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MOCAN: ‘Everybody should embrace the HIV issue’

The Misamis Oriental-Cagayan de Oro AIDS Network (MOCAN) was formed in the 1990s, though it was “re-born” in 2014 when it became a SEC-registered organization. With over 40 member organizations, it now pushes for the passage of AIDS ordinances in local government units, even as it also directly serves people living with HIV and their families and friends. “I see light. We’re hoping that good things will happen soon,” says Fritzie Estoque, who also stresses the need to act fast since “time’s getting wasted.”

Cagayan de Oro City in Northern Mindanao is among the cities with the highest prevalence of HIV infection in the Philippines.

The Misamis Oriental-Cagayan de Oro AIDS Network (MOCAN) was actually formed in the 1990s, when some local non-government organizations (NGOs), members of the academe, and government offices (GOs) had a gathering touching on HIV, with a network an offshoot of that gathering.

The network was, however, “there but not there” since its formation. That is, the heads/representatives of the member organizations would see, and even support each other in pushing for HIV-related causes in various gatherings, even if they did not necessarily work together under the MOCAN banner. Also, some of the heads/representatives of the member organizations changed – e.g. some passed away, some retired already, and some were already changed.

In 2014, though, MOCAN had a “re-birth” under the leadership of Fritzie Estoque, who now serves as MOCAN’s chairperson. That was when it was “finally registered with Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC)”, and – more importantly – when it became “more aggressive in its efforts,” Estoque said.

Fritzie Estoque: “I see light. We’re hoping that good things will happen soon.” But Estoque also stressed the need to act fast. “Sayang ang time (Time’s getting wasted),” she said. “Sana andami na na-reach (We could have reached a lot already).”

Fritzie Estoque: “I see light. We’re hoping that good things will happen soon.” But Estoque also stressed the need to act fast. “Sayang ang time (Time’s getting wasted),” she said. “Sana andami na na-reach (We could have reached a lot already).”

MOCAN currently has over 40 member organizations coming from northern Mindanao (particularly Misamis Oriental and Cagayan de Oro). And while, generally, it has organizational membership, “we also welcome individual membership.”

MOCAN’s re-birth could not have come at a more opportune time, with this part of the country now ranked as the sixth place in the Philippines with the highest HIV prevalence. In May, for instance, Cagayan de Oro City registered 362 HIV cases in the region, which is 40% higher compared to last year’s figure.

Mas lumala ang statistics (The statistics worsened),” Estoque said.

Since the rebirth, MOCAN has been more prominent in pushing for its causes. For instance, it has been the most vocal organization that is pushing for the implementation of Cagayan de Oro’s AIDS ordinance that, to date, still doesn’t have implementing rules and regulations (IRR) so that “wala siya’y ngipon (it doesn’t have teeth).” MOCAN also helped nearby local government units (e.g. Iligan and Bukidnon) have their own AIDS ordinances.

Estoque lamented the tediousness of dealing with politicians whose personal agenda often affect the implementation of policies that ought to benefit the people. In Cagayan de Oro’s case, for example, because politicians belong to different political parties, if not the actual hindering of efforts, miscommunication often happens. This is why the Local AIDS Council (LAC) has not convened “for a long time.”

“It took a while before the LAC meeting was convened,” Estoque said, stressing that “a while” means “years”.

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Despite of such challenge, “we didn’t stop. We still facilitated advocacy programs,” Estoque said. A recent effort was MOCAN’s gathering of approximately 3,000 people to tackle the worsening HIV situation of these parts of the country.

Estoque is proud to say that MOCAN has “the complete referral system since we have the networks as our members.” In their experience, this helps a lot. For example, if a PLHIV has an opportunistic infection, “daganan jud namo, pangitaan ug doktor. And if you know the doctor, dili na pahulat-hulaton pa (we go to the PLHIV, we find him/her a doctor. And if you know the doctor, he/she doesn’t make you wait).”

Even if there are numerous challenges, Estoque remains optimistic.

“I see light,” Estoque said. “We’re hoping that good things will happen soon.”

But Estoque also stressed the need to act fast. “Sayang ang time (Time’s getting wasted),” she said. “Sana andami na na-reach (We could have reached a lot already).”

And so she calls for politicians, and those in positions of power to remember that “people elected you so you should return the favor. The services na kailangan nila ibigay, maramdaman ng tao (that you need to give, people should feel). Do your part.”

For Estoque, “kami as NGO, sumosobra na ang ginagawa (we as NGO, we’re doing too much already). We’re limited by resources, people, et cetera. What we do will never be enough. Partnership is what will always work.”

Estoque is encouraging Misamis Oriental and Cagayan de Oro people to “come out and seek help. We’re here for you.”

Estoque said that it pains her when someone dies because someone accesses available services too late. “Naa untay treatment, libre unta, everyone has access to it. Sakit kayo nga naa gihapon mamatay (There is treatment, it’s supposedly free, everyone has access to it. It pains me seeing people still die from it).”

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MOCAN is also already pushing for better understanding of sexual orientation and gender identity and expression, which Estoque said “touches on HIV.” She already met PLHIVs who asked for help in disclosing their HIV status to their families, but not their SOGIE. For her, this is sad. “So important jud sa HIV 101 ang SOGIE 101 (So SOGIE 101 is really important in dealing with HIV 101).”

In the end, “the whole population sana (hopefully) will stop the discrimination and stigma. The more the community stigmatizes, the more mamatay ug sayo (people die early). Let’s learn. Let’s educate ourselves para malikayan ang (to avoid) stigma

Everybody should learn to embrace the issue, the advocacy, and the PLHIV,” Estoque said.

For more information on MOCAN, contact (+63) 935-253-9508.

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