Philippine Health Secretary Accepts Bishops’ Challenge to Debate Condom Effectiveness

By James Tillman

March 8, 2010 ( - Esperanza Cabral, health secretary of the Philippine government, has accepted two bishops' invitations to publicly debate condoms' effectiveness in preventing pregnancy and disease.

"I accept their challenge," she said in an interview on dwIZ radio, according to GMA News.TV.

Some Philippine bishops have called for Cabral's resignation since the Department of Health distributed condoms for Valentine's day.

“It’s so immoral for someone in the government to be pushing the use of condoms which we all know is not deterrent to AIDS prevention,” Archbishop Ramon Arguelles of Lipa said on Radio Veritas.

statement from the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines has called for the government to require a warning on condoms stating that they may fail to prevent AIDS and other STDs.

"Furthermore," the document argues, "it is unjust that the taxes of the people including Catholics be used for purposes against their moral beliefs."  It also calls for condom advertisements to be banned because they "desensitize the youth’s delicate conscience and weaken their moral fibers as future parents."

More recently, at a Church-organized forum, Archbishop Arguelles and Bishop Deogracias Iniguez of Kalookan challenged Cabral to a debate centering on condom effectiveness.  Dr. Ligaya Acosta, of Human Life International, may also be taking part in the debate.

Cabral has already sought to limit the range of the debate and the evidence to be presented, however.

"If it is a question of faith, I will not debate religious beliefs with [Catholics]," she stated, "because we should all respect each other’s faith. If it is a question of the function of the Church in relation to the State, there is nothing to debate because our Constitution says the Church is separate from the State."

Dr. Acosta has responded that she will not debate unless these conditions are removed; she also says that it is odd for Cabral to demand these conditions since she has consistently stated in interviews that she is a good Catholic.

Dr. Acosta, a former official of the Philippine department of health, also criticized Cabral for stating that the Philippines should decrease its fertility rate to 1.3 children per women.

"She doesn’t know that 1.3 is a dying level?" she asked.  "So, there are many countries in the world, which is below replacement level. According to the United Nations the replacement level should be 2.1 for the population to survive. A married woman should at least give birth to more than 2."

Dr. Acosta said she feels for her opponent's situation.

“I really sympathize with her. She is so ignorant of the issue. I think she should have studied first before becoming secretary of health. She should have concentrated first on her private practice. What she is saying is very embarrassing,” Acosta said in an interview with Radio Veritas.

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