Akbayan Senator Risa Hontiveros on Wednesday asked the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) and other law-enforcement agencies to train themselves on the ethics and protocols in the proper handling of persons living with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).

The Senator made this call in light of the recent incident involving 11 men in an alleged buy-bust operation in Bonifacio Global City in Taguig over the weekend. It was reported that one of the men tested positive for HIV and was unecessarily disclosed by the PDEA during its press conference.

According to the Senator, disclosure of a person's HIV status without his or her consent is against Republic Act No. 8504 or the Philippine AIDS and Prevention Control Act of 1998. PDEA Director Derrick Carreon has since apologized saying that "there was no intention to shame, much less single out one person."

"I welcome PDEA's apology but we cannot ignore the mental and emotional damage already inflicted on the said person. Living with HIV is not a crime. Whatever legal and criminal charges he is facing, testing positive for HIV has nothing to do with them," Hontiveros said.

Hontiveros said that PDEA and other law enforcement agencies must ensure that the said incident does not happen again. "I call on our authorities to apprise themselves of all the current laws, protocols and systems of dealing with people living with HIV. Our law enforcers can't afford to be ignorant of these things. Lack of understanding promotes stigma and biases," Hontiveros said.

Hontiveros lamented that this incident happened a few days before the country observes World AIDS Day on December 1. "Nakakalungkot na nangyari ito habang nalalapit ang paggunita natin ng World AIDS Day. Our authorities should help in telling the public that the HIV-AIDS epidemic can be effectively addressed and that persons living with HIV should have their rights protected. Our authorities should not aid the further stigmatization of those living with the disease," she said.

Aside from law enforcement agencies, Hontiveros also urged the public to practice sensitivity in social media and in discussions surrounding the HIV status of a person. "I personally know some people living with HIV and I'd like to tell the public that they are human beings just like us," the Senator shared. "A person's HIV-status does not define him or her," the Senator furthered.

Hontiveros is author and champion of the Philippine HIV-AIDS Policy Bill or Senate Bill No. 376. The bill seeks to address the gaps in the current law that governs the government's response towards HIV-AIDS. "The bill pushes for an evidence-based, human rights-based and ecological response to the issue of HIV-AIDS. Our current law is highly ineffective, as evidenced by the rise of HIV-AIDS incidence in the country," concluded Hontiveros.

Source: Senate of the Philippines

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