Manila: The Supreme Court has extended indefinitely the implementation of a controversial family planning law pending hearings between critics and supporters of the law.

Justices voted 8-7 in favour of extending the deadline set earlier for a 120-day status quo ante (keep things the way were before) order against a law that allows the government to subsidise the use of condom and other artificial family planning methods, for poor people, said Theodore Te, information head of the Apex Court.

Passed by Congress this year, the Act Providing for a National Policy on Responsible Parenthood and Reproduction Health, popularly known as RH bill, also calls for sex education in primary and secondary public schools.

The High Court also scheduled the continuation of hearings on the issue on July 23.

The order was in response to 14 petitioners who called on the Apex Court to declare the law as unconstitutional.

Reacting to the ruling, Senator Pia Cayetano, one of the authors of the controversial health law in the upper house of Congress, said the continued delay in the law’s implementation “sends a wrong message to the women of our country”.

“I’m quite disappointed with that ruling,” said Cayetano, adding, “I believe that the evidence was very clear during the oral arguments last week that the petitioners presented a weak case.”

In a 29-page memorandum, former Senate president Aquilino Pimentel, a critic, said: “This law should be aborted, abrogated and put to the torch in this crematorium of unconstitutional legislations, illegal enactments, and oppressive policies.”

Health services being prescribed by a national law should be considered as an “invalid invasion on the autonomy of local and regional governments,” said Pimentel, adding those who passed the Bill in Congress and President Benigno Aquino who signed it into law as “oppressors in government”.

The Catholic Church is against the use of artificial family planning methods.

A survey said that a majority of Filipinos support the passage of the Bill in Congress.

Some 98 per cent of Filipinos belong to the Catholic Church.