Catholic Church leaders in the Philippines have welcomed a decision by the Education Department to stop the distribution of condoms in high schools.

"It was a wise move," said Father Jerome Secillano of the public affairs office of the Philippine bishops' conference. 

The priest lauded education officials for seeing the "impracticality of such a strategy" to fight the spread of human immunodeficiency virus or HIV.

Education Secretary Leonor Briones said in a statement that the primary role of her department is to enhance gender sensitivity and reproductive health education in schools.

In an apparent turnaround from a previous announcement that condom distribution will start in schools this year, Briones said health centers "are already tasked with that function."

She said the responsibility of her department is to teach students about "the consequence of pre-marital sex, the dangers involved, but not the distribution [of condoms]."

In December, the Philippines recorded an average of 24 new HIV infections per day, and 29 percent of this group were ages 15 to 24. 

In a statement, Human Rights Watch said "Briones' flip-flop is consistent with the Education Department's inadequate response to the HIV crisis."

The human rights group added that the derailment of the condom distribution plan "reflects the efforts of conservative lawmakers."

Senator Vicente has argued that condom distribution in high schools only encourages students to "indulge in sex."

Father Melvin Castro, an official at the bishops' conference, said he was "happy" with the Education Department decision.

"Common sense and rational thought demand that we address the issue of teenage pregnancy and HIV/AIDS rise with proper values education and not with condom use," said the priest.

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