A celebration and a commemoration. The Philippine Legislators’ Committee on Population and Development (PLCPD) seamlessly blended these two themes at a mini-concert held on Friday, June 1 in Quezon City.
Aptly titled “Positive”, the event brought together at the Quezon Heritage House in Quezon City Memorial Circle leading advocates, artists, and champions responding to the challenge of HIV in the Philippines. The cause for celebration was the recent “win” when the bill amending Republic Act 8504 or the AIDS Prevention and Control Act authored by Senator Risa Hontiveros was approved on third and final reading by the Senate. The House of Representatives had approved its version of the bill earlier than the Senate, in December 2016.
On the other hand, the commemoration was in support of the International AIDS Candlelight Memorial, a global movement in honor of the individuals who had passed on due to AIDS-related complications.
“The International AIDS Candlelight Memorial is a solemn remembrance. But we would also like to take this occasion to celebrate our recent gain, especially in the legislative arena. Finally, after seven long and difficult years in Congress, we have reason to believe that we will be seeing soon a new law that will respond to our current situation. The bill has provisions that improve access to and availability of comprehensive services on HIV and AIDS, including services for prevention, treatment, care and support,” said Rom Dongeto, executive director of PLCPD.
Civil society organizations have played a vital role in mobilizing support for the bills in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. Desi Andrew Ching, Convenor of the Network to Stop AIDS – Philippines shared their experiences in lobbying with legislators to support the bills which would provide the policy framework for a robust response to HIV and AIDS.
On the part of the legislators, Rep. Teddy Brawner Baguilat, one of the authors of the bill, affirmed his support for a national response to HIV, a response which would be further strengthened upon enactment of a new AIDS law.
The HIV epidemic in the Philippines is rapidly expanding, and young people are most at risk of HIV infection. While a number of innovative approaches have been developed to reach young people, a responsive policy framework is needed to support these new approaches and technologies.
Messages from key partners such as Dr. Louie Ocampo of the UNAIDS and Ms. Eden Divingracia of the Philippine NGO Council for Population, Health and Welfare, further emphasized the importance of an expanded response to HIV.
In an evening of music and advocacy, performances from various artists enlivened the event. Noted artists and advocate Cookie Chua and the youth band known as Zone One performed musical numbers which complemented the messages from key stakeholders.
The response to HIV is noted for being inclusive, and an advocate and service provider had also been invited to perform at the program. The two songs performed by Marc Mateo, who works with the Klinika Bernardo in Quezon City, were also a highlight of the program.
The mini-concert culminated in a candle-lighting ceremony, led by persons living with HIV and other key partners – a solemn and poignant reminder of the lives lost to the HIV epidemic. The night is a reminder that HIV should not be a death sentence, and a call to further strengthen the response to HIV and to secure healthy and productive lives for all.