The Village Idiots: a short story

This is a story of a far away land in an undisclosed location in the middle of northern Philippines where Filipino politics had not yet reached and where people’s lives had not succumbed as yet to the idiocy of politics.

In this community of ten thousand, everyone lived like an idiot. When somebody made a mistake, they would laugh at it throughout the day until they got exhausted and would prompt them to sleep soundly in the night. None of the people in this far away land had ever seen any human settlement other than their village. Some attempted to venture and seek, out of that human desire for adventure, other parts of the world, but they ended in vain. Either they died along the way or they never returned to tell the story of how it was to live outside the community. No one from the outside ever reached the village and documented the unique way of life the people of this unknown place had. Not until just recently.

The people of this village lived in complete peace and happiness. Being idiots, although it sometimes caused them to start planting rice during the climax of summer heat, which ended up, of course, to massive crop failure, or to feed their pigs and other farm animals with banana leaves, which of course made the animals bloated and sickly, they seldom experienced hardship because any problems cause by their stupidity was viewed as another opportunity for them to have merry-making and an entire afternoon of laughing spree.

The community had no established form of formal government, or any kind of hierarchy based on power. However, this did not mean that their society was free from any form of stratification. There was, in fact. The more dimwitted a member was, the higher was his place in the society’s echelon. But being the most idiotic of the idiots was not an elected post as it is in mainstream Philippine society today. In this community, whose name was already forgotten, it is determined by the level of idiocy one has committed. The grander was the task, the more far-reaching the effect, the more stupid it looked, the higher was the member’s position in the society’s caste.

And so they continued to live at peace with each other. Each member felt secured with the fact that as long as they remained idiots nothing would harm them, and that being an idiot would keep them from harming themselves as well as other idiot members of the community.

They were occasionally plagued with pestilence, famine, and disease but nature had been good to them, generally. This continued for several centuries. Until one day.

It was an ordinary day; somebody’s house was burning because instead of cleaning the house using water and detergent, one housewife, lured by the addicting pungent odor of paint thinner, poured some on the bamboo slats she was trying to clean. Accidentally, the burning wood she was using to cook rice fell on the bamboo slat and started the fire. The fire consumed her hut in half an hour. She was teary-eyed, laughing at the ashen remain of her house. The village people gathered around her and asked her to buy them tuba, a local alcoholic beverage, to which she replied that all the monies she tucked between her bamboo walls burned with the house. Everyone burst laughing. Because of this, she was elevated to the third rank idiot position.

During that day, from nowhere, according to some accounts it was from the sky, a newspaper appeared right in the middle of the remains of the burned hut. It was a newspaper published in Manila. The people got curious and started reading the paper.

Although they were dumb, they were not illiterate. They found out that the right reaction whenever they see a burning house is to cry and to blame the owner of the house for negligence, or the fire department for the very slow response, or the government for not strictly implementing building codes. They stoned the careless housewife to death, a punishment she deserved according to the village code of conduct.

They found out that their village leaders must be duly-elected leader and not selected based of the level of idiocy.

In the agriculture and farm section of the newspaper, they discovered that banana leaves are the worst things to feed to their animals.

And so a village-wide riot occurred. Reading in the newspaper that war is a natural consequence of misunderstanding, the men took their farm implements and whacked the heads of the first person they saw. The women, opting for a less violent means, called on the village witch to cast a spell to other women whom they think are shrewder than anyone of them. The village witch had a busy day that day. It was also her last day to see daylight.

For after that, the village vanished and nothing was heard about what happened to them.

Last week, however, archeologist from the National Museum discovered skeletons of pigs in northern Philippines. And according to the tests they conducted on the remains of the pigs, the stomach of the animal, which miraculously remained intact, contain bananaine, an enzyme found only in banana leaves which confirmed the story that sometime in the distant past, a village of idiots existed whose members were believed to have fed their pigs with banana leaves.

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Filipino intellectuals as “merely” intellectuals

If you ask a first year Filipino high school student who does he think is the greatest Filipino intellectual, aside from having a hard time figuring out the meaning of the word intellectual, he will either give you a blank stare for an answer or will blurt “Jose Rizal” only because he cannot anymore think if this country has one in the first place, aside from the national hero.

