By: Tin Del Cano
Does DOH finally have a good solution to increasing HIV/AIDS rates?
During World’s AIDS Day last year, Philippines’ Department of Health announced its plans to distribute condoms to schools to strengthen its campaign against HIV and AIDS.
DOH Secretary Paulyn Jean Ubial, in an interview on GMA-7’s Unang Hirit said that the move is intentionally controversial so that people would talk about the country’s current situation on HIV and AIDS. She mentioned that condom distribution will not be openly done, rather, it would be a venue to discuss HIV/AIDS among young people. In the same interview, she speaks of DOH’s “ABC” strategy: A for abstinence, as to delay sexual debut; if they cannot to that, then they have B for be faithful, pertaining to partners being loyal to one another; if the youth could not opt for A nor B, then they have C for condom use. News anchor Ivan Mayrina told her that DOH surely has prepared their counterargument for critics who will say that condom distribution would arouse curiosity among the young ones about pre-marital sex. To this, she responded that there had been studies and statistics that even in Catholic schools from other countries where condoms were distributed, there has been a decrease in the number of pregnancies and of students who have been infected with STI’s.
In an article from philstar.com, Sec. Ubial justified that the idea for condom distribution in schools was primarily because younger people are engaging in sex nowadays, with the youngest HIV patient to date as 11 years old. In the same article, she was quoted saying, “Distribution of condom is not a bad habit. We are not encouraging the youth to use [it]. It is for safekeeping and should be used only during [an] emergency and for their protection.”
As if in anticipation, DOH also has called for the Catholic Church to be understanding towards this move. Sunstar.com reported that Health Undersecretary Gerardo Bayugo explained that this move is not to promote risky behaviors, rather “responsibility, respect, and good health habit”.
This issue, of course, drew both praise and flak from the Filipino community.
Catholic Groups: It’s Futile.
Naturally, this is a no-go for the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines.
In an interview with Radyo Veritas, CBCP-Episcopal Commission on Health Care executive secretary Fr. Dan Cancino said that they find the statistics alarming. He said, “A majority of those affected is our youth. The number of cases from 15 years old until 24 years old is increasing. So this is the future of our country because these are mostly our high school and college students.” For him, two factors contributed to the spread of the disease: poor dissemination of information and the prevalence of premarital sexual activities among the youth.
Balanga Bishop Ruperto Santos, DD, chairman of the CBCP – Episcopal Commission on Migrants and Itinerant Peoples said in an interview with Radyo Veritas, that this move only exposes the youth more to premarital sex. “You cannot correct a mistake by making a mistake,” he was quoted.
Meanwhile, Radyo Veritas President Fr. Anton Pascual has his own version of “ABC”: “A-Abstinence from sex outside marriage; B-be faithful to one another when married and C-conversion of heart to the value of love and sacredness of sex as a gift of God in marriage.”
A Catholic youth group, CFC – Youth for Christ, believes that the idea is not exactly constitutional. As reported in CBCP News, the said youth group released a statement citing Article II, Section 12 of the 1987 Philippine Constitution: “the State recognizes the sanctity of family life and shall protect and strengthen the family as a basic autonomous social institution…”. The group also believes that this undermines the role of parents’ role of forming the moral character of their children. Furthermore, they expressed their belief that this move will only encourage more sexual intercourse among the youth, and that condoms do not always protect those who use them from STI’s.
Teachers: It’s Disturbing
Teachers’ Dignity Coalition national chair Benjo Basas clarified that their group is fine with sex education, but they find the idea of distributing condoms in school quite disturbing as it could send a wrong message to students.
In an article from inquirer.net, he was quoted: “If we give them a world map, they will learn geography. If we give them a basketball or a chessboard, they will gather their friends and play. What would happen if we give them condoms?” He mentioned that the group believes that education on sexuality and responsible parenthood and reproductive health is the best means to fight against HIV/AIDS and even teenage pregnancy.
The Department of Education also did not yet give this idea a go. Sec. Leonor Briones said in an interview with ABS-CBN News that she has told DOH Sec. Ubial that she cannot support this move just yet. She said that the children are minors, hence, parental consent is needed on such issues. While DepEd will not get involved in the distribution of condoms, Sec. Briones said that the department will create its own curriculum according to UNESCO standards.
Sotto VS Seguerra?
Sen. Tito Sotto III called out Sec. Ubial for being insensitive to the nation’s conservative nature and thinks she is imposing her beliefs on the nation. He was quoted saying, “It’s insensitive to dismiss the sentiment of a conservative culture just because they failed to implement effective health programs. Your position is temporary but the damage you will cause cannot be reversed,” as reported in inquirer.net.
