MANILA, Philippines - An official of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) on Wednesday opposed a proposal to require returning overseas Filipino workers to undergo screening for HIV and AIDS.
Father Savino Bernardi, Manila director of the CBCP’s Apostleship of the Sea (AOS), said the proposal by Pilar Juliana “Pia" Cayetano was discriminatory.
“There is a stigma attached to this for returning OFWs. Why would they be discriminated upon? Statistics do not support that they are the majority of AIDS carriers," Bernardi said in an interview with GMANews.TV.
“If that is the argument, why not make the test obligatory to all Filipinos?" he said. “And you can start with the congressmen."
In her proposal, Cayetano said that returning OFWs need to be asked about their sexual behavior while working abroad as she claimed that a “huge chunk of (HIV) cases come from OFWs" and “there is no strong program" to address the problem.
“There is ...sensitivity involved here (because) sexuality is not openly discussed in the Philippines. But in the case of a deadly disease like AIDS, answers to questions will remain confidential and there would be consultation," said Cayetano, who concurrently chairs the Senate Committee on Health and Demography.
Last May, the Department of Health’s National Epidemiology Center reported 35 HIV cases. Twenty percent of the cases were OFWs, mostly males. All OFWs who had AIDS acquired the disease through sexual intercourse.
Cayetano claimed that overseas fathers who lack knowledge on safe reproductive health are the ones who usually transmit the disease to their families.
“In as much as we support the sanctity of the marriage, sometimes it is the husband who brings a third party into the marriage. And the wife is told not to use contraceptives." Cayetano said.
“I am not trying to promote doubts in their minds but it is the reality," she added.
While opposing mandatory screening, Fr. Bernardi said the HIV/AIDS (human immunodeficiency virus/acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) cases in the country should not be downplayed.
He cited a 2006 data gathered by the Action for Health Initiatives Inc., which showed that 2,566 Filipinos are living with HIV and AIDS in the Philippines.
“Out of this number, 891 or 35 percent are OFWs," he said.
Based on the statistics, 34 percent of those affected with the disease were seafarers, 18 percent were domestic helpers, 9 percent were employees, 7 percent were entertainers while 6 percent were health workers.
“Maybe we only know a tip of the iceberg," he said, echoing Cayetano’s analysis that the conservative culture in the Philippines makes Filipinos reluctant to disclose their sexuality and sexual behavior.
He said this could create problems in the future as carriers of the deadly disease remain undetected.
Prevention is best
Bernardi, however, stressed that prevention of the killer disease by means of education is still the best solution to the emerging problem.
He said if Filipinos remain steadfast in their commitment to abstinence and fidelity, HIV and AIDS would be eradicated.
“There is no better way than that. I will challenge anyone who would say there is a better system," he said.
He said prevention has always been imbedded in the teachings of the Catholic Church and other religions. - GMANews.TV