The Boys of Summer: Philippine style

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/14 May) – They used to soak themselves in cold and icy springs or salty beaches until they quiver to the bones for that once in a lifetime rite of passage.

Nobody bothered to explain why, but for the boys of summer, this ritual serves as an anesthetic. After all, there are no surgical knives for the pain and no antiseptics for the cut. The quivering will dull the pain and minimize the flow of blood. No disinfectant and povidone-iodine solutions to prevent infection.

For the boys, it was the old fashion young guava shoots chewed then spit on the slit of the foreskin that serves as roadside antiseptic.

Yes, those were the days when pubescent boys in very loose T-shirts sans underwear nervously form the beeline for their turn to the annual summer ritual also known as circumcision.

Those were the rude days when elderly uncles or gandpas initiate them into manhood. With homemade knives crafted by your neighborhood blacksmiths (are they still around?) serving as the only “surgical” instrument. The pointed tip of the razor-sharp knife is inserted into the foreskin of the penis and hammered by a wrist-size branch instantly cutting an incision (traditionally called pukpok). The sight is ghastly to some. For others, it’s a fulfillment of a promise and entry into the “brotherhood of men.”

After all, no Filipino kid wants to be teased “supot” or uncircumcised.

Not all however are fans of circumcision.

Some have called it mutilation.

Others said today’s practice of lopping and snipping the foreskin of infants is unethical and a form of human rights violation.

Human Rights Watch director for Asia Carlos Conde said “circumcision should only be done on adults.”

“I know it’s just the foreskin but how is circumcision different from genital mutilation? And doing it on infants doesn’t make it any less barbaric – on the contrary, cutting the child makes it even more reprehensible because the thinking behind it is the child could only cry out in pain, not curse those who cause the pain,” the former New York Times correspondent said.

The Department of Health has issued an advice for those who will undergo circumcision to be psychologically ready.

With the increasing prevalence of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), the DoH agrees with medical science that circumcision, one of the few rituals that both the Jews and the Arabs share in common, helps prevent the spread of the AIDS-leading virus.

Yes, circumcision is as old as religion with close to 70 percent of Muslims worldwide being circumcised.

According to a Wikipedia entry, “circumcision is most prevalent in the Muslim world, parts of Southeast Asia, Africa, the United States, the Philippines, Israel, and South Korea.

“It is relatively rare in Europe, Latin America, parts of Southern Africa, and most of Asia and Oceania. Prevalence is near-universal in the Middle East and Central Asia.

But still, more than half of the world’s male population is not circumcised by reason of culture and tradition.

One Filipino blogger, in fact, has dedicated his blog extolling the “virtues” of being supot (, a derision that sometimes lead to fatal confrontation.

In the Philippines, especially in the provinces, local government officials are leading summer drives for kids to undergo this annual rite of passage.

Modern science and wider access to health care are however now affording kids painless incisions with antibiotics and antiseptic to boot when they go home. But elsewhere it is still the old fashion way.

Now, go jump into the river! (Edwin Espejo / MindaNews contributor)