HEALTH Secretary Esperanza Cabral on Tuesday said she will not step down unless the President removes her.

This was her reaction in response to the call for her resignation by members of Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) after she ordered the distribution of free condoms in Dangwa flower market in Manila during Valentine Day’s celebration.

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“Well, I serve on the pleasure of the I will not resign unless she told me to,” Cabral said in a telephone interview.

The health chief also maintained that the Department of Health (DOH) has duty to help the Filipinos in addressing and preventing the spread of the dreaded HIV virus.

She said the distribution of condoms was not meant to promote artificial contraception, but rather a reminder to the public of the importance of responsible sexual behavior in combating the threat of HIV/Aids.

Cabral likewise disputed the bishops’ claim that the DOH has no program on HIV/Aids and even called the condom distribution as an "immoral" act.

“That's what they (bishops) think but we have a lot of programs and they can check that out with the Philippine Aids Society,” added Cabral.

Asked if she is willing to talk to the bishops and explain her side, Cabral said: “I am willing to talk to them but I will not be the one initiating it.”

“Kung gusto nila ako kausapin, makikipag-usap ako,” she declared.

Cabral said that as far as she knows, she had done nothing wrong and her acts on distributing condoms are part of the mandate and responsibility of the DOH.

On Monday, Lipa Archbishop Ramon Arguelles and Sorsogon Bishop Arturo Bastes demanded Cabral's resignation as they expressed their disgust on the free condom distribution.

Both Arguelles and Bastes noted that condom use would further promote and spread HIV/Aids.

Aside from Arguelles and Bastes, Manila Archbishop Gaudencio Cardinal Rosales earlier scored Cabral for the distribution of condoms, saying “kung ganyan ang mga pinuno, tulad ng DOH, I pity the Philippines for having leaders like this.”

Records of the DOH indicated that there are 629 cases of HIV/Aids in the country from 199 cases recorded in 2004.

In defense

Lakas-Kampi-CMD standard bearer Gilberto Teodoro Jr. said he remains interested in naming Cabral to his Cabinet if he wins the May 10 presidential elections.

This even as some bishops are calling for Cabral’s resignation after she led the distribution of condoms during the Valentine’s Day celebration.

Teodoro during radio DzBB’s “Ikaw na Ba?” presidential interview said he believes in Cabral whom he described as a transparent and competent worker.

He further said he would appoint Cabral to his Cabinet if elected and if she would agree to continue working in government.

“Ako tutol doon (calls to resign) si Secretary Cabral masigasig at transparent na secretary, kung siya ay mag-deside na magtuloy na maglingkod,” Teodoro said.

He also said he has other names in mind on whom to appoint in his Cabinet but he prefers to wait until he becomes president. “Ayaw ko namang matali ang aking kamay sa mga decision na kailangan kong gawin.”

Deputy Presidential Spokesman Gary Olivar also defended Cabral amid calls for her to step down, citing that she, along with other officials, should be judged based on the public policies and not morality.

Olivar, however, stressed that they respect the views of Archbishops Ramon Arguelles of Lipa in Batangas, Dinualdo Gutierrez of Marbel in Bataan, and Arturo bastes of Sorsogon.

“That's the privilege of the bishops, although we should remember that public officials should be judged by the standards of public policy interests as set forth in our laws and legal precedents and not the morality of this or that institution,” he said.

The bishops earlier urged Cabral to resign after leading the DOH in the distribution of free condoms on Valentine’s Day as part of the agency’s campaign to address the HIV/Aids problem.

They cited that Cabral was not being a good Catholic, stressing that the use of condoms does not even guarantee the reduction of HIV/Aids. (MSN/JMR/Sunnex)