I graduated from the best university in the Philippines where one can brush elbows with the country’s intellectuals. It is not unusual to attend a lecture of a winner of the Palanca Award, a National Scientist or someone who is a Fulbright scholar or an expert in international relations, military defense, women’s issues, biotechnology, theater and visual arts, botany, the list goes on – scientist and artists who are well-respected in their respective fields.

Jose Rizal, Marcelo del Pilar, Mariano Ponce
Filipino Ilustrados: Jose Rizal, Marcelo del Pilar, Mariano Ponce

Nothing can be sadder, however, that this intellectualism is not reflected in national development. An outsider, say, a man from the moon, who happens to land in the Philippine soil, will never conclude that the Philippines has existing intellectuals. Okay, I know these images are pathetic and lame. However, the fact that intellectuals in the Philippines are pathetic and lame, that declaration, I will stand by.

I remember riding a jeepney, a form of public transportation common in the Philippines, and meeting a professor of Community Development in the University of the Philippines. While we were both trying to compress our bodies to give the remaining sitting space to incoming passengers per order of the conductor, the topic of our conversation shifted to the role of intellectuals in the Philippines. She said that Filipino scholars are too cerebral to shift their attention to the people in the grassroots. Being a scholar in the Philippines means being “pedestalized” and at the same time ignored

Filipinos treat some of their intellectuals like the way they worship their movie stars. We place them on the pedestal that we end up missing the point why we call them intellectuals; we cannot appreciate the knowledge they have to share because the glitz and glamor of their erudition blinded us like the absence of talent for most of our movie stars and the lack of it superseded by the controversies, scandals, and intrigues they create.

Some of these intellectuals, those who are too unlucky to be uncharismatic and not good looking will only wallow in oblivion and unfunded researches.

We are a nation of people who always misses the point, the essential.

Randy David a an immenent Filipino sociologist
Randy David an eminent Filipino sociologist

Randy David is one of the few Filipino intellectuals who is given enough media attention so that he is able to express his academic views in the tradition of the pop culture, a great sociologist who knows how to make use of pop media to make the public understand, at least those who can read English, and re-examine our Filipino-ness. However, I see this to be detrimental rather than beneficial to the intellectual community in general. Allowing David this greater access to mass media, and barring other school of thoughts from stating their cases due to their lack of access to the media, creates a monochromatic perception of Filipino society. Of course David is not the only good sociologist this country has.

In the academe necessary debates bring light to new way of looking at a certain phenomenon, in the Philippine media this does not happen. Media exist in sound bites, headlines, sweeping videos. Simplicity is paramount; if one wants to explain something, in order for the public to understand his point he has to simplify it, and stating an important commentary on the role of people power, something that defines history, in 60 seconds, is not at all helpful and can be very dangerous. It will only lead to misinterpretation, misunderstanding, or even the collapse of a nation.

For any ordinary Filipino the academe is represented by a single face – that of David’s. So here we see a good example of an exulted Filipino intellectual dialectically positioned against a much bigger community of intellectuals whose line of thinking are divergent therefore unable to have their line of thinking represented and be made known to the bigger Filipino nation, ignored. Some of these ideas may be better than that of David’s.

I believe that the Filipino nation is one of the most intellectual nations in the world. Our scholars are well-respected all over the world. But why is this not seen in the country’s economic performance, political maturity, and societal growth? Filipino intellectuals are one of the most articulate in any international conferences; they propose sensible ideas on analyzing different phenomena that boggle mankind, but when they are in the Philippines they become dumb.

Filipino intellectuals are detached from the hustles of ordinary Filipino lives. They cloak themselves with robes of erudition and pedantry. Intellectualism, knowledge production are ends in themselves. What’s next after acquiring knowledge is left for the public to figure out.

Unless the intellectuals of this country do not immerse themselves in the nation’s problems and join in the great debate of Filipino-hood then they’ll remain useless erudites and pedants, or better yet books in libraries that gather nothing but dusts.

