Thursday, March 01, 2018

It takes one woman living with HIV to make Senator Pacquiao become co-author of the AIDS Amendment Bill

Senator Emmanuel "Manny" Pacquiao
It takes one courageous woman living with HIV to have a quick dialogue with one of the Philippine's most conservative senator to change his mind to #PassAIDSBill.

Philippine Senator Manny Pacquiao is known for his rather conservative stance on several key issues surrounding sexual & reproductive health and rights (SRHR) - one of which involves the current efforts to amend the now 20 year-old Republic Act 8504 or also known as the Philippine AIDS Prevention and Control Act of 1998.  

The Network to Stop AIDS Philippines or NSAP has been regularly attending all the meetings and hearings in Congress to push for the amendment of the now two decade year-old law on HIV & AIDS. In the House of Representatives, the chamber voted on 188-0-0 in favor of the proposed "Philippine HIV and AIDS Policy Act" or House Bill 6617. Now the battle ground is at the Senate where Senators Gordon, Sotto, and Pacquiao are its staunch oppositors. 

Image may contain: Elena Felix, glasses and close-upELENA FELIX, a woman living with HIV for 24 years did not hesitate to run after Senator Pacquiao and introduced herself. In that brief conversation, she revealed to him how important is this bill to pass into law as it will help her and countless others to have access to services and to be protected from stigma and discrimination. Senator Pacquiao asked how long will a person living with HIV survive, and there in front of him was "Nanay Elena", a brave woman who have lived with HIV for more than two decades, standing tall and resilient amidst the society's stigmatization of people living with HIV.

"Nanay Elena" as many advocates fondly call her is a living inspiration and symbol of resilience against the stigmatizing society against people living with HIV. She is an advocate, a survivor of domestic violence, a mother, and a grandmother - not just to her children but to many other PLHIVs who seemed to have been outcasts of their own families. She continues to educate people about HIV and tirelessly supports national initiatives on HIV & AIDS in the Philippines. 
When Sen. Pacquiao interpolated  Sen. Hontiveros, the Senate AIDS Bill main proponent, on the provisions of the proposed amendments of the bill, he seemed to not support (or may have apprehensions) of the amendments to the Senate AIDS Bill. Elena was there patiently listening and supporting fellow advocates. 

But it was after the hearing, that Nanay Elena bravely approached the Senator and had a short but meaningful conversation with him. This seemed to turn the tides in favor of the Senate AIDS Bill. So remarkable that it even made Senator Pacquiao, from seemingly an oppositor to now a CO-AUTHOR of the bill. 

This gesture amazed the young Senator, to which he responded "Yes, sure. I will support the bill." 

On that same afternoon, NSAP members and Elena got a SMS from one of the staff of Senator Hontiveros informing them that finally, Sen. Pacquiao has agreed to become the bill's co-author. 

Elena is one of the current faces of the HIV epidemic in the country. She, along with many other people living with HIV, advocates, and allies, continue to push for a strengthened and holistic programmatic approach in combating the stigma against PLHIVs and to eventually halt the further spread of the virus.    

Image may contain: 11 people, including Elena Felix, people smiling, people standing and indoor
NSAP Members with Sen. Pacquiao after the hearing on the 
AIDS Amendment Bill. Photo courtesy of Kael Mata 
In the current struggle to have the HIV & AIDS Amendment Bill pass into law, Elena reminds fellow advocates, PLHIVs, and those people who are affected by HIV to rally support for this important measure especially at such a time as this where the numbers of newly diagnosed cases continues to rise and that societal stigma against PLHIVs do not diminish.  

For Elena, it is important to put 'human faces' to  the issue and to let the decision-makers know that their decision on this landmark measure shall impact many Filipinos - mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, relatives, friends, and the future of the country.

To the members of NSAP, individual advocates & allies, PLHIVs who continue to fight and rise against the stigma thank you for your undying passion to save lives. 
The war is far from over, but today we won one battle. 
And one battle will ripple to another. 
We will hold the line.  

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