Since February 14, we have witnessed the singular example of a cabinet secretary who thinks nothing about putting her neck on the line to promote the right of couples to information and services on condoms and contraception.
Nine years before, her predecessors at [the] Department of Health (DOH) had passively allowed or actively facilitated the health department's cooptation by Catholic bishops' dogma. Nine years of toeing the Vatican line of 'no condoms, no contraceptives' has brought forth a resurgence of HIV and possibly AIDS, and the continued epidemic of unintended pregnancy. With so much life and health at stake, Sec. Cabral's appointment to the DOH seems heaven-sent.
Less than two months into her appointment, Catholic bishops are after her head. Predictably, what are riling them are precisely what make her presence so vital in the DOH: her Valentine roses-and-condom campaign affirmed the normalcy of sexual intimacy in people's lives at the same time that it warned couples to beware of causing each other harm. The DOH-led public distribution broke the stigma around condoms and repeated the scientific fact that up to this time, condoms continue to be humankind's most effective weapon against sexually transmitted infections and HIV. Finally, Cabral's no-secret support for the reproductive health bill and contraceptives attests to the soundness of both the bill and contraceptives, and to her own medical competence and independence.
That the bishops can so brazenly threaten her ouster based on their judgment of her 'morality' while Malacanang vacillates whether to allow or restrain her is a sad reflection of Philippine bishops' discernment and accountability, the Church-State divide, and the inability of top executive officials to be updated on medical science and the needs of small and ordinary people.
Standing apart from the current batch of presidentiables who hedge and haw around the issue of condoms and contraceptives, and very opposite to her own president, GMA, who uprooted RH long after it had been established by the Ramos and Estrada administrations, Cabral is demonstrating the unique quality of informed and principled leadership that we hoped to find in our top officials.
At this time when the health of our mothers, children and men are threatened by sexually transmitted infections and pregnancy complications, strong leadership of the DOH is a must.
Cabral has shown this kind of leadership.
Let us support her, and let us work to keep her there in the DOH. We hope that her kind of reasoned, independent but responsive leadership rubs off on the candidates.
Mabuhay kayo, Sec. Cabral, at mabuhay rin ang mga taong pinagsisilbihan ninyo!
1 March 2010 • Likhaan Center for Women's Health Inc.
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