“Freest press in Asia”: when freedom gets out of control

During the first three quarters of this year, the city of Ho Chi Minh (Saigon) alone received a total of 27 billion US dollars worth of Foreign Direct Investments (FDIs). Now compare this with the 3.5 billion received by the Philippines during the same fiscal quarters. If this does not mirror the lack of trust of foreign investors in the Philippines, then I do not know how to look at it. Countries in Southeast Asia – Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam – have already left the Philippines behind in attracting investors which are needed in developing the economy.

Investors blame this on the glaring corruption in the government. Nothing new. Transparency International released a report several weeks ago ranking the Philippines as one of the most corrupt countries in the world, even surpassing Indonesia. In fact it is found in the bottom 20. We all know this, and this report did nothing to confirm this fact it mainly quantified our corruption index.

Presidnet of the Philippines, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo
President of the Philippines, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo

Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, on the other hand, in an effort to divert the attention from her government’s inaction, said:

“A lot of their (Transparency International) basis is what they read in the papers. It’s a whole layering of perception indexes. And if you compare the Philippines with the rest of the region, we have to remember that the Philippines has the freest media in the region.

“What would be on page 10 in some other countries would be a banner headline in the Philippines. Even rumors and innuendos become fact when they’re in the banner headline. That’s part of what we have to live with,” she added. “I don’t think the business community would like a clampdown on freedom and liberties in the Philippines because that’s part of our competitiveness I suppose.”

This was her answer when she was asked in an open forum by Charles Goddard of The Economist Intelligence Unit on how the country would combat corruption. A woman is caught stealing and blamed it on the witnesses because if not for them there will be no stealing. A lousy argument once again made by Mrs. Arroyo.

This essay will not be about corruption in the Philippines for several reasons: Number one, I am not an expert in Philippine bureaucracy and how it works; number two, it’ll be a waste of time to propose solutions to this problem because the people who run the Philippine government have gone callous to heed the calls for reform. Ordinary Filipinos are already hopeless that this country will change in this generation. Our national leaders have failed us. Straight. And number three, I am more interested in discussing about a topic very close to me – the media.

The president might have begged the question for instead of acknowledging her administration’s failure to curb corruption she blamed the media. however, there is truth to her declaration. Media in the Philippines, the “freest in Asia”, contributed a lot why the country’s falling down the drain.

In a democratic country, a free media is indispensable. It is a component of freedom that without it democracy is nothing but a general noun.

Meaningless.

In the case of the Philippines, a country that claims to be democratic, or is working toward it, having a kind of media that is a sloppy imitation of the United States’ media is problematic at best and a nuisance at worst. The kind of ‘free’ media cherished by the American people works for a certain kind of social situations – strong state apparatuses, literate people, powerful middle class, historically mature population – aspects that are obviously lacking in the Philippine setting.

Philippine Daily Inquirer's Sunday issue.
Philippine Daily Inquirer's Sunday issue, a far tamer version of its weekdays issues

Philippine media, on the other hand, has a free reign and is having a great time partying with the gore, controversies, blood, sex. It is never controlled in the real sense. I’ve read newspapers in English in Malaysia, Indonesia, and Vietnam; these are papers read by foreigners, by English-speaking business men. Yes, they print news about national problems, corruption, natural disasters, political factionism, crimes, but they do not place them in the front page. They allot a small portion of the paper for these concerns.

In the Philippines, the case is the complete opposite. Politics takes precedence over other issues followed by entertainment news. So debacles in the senate such as the recent confrontation between senate president Manny Villar and another senator Jamby Madrigal is more important than the approval of JPEPA, an economic partnership program between the Philippines and Japan that will boost development in the country. Or that the rumored break up of senator Francis Pangilinan with his wife Sharon Cuneta got more attention than the 8.3 per cent losses that the stock market incurred.

According to the Agenda-setting theory, a communication theory that basically explains that media organizations can be so powerful because they can actually dictate what is newsworthy, if it’s not broadcast, aired, or printed then it is not news.  In the Philippines national development is not the primary agenda of the media, that is, if they consider it as part of their agenda at all.

Media in the Philippines are at a failure to recognize that they can shape public opinion and they can do it for the good of this country.

Comparing Vietnam News and Philippine Daily Inquirer based on criteria such as page design, the way news are written, use of the language, and editing, an objective journalism professor will clearly judge the Inquirer as winner in all fronts. But Vietnam news creates a better image of the country than the Inquirer does for the Philippines.

