Saturday, June 10, 2006

Here we go again

In the papers today is a news item that convinces me that the Philippine Catholic church is not only caught in some time warp, it is seemingly indulging in some form of craftiness.

This year, the government is finally integrating "sex education" in government schools. And it is about time actually. It is high time that teenagers get access to correct information about sex, sexually-transmitted diseases, etc., in the right environment. Ideally, of course, parents should do the explaining; but not all parents have the time, nor the inclination or skills for such a delicate task (my own parents tried when I was 14, but it was too late then, I already knew the facts from peers and from my reading; but I wish they tried sooner for reasons that is worth another blog).

The Catholic bishops' commission on family life has gone on record criticizing the government's sex education program as "disturbing" and trundles the same wornout arguments it has been making since the early eighties when HIV/AIDS was still a hypothetical problem in the country. It is as if the last 15 years have not happened!

If we are to believe the Catholic Church hierarchy, teenagers today are not sexually active, teenage pregnancies do not happen, they are immune to HIV/AIDS and other sexually-transmitted diseases , they do not have access to all kinds of information about sex (mostly inaccurate ones!), and science has not made any progress at all in terms of increasing the effectiveness of contraceptives. Likewise, one would think that the mere mention of condoms in sex education lessons automatically causes teenagers to make long queues at the drug store to buy them for the sheer purpose of using them. Obviously, these people have not tried buying condoms and are not familiar with the social stigma attached to the transaction. Buying condoms is embarrassing. I am an adult and yet I still can not look at the drugstore salesclerk straight in the eye on the few occasions when I have to make a purchase.

One would also think that the government is offering courses entitled "sex education." The truth is, sex education is integrated into lessons on science (e.g., biology), health (e.g., general wellness) and civics (e.g., responsible behavior). It is not as if teachers simply bring out condoms and show pictures of human genitalia in class. There is a context for the discussions and sex education is not tackled purely as "sex awareness" but are actually packaged under larger topics about responsible adulthood and the like.

Furthermore, it is as if government bureaucrats took it upon themselves to introduce sex education into the curriculum. The truth is, this has been a lonnng struggle by the NGO community and the modules have been through all conceivable (and inconceivable) rigors of academic paralysis by analysis. For example, the HIV/AIDS Law which prescribes the integration of certain safer sex information appropriate to the level of readiness and maturity of learners was passed more than a decade ago! That is correct, more than a decade ago - when its main author, Freddie Webb was still a senator, and the thought of having Juan Flavier as senator was still a far-fetched idea. That is how long it has been and yet it is only this year when the modules are actually being implemented.

One would also think that all this time, the Catholic Church has not been part of the discussion; that they have not been consulted or that they had no part in the crafting of the initiative. This is simply symptomatic of the Pontius Pilate tendencies of some officials of the Church. The truth is, representatives of the Church has been part of the discussion. I have personally been in meetings where a Bishop or two was present; and I have personally tangled with some of them on some issues. Bottomline is, some consensus have been reached, painstakingly and with major difficulty, thus, the long-awaited integration of sex education into the curriculum.

The stand of the Philippine bishops is particularly disturbing at a time when there are hints that even the Pope is reconsidering the ban on the use of condoms in HIV/AIDS prevention!

It is about time that we teach teenagers how to be responsible. It is about time that we act like adults to the next generation. And the bishops should lead the way.

2 comments:

tintin said...

hi bong. i so agree with you. teenagers, especially girls, need to be taught about safe sex. it cannot be denied that many young people engage in pre-marital sex today, without really understanding the consequences of that act. while we cannot totally stop them from engaging in pre-marital sex, we can at least help them to be responsible - and help prevent unwanted pregnancies and the spread of std's.

Anonymous said...

In Hong Kong's Wellcome supermarkets (HK's SM Supermarket), there are condoms hanging next to the cashier's counter. I thought "what the... condoms? Hey, that's brilliant, why don't we do that?!" My mother who was with me, went "we've got the Catholic Church."