Meanwhile, singer-songwriter Aiza Seguerra, who also happens to be the Chairperson of National Youth Commission lauds the idea, and even lashed out at TitoSen for opposing it. In a Facebook post, Seguerra expressed how this mindset helps in spreading sexually-transmitted infections. The two have reportedly patched things up since.
More recently, Seguerra expressed that teachers should be “more diligent in teaching sex education and teach the students how to protect themselves”. In a report from philstar.com, Seguerra said that students should be taught how to use condoms properly and be equiped with enough knowledge to protect themselves from STI’s and teenage pregnancy.
The Filipino Youth and HIV
Why the Department of Health seems to go for desperate measures on how to lessen, if not totally eradicate HIV/AIDS is quite understandable. In their report from December 2016, the HIV/AIDS & ART Registry of the Philippines (HARP) presents some quite alarming statistics. Below is an excerpt from the said report, pertaining specifically to the youth.
In December 2016, 221 (29%) cases were among youth aged 15-24 years. Most (95%) were male. Two hundred nineteen (219) were infected through sexual contact (23 male-female sex, 129 male-male sex, 67 sex with both males & females), and two (2) through needle sharing among IDU.
From January 1984 to December 2016, 10,720 (27%) of the reported cases were 15-24 years old. Twenty-eight percent (9,507) of all the youth were reported from January 2011 to December 2016. From 1984 to 2002, more than half of the cases among the youth were females (179 or 71%). However, in 2003, there was an equal number of males and females reported. Since then, the trend reversed to male predominance. Ninety-five percent (10,230) were infected through sexual contact (1,277 male-female sex, 5,681 male-male sex, 3,272 sex with both males & females); 429 were infected through needle sharing among IDU, and 1 was infected through mother-to-child transmission.
In December 2016, 34 adolescents aged 10-19 years were reported to HARP. All were infected through sexual contact (5 male-female sex, 19 male-male sex, 10 sex with both males & females).
From January 1984 to December 2016, 1,429 (4%) of the reported cases were 19 years old and below. Seven percent (101 out of 1,429) were children (less than 10 y/o) and among them, 98 were infected through mother-tochild transmission, 1 through blood transfusion and 2 had no specified mode of transmission. Ninety-three percent (1,328 out 1,429) were adolescents. Among these, 1,210 (91%) were male. Most (92%) of the adolescents were infected through sexual contact (160 male-female sex, 743 male-male sex, 325 sex with both males & females), 85 (6%) were infected through sharing of infected needles, 8 (1%) through mother-to-child transmission, and 7 had no specified mode of transmission.
Alarming and disturbing these numbers are, the above statements and beliefs from opposing parties only show how different groups respond to certain issues… and maybe media has much to do with it.
Agenda and Panics
The issue on condom distribution hit the TV on December 1 when the issue was and up until early this month, the Philippine Daily Inquirer reported Aiza Seguerra practically telling teachers what to do about sex education classes. Whether or not this issue dies anytime soon, I’m thinking otherwise, especially when people from various walks of life weigh in.
I remember a former professor announcing in class that even news reports are biased. Media networks cannot help but lean towards a certain notion, while of course reporting presumably what is true. It all boils down to angle and treatment.
Maxwell McCombs and Donald Shaw explains this in their well-known Agenda Setting Theory. Simply put, they have identified media as an agent which does not necessarily tell people what to think, rather, what to think about. In a 2002 interview with author Em Griffin, McCombs even up-scaled this notion. “Media can not only tell us what to think about. They can also tell us how to think about it. Not only what we think, our attitudes and opinions, but in some cases, what we do,” said McCombs.
For media that are under the Catholic Church, naturally, their choice of news and news angles are against the issue that I have discussed. For other news networks, judge me now, but I think they are sensationalizing their headlines, especially. Not quite in the fashion of click-baits, but I suppose catchy, if not controversial, enough for people to share story links on social media without reading the whole article.
Needless to say, this whole issue on condom distribution in schools got Pinoys on social media bursting with reactions, even engaging in keyboard wars with other netizens, trolls included. As such, people use social media to shame others whose beliefs are opposite theirs. Shaming has indeed become commonplace in the internet world.
Chris Ingraham and Joshua Reeves, in New Media, New Panics, explain how this new attitude has been around for a while. Friedrich Nietzsche coined the term orgies of feelings to explain the phenomenon of what I understand is a form of defiance from a certain suffering, taking it from the Christian ascetic ideal. Nietzsche clarified though, that like taking a narcotic, the sensation may make one feel good for a while, but only end up making things worse, thus, making the sick sicker.
