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Case against HIV-related discrimination by Ricky Reyes Corp. upheld by Court of Appeals

In what is the only time that the clause on non-discrimination of people living with HIV (PLHIV) on RA 8504 (or the Philippine AIDS Prevention and Control Act of 1998) was used, the Court of Appeals (CA) decided in the favor of Renato Nocos, who sued his former employer – Ricky Reyes Corporation – for illegally dismissing him from employment due to his HIV-positive status.

CASE FACTS

In April 2014, Nocos filed a complaint for illegal dismissal and non-payment of monetary benefits at the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) against Ricky Superstyle/Tonetth Moreno (this was eventually amended in May 2014 to Ricky Reyes Corporation/RRC).

In his defense, Nocos used RA 8504, which states that “discrimination, in all its forms and subtleties, against individuals with HIV or persons perceived or suspected of having HIV shall be considered inimical to individual and national interest.”

Specifically, Article VII (Discriminatory acts and policies), section 35, states: “Discrimination in the Workplace. – Discrimination in any form from pre-employment to post-employment, including hiring, promotion or assignment, based on the actual, perceived or suspected HIV status of an individual is prohibited. Termination from work on the sole basis of actual, perceived or suspected HIV status is deemed unlawful.”

Nocos claimed that he was hired as a hairdresser in 2003, but – when he was infected with HIV – he was refused treatment because his employer did not pay his PhilHealth contributions. This obliged him to disclose his HIV status to his employer, which moved him to a branch that was about to be closed. Nocos was eventually left jobless.

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In response to Nocos’ claim, RRC said that Nocos was laid of not because of his HIV positive status, but because he had TB; and he failed to produce medical clearance to return to work.

Fear and loathing over HIV

In October 2015, NLRC’s Labor Arbiter rendered a decision declaring that Nocos was, indeed, illegally dismissed. It gave more credence to Nocos’ narrative, thereby ordering RRC to pay back wages, salary differential, 13th month pay, ECOLA and attorney’s fees (totaling P615,313.06).

An appeal was made by RRC, but this was found “without merit” in June 2016.

RRC again filed a petition for certiorari, claiming “grave abuse of discretion on the part of NLRC (particularly in lumping RRC with Ricky Superstyle), but this was found “bereft of merit” in the CA decision dated October 30, 2017. The same decision stressed that RRC was not able to show that Nocos’ continued employment is prohibited by law.

Aside from RA 8504, the CA also cited as a policy protecting the rights of PLHIVs the Department of Labor and Employment’s Department Order 102-10, Series of 2010, which states that “workers shall not be discriminated against (because of) HIV status” and that “workers shall not be terminated from work if the basis is the actual, perceived or suspected HIV status.”

The best way to treat a person with HIV is with respect. Educate yourself about HIV and AIDS, and show your support,” Renato Nocos said.

LEARNING TO FIGHT FOR WHAT’S RIGHT

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Speaking to Outrage Magazine following his historic win, Nocos said he “just wants to return to normal life.”

Nocos recalled how – when he tested positive for HIV – he was judged and then bullied. “Mabigat ang nangyari (It was heavy),” he said. His family and friends even left him, many of them because of wrong information – e.g. that they could get infected with HIV by just talking with him.

Nocos realized that “sa usapin ng HIV, may kaakibat na stigma (When talking about HIV, stigma is attached to it),” he said.

Positive Action Foundation Philippines Inc. (PAFPI) helped Nocos, at first giving him shelter, and then teaching him “na lumaban (ang PLHIVs).”

PAFPI was established in September 1998 after members of the HIV community noted the lack of treatment, care and support (TCS) services in the country. The organization aimed to contribute to the national responses not only in advocacy to prevent the spread of HIV, but also in the provision of TCS for people living with HIV (PLHIV), as well as their affected families/loved ones.

Among others, PAFPI gives HIV 101 seminars/workshops (e.g. to youth and overseas Filipino workers and their families); provides temporary housing to people living with HIV (PLHIV), particularly those who were kicked out of their homes due to their HIV status; and extends support in accessing treatment, care and support (TCS) services.

PAFPI marks 18th anniversary, calls for unified responses to curb HIV spread

After winning his case against RRC, Nocos said that it may be time to move on in his life to show “that PLHIVs can be productive,” he said, “at hindi salot sa lipunan (we’re not pests in society).”

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Incidentally, as of press time, he has yet to receive full payment owed to him by RRC. In January, NLRC – in fact – issued an order for the release of the amount owed Nocos.

“Ang buhay natin parang pelikula; ikaw ang director ng buhay mo (our lives are like films; you direct your own life),” Renato Nocos said.

WANTED: SELF-EMPOWERMENT

All the same, Nocos said that he hopes that employers will stop discriminating against PLHIVs. “Dapat (nga) nila itong suportahan (They should even show their support),” he said, “tapos i-educate nila sarili nila (and they should educate themselves)… The best way to treat a person with HIV is with respect. Educate yourself about HIV and AIDS, and show your support.”

Addressing other PLHIVs, Nocos said “dapat alisin nila ‘yung self-stigma (they should confront self-stigmatization).” This is because, for him, “ang buhay natin parang pelikula; ikaw ang director ng buhay mo (our lives are like films; you direct your own life).”

For people infected or affected by HIV and who are in need of help to access treatment, care and support, contact Positive Action Foundation Philippines Inc. at 2613-2615 Dian St., Malate, City of Manila; or call (+632) 404-2911 or 528-4531.

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