Courting Health Disaster with Philippines' Anti-Condom Advocacies

(Author's Note: This is actually a very delayed reaction to Jester's post, "Apparently Religiosity is Not Compatible with Sentience nor Sanity" last November 18. However, since it was World AIDS Day last December 1, I think it's timely enough that I bring back the topic, though the "news" itself isn't news anymore. But the topic is still very relevant. Very. And I've to say that it is almost an emergency that everybody should pay attention to.)
"The Philippines is courting an AIDS epidemic with its anti-condom approach. The casualties will be millions of people who cannot protect themselves from HIV infection."

- Jonathan Cohen, research with Human Right's Watch's HIV/AIDS and Human Rights Program
In an article by Rina Jimenez-David in her Inquirer column, At Large, she wrote about how Councilor Joseph Juico had earned numerous and continuous criticisms and name-calling from Catholic groups and authories by being the main sponsor of an ordinance “Establishing a Quezon City Population and Reproductive Health Management Policy".

According to Councilor Juico, "we can no longer continue providing band-aid solutions to the problem of poverty, we need to get to the root of the problem."

But Catholic groups and authorities are quick to point out that overpopulation is not the root of the problem of poverty, but rather corruption and unfair distribution of wealth. A recent circular signed by Bishop Ongtioco accused the authors of the said reproductive health policy of “(using) the name of the poor … to push their deadly intent of promoting contraceptives and abortifacients.” The initiative, said the bishop, “kills the unborn children, cause(s) deadly cancers, destroys the Catholic educational formation of our youth.”

"The Church will never favor the use of artificial birth control methods, which are being endorsed in the proposal, whatever objective it may have," Bishop Honesto Ongtioco said.

Another, a leaflet this time, bares the letterhead of the Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal Parish and accuses the proposed ordinance of "(bringing) sexual promiscuity to intermediate and high school students in their class lessons."

Fr. Aries Sison, however, denies that the Church plans to excommunicate Juico for his persistence in proposing an “anti-life” law.

He (Juico) is taking it too personally… If he belongs to a family that is staunchly Catholic and was brought up well, he should understand. He should know that this is a big deal to the Church. In the first place, he shouldn’t have made such proposal. If only he sought our guidance and attended Masses regularly, then this would have not happened," he said.

Now, I think, before the Church authorities "reprimand" Councilor Juico for not "consulting" with their group before writing or proposing any law, they should have a reality check first.

Look at the statistics:

According to the data table, there are already 81. 6 million Filipinos as of 2004. And per square kilometer, there is a population of 268 people already. This was in 2002 and remember, this is an average. It could be denser in most areas, especially the urban cities. Is this not overpopulation?
Now, even if by some ingenious way we'd be able to eradicate corruption and even if there's fairer distribution of wealth, it still stand that the more there will people who have to have a share of the wealth, the less wealth each one will have. To make it simpler, four people sharing a pizza pie will definitely have more pizza to eat each compared to eight people sharing an equally-sized pizza pie. The Church is in denial that to reduce population is also vital to be able to alleviate poverty in the country. And this is because of their beliefs that they want to enforce on every Filipino, regardless if Catholic or not, by dabbling in national health policies.

It is also frustrating that most of the promoters of "natural family planning" are spreading false information about artificial birth control methods just so to push their own agenda of convincing people to disregard this alternative in family planning. A common pseudoscience is that condoms can cause cancer.

Condoms do actually protect women from contracting wart-causing human papilloma virus (HPV) which is the leading cause of cervical cancer. Women whose male sex partners use condoms consistently and correctly decrease risk of HPV infection by 70%, according to University of Washington researchers Rachel L. Winer, PhD, and colleagues.

According to American Cancer Society, protection from HPV by condoms may not be complete, but the protection it can offer is substantial particularly to women.

And while that condom use is not an absolute guarantee that you will not have STD, neither is a person's abstinence or fidelity to partner can be absolutely guaranteed as well. To think that in 2007, there are approximately 33.2 million people worldwide living with HIV, and more than 2 million people dying from AIDS and that, according to the Philippines' Department of Health, there are already 2,250 HIV infections reported, 30% of which have already become full-blown AIDS, isn't about time that the Church reconsider its stand about the use of condoms and other artificial birth control methods for the sake of saving their people from a health disaster?

"Whatever objective it may have", even for the sake of doing good to the health status of the country, it will not budge. Sounds ominous.

And the government should not let religious advocacies interfere with its function to implement national health-saving policies. But it already had done so, unfortunately:

In its 70-page report, Unprotected: Sex, Condoms, and the Human Right to Health in the Philippines, Human Rights Watch said that the Philippine government bans the use of national funds for condom supplies. Some local authorities, such as the mayor of Manila City, prohibit the distribution of condoms in government health facilities. School-based HIV/AIDS educators told Human Rights Watch that schools often prohibited them from discussing condoms with students.
In 2003, the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) successfully blocked legislation that would have authorized the use of national funds for condoms and other contraceptive supplies. That same year, the administration of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo awarded a P$50 million (U.S.$888,000) contract to an organization, Couples for Christ, to provide “natural family planning” seminars that discourage condom use. Nurses in government health clinics in Manila teach that condoms have holes in them, sources said, a myth that has also been articulated by Vatican spokesmen. (From Human Rights Watch)

By doing this, the government has undeniably put the poor and marginalized populations, who are at highest risk of HIV, in a very serious situation. These are the very people who need to have ready and easily available access to condoms which are the cheapest birth control method. And what's more dangerous is that the government is spending taxpayers' money on awarding contracts to organizations that aren't the best to deal with disseminating accurate health information. This is like saying that we, the taxpayers, are paying to be ignorant of health issues that we should know and are putting ourselves at risk, while we're at it.

And so, despite having taken steps to prevent HIV transmission and promote HIV/AIDS education through AIDS Prevention and Control Act of 1988 (R.A. 8504), the country cannot make progress because it is hampered by the machinations of a religious group that has a wrong notion that the entire Philippines is Catholic.

To the government and its local units, it should authorize the use of public health funds for the promotion of public health care education of the citizens and to make available contraceptives to those who MAY CHOOSE to use it. The government should use all possible means to counter misinformation about reproductive and sexual health and to promote only scientifically proven facts.
As for the Church, it has the right to religious expression but they should always keep in mind that it is the state that runs the country and not them. Also, they should be responsible in disseminating accurate health information and not to resort to false claims just to push their own agenda. It is rather unfair to its constituents and does not reflect the values of honesty, responsibility, and rationality, which should also be their advocacies, since they claim to be a group that have high moral standards.
I am not saying that it is wrong to use natural family planning procedures but it is certainly wrong to ban the implementation of artificial birth control methods just because it does not agree with what you believe in. Choices should be given to the people because it is their own lives to live and they have the right to decide how they're going to live it.


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