In the waning days of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s second term of office and the uncertainty over whether she will be able to maneuver herself into a third term; when cabinet secretaries are being forced to quit so they can run for office, and her cronies are making last minute moneymaking deals; when her political allies are weighing their options of whether to stay with her or shift their alleigence to her anointed one (?), Esperanza Cabral was quietly doing her job. On Valentine’s Day, Health Department workers passed out condoms in poor urban areas. Cabral says more condoms are being passed out to targetted urban poor areas in an effort to combat the spread of AIDS, which she says has reached epidemic proportions.
She says the number of reported AIDS cases has doubled in the last few years to more than 4,000. Granted that’s not much in a country of nearly 90 million with an uncontrollable population growth, but that could be the tip of the iceberg. How many cases are unreported? Given the sharp increase in reported cases, we could see that four thousand multiply exponentially if we don’t do something right now. Hence the condom distribution.
Of course anytime that anyone wants to do anything that involves their genitals, the wingnuts from the Catholic Church will swoop in and vow damnation. Bishops have called for her removal from office, and she was told that she now has one foot in hell. Two bishops have even condemned presidential candidate Gilbert Teodoro after he said he would keep her in her post if he became president. They are so disillusioned with Teodoro that they have publicly endorsed the candidacy of JC delos Reyes, the young extremist candidate from the religious Ang Kapitaran party, whose very limited knowledge of public policy seems to come only from what he reads in the Bible.
Cabral says she scared of the sometimes “vicious” attacks from the Church. But she says she will soldier on as long as Arroyo doesn’t order her to stop. And–to my surprise—Arroyo has not stopped her. After a decade of caving in to the Church on the family planning issue in exchange for its tacit political support, she has actually left Cabral alone to do her job. And Teodoro, after initially flip-flopping on reproductive health, has publicly said that he would keep Cabral at DoH if he wins.
In the meantime, Cabral is getting it left, right, and center from the bishops and the “faithful”. She has tried to sidestep the attacks by saying the condom distribution is not a contraception issue but rather a public health issue. She’s not doing it to promote contraceptives but to prevent the spread of a deadly disease. But the attacks continue. Cabral is literally trying to save lives. And for that she is being accused of being anti-life.
There have been a few statements of support for Cabral from the reproductive health community, but they have been sporadic and uncoordinated. Perhaps this is in part due to the fact that she is part of an unpopular regime, but stopping the spread of AIDS and saving lives should not be a partisan issue. Its time for advocates of reproductive health to get their act together and give Cabral a hand, otherwise the other side will win again.