MANILA – The rift between the government and the clergy on the ‘condom diplomacy’ has further widened after the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) called on the resignation of Health Secretary Esperanza Cabral from her post.
The crack started to manifest itself last February 14, Valentine’s Day, when the Department of Health (DOH), in line with its campaign against the proliferation of HIV-AIDS, distributed condoms to dating partners.
The Church, which has strongly supported natural method as a family planning method, was quick to oppose the campaign, saying condoms do not necessarily protect safe sex and are not a deterrent to HIV-AIDS spread.
In a statement posted in its website, the DOH clarified that the condoms handed out to the public “were not meant to promote artificial contraception, but rather a reminder to the public of the importance of responsible sexual behavior in combating the threat of HIV-AIDS.”
Reiterating an earlier remark made by deputy presidential spokesman Ricardo Saludo, the health department explained that the distribution of condom “should not be construed as a signal that the government is advocating sexual licentiousness,” but be viewed as “a tool of a creative campaign.”
The clarification, though, did not convince the clergy.
Three Catholic clerics, namely Archbishop Ramon Arguelles of Lipa, Bishop Arturo Bastes of Sorsogon, and Bishop Dinualdo Gutierrez of Marbel, instead called on Secretary Cabral to resign from her position after the health department directly blamed the Church for the rise of HIV-AIDS in the country.
A CBCP statement lifted from a broadcast statement Archbishop Arguelles made over Church-run Radyo Veritas, said: “It’s so immoral for someone in the government to be pushing the use of condoms which we all know is not deterrent to AIDS prevention.”
The prelates, echoing the position of the Church, said the problem with HIV-AIDS could only be solved by embracing a “responsible and moral attitude” toward sex, adding that “fidelity in marriage and abstinence from premarital and extramarital sex [are] key weapons in the fight against AIDS.”
Despite this stinging rebuke, the DOH is not wavering in its drive against AIDS by using condom, or prophylactics, as a campaign tool.
Secretary Cabral was quoted in an Inquirer report as saying that condom distribution is only one of the numerous things her department is launching “to reduce remarkably the growth in the number of HIV-AIDS in the Philippines.”
Taking a fighting stance against the Church's opposition, she further stressed that “We are not a religious state, such as Iran. We are a secular state where there is separation of church from state,” adding that the Philippines is a “democratic secular state.”
She said that “while it is very important for us to find out what [the Catholic Church] think, to cooperate with them in areas where we can be cooperating with, the government is the government and must do what it thinks is right for everybody,” underscoring the fact that not everyone is part of only one religious denomination.