I am not interested with Foreign Direct Investments but when I read Vietnam News my attention is pulled towards it because it is in the front page. I am not interested about national economic policies of the Communist Party for 2015 but I get to read them because they are prioritized over other sensational issues. These controversies, if I may add, are rarely printed or if they are, are not in banner headline where a poor foreigner can see them and would think that Vietnam is pathetic.

The Philippine Daily Inquirer dated October 13, 2008
The Philippine Daily Inquirer dated October 13, 2008

Inquirer is the complete dialectic of English newspapers in Southeast Asia. It may be the ‘freest’ but it has redefined the word free that it has gone unrecognizable. For Inquirer, it seems that it has made an assumption that all its readers are dumb so news related to entertainment are placed in the font page. They do not think that if readers would want it, they could just go to Showbiz page and read about the fight between Cristy Fermin and Nadia Montenegro. No, Inquirer slaps these details, scandals on to the readers’ faces. “The bad news is good news” dictum is still the guiding principle of most media organizations in the Philippines.

I believe that the kind of media the Philippines has is not suited for its developing status. Sensationalism, crime reporting, warring politicos, rampant corruption have their right places. And the front page is far from it.

Truly corruption in the Philippines as measured by Transparency International is based mainly on perceptions that are further based on reports from national media. And the sad truth is that in the Philippines this is not just perceived corruption for it is too obvious. The government is too hypocritical to blame this low Foreign Direct Investment turn out on the media. Nevertheless, the media is also answerable. It has not transcended sensationalized reportage. Issues are not tackled in the manner of investigative journalism. It’s a hybrid between half-baked adversarial journalism and down the line shallow showbiz reporting that results to what the Philippine media is today.

Collateral Damage

September 8, 2008, Barangay Tee, Datu Piang, Maguindanao, in the Philippines. The sky was cloudy.

Mandi Bangkong, a resident of Barangay Tee, felt unusually cold for the monsoon season has already started. He was sitting on a bench with other men. His four young grandchildren were playing near the lake while the much older members of his household were preparing for the next meal.

AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) planes were hovering overhead. Mandi Bangkong felt an impending danger. He called his family to run to the lake and take the boats to find shelter in the other bunk. The children ran, covering their heads with their arms in the useless attempt to fend off bullets; the youngest boy crying, calling for his mother’s name.

100 meters above, one of the planes released two rockets aimed at the family of Mandi. Four of his grandchildren, one a pregnant teenager, died instantly of shrapnel and direct bullet hits, the other one died in the hospital while being desperately given first aid treatment. Their father, Daya Manunggal Mandi disappeared in the lake and was presumed to be dead.

Peace!
Peace!

Much has been said about military encounters. The properties damaged and individuals killed will remain unaccounted for, unnamed. Such is the character of war. These innocent individuals are pawns to these encounters – collateral damage.

“Unintentional damage or incidental damage affecting facilities, equipment, or personnel, occurring as a result of military actions directed against targeted enemy forces or facilities. Such damage can occur to friendly, neutral, and even enemy forces.” (United States Armed Forces Intelligence Targeting Guide)

My closest experience of war was when I was in my sixth grade seeing our town public market in a local television news program surrounded by tanks and military men. The fear that seeped through my senses during that time was beyond my ability to express. For being twelve years old, seeing with one’s eyes the possibility of death and the result of violence were too much for me to bear. And I just couldn’t imagine those whose lives remain lacking of peace because war chose their homeland to be its arena.

War might have gone cliché for some of us who have been constantly exposed to sloppy coverage of war in Mindanao by local news programs. But for those whose lives will be difficult to define outside the context of war – the children recruited to join rebel groups, the family of Mandi Bangkong, faceless and nameless victims of war in Mindanao living a life caught between crossfire, these clichéd portrayals of their lives will forever be unjustifiable.

Collateral damage, a bland and colorless word, will never fully capture the fear, lives lost, family separated all in the name of national security, national unity, national integrity. Behind these nightly television news about the war in Mindanao are lives whose stories are more compelling than the best documentaries ever produced but will remain hidden in numbers because seeing faces behind these numbers will just be too much to comprehend for an ordinary viewer who is comfortably sitting on a couch in a far-away Manila.

