HE said — SHE said

86

Pong

This word again and not much else could describe the now viral memorandum by the Pines City Colleges (PCC), formerly known as the Pines City Doctors Hospital, requiring all female students in the Colleges of Dentistry, Pharmacy and Nursing to take a pregnancy test before admission.

The memorandum, signed by school physician Dr. Aurelia D. Navarro and was “noted” by the school’s vice president for administration Ma. Regina Prats, definitely stinks of the bad odor of business and evil profit.

Never had a school policy, by an educational institution at that, been criticized this much and now attracted investigations — if not the attention — by several government agencies and advocacy groups.

That the order is now being suspected as a yet another money-making device did not escape women’s rights advocates was expected, as the PCC memo will require female students to pay an additional P150 in enrollment fees to cover for the test kits.

Pregnancy test kits are widely available for as little as P30 to P35. An online check by this rubbernecker of a major pharmacy’s website confirmed this pricing.

Anyone who does business by the bulk surely knows how wholesale purchases could pull down prices even more. And with a market held hostage by such a memorandum, profits are expected to be raked in with not much hassles, if only no social media sites existed.

But a now viral social media post changed that. Thank the Internet, the memorandum did not go unnoticed and the PCC was quickly red-flagged and criticized.

On 8 November, the National Privacy Commission (NPC) summoned officials of the PCC, including Navarro and Prats, before the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) Office in Baguio City to explain its side on the order.

The NPC, in citing the Data Privacy Act, called on PCC officials to ensure “all personal information controllers, such as PCC, must abide by principles of transparency, legitimate purpose and proportionality.”

It also explained that processing of personal information about an individual’s health and sexual history — as a sensitive personal information — is prohibited unless consent is given.

Like education, privacy is a guaranteed right of the youth and students. Pregnancy is also their choice. Any woman can choose to bear a child anytime she wants — emphasis on woman which in our country means 18-years and above.

But while teenage pregnancy is declining in most countries, the Philippines has marked rising cases with 500 Filipino teenagers giving birth each day.

As early as 2013, the Philippines Statistics Authority (PSA) said “one in 10 young Filipino women aged 15 to 19 has begun childbearing: eight percent are already mothers and another two percent are pregnant with their first child.”

A great majority of them lacked awareness and information about sex and reproductive health. Mere mention of these still seemed taboo in social and religious discussions in this age and time.

While academic institutions should play a role in engaging the youth in efforts to lower cases of teen pregnancy, some of them, like the PCC, is doing it all wrong.

“The Philippines has marked rising cases with 500 Filipino teenagers giving birth each day.

Early this year, the UNFPA (United Nations Population Fund) tapped three Philippine universities, namely, Western Philippines University, Mindanao State University-Iligan Institute of Technology and the University of the Philippines Visayas, to empower adolescent girls with age- and developmentally-appropriate information on sexual and reproductive health by providing a variety of support, from conducting research to facilitating awareness-raising sessions in the community.

These partnerships aim to empower marginalized adolescent girls through information and research and by raising their awareness on teenage pregnancy to help them become responsible and productive women.

Because pregnancy often forces girls to leave school, denying them of economic prospects and excluding them from other opportunities, the UNFPA hopes to maximize use of educational institutions in tapping young male and female students to become bearers of information about sex and reproduction.

This will be a tough battle, though, as age of consent in the Philippines is one of the youngest in the world at 12. But access to contraception is limited, no thanks to several churches’ intervention in lawmaking, including and led by the Catholic Church. Abortion is also illegal.

Poverty also plays a big part in the country’s teenage pregnancy problem.

Add to these some businesses’ appetite for profit and we spell disaster with more letters than we write pong.

The PCC is no exception. Its memo is misguided, misdirected and badly planned. It does not help.

Uncomfortable rules

Have you ever been randomly chosen to undergo a body check at the airport?
So, you are in line, ready to place your bag and hand luggage through the X-ray machine, shoes and jacket included. You go through the metal detector but, for some reason, are asked to step onto the body scanning platform, legs apart, arms up.

We all know it is a random selection. One airport checker told a travel companion of mine one time that he was sorry, but she was the person he saw when he turned around.

These choices can be perplexing: another time, someone tapped an older woman behind me who was well-dressed and neatly coiffed to have the body scan and she got a little red-faced at what she probably felt was an indignity.

In these times, however, we have learned to submit to “invasions,” such as when a bored-looking guard sticks a wand into your bag every time you enter most establishments. I submit to it, but still feel annoyed whenever I have to unzip my bag to enter a mall even though I know it’s for everyone’s safety.

This is the world we live in now. These days, CCTV cameras are a must and spot-checks a necessity. We may not like it, but we fear the prospect of allowing psychotic criminals in our midst.

Some of us who can still remember a time when front doors could stay unlocked and children could roam in their neighborhoods without fear probably resent the invasive quality of such security measures. Yet all we can do is shrug, shake our heads and try not to growl when a stranger pokes into the contents of our handbag.

So, it is not really surprising that many were immediately opposed to the idea of allowing kids as young as 10 years old to be randomly subjected to drug testing in schools. Parents were concerned it would cause the kids embarrassment, shame and possibly a lifetime of mental distress no matter how discreet the authorities would try to do it. Even the Palace said it was unconstitutional.

But what do we make of this recent Social Weather Stations (SWS) survey that said 51 percent of Filipinos support drug testing for young students?

Conducted between 15 and 24 September 2018, when approval was high for the Duterte administration’s war on drugs, the SWS findings could be taken to mean that most people now agree such tests are a deterrent to the insidious menace that is drug addiction.

The plan is for some 14,000 public high school students to be randomly picked, or via computerized selection, between now and December 2018 for the drug tests.

These tests, a report says, “can spot the use of marijuana and shabu but cannot detect the use of party drugs and other amphetamines.”

Last year, the same report reveals “more than 6,000 random drug tests were conducted” in public high schools. No number was given about tests in private schools.

These tests are mandated through Department of Education (DepEd) Order 40 in 2017 which states the random drug tests are “meant to determine the prevalence of drug use among students; assess the effectivity of school prevention programs; deter the illegal use of drugs and facilitate the rehabilitation of drug users and dependents.”

The DepEd assures parents and students will be oriented that “it’s a matter of chance that you will be included in the drug tests.”

“Good intentions often lie beneath many uncomfortable rules and laws.

Also, results will be kept confidential apparently in response to the alarm that leakage may “lead to discrimination” among peers, as well as possibly “endanger the children” when information of positive drug use reaches the barangay level.

It’s a sensitive issue just like that memorandum of a university in Baguio City mandating pregnancy tests on all female students of the departments of nursing, dentistry and pharmacy.

Netizens bashed the “invasion to students’ privacy” and many wondered why such a memo was released at all.

The school, of course, had a perfectly reasonable defense. It was to protect the health of both mother and child, in cases of pregnant students, when they are “deployed to internship programs in hospitals and to clinical practice.”

Good intentions often lie beneath many uncomfortable rules and laws. Perhaps what we fear most is when enforcement becomes defective.

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