The Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) apologized on Wednesday for revealing that one of the drug suspects nabbed in a hotel buy-bust in Taguig City was positive for the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).
In reaction, Sen. Risa Hontiveros said PDEA and other law enforcement agencies should know how to properly handle cases where persons with HIV are involved.
“I call on our authorities to apprise themselves of all the current laws, protocols and systems of dealing with people with HIV. Our law enforcers can’t afford to be ignorant of these things. Lack of understanding promotes stigma and biases,” Hontiveros said.
PDEA chief Aaron Aquino said it was not his intention to violate the suspect’s privacy.
“PDEA has expressed regret in the inadvertent mention during a recent press conference that one of the suspects, although his identity was withheld, is infected with HIV. We may have gone overboard by violating his right to privacy,” he said in a statement on Wednesday.
Republic Act 8504 or the Philippine AIDS and Prevention Control Act of 1998, states that disclosure of a person’s HIV status without his or her consent is punishable by imprisonment of six months to four years.
On Sunday, PDEA seized P340,000 worth of “date rape” drugs and other forms of illegal substances found in the possession of 11 suspects, who were arrested and presented to media.
Aquino disclosed during a press briefing on Monday that one of the suspects admitted to be HIV positive after bringing out a bottle of medication supposedly for treatment of his disease.
While he seemed to regret his HIV statement, Aquino was unapologetic in censuring homosexual relationships when he related it to drug use and “rave parties.”
“In our ardent desire to issue a warning that organized passion parties spiked with illegal drugs and involving male-to-male sexual partners may contribute to the high prevalence of HIV infections in the country, we have disregarded the context of privacy,” Aquino said.
“It was never our intention to be insensitive and discriminatory against people with HIV,” he added.
Hontiveros said PDEA and other agencies should ensure that the incident won’t happen again.
“I welcome PDEA’s apology but we cannot ignore the mental an emotional damage already inflicted on the person. It’s sad that this happened just a few days before we observe World AIDS Day. 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.
Netizens vent their ire
Netizens also vented out their frustrations against PDEA and News 5’s negative portrayal of HIV positive people.
The news outlet earlier posted mugshots of the suspects on its Facebook website with a caption that one of them was “HIV positive.”
“What the PDEA and media have done is unethical and cruel. Check the comments sections. People are conflating drug use and immorality with being gay, with being HIV positive,” netizen Mikhail Quijano said in a Facebook post.
In an Instagram post, Miss Universe 2015 Pia Wurtzbach also criticized PDEA’s disclosure of the suspect’s HIV status, which she called “unnecessary.” She said it only worsened the HIV problem in the country.
“Being gay is not a crime. Living with HIV is not a punishment. Come on, Philippines. We are already taking small steps forward to improve acceptance, tolerance and understanding. We cannot take big steps back,” Wurtzbach said in her post.
with JEAM SAMANTHA PINEDA