merely statements of principles and, policies. As such, they are basically not self-executing, meaning a law should be passed by Congress to clearly define and effectuate such principles.

In other words, without an implementing statute, the statements of principles cited above cannot serve as basis for a right of action.  There do not appear to be any such statutes that implement those state principles.

In contrast, the AIDS Prevention and Control Act (Republic Act No. 8504 [1998]) mandates the DepEd, the Commission on Higher Education and the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority to integrate instruction on the causes, modes of transmission and ways of preventing HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases in public and private schools.  Congress has therefore seen fit to require the inclusion of sex education in the official Philippine curriculum, at least with respect to “the causes, modes of transmission and ways of preventing HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases.”  (see sections 2[a] and 4.)  It is difficult to envision including those topics without also including other general areas of sex education.

The law also implicitly recognizes, however, that such topics may not be appropriate for younger students, as HIV/AIDS instruction is required only at “intermediate grades, secondary and tertiary levels.”  (See section 4)

From a strictly legal standpoint, it seems that the campaign to put a stop to the sex education program is an uphill battle. From a policy standpoint, however, sex education is admittedly a sensitive issue, and the government would be well advised to consult the various stakeholders concerned and make any necessary adjustments to address any valid points that might be raised before implementing such a program.

(Philbert would like to thank Diana Grace L. Uy for her assistance in preparing this post.)