MANILA - The Supreme Court has unanimously denied, on technical grounds, the petition of a group of private hospitals questioning the constitutionality of a law, which imposes higher penalties for health facilities that refuse to take in and treat emergency patients who fail to pay deposits or advance payments.
In a 21-page decision dated November 6, 2018 but released to the media only on Thursday, the SC en banc dismissed the petition filed by the Private Hospitals Association of the Philippines, Inc. (PHAPi) represented by its president Dr. Rustico Jimenez seeking to nullify Republic Act (RA) 10932 or the law strengthening the Anti-Hospital Deposit Law.
The high court said PHAPi failed to cite an actual or direct injury and to justify a personal and substantial interest in the case. An actual case or controversy and the petitioner’s locus standi or legal standing are among the requisites for the court’s exercise of its judicial review powers.
WHAT WENT BEFORE
PHAPi filed the petition in 2017 soon after President Rodrigo Duterte signed RA 10932 into law in Aug. 2017.
RA 10932 amended RA 8344 or the Anti-Hospital Deposit Law by expanding the scope of emergency cases to include that of a woman giving birth.
It also increased the penalties to erring medical officials, practitioners or employees to up to 2 years and 4 months imprisonment and up to P300,000 in fines, and up to 6 years imprisonment and P1 million in fines to the director or officer who formulated a policy in violation of the provisions of the law.
PHAPi argued that the penalties are “unjust, excessive, and oppressive” and not commensurate to the act being penalized.
The group also objected to the “untenable duties” imposed on the hospital and medical personnel to prevent death or any other injury to an unborn baby, characterizing it as a denial of due process since such a result would have been impossible to guarantee.
Among other issues PHAPi raised was the presumption of liability imposed by the law on the hospital and medical personnel in case of death or injury to the baby because of the denial of admission of a pregnant woman into the medical facility.
Without even discussing the merits of the case, all 10 voting justices agreed to junk the petition.
In the decision penned by Justice Noel Tijam, the Court said that without an actual or direct injury on the part of petitioner as a result of a discretion gravely abused, any pronouncement by the Court would only be “advisory or sheer legal opinion.”
“The challenged law also enjoys the presumption of constitutionality which the Court, at the first instance, cannot disturb in the absence of a prima facie showing of grave abuse of discretion and, upon delving into the merits, in the absence of a clearest showing that there was indeed an infraction of the Constitution,” it said.
The decision also said PHAPi has no legal standing to question the constitutionality of the law because the law imposes obligations and sanctions on hospitals, doctors and medical employees and not on an association.
Only Justices Mariano del Castillo, Alexander Gesmundo and Jose Reyes, Jr., who were all on official leave, did not take part in the voting.