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.
Yes, a ‘school’ that aims to help HIV and LGBT advocates change the status quo and improve their situation.
The “Advocacy School” is a training program launched by TLF Share to improve the skills and capacities of leaders and activists in the areas of HIV advocacy and/or LGBT rights. Held last December at Tagaytay City, the program was designed to focus on the needs of individual advocates, with the goal of increasing the bench of dedicated and effective HIV or LGBT rights advocates. The participants came from different community groups all over the country, most of whom are ‘second-liners’ in their own communities representing a broad spectrum of LGBTQ and PLHIV groups.
In the school, the advocates were engaged in a thought process to understand what advocacy is, and distinguish it from activities such as awareness-building, or HIV services. Gus Cerdeña, Program Officer of Friedrich Ebert Stiftung Philippines and a Board Member of TLF Share, said that systemic problems demand systematic, organized action.
“How do you address the imbalance of power?” he asked. “We have to draw that line—that very thin line—between information, education, communication, networking, etc., and advocacy. It takes an extra step for an action to be considered advocacy.” He pointed out that advocacy changes power relations.
The advocate as a communicator
Meanwhile, Mr. Perci Cendaña, a Commissioner of National Youth Commission prefaced the sessions on strategic communications for the advocacy. In his presentation, he said that that “effective public speaking is delivering the message and making an impression.”
He underscored that an advocate is a communicator.
He also talked about the importance of sticking to a core message, employing data, using simple language (and the language one is most comfortable in), and knowing the audience of an advocacy.
Meanwhile, Joey Dimaandal of the South East Asian Committee for Advocacy (SEACA) provided the advocates with key elements on how to create and deliver effective presentations: a confident and prepared resource person, content that is relevant and packed with the necessary information, and a presentation that is simple, focused, and connects with the audience.
HIV, SOGIE, and policy advocacy
Various advocacy strategies and tactics were also discussed. Jonas Bagas, Executive Director of TLF Share, led the sessions media advocacy and the writeshop to improve skills on producing press releases and other content – especially core messages – for mainstream and online media.
The advocates were also familiarized with the processes involved in reforming policies. A session was held to explain the national legislative mill to the advocates and how a bill becomes a law. For local policies, Ivanka Custodio, Dangal network coordinator, presented the local policy-making process. She explained the decentralized nature of local government units and how LGUs oftentimes translate national laws to local policies and how they exercise their power to enact laws within its own jurisdiction.
Francis de la Cruz of Greenpeace gave a presentation on how to organize direct action. Drawing from his experience with his organization, he centered his presentation on what he called the art of campaigning. After talking about real-life examples that can be compared to campaigning, de la Cruz presented the four basic elements to build a campaign to his audience. These four basic elements are: a campaign objective, power analysis, motivation (communication strategy), and activities (tactics).
De la Cruz also zeroed in on nonviolence as part of his presentation. He talked about its roots in intellectual history, citing the Quakers and Mahatma Gandhi, and explored with the audience how it can be applied in concrete work. De la Cruz identified six steps for nonviolent social change: information gathering, education, personal commitment, negotiation, direct action, and reconciliation. These steps can be embodied in the methods of nonviolent action: nonviolent protest and persuasion, noncooperation (social, economic, and political), and nonviolent intervention.
It is no secret: advocacy work has its own stress. UP College of Psychology Assistant Professor Eric Manalastas said that LGBT activists of oftentimes face these stressors: restricted friendship networks, tension with romantic partners, family disapproval, little time for leisure, job overload, limited resources, community indifference, and conflict with other advocates. He elaborated on the need to manage stress and highlighted the importance of self-care.
He presented the ABC’s of handling stress: the need to be ‘aware’ of one’s stressors; to have a healthy ‘balance’ between one’s advocacy and other domains of life; and to establish ‘connection’ with other fellow advocates, support groups, and community.
The Advocacy School also gave advocates an opportunity to talk among themselves about issues relevant to them. Magdalena Robinson, a transgender advocate from COLORS Cebu, discussed the nuances of SOGIE and provided the advocates a platform to level off on these concepts. They also talked about disclosure – why in the realms of HIV and SOGIE, it is important to have ethical outlook about disclosure.
The advocates had the chance to exercise what they have learned. Aside from the writeshop for press release writing, there was a mock press conference, a mock legislative hearing, and a mock rally.
The Advocacy School was supported by UNDP and the Local Government Academy.
(Photo courtesy of Keisi Cascon)