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Looking forward while living with HIV

An interview with a Filipino who helped establish Courage Pilipinas, a support group for people living with HIV. “Remember,” he says, “it’s just a virus; live on.”

This is part of “More than a Number”, which Outrage Magazine launched on March 1, 2013 to give a human face to those infected and affected by the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) in the Philippines, what it considers as “an attempt to tell the stories of those whose lives have been touched by HIV and AIDS”.
More information about (or – for that matter – to be included in) “More than a Number”, email, or call (+63) 9287854244 and (+63) 9157972229.

When Rommel, 51, tested HIV-positive, it was “accidental” – i.e. he was out clubbing with his BF and friends, and he just told his BF “why don’t we get tested?”

He recalled being surprised, though, why his BF’s rapid test was already done, and yet his still wasn’t; he even reprimanded the counselor, telling him to rush as the show in the club they were going to was already about to start.

At ayun na nga, positive,” he said. His BF tested negative. And at that very moment, they became a serodifferent couple.

But also looking back, Rommel said a year prior to getting tested, he remembered getting really, really sick. It just so happened that his BF is a doctor, so they had contacts who helped make him get better. He also noted that he was treated with “lahat na (just about everything)” but that his HIV status was not even checked then.

And then – months after already getting better – he also had boils all over his upper body (neck included), so he said he sort of suspected something was up.

Perhaps – just perhaps – it was also because he had an open relationship and was engaged in unprotected sex with multiple sexual partners. “Sa totoo lang, dumating na yung point sa relationship namin na i-spice up ang sex life (To be honest, we reached a point in our relationship where we had to take steps to spice up/enliven our sex life),” he said. So they had threesomes, et cetera. “Siguro isa sa mga naka-threesome namin doon ako nakakuha ng HIV (Maybe I was infected by one of our sexual partners).”

After his baseline tests, Rommel’s CD4 count was found to be already “very low” – at 36. Not surprisingly, he needed to make lifestyle changes – e.g. if he used to party a lot in the past, and if his priority was to hang out with friends, “naging ang priority ko bigla, health (health suddenly became my priority).”

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Rommel said that “wala naman blaming na naganap sa relationship namin (No blaming happened in our relationship)”. In fact, he thinks this made them closer.

His HIV status also made him appreciate family members (i.e. he immediately informed them of his HIV status), particularly since they have been accepting of him. “Mas lalo ko naramdaman ano talaga ang ibig sabihin ng love (I really understood what love truly means)… I also appreciate them more now.”

Rommel believes in looking forward – and that includes when living with HIV.

“I hate the word ‘pagsisisi (regret)’,” he said.

To be more proactive, he – in fact – established Courage Pilipinas in 2018 as a support group for people living with HIV.

He advises for those who want to go into HIV advocacy to select who they work with/for; and not to allow oneself to be used by fake advocates.

For those who have yet to get themselves tested for HIV, Rommel said “huwag na kayong magpa-tumpik-tumpik pa (stop gallivanting).” He thinks that everyone should “normalize” HIV testing – as if one is just getting a haircut, manicure/pedicure, or even doing laundry.

And for people who have HIV, particularly those who were only recently diagnosed, “my message is… not to be ashamed. Don’t dwell on the past. Face what’s in front of you. Just fight on. And remembers, it’s just a virus.” – with Stephen Christian Quilacio

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