A few days ago, Miss Universe 2016 and advocate for HIV/AIDS awareness, Pia Wurtzbach, made a startling, yet outstanding statement on Instagram about the shameful and illegal nature of public outing of one’s HIV status that shook the online world. In her post, she addressed a recent drug bust by the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) that led to a public outing of one of the 11 supposedly gay men who were arrested for dealing drugs. Saying, “Being gay is not a crime! Living with HIV is not a punishment! Come on, Philippines. We are already taking small steps forward to improve acceptance, tolerance and understanding. We cannot take big steps back.”
Universe, listen to this. A few days ago a drug bust happened in a high scale hotel in Manila Philippines involving 11 supposedly gay men. Two of them were suspected of selling/distributing drugs. During the operation, the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) found out that one of of them was HIV positive. PDEA and local news outlets decided to expose the identities of these men to the media. Their mugshots, names, and the HIV status of one of them were released. Was this really necessary? I understand that what the men were supposedly doing was illegal and they should face legal consequences. But there was absolutely no need to expose and publicly shame them. It’s illegal to publicly announce one’s HIV status (RA8504). What has been done has not only traumatized the men that were involved; it has also worsened the HIV situation in the Philippines. We’re working so hard in educating the people properly on HIV/AIDS, on taking away the stigma. Because of what PDEA and the news outlet have done, some people are now associating drugs and immorality with being gay. It’s ridiculous. The whole point of this drug raid was to arrest the men for their supposed crime, which was selling/distributing and using illegal narcotics. Being gay is not a crime! Living with HIV is not a punishment! Come on, Philippines. We are already taking small steps forward to improve acceptance, tolerance and understanding. We cannot take big steps back. To PDEA and the news outlets, take steps to mend the situation. Sa aking mga kababayan, wag po tayo maging judgmental. Hindi immoral ang maging bakla, hindi dapat ituring na kaparusahan ang HIV. At lalong hindi ito biro na dapat pag-pyestahan at pagtawanan. To my beloved LGBT community, stay strong. We’ll win this.
Pia stresses how as an advocate, she is fighting hard to remove the stigma against HIV/AIDS and create a friendly environment for people to come out and get treated for the disease, but incidents like this worsen the situation. Instead, it perpetuates the stigma of how being gay, doing drugs, and having HIV is all connected even though in fact HIV is a disease that can be transmitted to anyone, regardless of sexual orientation or drug use.
In fact, according to the Department of Health (DOH), the Philippines ranks number one, as the country with the fastest growth of new HIV in Asia Pacific region, with 140% increase from 2010 to 2016. So far, 46,985 people have been tested positive for HIV since the first case was recorded in 1984. And, yet, we’re still behind when it comes to openess about it and accessibility for treatment.
That is, until yesterday.
Yesterday, Dec. 4, the “Philippine HIV and AIDS Policy Act” of House Bill 6617 passed 188 in affirmation, 0 in negation, and 0 in abstentions, in the House. A huge step forward. It’s safe to say that the House is truly in support for the bill that will strengthen the Philippine Comprehensive Policy on HIV and AIDS, treatment, care and support for people living with HIV, and so are we.
With the bill, different projects covering the country’s response to HIV/AIDS, to getting better prevention, treatment, care and support for the people infected, and to educating the public about the disease through HIV/AIDS prevention programs will all be taken into consideration. Now, the bill is yet to pass a series of readings through the Senate and signed by President Duterte to become a law, but we’re crossing our fingers.
By Jessa Marie Barbosa