The Philippines is reeling from the worst AIDS epidemic in years, so, of course, its despotic president just had to make a crude joke at the expense of his citizens’ health.
At a time when the country could use some much-needed advice on how to prevent sexually transmitted diseases, all Duterte has to give his citizens is a suggestion to not use condoms during intercourse. Apparently, they don’t feel good.
The callous remark arose after Duterte veered off topic in the most bizarre fashion — not surprising, considering the president’s history of similar comments — during a speech regarding Filipino workers who came back from Kuwait. Hundreds of Filipino workers in Kuwait have chosen to return to their home country after a Filipino worker’s body was found in her employer’s freezer.
While talking about population growth in the Philippines, Duterte digressed and said, “Filipinos don't know anything else but (mimes shooting someone) — 110 million, which is why life is hard,” he said, according to CNN. “If we were just 50 million, we could manage food.”
He then suggested women should either use birth control pills or hormone injections to ward off pregnancy.
“Pills are free. Don't use condoms because they don't feel good,” he added.
He then mimed as if he were eating a wrapped candy.
“Here, try eating it without unwrapping it,” he said, according to The Sydney Morning Herald. “Eat it. That's what a condom is like.”
He also advised women to get injectable hormones “good for six months so there will be no limit in your libido,” Al Jazeera reported.
However, his words are anything but funny.
The number of HIV cases reported in the East Asian country has spiked astronomically in 10 years. In 2007, there were less than 400 cases of people reporting HIV. In 2017, the number increased to 11,000 new cases. According to UNAIDS last year, the country has the fastest growing epidemic of HIV in the Asia-Pacific region.
The majority of HIV/AIDS cases in the country are transmitted sexually, chiefly among men having sex with other men. In a 2015 UNAIDS report, only 35 percent of gay men and transgender women who had sex with men, had sufficient and accurate knowledge about transmission and prevention of AIDS. The agency recommends the use of condoms as they are cheap and quite effective in preventing STDs.
“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,” Carlos H. Conde, a Human Rights Watch Manila-based researcher, wrote in a blog post.
“President Duterte should stop making thoughtless, reckless and irresponsible statements at the expense of public health,” said Senator Risa Hontiveros. “President Duterte seems to be overly concerned with pleasure. There is nothing pleasurable or funny about the rise in our cases of HIV and teen pregnancy. The president's statement is a virtual insistence that women should continue to carry the burden of family planning alone.”
This is just the latest example of the misogynistic president trying to impose his will on women and showcasing how much disdain he holds for the opposite gender. Yet, somehow it’s not surprising from a man who ordered his soldiers to shoot female rebels “in the vagina.”
The Philippine Commission on Population followed Duterte's comments with a statement on Monday that while family planning methods do involve individual choice, condoms are effective at preventing sexually transmitted diseases.
"For example, the president's own experience with condoms may be the reason for his stated preference, and this cannot be subject to debate," said the commission's Executive Director Juan Antonio Perez III, according to Filipino news outlet Rappler. (Rappler, which has reported aggressively on Duterte, has been the target of government efforts to shut it down.)
"On a technical note, condoms are preferred method for prevention of sexually transmitted disease," Perez added. "When used properly, condoms are the best way to prevent sexual transmitted disease such as HIV."
Banner/Thumbnail credit: Reuters/Romeo Ranoco