Martin Escudero first made somewhat of a name when he starred as Remington in Jade Castro’s Zombadings 1: Patayin Sa Shokot si Remington, a film that was not exactly widely-accepted as pro-LGBT.
Fast forward approximately two years later, and Martin is back to make another impression – this time as part of television network TV5’s POSI+IVE, which takes a closer look at HIV in the Philippines by focusing on the lives of the people living with HIV, as well as those whose lives are affected by it.
The HIV situation in the Philippines continues to worsen. In 2012, the National AIDS Registry of the Department of Health (DOH) reported an “exponential increase” in the new reported HIV cases in the country, with more than half (60%) of the cumulative infections reported in the last three years alone; and from one new case detected every three days in 2006, the reported HIV incidence increased to about one every two to three hours (or eight to 10 per day) in the first quarter of 2012. The country is actually one of only seven countries globally that registered over 25% increase in HIV incidence since 2001, even if the global trend is stagnation or even decrease in HIV infection rates.
This September 2013, there were 427 new HIV Absero-positive individuals confirmed by the STD/AIDS Cooperative Central Laboratory (SACCL) and reported to the HIV and AIDS Registry. This number is 35% higher compared to the same period last year (n=316 in 2012). Worryingly, HIV is affecting youths. So far, the 20-29 year old age group had the most (58%) number of cases for 2013. For the male age group, the most number of cases were found among the 20-24 years old (25%), 25-29 years old (34%), and 30-34 years old (21%). From 1984 to 2013, there were 15,283 HIV Ab sero-positive cases reported, of which 13,880 (91%) were asymptomatic and 1,403 (9%) were AIDS cases.
It is therefore not surprising that the Philippine HIV epidemic – once described as “low and slow” – is now dubbed as a “fast and furious type of epidemic”.
In POSI+IVE, Escudero is Carlo, who is said to have spent his teens living a “wild lifestyle of sex, drugs, and alcohol”. After getting out of rehab, the now 26-year old Carlo, who is happily married to his pregnant wife, worked as an operations manager of a call center. His life took an unexpected turn when he tested HIV-positive. And so angry and afraid, he retraces his troubled past to find out who infected him.
“The first time I heard about (the role), alam ko that this is a non-stereotyped role, so I felt excited. Challenging roles like this are what I always hunger for,” Escudero said to Outrage Magazine.
But more than just a character to play, Escudero acknowledged that this particular role has some weight because of the HIV situation of the Philippines. As such, “although ang HIV ay laganap na, I still hope that by playing Carlo in POSI+IVE, I will be able to help effect positive change and give another perspective (of HIV) to the viewers.”
Escudero did not know PLHIVs before POSI+IVE, so “nag-research po ako; I went through an immersion and interviewed people who are experts in this field. I wanted to accurately play this role so I did a lot of digging, a lot of research,” he said. He believes that these made his portrayal of Carlo different from past roles he played. “Since this is a sensitive (issue), kinailangan naming mag-undergo ng integration through the help of AIDS Society of the Philippines. Nagkaroon kami ng orientations, dialogues and immersion with some PLHIV and their families. We were so thankful that they were kind enough to accommodate our needs as actors.”
With his dealings with PLHIV, and with those in HIV advocacy in the Philippines, Escudero said that the biggest lesson he learned was getting informed. “The key word po is information,” he said. “Since everyone is at risk, kailangan natin lahat ma-educate about the disease in order to avoid this, and also to help fight the stigma.”
TV5’s POSI+IVE is the first TV series in the Philippines to extensively tackle HIV, since in the past, stories of Filipino PLHIV were only covered as TV specials. This move could prove beneficial, said Escudero.
“Katulad ng sinabi ko, the key is to know about the disease. This show will serve as an eye-opener para ma-expose ang Filipino public about this,” he said.
To those who are HIV-negative, Escudero said that “you are lucky, therefore dapat you remain lucky. Ibig po sabihin, refrain from having unsafe sex. Better yet, be faithful to your partner.”
Escudero recommends that people who are unaware of their status should get tested. “The best thing to do if you are doubtful is to go ahead and have yourself tested. The earlier you know, the better,” he said.
And for PLHIV? “Even though you are living with HIV or AIDS, remember that you are still lucky to be alive. Katulad pa rin po kayo ng any other person battling with other diseases such as diabetes and the like. What’s important is how you live your life one day at a time, and spend it with the people you love,” Escudero ended.