Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Holidays and condoms

This was my column on the date indicated above.

I would like to appeal to the bright boys at the Palace to already make a pronouncement this early on whether or not President Benigno Simeon Aquino is inclined to uphold Proclamation No. 1841 issued by his predecessor on July 21, 2009.

Proclamation 1841 specified the regular holidays, special non-working days, and special holidays for all schools for the year 2010.

Specifically, it set the following dates as holidays during this Christmas season: December 24 (Friday) as additional special non-working day, December 27 (Monday) in lieu of December 30 which is Rizal Day, and December 31, last day of the year. It is important for the Palace to make the clarification this early because the dates are critical. If the Palace intends to uphold Arroyo’s proclamation, then employees are guaranteed two long weekends during the Christmas season: Four days during the Christmas weekend, and another three days during the New Year weekend.

Actually, most have already made plans based on Proclamation 1841 assuming that MalacaƱang will not dare alter the dates. I know quite a number of people who have already scheduled trips abroad or to their hometowns during the projected long weekends. It would cause quite an uproar if arrangements would have to be altered simply because someone thought that any proclamation signed by the former occupants of the Palace deserves repudiation.

An early announcement on whether December 24, 27, and 31 are holidays is also critical for certain industries and for businessmen. Those in manufacturing will have to fix their production schedules based on the holiday schedules. Businessmen need to ensure that their cash flows will not be affected by the fact that banks will not be open on certain days.

Ordinarily, Arroyo’s proclamation should stay because it is a valid proclamation, after all, in the sense that she was still President when she issued it. The proclamation also adheres to the provisions of the Republic Act 9492, which says that holidays, except those which are religious in nature, should be moved to the nearest Monday unless otherwise modified by law, order or proclamation. The law however was very specific about one thing: Any modifications should be made and announced six months earlier. Based on this provision, Proclamation 1841 should stand.

Unfortunately, we’ve had precedence this year when President Aquino chose not to uphold certain provisions of Proclamation 1841. Note that Aquino refused to move Ninoy Aquino Day to August 23, which is the Monday nearest August 21.

There are pros and cons to the issue of movable holidays. Holidays have implications on industries. But the again, this is not the time to go into a discourse on the politics behind holiday proclamations. What people want is simple: Advance warning. We just need clarification early on.

So, please, bright boys, can we make that announcement already?

***

I am not surprised that the Catholic Church is alternately playing clueless (as in they don’t really know what their official stand is and is consequently often caught mouthing empty words and statements) or engaging in doublespeak (as in they say one thing now and then something completely different the day after) on the issue of condom use.

Certain quarters in the Church hierarchy maintain that there hasn’t been a change in the Church’s position on condoms, even for HIV/AIDS prevention. They insist that Pope Benedict XVI has simply been misquoted or that so much more has been read into what the Pope really was supposed to have said. Pronouncements like these make them come across as people high on prohibited substance—like people in dreamland oblivious to reality.

And then there are those who welcome the Pope’s change of heart but insist that the change does not signal any changes in the Church’s stand against condom use. Their argument is anchored strongly on the interpretation that what the Pope said was that condom use for HIV prevention is the lesser evil, which, in their opinion, does not really represent a change in the Church’s position. In fact, they further insist that the Pope was very specific about what kinds of people are seemingly justified in using condoms—prostitutes. I know. This kind of obfuscating and hairsplitting, not to mention the use of politically incorrect words, is what drives the prices of paracetamol to the stratosphere. Why can’t people just talk straight?

What I find offensive in the whole discourse is that the Church remains unapologetic over the harm it has obviously made to people living with HIV/AIDS. Many of them could have avoided infections if only the Church has not been adamantly against the use of condoms. Imagine how many more people could have avoided infections if the Church had not been aggressively promoting the idea that using condoms was evil and reprehensible.

In fact, one thing that has been glossed over in the whole discussion is the fact that the Church has been, for almost two decades now, funding studies and brandishing the results of these subjective and obviously flawed studies, that the use of condoms is not an effective deterrent in HIV/AIDS prevention. Worse, members of the Church have been aggressively promoting the wrong information that the virus can penetrate condoms! Is the Church going to apologize for deliberately spreading wrong information about the effectiveness of condoms in HIV prevention now that the Pope has said that it is the lesser evil?

This whole discussion can be traced to one basic problem and it is that the Church insists on playing politics and getting involved in matters of state. The problem with playing politics is that one is forced to embellish, bend the truth, distort facts, and re-frame issues to suit one’s interests. This is to be expected because politics, by definition, is about trying to influence the distribution of advantages or disadvantages and one cannot do this without having to manage other people’s impressions or perceptions. Simply put, anyone who indulges in political behavior must be a master in manipulation.

Ideally, therefore, the Church should as much as possible get out of politics or at the very least should always endeavor to be beyond or above it. I say as much as possible because I also know that playing politics cannot be totally avoided in the higher echelons of power. But given how the Church is supposed to be the bastion of morality, of truth, of ethical behavior, and of many other things good and desired, then it stands to reason that the Church should keep itself above the fray.

But alas, this is not the case today. The Church is actively involved in politics—and worse, in promoting illegitimate political behavior. And therein lies the bigger problem.

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