Mar. 17th, 2010

ksolaris: (word up)
Posting it here UNCUT.

==============================

This is a condom ad.
Sun at 8:27am

MANILA, Philippines—Welcome to 2010, where kids in call centers screw themselves dead, women waddle to market towing Baby Number 8 with Baby Number 9 on the way, and teenage girls skewer out fetuses from their vaginas with bent plastic hangers. The Church said abstain or bear the consequences. That the consequences eventually starve on the streets of Manila singing Villar songs isn’t the state’s problem. Consequences don’t stand on pulpits to condemn candidates to damnation in a voting year, but the sons of the Church certainly can.

With the Reproductive Health bill in limbo as presidential candidates drop support in the face of rampaging friars, Health Secretary Esperanza Cabral found herself in the role of Hosea’s wife when she gave away condoms on Valentine’s Day. Not satisfied with howling for Cabral’s resignation on the grounds of lewdness and immorality, the Church went back to its favorite stomping ground and demanded a ban on condom advertising.

There is a necessary parallelism to be made here. In 2007, when the Marlboro man rode off into the red sunset for the last time, he took with him five decades of tobacco advertising dominance. The cigarette ad ban was a result of congresses worldwide going head to head with the big guns of the tobacco monopoly on the strength of a single damning medical conclusion: smoking kills. It was a statement that although the state recognizes the individual right to commit suicide by way of a Winston Lights soft pack, it will not quietly allow the murderers to encourage more victims. Cigarette advertising, if successful, condemns the citizen to the grim promise of death by lung cancer. In comparison, successful condom advertising protects the citizen from a painful future with STDs—a future even the Church fears.

The condom ad ban is an interesting argument in the land of free speech and free enterprise, neon signs and presidents with mistresses, KTV bars and HIV. That most advertised products pose greater dangers than a condom does not seem to matter. Let the billboards peddle motorcycles and beer buckets and 24-hour cholesterol delivered to your doorstep. Let the grinning politicians pimp miracles; let Pagcor advertise the glory of gambling. All these are allowed because it is understood that individuals are free to make their own educated choices. Not every man gets drunk and beats up his wife, not every car owner runs pell-mell into school buses. It is abuse that is dangerous, not the cars or alcohol, and is why the government requires seatbelts and limits liquor sales. It's the same logic with sex, only the seatbelt is called a condom, nobody is forcing anyone to snap it on, and while the Church has every right to call it a ride to hell on a lubricated latex slide, the state is not permitted to do so.

According to a UNAIDS report, condoms have a 90 percent success rate against AIDS, and it’s not because one in 10 condoms is faulty. The failure is mostly due to human error and a lack of consistency. In a country where NGOs need to disabuse men of the notion that safe sex means a condom on a finger and not on a penis, we don’t need just condom ads, we need public service announcements from the national government ensuring that choices made are informed choices. If individuals choose to abstain, choose to have sex before marriage, choose to be promiscuous, choose not to have children when married, choose natural methods, choose to have threesomes at high noon with a jumbo pack of condoms and hot pink leather, they have that right. It’s called a democracy. Judge them for it, if you will, but the government cannot. A ban on sexual intercourse has yet to be included in the Constitution. After all, not everyone is matinee idol now vice-presidential candidate Edu Manzano. “I’ve never used a condom.” It is also hoped that he no longer has sex.

This isn’t just about condom ads or the fact over-the-counter contraceptives like pills and injectables are kept out of the public eye. It is about a government, with the exception of Cabral, that has buckled before the altar of Catholic righteousness in matters of reproductive health care. This is the same Church whose Fr. Melvin Castro told reporter Ricky Carandang that it is all right to vote for a crook for as long as that crook does not support modern family planning.

For the last eight years, the administration has bent over backwards for the Catholic Church, crowing about the success of natural family planning and failing to address the grim facts: 54 percent of all pregnancies are unintended, 1.9 million unintended pregnancies occurred in 2008 mostly among the country’s poorest 40 percent, 560,000 of these pregnancies resulted in induced abortion, 90,000 were hospitalized, 1,000 died from abortion complications and 1,600 women died in childbirth. AIDS cases have risen over 100 percent. So when presidential candidates say they support women’s choices to use artificial contraception but not the RH bill, it is necessary to ask just how legitimate women’s choices are without it. It can’t be a choice when a condom is an impossibility in a household earning only enough for a meal a day, when marital rape is a revolutionary notion, and sex education has come to a point that a student from the University of the Philippines can claim with all sincerity that he’s practicing safe sex because we all know a girl can’t get pregnant if she doesn’t get an orgasm.

The state already admitted the need to curb both a growing population and the rise of STDs; it already put out a budget for natural family planning. Denying reproductive health support is not a policy decision, it a moral argument from a single religion. The gods may damn the uneducated teenage girl in the slums for sleeping with her first boyfriend, but when government does it by consciously denying access and information, it’s discrimination.

It is an odd notion to claim it takes a condom advertisement for a teenager to get a hard-on, as if God and puberty weren't enough. Keeping an entire generation in the dark because of their “delicate conscience” is insane preparation for a universe where they will walk into multiple beliefs that collide at a street corner as Angelica Panganiban shows off her Bench panties in a four-story billboard. You want people to abstain; you offer a foundation that demands it and convictions that stand up to it. You don’t ask it from a government responsible for the protection of the varying convictions of 80 million people. If all it takes to “weaken the moral fiber” of a teenage girl is an ad that Frenzy condoms are now available in banana flavors, maybe it has less to do with the condoms and more to do with morals whose strength rests on a bishop’s wagging finger.

* * *

For reproductive health counseling and support, visit the Likhaan Center for Women’s Health at 88 Times Street, West Triangle, Quezon City or www.likhaan.net.

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