Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Snapshots: on HIV

The first time I heard of the increase of HIV cases in the Philippines, it was from my friend Manuel. He worked as a researcher for various international organizations as well as the Department of Health. We were in a coffee shop, just hanging out, talking about unimportant things, when he brought it up.

"I don't think I should be telling you this," he said. "It's all still confidential. Well sort of. Actually I don't know. Anyway, I want to tell this to you as a friend because I want to warn you."


"Well, there is substantial data coming in that shows an alarming increase in HIV cases this past year."

"How alarming?"

"Very. Before, HIV cases were limited substantially to female sex workers and to heterosexual men who had sex with them. The new cases are coming from men who sleep with men. The most vulnerable people, well, according to the limited information that I know, are those who work in call centers."


"We don't know yet."

"That's scary."

"I know."


I was having dinner with my friend Ron when I learned that the Philippine Daily Inquirer ran an article about the increase in HIV cases, where they underscored the fact that most of the new cases came from gay men who worked in call centers. I asked him how he felt, as a gay man who actually worked in the same industry.

"I don't really know how I feel about it," he said. "Well, first, because it's not like I'm having a lot of sex right now. Second, I've always been careful. STDs scare me."

"Does it make you more wary of having sex with people from the same industry?" I asked.

"Not really. Well, maybe. I don't know, I've always been careful," he insisted.


We were in photographer Niccolo Cosme's exhibit commemorating World AIDS Day when Wanggo Gallaga came out as a gay man afflicted with HIV. The room was expectedly tense. His voice was clear, though there were moments that I thought it would break. His speech was short, and purposeful. When it ended, there was a moment of silence. The type that seemed so deafening.

Then applause. I looked at my friend Ioanis, who asked me to come with him. There were tears in his eyes. I realized there were some in mine too.

I made it a point to walk up to Wanggo right after to commend him for his bravery.


"I think this epidemic, if you can call it that, is almost inevitable really," a friend said to me one day.

"What do you mean?"

"It's like this, we all know that HIV is real, but at the same time, we also felt that HIV wasn't really a problem within the Philippine gay community. At least until now. The number of people who actually practiced safe sex is woefully low. Barebacking is a given. We should have expected this."

"I agree. I think we looked at World AIDS Day as one big party. The literature was there, and the warning signs. We didn't listen I think."

“Here's my theory. I think that before, we've always thought of HIV as a problem foreigners have. Some disease that people in America or Africa get, but never for us here. We were isolated. We felt safe in our cocoon. So we got lazy, and we forgot the danger. Now we're paying the price for our failure and our apathy."

"Well, let's hope the price doesn't get too high."

"Well, yes , but even one case is one case too high."


"My roommate's ex just got diagnosed with HIV."

“How did you know?”

“He told me. Besides, word gets around. We’re not exactly a large community.”

“I must admit, this is really starting to scare me.”

“Me too.”

“What can we do?”

“I’m not really sure. All of this just seems so new. It shouldn’t be, but that is how it feels to me. It’s scary.”

Photo taken here.


  1. I've heard news like that I think months ago..from another blog... but I never thought things like that will be that serious...

  2. that is very scary for you all. It is a terrible illness :)

  3. i shudder when people i know tell me that they're barebacking...

  4. it's all very scary and for those who are fighting HIV i applaud their strength

  5. Your story really made me stop and think. HIV does not get the media attention it use to and I think that we have become to "at ease" if you will with the disease.

    Yes, it is no longer a death sentence, (IF YOU CAN AFFORD THE MEDS) but it is still scary and we still owe it to ourselves and our partners to be responsible, use protection, and offer full disclosure!

    Thank you for bringing it back to the minds of many of us who have allowed it to become an after thought!

  6. wee.. katakot naman palang magcall center kung ganun.. waheheh... epal lang... pero true katakot na atang lumalala ito...

  7. Ahhh how terrible. Good Luck Fickle and be careful. It's everywhere!

  8. that's very alarming indeed. WE should do something about it. it is not isolated anymore to a group of people in a specific industry.

    all related government agencies should look into this matter more closely.

  9. until someone close to us gets it, it's easy to think it couldn't happen to us. it's a defense we all use when something scares us, and that's what makes everyone vulnerable. take care of eachother.

