The AIDS Society of the Philippines (ASP), a leading association of individuals from the government, non-government agencies and the private sector eyeing to prevent the spread of HIV in the Philippines, and Outrage Magazine, the only publication for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community in the Philippines, have expressed concerns over the second draft of the City of Manila AIDS Council (CMAC) Ordinance 2013.
In February 2009, the City of Manila passed Ordinance No. 8170, which mandated the creation of the CMAC, which was considered as the “central advisory, planning, and policy making body on the prevention and control of STI/HIV/AIDS in the City of Manila”. This 2013, the local government unit (LGU) saw fit to introduce amendments to the ordinance.
Ordinance No. 8170 mandated STI/HIV/AIDS education for “all operators and/or managers, entertainers of entertainment establishments and masseuses and masseurs of barber shops and massage clinics”. However, the newer draft of CMAC Ordinance 2013 (proposed as of October 3, 2013) eyes the addition of a new chapter (Chapter 5: STI, HIV and AIDS Examination), which seeks for “all entertainers, masseurs, and other persons who perform similar occupations (to) undergo COMPULSORY bi-monthly appropriate regular STI screening to be conducted at the Social Hygiene Clinic of the Manila Health Department, or any other social hygiene clinic that are duly accredited by the City of Manila’s Health Office.” On this, “all persons who have undergone the above test shall be issued a health card”; and “there shall be collected a reasonable amount… for the issuance of the health card and each succeeding medical examination…”
For ASP, this version is missing out on opportunities to truly better the fight against HIV; as well as better the plight of people living with HIV (PLHIV). Particularly, “CMAC needs to address continuum of HIV care approach”, and “ASP is not for HIV mandatory testing among most at risk populations (MARPS)”.
“During the early 1990s, RA 8504 (Philippines AIDS Law of 1988) was considered a ‘good practice’, a milestone in crafting AIDS policies. It served as a constant reference to most Asian and/or regional HIV policies because of its PLHIV human rights perspective/framework. Let us not forget that at some point in time, this legacy has put the Philippines in the limelight,” the ASP stated in a statement released to Outrage Magazine. “However, as time passed, we saw the changing drivers of Philippine HIV epidemic. As such, there are still a lot of identified nuances/gaps that needs to be further strengthened. Much has to be done in terms of governance and leadership, quality assurance of HIV services, intensifying coverage and reach, monitoring and implementation, and the likes.”
ASP’s position was seconded by Michael David C. Tan, publishing editor of Outrage Magazine, which also has HIV-related efforts.
On the one hand, “mandating people from certain groups to undergo HIV testing is contrary to the provisions of RA 8504; just as it is counter-productive, as it only unnecessarily stigmatizes these same people,” Tan said. “As we always say in the fight against HIV, this social issue is not only any specific group’s concern; it is everyone’s concern. And for as long as politicians think this only affects specific groups of people, then they are not really helping solve it, but are part of the problem.”
On the other hand, “ASP is right – we need to look beyond the prevention efforts that continue to be stressed now. We have to be pragmatic here. People continue getting infected, even with our best efforts. There are those who are already infected. These people need as much – if not more – care and support,” Tan added.
As the amendments are being considered, Tan recommends “the inclusion of the very people that the ordinance intends to serve. Otherwise, this is going to become as just another policy sans the inclusion of those at the grassroots,” he said. “We need to re-consider our approaches to make sure that they really are done from the bottom; otherwise, policies made – no matter their good intentions – will not amount to much in curbing the social issues they want to deal with.”
The amendments are still being considered, with other noteworthy proposed changes including: expansion of the scope and application; addition of newer terminologies (including: cruising site and freelance sex worker); refining and streamlining of CMAC’s secretariat’s functions; and inclusion of key human rights principles in the mandatory STI, HIV and AIDS education.