BAGUIO CITY, Philippines

When the northern Philippine city of Baguio observed World AIDS Day recently, Roman Catholic and other Christian church representatives chose not to participate in a parade and program aimed at campaigning for “zero HIV infection.”

The marchers included city health officials and representatives from non-government organizations, as well as about a thousand bartenders, waitresses, masseurs, and gay-bar workers, who were invited by the health department to help in the city’s HIV prevention drive.

The use of condoms is being promoted in the Philippines as a method of AIDS prevention, but the Catholic Church is staunchly against it on theological grounds.

“The health department’s campaign to use condoms (as a way to prevent HIV) only gives a false sense of security,” said Dr. Reylita Calimlim of the Catholic Physicians Guild of the Philippines.

The Guild opposes the use of condoms as a preventive measure against HIV and reiterates the Catholic Church’s policy that sex must be confined within the bounds of marriage.

In Baguio, a mountain city of 400,000 people, Dr. Celiaflor Brilliantes of the city’s health department disclosed on 2 December that six people there now have HIV after “unprotected sex” with multiple partners. She promotes the national health department’s approach to avoiding HIV infection by following the “ABC principle”: Abstain from sex, be faithful to your partner, and use condoms.

Bishop Carlito Cenzon of the Baguio diocese disagrees. “As a sure way to avoid HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases, those who are unmarried must refrain from sex and wait until they are married, and those married should be faithful to their spouses,” he said.

To distance itself from the health department’s promotion of condom as one of the approaches in preventing HIV, the Roman Catholic Church on 4 December launched National AIDS Sunday at the Dominican-run Pontifical University of Santo Tomas in Manila.

“We don’t promote condoms, but behavior change, saying no to premarital sex and extramarital sex, and observing monogamy and mutual fidelity to one uninfected partner,” said Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo in CBCP News, the church’s official publication.

Meanwhile, the National Council of Churches in the Philippines has approved for its 2012-2015 Quadrennial Plan the development and implementation of an HIV-AIDS program aimed at “creating nurturing communities with people living with HIV/AIDS,” according to Darlene Marquez-Caramanzana, secretary of the Ecumenical Education and Nurture division.