PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte has become a proven maser of showing his dexterity in treading the middle ground or balancing the interests of contending groups.
Duterte’s latest pronouncement on the government’s position regarding family planning and abortion is a case in point.
The President said he supports the use of contraceptives like condoms but rejects abortion, which is illegal, as a procedure to prevent unwanted pregnancies. Duterte agrees with the position of the Catholic Church that killing a fetus that is developing inside the mother’s womb is tantamount to murder. He however disagrees with the church on the use and propagation of condoms as this, too, is a way of preventing life according to the Catholic doctrine.
Ever practical and pragmatist, Duterte said he recognizes sex as a human “instinct” that cannot be suppressed, so that it is “better to use contraception to prevent unwanted pregnancies than following the calendar method.” The President supports the woman’s choice on reproductive issues, stressing that it is better to prevent pregnancies which are unwanted than let a child be born to suffer a lifetime of agony and hardships.
The Department of Health is now struggling with the problem of propagating the use of condoms to curb the rising number of HIV-AIDS cases in the country, with opposition coming from other agencies of government, particularly the Supreme Court and the Department of Education.
Some influential senators and congressmen, Catholic Church leaders, parents and teachers are against using the high schools in the distribution of condoms to very young recipients, with Sen. Vicente Sotto III even pointing out that this might encourage teenagers to be promiscuous.
Then again, the DOH has to follow the Supreme Court’s temporary restraining order given in 2015 stopping the department from distributing, selling, and administering contraceptive implants and the Food and Drug Administration from acting on all applications for reproductive products and supplies, including contraceptive drugs and devices.
Condoms, to the view of Health Undersecretary Gerard Bayugo, are outside the ambit of the TRO because these are not drug products but still, the law has been interpreted to include these pro-choice devices.
Soon, the DOH will have to make do with very minuscule tools to counter the gargantuan problems of runaway population growth, poverty, and HIV-AIDS, and their only fallback position is to push condoms despite the opposition from several sectors.
Duterte has other options to flesh out his announced position on the issues. There is the Reproductive Health Law that should be followed and implemented, so perhaps Duterte might use moral suasion in convincing the High Court to lift its TRO and hasten the resolution of reproductive issues.
In the meantime, the President should walk the talk and maximize the implementation of condom distribution nationwide, coupled with a convincing information campaign on its use.