Collateral damage will not tell us about the young children who died because the Philippine army mistook them for rebels. Their bodies will not say anything about the atrocities that caused their deaths because they had to be buried, according to Muslin tradition, before sundown, denying them of any chance to be autopsied.

But who will care looking into the death of these victims. They are after all just the usual result of war – collateral damage.

An afternoon with a dentist

I’ve had my two molar teeth filled this afternoon. I opted for a metal filling over porcelain, the latter being more expensive which is my primary consideration, costing around a million dongs. Although the metal filling, for 600,000 dongs, will be unsightly when scrutinized, it will be hidden deep inside my mouth, so nothing to worry, I reasoned.

It seems that my unlucky days are far from over.

It’s been quite a while since the last time I visited a dentist. I fear them, their face mask, and their dreaded drill. This dentist is not different from the ones I met before. She owns a private clinic inside her house not far from where I stay, but I will probably forget the way in case I do a second visit because of the labyrinthine nhieu ngo /ni-yo ngo-o/ (many small streets) going to her house.

I used to be so proud of my even, pearly-white teeth. I remember my teachers commenting when I was still in my elementary years that my teeth are well taken care of. As far as I can recall, I was the only one in my grade five class who had no teeth cavity. That in itself was already a great feat especially that in the Philippines almost 95 per cent of the population have teeth cavity. Think of 89.3 million people needing dental health treatment. Big business if we look at it that way. But Filipinos are not so much concerned with the status of their teeth and filling the cavities in their molar as filling an empty stomach is a more urgent need.

Not until I reached college that I started to take my teeth for granted. I did brush them three times a day, of course, but the quality of the way I brushed faltered. I was always in a hurry that a three-minute brushing session was deemed excessive and impractical. I was so sad that day when after several sleepless nights caused by an aching molar, the dentist in the infirmary recommended to fill it to save the tooth. I agreed.

Seeing the pulverized remain of my tooth floating in the air while the drill mercilessly went on creating a hole to give way to that white substance dentists enjoy rolling on their thumb and index finger was traumatic.

The pain was unbearable, but what was more excruciating was the site of one of my teeth being raped, deflowered, in front me. I did nothing to stop the sacking.

This afternoon was less painful. I had to do the operation to save the rest.

Possibly tomorrow, I’ll be ready to flash a smile once again.

Politicians as product endorsers

Thailand is currently experiencing a political struggle because of one very mundane reason (of course there are some other reasons, but let us focus on this): a prime minister holding a cooking show.

(Please click here for details.)

Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej hosting his cooking show
Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej hosting his cooking show

Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej was removed from office after a huge public outcry, the reason being one of the many is because of his cooking show. According to Thai Constitution it is illegal for any member of the Executive to work for any private companies during his term of office. The cooking show being one of these private entities that a government official must never involve himself in.

In the Philippines, although this kind of law is non-existent, it is left to the politician’s delicadeza (sense of shame, sense of proper and improper) whether he still would host a show or endorse a product despite the public nature of his role. It is unimaginable for a true statesman to endorse a laundry powder or a brand of brandy.

Unimaginable, not at all; they do occur and these products are endorsed by no less than the supposed to be honorable nationally-elected senators.

All of a sudden the demarcation between politics and show business becomes too faint that not only actors and actresses cross the line and become politicians but also politicians seeing that the grass on the other side of the wall is as green albeit a different shade of green, they followed suit and ended up as product endorsers.

In Iloilo, a province in the central Philippines, politicians would never allow themselves to be left out in this hype of endorsing products. The vice mayor of the city, Jed Mabilog, smiled like a movie star in his billboard endorsing batchoy, a local noodle concocted with tasty soup and pig entrails.

These huge posters featuring the vice mayor thumbing up before a bowl of batchoy and a plate of pan de sal are found along Iznart Street and facades of leading department stores in the city. A vice mayor sharing the spirit of his public office with a bowl of batchoy. A process of hybridizing of what is supposed to be a public entity and the commercial sphere creating a totally laughable concoction of farce aimed at profitability.

