Members of the Philippine Legislators’ Committee on Population and Development (PLCPD) who are also the authors of the bill seeking to strengthen the response to the expanding HIV epidemic in the country by amending the AIDS Prevention and Control Act of 1998 or RA 8504 are calling on the Department of Health (DOH) to enforce stricter and more effective strategies in addressing the epidemic, underscoring the importance of voluntary HIV counseling and testing, amid DOH’s proposal to make HIV testing compulsory.
Ako Bicol Party List Representative and bill co-author Rodel Batocabe said, “The DOH under Secretary Ona fought for the passage of the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Law, which is anchored on freedom of informed choice particularly in matters pertaining to sexual and reproductive health and rights. It would be such a setback if the agency imposes a procedure that is just sensitive and potentially life-altering. Let us not go back to the times when the word democracy is meaningless. History has taught us that coercion or compulsion is never effective. I know that the DOH has the best intentions, but clearly this is not what the people want. The DOH must instead mobilize resources for massive information dissemination across all sectors.”
Latest figures from the Department of Health’s official passive surveillance system, AIDS Registry, show that 498 new individuals were diagnosed to be HIV positive. This is 415 percent higher compared to the same period five years ago.
“Experts are calling our HIV situation in the country fast and furious, probably to connote that the epidemic is outpacing the government’s response. This could mean that either our efforts are insufficient or our strategies are not tailored to the needs of our populations who are most-at-risk to the infection,” said bill author and PLCPD Vice Chairperson Rep. Teddy Baguilat.
“We may be one of only nine countries in the world which continue to see an expanding epidemic, making it impossible for the Philippines to achieve the MDG target of halting and beginning to reverse the spread of HIV/AIDS by 2015. We need to adapt and take to heart the calls of our most-at-risk populations when we design our actions. This is why PLCPD is taking part in the multisectoral efforts to scale up the HIV response by ensuring that a responsive law is in place. This is one of our priority legislative agenda for the 16th Congress,” said PLCPD Executive Director Rom Dongeto.
Secretary Ona flagged the plan to make HIV testing mandatory during the committee deliberations on the amendment bill held in February this year. His statement was met with overwhelming opposition from advocates. According to DOH’s latest statement, the department is working on the details for making HIV tests compulsory as a means to address increasing HIV cases in the country. Mandatory testing is prohibited by existing law and the decision to submit to HIV testing is left solely to the individuals taking the test as they are the ones who can tell if they are physically and emotionally ready for it.
About 170 local legislators consisting of vice governors, provincial board members, and city and municipal councilors convened last June 25-27 for the Local Legislators’ League on Population, Health, Environment and Development (3LPHED) 4th National Assembly held at Paradise Garden Resort hotel and convention Center in Boaracay, Malay, Aklan.
With the theme “Changing Climate: Exploring the Climate and Population Links for Effective Governance”, the national assembly aimed to strengthen and consolidate members of 3LPHED and provide opportunities for learning and sharing, as well as developing its policly agenda on population, health and environment.
The assembly was welcomed by Vice Governor Gabrielle Calizo-Quimpo of Aklan and Vice Mayor Wilbec Gelito of Malay, Aklan in a welcome dinner. Speakers in the main program included Climate Change Commissioner Naderev Saño, who discussed the basics of climate change; Department of the Interior and Local Government Director Analiza Baganyo, who presented the local governance imperatives of action for climate change; and PLCPD Executive Director Rom Dongeto, who talked about the population dynamics of the effects of climate change.
The highlight of the assembly was the oath taking of members and the election of new set of national officers. Following is the new set of officers for the period 2014-2016: Masbate Vice Governor Vicente Homer B. Revil, National President; Sultan Kudarat Vice Governor Ernesto Matias, Executive Vice President; Tarlac Vice Governor Enrique “Kit” Cojuangco, Vice President for Luzon; Eastern Samar Board Member Jenny Baldono, Vice President for Visayas; Misamis Oriental Vice Governor Joey Pelaez, Vice President for Mindanao; Tarlac Board Member Romeo Evangelista, National Secretary General; Aurora Vice Governor Rommel Rico Angara, Deputy National Seretary General; and Pilar, Quezon Municipal Councilor Ron Magbuhos-Papag, National Treasurer. Officers for the following posts were also elected: Assistant Treasurer (Candon City Councilor Kristelle Kit Singson); National Auditor (Mountain Province Vice Governor Bonifacio Lacwasan Jr.); Assistant National Auditor (Jalajala, Rizal Vice Mayor Elmer Pillas); National Public Relations Officer (PRO) (Leyte Vice Governor Carlo Loreto); North Luzon PRO (Bataan Board Member Dexter “Teri Onor” Dominguez); South Luzon PRO (Placer, Masbate Vice Mayor Nilo V. Du); Visayas PRO (Leyte Board Member Mesias Arevalo); Mindanao PRO (Surigao del Sur Board Member Mary Grace Lim); and Business Manager (Malay, Aklan Vice Mayor Wilbec Gelito).