By Abe Pawid
Speak Out

TALKING about sex in public in the fast-nesses of the Cordillera region is culturally taboo. Even the utterance of reproductive private parts is not condoned by elders who hold true to traditions of decency. Even the natural Ilocano expression: "Uki'n nam" has yet to be generally accepted among Cordillerans despite the fact that they have adopted the Ilocano dialect as a natural communication language among themselves.

Starting this school year, pupils in elementary to high school years in Ifugao and Mt. Province will be taught sex education in Pilipino. Both are among eleven local government units targeted to pilot the sex education program funded by the United Nation Population Fund (UNFPA).

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Despite cultural conservative stance, grade school pupils from grades IV onwards can start talking freely of "kantutan", "iyut", "buto" "oki" etc. etc. and how babies are made and born. Sad to note that this setting was allowed to evolve during the watch of outgoing President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Ironically, it could be dubbed as one of her legacies in the Cordillera mountain villages.

It would become a moral dilemma if the parents in Ifugao and Mt. Province will be consulted. As one parent stated: "as a rule of the thumb, one starts thinking about sex until after reaching the age of puberty." She went on to say that no Parents-Teachers-Association meeting was ever called to discuss whether to accept the UNFPA program.

Presently the program has definitely sparked conflicting cultural values where sex talk is not permissive. How prepared, comfortable and effective are school teachers in imparting the value of sex education is another critical concern. The program may do more bad than good.

In published reports however, the regional director Josefina Tamondong of the Dept. of Education, say that parents "had not objected to sex education lessons incorporated in the Home Education subject of Grades IV, V and VI, as well as the Biology subject in high school."

She went on to add that the program "may be less controversial because of their (Ifugao and Mt. Province) predominantly Protestant residents", although others disagree with her assessment.

The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) earlier raised objections to the program and sought for dialogue with the authorities in the Dept. of Education. However, time has caught up with the changing of the guards as the next administration of President Noynoy Aquino is taking over starting July l. On the other hand, CBCP lawyers have assisted a number of parents in filing a case against the implementation of the program in a court of law in Quezon City.

According to Miriam Baguidudul, provincial population officer, the program was already pilot tested in Ifugao last school year. She says it is a joint program of both the provincial government and the UNFPA. "Sex education will minimize teenage and unplanned pregnancies and, at the same time reduce the increasing number of abortion cases," Baguidudul was quoted.

DepEd authorities also said that "the selected schools where sex education has been introduced are mostly found in rural areas with incidents of sexually transmitted diseases, among other factors."

On his part, provincial UNFPA officer Hector Follosco also said that the program may establish teen centers "... to divert the young from engaging in other activities that result to early marriage, unwanted pregnancies and the possibility of acquiring the dreaded sexually transmitted diseases." - abepawid@yahoo.com