(UPDATED – 3:30 p.m.)
MANILA, Philippines — President Rodrigo Duterte’s tongue-in-cheek advice not to use condoms because these “aren’t pleasurable” demonstrated a “reckless disregard for the health of Filipinos” and threatens to set back the country’s efforts to combat HIV, a human rights watchdog said.
Welcoming home overseas Filipino workers, mostly women, who he had ordered repatriated from Kuwait, Duterte made a pitch for birth control, advising them to avail of “free” contraceptive pills.
Then he quipped: “Huwag ‘yang condom kasi hindi masarap ‘yang condom (Don’t use a condom because condoms aren’t pleasurable).”
To drive home his point, he took out a piece of candy. “Ito, kainin mo ‘to, ‘wag mong balatan… Kainin mo. Ayan ang condom (Here, try eating it without unwrapping it … Eat it. That’s what a condom is like),” he told the giggling crowd.
The World Health Organization has explained that condoms are not just used to prevent pregnancy, but also to protect against sexually transmitted infections.
“A large body of scientific evidence shows that male latex condoms have an 80% or greater protective effect against the sexual transmission of HIV and other STIs,” it says on its website. “Condoms are a key component of comprehensive HIV prevention.”
Duterte is known for cracking what his supporters insist are “jokes” but which many quarters find offensive, such as the one about the rape and murder of an Australian missionary and a suggestion that female communist guerrillas should be shot “in their vaginas.”
In a statement, Human Rights Watch said it was “irresponsible for the President to downplay the importance of condoms at a time when the Philippines is experiencing the fastest growing epidemic of HIV in the Asia-Pacific region.”
“Condom use can be key for reproductive health, but for many years the Catholic Church has sought to restrict access to condoms in the largely Catholic country,” the watchdog said, despite condoms being “at the center of UNAIDS anti-HIV strategy because they are ‘cost-effective tools for preventing [HIV and] other sexually transmitted infections and unintended pregnancies’.”
“Condoms also have an important role in assisting the 81 percent of Filipino women who want to delay or prevent childbearing in helping to reduce the country’s high maternal mortality rate,” it added.
Just last week, HRW published a report saying the number of new HIV cases in the Philippines “jumped from only four a day in 2010 to 31 a day as of November 2017.”
“From just 117 cases a decade ago, the total number of HIV cases as of November 2017 is 49,733, an overwhelming majority of which — 41,369, or 83 percent — were reported in the past five years alone,” it said.
And the Department of Health has also said that condoms “do not bother many couples or reduce sexual pleasure,” and that “there are many types of condoms and a couple can choose a brand that would suit them best and give them the most pleasure.”
“Policies restricting access to condoms are a threat to public health,” HRW warned. “International law obligates states to ensure access to condoms and related HIV prevention services as part of the human right to the highest attainable standard of health.”
It also pointed out that the Philippines is a party to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which it ratified in 1974 and directs governments to take steps necessary for the “prevention, treatment, and control of epidemic … diseases,” including HIV/AIDS.
“Instead of criticizing condoms as a pleasure inhibitor, Duterte should take meaningful action to protect the health of Filipinos by backing urgently needed policy changes to expand the accessibility and use of condoms in the Philippines,” HRW said.
The women’s advocacy group GABRIELA, said the Duterte remark “only shows his by now irrefutable anti-women and anti-poor bias.
“Duterte’s insistence on using pills or injectables is an eager act of wresting away from women the right to make scientifically informed decisions on matters concerning their own bodies, their reproductive health and the family planning method most suitable to them – matters that should neither be unjustly anchored on a president’s whim nor dictated by business deals between governments and pharmaceutical companies,” GABRIELA secretary general Joms Salvador said.
She pointed out, “Duterte’s condom blabber bares his neo-Malthusian stance on population control which denies government accountability on the state of poverty and joblesness among majority of Filipinos.
“Women’s poverty is a direct result of neoliberal economic policy impositions that have for decades allowed foreign and local oligarchic control of the resources of country. Duterte continues this policy by freezing workers’ wages, legalizing labor contractualization, and stunting farm production. Population control will not solve the problem where the masses lack resources because a few oligarchs have them in abundance.
“With Duterte’s foul and uncouth mouth, and his equally repulsive economic policies such as the recent TRAIN taxation scheme, women, who already bear the face of poverty and suffer the worst forms of oppression and exploitation in Philippine society, can only look at darker times ahead. We have had enough, we have no other recourse but to fight back and sever the tongue that speaks so vilely at us,” Salvador concluded.