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An act of courage -

An act of courage

Posted March 15, 2010 00:18:00

Ramon J. Farolan

Philippine Daily Inquirer

A few years back when I was batting for a wider and more effective dissemination of the Senior Citizen law and its implementing rules and regulationsfor the benefit of both the senior citizens as well as the business communityI urged the secretary of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) then, Dr. Esperanza Cabral, to include the subject as one of the topics in her regular TV program. It was an informative show that helped me to understand more about common health problems affecting the lives of many of our people, especially those from the poorer sectors of society. I felt that Cabral had a wide audience, very likely a senior citizen audience that would greatly benefit from her presentations.

Since the DSWD chief is also the chairperson of the National Inter-Agency Coordinating and Monitoring Board tasked to spearhead a nationwide information and education campaign on the Senior Citizen law (RA 9257), her TV program was the perfect staging point for such a drive. Or so I thought. The suggestion was completely ignored and I never heard from the good secretary. When a columnists suggestion is ignored, it is actually good for his soul. It serves to remind him that the world is not holding its breath awaiting his various pronouncements.

Last month on Valentines Day, the Department of Health under Secretary Esperanza Cabral distributed free condoms to customers of flower shops in Manilas Dangwa flower market. It was the start of an anti-HIV/AIDS campaign to raise awareness about the disease. While the thrust is the fight against HIV/AIDSwhich is now on the risethere is no escaping the fact that for the first time, the government has taken such a public position on a program that has long been the subject of strong and consistent opposition from the Catholic Church. What could possibly be more public than handing out condoms in a flower market on Valentines Day! Even during the term of Health Secretary Juan Flavier, also a strong advocate for family planning who was eventually eased out of the job, this was never done.

In a recent BusinessWorld article, HIV/AIDS: The frightening reality by Johanna D. Poblete, the Philippine National AIDS/HIV Registry reported that as of January, 4,567 Filipinos were infected with HIV, with 835 cases in 2009 alone, the highest in 25 years.

. Of this number, 73 percent, or 588, were transmitted by unprotected sex. The Department of Health calculates that without intervention, by 2012 there will be 32,000 Filipinos living with HIV/AIDS.

We congratulate Secretary Cabral and the Department of Health for the work being done in the fight against HIV/AIDS. If the latest SWS survey on the reproductive health bill is any indication, many of our peopleCatholic and non-Catholicsupport the move for greater accessibility to artificial contraceptives through health programs as well as Sex Education in schools. Unfortunately House Bill No. 5043, known as The Reproductive Health, Responsible Parenthood and Population Development Act of 2008 or more commonly referred to as the RH Bill, was set aside in the House of Representatives because of strong Church opposition. Objection from the religious sector is based on fear that the use of condoms would encourage pre-marital and extra-marital sex.

Last Friday, the first National Catholic Forum on HIV/AIDS was held in Tagaytay City with an AIDS summit scheduled for April 12. As Dr. Ferchito Avelino, director of the Philippine National AIDS Council Secretariat, put it, Let us work together and acknowledge that there are certain people who will not go for certain strokes. We cannot go on having this debate, and just ignore the fact that every day two Filipinos are getting infected with HIV. Rather than throwing hurting words at each other, let us work together. The Church has so much to contribute in this intervention.

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