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Summer is circumcision time in the Philippines. For many boys all over the country, it means braving the doctor and the anesthesia needle. For some kids in Laoag, Ilocos Norte, however, it means conquering another foe—the subokan.
The subokan is a piece of wood used in the traditional circumcision method of pukpok, which does not use anesthesia. Nor must the person who performs the pukpok have any medical training. Boys who undergo this method are just given guava leaves to chew on to help them bear the pain as their foreskins are cut with the subokan.
Rite of passage
Aside from hygiene and its medical benefits such as lowering the risk of prostate cancer and helping prevent sexually transmitted diseases, circumcision also has a lot of socio-cultural significance in the country. Male children are taught early on that circumcision is a crucial rite of passage to manhood, and often those who have not yet been circumcised become objects of teasing by their peers.
It is also widely believed that undergoing circumcision will help a boy grow taller.
Doctors, however, refute this claim. Dr. Philip Co, a barangay physician, explained on GMA News’ 24 Oras on Monday that the circumcision season usually just coincides with the onset of adolescence, when a boy naturally experiences growth spurts.
Dr. Rogel Santiago, a family physician, advises against turning to the pukpok method, which is still done in far-flung areas of the country.
Calling it “unsanitary,” Santiago stressed that the traditional method lacks standard operating procedures, unlike circumcision performed by doctors, which he notes follow certain surgical protocols.
In the pukpok method, the boys are just told to swim in the river to “soften” the foreskin. After the circumcision is done their wounds are wrapped in white cloth for healing.
Santiago believes that bleeding may ensue from pukpok circumcision if wounds are not stitched up properly, and this in turn may lengthen the time it would take the wound to heal. This can be avoided, he adds, if one goes to a doctor instead.
But Lorenzo Tomas, a native of Laoag who has been performing pukpok for more than a decade now, claims that he has yet to see a boy suffer from serious complications from undergoing the traditional method. –Ralph Ty/KG, GMA News