Shaming establishes or enters a domain of social intervention over which we might actually exert some influence relative to the more pervasive sense that our communication remains ineffective and powerless. – Ingraham and Reeves, New Media, New Panics
New media has provided for opportunities to communicate in ways which were not possible years ago. For Ingraham and Reeves, however, this has its dangers. In the same article, they wrote:
Mobile technologies make it easier for ordinary people to communicate widely, in real time, and from amid the actual social contexts where behaviors perceived as morally undesirable are observed to occur.
They further explain the phenomenon termed by Dean in 2009 as Communicative Capitalism, which is a political-economic formation in which there is talk without response. This ideal fuels the fantasy of many that digital participation gives one the liberty to contribute to social good by means of intervening during moments of moral crisis. Hence, shaming happens because of opposing beliefs, and some actually think it’s okay without considering how the other party feels, as long as they are heard, as long as their right to speak up is realized.
Now that I think about it, I feel like this urge to express one’s opinions on matters of religion, though without the assurance of a response from anyone, may have been brought about by, as Marshall McLuhan calls them, “moral panics”, many of them unreasonable, that are spread by moral entrepreneurs. One only has to check out history to understand how controlling and overbearing the Church had once been. It may have been this ideology, this horrid past image of the Catholic Church, not to mention the controversies the religious are involved, make people want to defy what the Church says.
I suppose the idea of the youth being more curious to engage in premarital sex because of condom distribution is yet another moral panic brought about the questionable conservative facade that the Philippines has. Speaking as a Catholic and as a teacher, this is one moral panic that I don’t really mind. I do not believe that anyone, the youth especially, should engage in premarital sex, for reasons that I can only justify with faith – a rationale not honored by all. As an educator, however, I think the whole idea is ridiculous. It’s like telling the children it’s okay to have sex because they’re protected anyway. This, in my opinion, may be disrespectful to families who do not share the beliefs. My two cents on this matter, ladies and gentlemen.
Why some tend to be more aggressive on this issue may have a lot to do with how media networks frame their news and how moral panics seem to be pushed aside by them. During these times, however, such manipulative abilities are no longer in the hands of large media companies. Maybe this works for us too, we who produce and consume media on a regular basis. Take viral content, for instance. It only needs to be interesting, unique, and may be even controversial, and chances are that people online can pick it up and spread the content.
We can shame others online for an opposing belief, and simply claim that’s it is our right to say what we feel and to defend what we think is right. We can create panics. We have the ability to set new fears to the online world especially if we get the formula right, which probably is a catchy title and photo, pretty much the makings of a click-bait.
McLuhan has once said it: media is the extension of ourselves. I suppose understanding the power that media has and how much we could maximize it with a few taps and clicks could be a reminder of the responsibility that we hold. Such an ability, which once was limited, now is a more accessible force, one which – ironically – builds various ways of self-expression, while possibly destroying relationships among people online. Sometimes, even offline.
- DOH to distribute condoms in schools: http://www.philstar.com/headlines/2016/12/02/1649587/doh-distribute-condoms-schools
- CBCP: Giving out condoms promotes immorality, won’t prevent AIDS: http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/850822/cbcp-giving-out-condoms-promotes-immorality-wont-prevent-hiv-aids#ixzz4Z1Ea3sNY
- DOH to Church: Understand planned distribution of condoms in schools: http://www.sunstar.com.ph/manila/local-news/2016/12/27/doh-church-understand-planned-distribution-condoms-schools-51702
- No DepEd OK yet for condom distribution in schools: http://www.philstar.com/headlines/2017/01/03/1659184/no-deped-ok-yet-condom-distribution-schools
- Sotto to Ubial: Insensitive to dismiss sentiment of conservative PH: http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/863001/sotto-to-ubial-insensitive-to-dismiss-sentiment-of-conservative-ph#ixzz4WBBFtIti
- Seguerra hits Sotto over distribution of condoms in schools: http://cnnphilippines.com/news/2017/01/20/Seguerra-Sotto-condom-distribution.html
- DepEd won’t allow condom distribution in schools: http://news.abs-cbn.com/news/01/30/17/deped-wont-allow-condom-distribution-in-schools
- Teach students about condom use – Aiza: http://www.philstar.com/headlines/2017/02/05/1669227/teach-students-about-condom-use-aiza
- McCombs on the Agenda-Setting Theory: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9yFENr7ABcc
- Ingraham, C., & Reeves, J. (2016). New media, new panics. Critical Studies in Media Communication, 33(5), 455-467. doi:10.1080/15295036.2016.1227863