Iloilo vice mayor, Jed Mabilog, endorsing a brand of batchoy in Iloilo City
Iloilo vice mayor, Jed Mabilog, endorsing a brand of batchoy in Iloilo City

Another city councilor, Jam Baronda, proudly posed while she is riding a delivery motorbike of a local company that specializes in Ilonggo chicken barbeque.

Again a political move, that is if it can be considered as a political move, that is too difficult to understand.

In an ad communication process, it is the product endorser that shares his integrity, credibility, and name to the product; but in the cases above, considering that these Ilonggo products have established their names in terms of the quality of service and the goods they sell, it made me think whether a bowl of bathoy or a stick of chicken inasal is bestowing on these politicians their long respected names. These politician’s credibility grounded on no less than a bowl of local noodle and chicken inasal.

I do not think that these politicians (for calling them statesmen would be an insult to the real statesmen that this nation has produced) are financially needy. Endorsing a detergent or a local dish is going to be a negligible addition to their financial coffer. In the Philippines, wealth is a prerequisite for running in a public office so it’s a given that politician are wealthy, at least relatively.

Philippine politics is a hybrid of glitzy world of the stars and an equally controversial political arena. Sometimes, an ordinary citizen will have a hard time distinguishing the two entities; or an actor from a politician for both act so well, at least in field other than true acting.

A commodity, say barbecue or alcoholic beverage, even batchoy are dependent on marketing strategies in order for them to compete in a consumerist society. They must be strategically positioned so that the intended market will purchase them, and if necessary do repeat purchases thereby ensuring the product’s success. This product positioning utilizes different kind of marketing strats such as making use of a trusted person that will speak of the product’s good qualities. In this case, doctors, prominent stars, sport figures predominantly comprise the list of top product endorsers.

But politicians?

Public servants hold a very sacred role in the society. In a democracy they have even bigger responsibility.

Endorsing a product is not one of them.

Going back to this Filipino concept of delicadeza, apparently our politicians, both national and local, are found wanting of this. Instead, they compensated this with kapal ng mukha (shamelessness). Public service in general, and politicians in particular are not commodities to be marketed with a corresponding monetary value. It is a sacrilegious.

It may be hopeless to speak of delicadeza in these times when a politician is not anymore expected to have this character.

Just let me try, nonetheless.

How dare the Catholic Church in the Philippines!

Polo Gomez, 43, wore a crown of needles holding what he said was his own HIV-infected blood during a protest against the increasing prices of AIDS treatment, in Mexico City, on June 18, 2008. Mexico City which hosted the International AIDS Conference.
Polo Gomez, 43, wore a crown of needles holding what he said was his own HIV-infected blood during a protest against the increasing prices of AIDS treatment, in Mexico City, on June 18, 2008. Mexico City which hosted the International AIDS Conference.

“He’s only 22, very young, but spends all his remaining time in the government hospital,” my Thai friend told me in halting English.

“If only he had been careful.” I said.

Somebody who is as young, as inexperienced as that friend of a friend doesn’t deserve to die, only if he practiced safe sex or altogether abstained from having sex. But knowing that the latter is difficult, if not impossible to do, he could have opted for protected sex.

He contracted the disease amid Thailand’s rigorous campaign to use condom as protection from AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections .

From 1984 to 2007 in the Philippines, the number of registered cases reported was 3,061, with 2,754 persons still alive. But according to the Department of Health and the World Health Organization, the actual figure could be higher, accounting for unreported cases since the stigma of having AIDS causes those with the disease to die in silence or infect unknowingly their partners. In 2007, these two health agencies estimated that there are around 7,490 people living with HIV in the Philippines, an increase of 1500 from the 6,000 estimate in 2002.

In an article published on the Philippine Daily Inquirer entitled ‘Change in behavior, not condoms, will stem AIDS’. dated August 28, 2008, Pangasinan Archbishop Paciano Aniceto, chair of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines’ Commission on Family and Life, said promoting the use of condoms would be “dangerous and ineffective.”

He was reacting to a statement by Health Undersecretary Mario Villaverde, who said last week condom use was one of the most effective ways of preventing the spread of AIDS and HIV.

