Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Much ado over condoms

This is my column today.

At a recent forum organized by the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines, the people who want to lead this country into the future took turns lambasting the Department of Health for distributing condoms in line with its HIV/AIDS prevention program last Valentines Day at the Dangwa terminal, Metro Manila’s main flower market.

Some of the presidential candidates hemmed and hawed and tried to sugarcoat their objections. Senators Richard Gordon and Jajajajamby Madrigal said they were not in favor of distributing condoms without the benefit of information drives, supposedly to explain their proper use. I almost choked on the sandwich I was eating when I heard them say it. I hate being snippy but is there actually anyone 10 years and older in this country who doesn’t know what a condom is for? And if people actually bothered to check, condoms distributed as part of HIV/AIDS awareness actually come with their own packaging. This includes information about HIV/AIDS and the proper use of condoms.

Others tried to deflect the issue by trying to establish a bigger context for the discussion. Administration candidate Gilbert Teodoro, for instance, tried to establish a middle ground by saying that contraception should remain “the moral choice of the person.” In the end, he still maintained he was not in favor of distributing condoms for free.

All of them came across as political animals trying to earn brownie points from and ingratiate themselves with the Catholic Church who remains adamantly against condom use whether for contraception, HIV prevention, or protection against other sexually transmitted diseases. The whole discussion at the FOCAP forum was actually preceded by the vigorous protestations of two Catholic bishops who condemned the condom distribution at Dangwa as immoral. Perhaps the candidates didn’t want to give more reasons for the two aging bishops to become even more hysterical.

Small wonder really that Brother Eddie Villanueva stuck to the narrow-minded position of the Church on the use of condoms. His exertions came out as irrelevant—he insisted that he and his group are against artificial contraception because they promote abortion and “abortion is murder per se” even when it was clear that the issue was about the use of condoms and HIV/AIDS prevention. Anyone who tries to link condoms and abortion is overreaching. At any rate, what this validated was that Villanueva’s efforts to position himself as a candidate that is not beholden to the interests of the Church despite him being a religious leader himself have all been for show. There won’t be such a thing as a separation of the church and the state in the worst but thankfully remote scenario that Villanueva becomes president.

Kapatiran Party’s JC de los Reyes revealed just how na├»ve and unprepared he is for the highest post of the land. He trundled one of the myths about HIV/AIDS prevention —which is that Thailand’s “massive campaign for condom use backfired resulting in higher incidence of AIDS” in Thailand. It’s one of those biased diatribes against condoms and HIV/AIDS, which, along with that irresponsible claim that condoms are not impenetrable enough to stop the transmission of the AIDS virus, are used only by desperate people who have run out of cogent argument.

The councilor from Olongapo City then intoned rather pompously: “The government must push for moral policies. The condom campaign is a waste of money. It is uneconomical and immoral.” It is very easy to refute de los Reyes’ assertions with facts that are easily verifiable: Thailand’s aggressive 100-percent condom use program, which mandated that all establishments promote the use of condoms, accounted for double digits decline in HIV infections. There was a reported relapse in infection rates in Thailand but experts in fact attributed the rise in new infections to complacency and reduced condom usage, which is why they have once again dusted off their HIV/AIDS prevention programs including active promotion of condom use.

I must decry once again the preponderance of opinions that are being passed off as facts backed by empirical proof. In addition to this baloney about how condoms are ineffective, I am aghast that our leaders have latched on to the stupid notion that availability of condoms automatically translate into uncontrollable surges in libido. It’s like saying that mere possession of a condom forces people to go out and look for sex. Oh please, give people more credit than that.

* * *

As of press time, the Commission on Elections and the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting have reportedly withdrawn their “suggestion” to require media people such as columnists and broadcast journalists as well as actors, actresses, and television hosts to resign or take a leave from their jobs if they are campaigning for a candidate or political party in the May elections.

I have no intentions of campaigning for any candidate or for any political party although I have always made known in my Web log my choices for various national positions. This is because readers of my Web log —many of which are relatives and friends—invariably ask me for my choices. Publishing in my Web log my top picks for certain positions is hardly comparable to what Dolphy or Michael V does for Senator Manny Villar or what she-who-must-not-be-named-in-this-column does for her brother. But I realize that certain people may still or already construe what I do as “campaigning.“ My blog is different from my column although my columns are also published in my blog. I am trying to illustrate—perhaps unsuccessfully—that it is difficult to make clear-cut distinctions as to what constitute campaigning; it is even more difficult to delineate among the various roles we play in our lives.

For this and other reasons, it was impossible to enforce the Comelec and PPCRV’s proposal. It was doomed to fail.

I am not even talking about the repercussions to individual rights and to the whole essence of democracy yet. In addition, we haven’t factored into the equation yet the reactions of the media networks and those of celebrities with the power to sway public opinion. Whoever thought of the idea seriously needs to undergo a reality check. In this country, one does not pick fights with the people who have control of the microphone.

* * *

Erratum. Noted writer and Ateneo de Manila University professor, Jonathan Chua, wrote to correct an item that appeared in this space last week. In my column (Wearing a red hunting hat) last week, I wrote that the rather thin canon of Jose Garcia Villa is one of the main reasons why the national artist title had not been bestowed on him. Chua wrote to remind me that Villa was actually one of the first recipients of the award. He is correct, of course. What I meant to write was that Villa’s relatively slender body of works is one of the “criticisms” directed at the writer. But like I said in my column, I don’t agree that an artist needs to produce a huge body of works to validate his worth. At any rate, I would like to thank Chua for taking the trouble to point out my oversight. Thanks, Jonathan.

No comments: