SENATE Majority Leader Vicente Sotto 3rd on Sunday said he would call for a probe into the plan of the Department of Health (DOH) to distribute condoms to public high school students as part of the government’s effort to curb the rising number of cases of human immunodeficiency virus and acquired immune deficiency syndrome (HIV/AIDS).
Sotto accused DOH Secretary Paulyn Jean Rosell-Ubial and other officials of “playing with fire,” saying the condom distribution program could be construed as the government condoning underage sex.
“Are they now saying that sex with an underage person is now allowed? What about Republic Act 7610 (Special Protection of Children Against Abuse, Exploitation and Discrimination Act). How about statutory rape?” Sotto said in an interview over radio station dzBB.
He said giving condoms to high school students would be like giving students knives and telling them to use it to stab anyone.
“I want the officials of the DOH to answer if they are now saying that underage sex is now allowed and even encouraged because of the program. Isn’t that coercion?” Sotto said.
Instead of using taxpayers’ money to buy condoms and distributing them to minors, the DOH must focus on an information campaign on HIV/AIDS and emphasize that students are still too young to engage in sex.
Sotto said he would also try to review budget deliberations last year to find out if the DOH mentioned the condom distribution program to senators or if the agency deliberately kept it secret.
“I would have removed that item on the DOH budget had they informed us about their condom distribution program during the budget deliberation,” Sotto said.
Sotto again vowed to block the confirmation of Ubial’s appointment as DOH secretary at the Commission on Appointments, if she pushes through with the program.
Distribution banned in QC
The DOH’s condom distribution program has already hit a snag, at least in Quezon City (QC), where Mayor Herbert Bautista on Sunday ordered the city’s health office to disallow the distribution of condoms in the city’s public schools.
“We will allow the use of QC public health facilities, but not QC public schools,” Bautista said.
In an earlier news conference at the DOH’s main office in Sta. Cruz, Manila, Ubial said program managers had informed her that the planned condom distribution was pilot-tested in Quezon City public schools.
But the city’s epidemiology and surveillance unit said no condom distribution was made in any public school in the city, the city government said.
No beef with RH Law
Sotto said that he had nothing against the recent issuance of Executive Order (EO) 12, which calls for the full implementation of Republic Act 10354 or the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health (RP/RH) Act of 2012.
According to Sotto, EO 12, signed by Duterte last week, is addressed to the DOH and other concerned parties in charge of implementing the RP/RH law.
“DOH should have been implementing the law fully after it was enacted, but it failed, and now some are blaming the TRO (temporary restraining order) issued by the Supreme Court as reason why the law has not been fully carried out,” Sotto said.
Sotto pointed out that the TRO issued by the high tribunal was on the use abortifacients and not on the government’s implementation of the RP/RH law.
The high tribunal’s TRO stopped the DOH from “procuring, selling, distributing, dispensing or administering, advertising and promoting the hormonal contraceptive ‘Implanon’ and ‘Implanon NXT.’”
Sotto said those saying the TRO was to blame for the poor implementation of the law were wrong because the TRO was issued only on June 2015, three years after the enactment of the law.
Congress also gave DOH enough funding to implement the law, he said.
In its proposed 2017 budget, the DOH allotted P4.2 billion for its Family, Health and Responsible Parenthood Program and P165 million for contraceptives.