Also, two senators—Edgardo Angara and Pia Cayetano—have called on the government to strengthen laws on AIDS prevention and control, including more seriously educating the public on how to avoid it by using protection, such as condoms.

But Aniceto relayed the view of the Church in a statement yesterday: “We are constrained to express grave concerns over the press statement attributed to Undersecretary of Health Mario Villaverde that the Department of Health will now promote the nationwide use of condoms, allegedly as a means to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS.”

Condom use will not effectively protect one from contracting the virus, the prelate said, adding that a prophylactic is not 100 percent foolproof.

“It is the duty of the DOH never to propose for general public use any prophylactic that could increase the incidence of the disease it is supposed to prevent,” the archbishop said.

“It is, therefore, irresponsible, imprudent and dangerous for the department to declare that the use of the condom, without any change in unhealthy sexual behavior, will prevent seropositive cases from transmitting HIV/AIDS to their seronegative spouses,” he said.

The writing on his chest says "VIH-SIDA EMERGENCIA NACIONAL," or "HIV/AIDS National Emergency."

In this case, we see two public entities, the government health agency and the Roman Catholic Church in the Philippines conflicting over the control over the people’s private spheres. The former for reason of public health security as in the disease is difficult to contain once in its more advanced stage so finding ways for its prevention is a more rational approach; the latter, on the other hand, is vehemently against the use of condom on grounds of morality.

I see it as a myopic vision of the Catholic Church in the Philippines. The prevalence of sex outside marriage, premarital sex, or other forms of “immoral” sexual activities such as homosexual acts might as well mirror its utter failure to educate Filipino morality, its failure to make its parishioners understand that sodomy will send those who practice the act to hell, its failure to do what it is primarily tasked to do–teach morality (but ended up moralizing).

Now it is embarking on a grander scheme of changing public policies as if these policies are their papal nuncios.

When will we start educating people to be responsible as regards sex when all the parishioners are already dying of AIDS?

It reminded me of a statement made by Friedrich Nietzsche a century ago:

There are people who want to make men’s lives more difficult for no other reason than the chance it provides them afterwards to offer their prescription for alleviating life; their Christianity, for instance.

Does this hold true? Does the opposition of the Catholic Church in the Philippines to legalize the use of artificial contraception to curb population explosion, which is one of the major reasons for the downward spiraling of not only the economy but also the standard of living of the Filipino family, an attempt to make the lives of each Filipino miserable just so the Church can show its charity? Funny. But with things going on now, nothing can be more true.

Does the opposition of the Roman Catholic Church in the Philippines to the use of condom to prevent AIDS a ploy to make the lost sheep find their shepherd, or so that the prodigal son can repent and the goodness of the father be exalted?

If we look at the issue on moral grounds, the Church will always have its way. 80 plus per cent of the voting population are adherents to Catholicism, at least as stated on their baptismal certificates. And the Church can always make use of this fact to pressure the Legislative, for 80 per cent of votes is enough for members of the Philippine legislature to deal with Satan (unintended pun) or the prelates.

If only we transcend the un-winnable moral grounds and look at the rational side of the issue.

It is easier to convince a man to use condom (that is if it is available and he knows where to get it) whenever he wants to have sex than to convince him to abstain from having sex because his soul will burn in Hades.

It makes more sense to persuade an Overseas Filipino Worker to use condom while having sex in a faraway land than to tell him to be a good Christian and therefore must not have sex outside marriage.

It is more sensible to tell the youth to practice safe sex than to tell them that premarital sex is immoral, for after all they will still do it.

The use of artificial methods to protect one from conceiving, sexually transmitted infection, or AIDS makes more sense than waiting in vain for the people to espouse the kind of morality taught by the church. It’ll never be a good idea to see people not following the Church’s teachings suffer from hunger because the family members are too numerous, from AIDS because he had sex with so many men, or poverty–all because of the absence of a clear-cut law on the production, distribution, and use of contraceptives in general. Hell has its proper place and proper time.

Let’s give them the choice.

My Thai friend emailed me this morning that her gay friend just died because of multiple organ failure last night, the usual result of AIDS.

Very usual.