  10. dude, people are not joking when they say that stuff is everywhere. just be careful!


  11. Scary. Be careful.

  12. Agreed, very scary. I've found that here in the San Francisco area, we are just AIDS fatigued. We've been working on it and hearing about it for 30+ years, and the new generation doesn't even think it's a death sentence anymore. Please be careful and take precautions. I was thinking about the Call Center thing, and my guess is that many call center people are trained by people from the companies they work for, right? If so, it's coming from outside of the Philippines, from the company trainers.

  13. very scary indeed! i wish you luck!

  14. I do think that AIDS has gone off people's radars a bit - there are more 'fashionable' causes to campaign about! But it is terrifying - so easily prevented and yet so often not prevented!

  15. These conversations brought me right back to coming of age in Greenwich Village during the the mid-1980's. It was a terrifying time. Silence gave rise to fear and fear fueled a great deal of persecution. Bravo for the courageous men and women who speak out and humanize this devastating disease.

  16. Powerful was the first thing that came to my mind when I read this post...The message is clear without going overboard...

  17. I don't know what to say. be careful. my uncle died of HIV and it is very real. I know, you think that's the kind of stuff that can only happen to "other people" but really, it can so happen to you. Stay safe.

  18. Communities being ignorant spreads disease and more ignorance. That's why I will not have unprotected sex with anyone until I am married and ready to have children. With so many people not getting themselves checked and risking other's lives, I don't want to run the risk of getting anything.

  19. Totally agree with Corey, HIV-AIDS should be humanized and explained to more people in more understandable terms. I think we've come to see HIV-AIDS as a disease of sin, when in fact it has become a disease of mistake. And here in this country, we don't openly talk about "sins" as they're controversial and scandalous, when we should actually be talking more about it because it's something that can be avoided with proper (and ergo safe) sexual practices.

    It's like teenage pregnancy. We don't talk about it openly, and now you see it not only on the rise but as an open secret norm. Everyone knows someone who's a teenage mom. The more that you suppress it, the more it happens.

    It's time indeed to talk about safe sex and stop the spread of HIV. Imagine, if we stop now the spread of the virus locally, we'll have statistically insignificant HIV rates in 20-30 years. I'm hoping. =)

  20. yes, this is very alarming, HIV is real and it is now here, 4-5 people are getting infected every day, I think there are 6000 people here in the Philippines are infected with HIV (including myself) 70% of it are men having sex with men, there are some who doesn't even know they have it and might continue spreading it. This is a big issue on the LGBT community, actions must be done to prevent it from getting worst. It's time to talk about HIV, proper knowledge, abstinence or safe sex is the key to prevent HIV. Also there are social hygiene clinic's that offer free HIV testing.

    Visit my blog, my life as a Filipino living with HIV

  21. ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS SUIT UP! Love yourself enough to do this.

  22. That the main mode of transmission is sexual intercourse among men who have sex with men (80% of new cases in 2010), is true, this is not exactly confidential information and it has been the case for the past two years. The HIV/AIDS registry is published quarterly, maybe we're just not listening.

    But that people who work in the call center industry are the most at risk group, still needs further verification and research. There is an observed link between call center work and general health risk (working night shifts, high amount of stress, voice strain, likelihood to take up cigarette smoking, high alcohol consumption) but the link between call center work and increased STI/HIV risk still needs further research.

    BUT: everyone engaging in sexual activities are at risk, especially if it's unprotected.

    Alarming, yes. But, scary? - I don't think we should let ourselves be ruled by this word in this context. Scare is led by fear and fear maims us to inaction. Let's be alarmed, but only enough to move people to action.

  23. What do you mean by HIV being inevitable!?!.. That made it sound so so scary.
    If we use the necessary precautions and be careful, then there is solace?

  24. I'm happy that I came to the cottage. Come to me again. really! Link Exchange If you would like to tell you.

  25. Thanks for the info. Time for being scared is here but time for action and compassion and educating and better medication for those in need has got to be in front of all of that. I'm tired of watching beautiful people suffer and die from This. Thanks for awakening the fire, we have become too "used to it". Blessings, Joanne

  26. Didnt they find a cure in germany..

  27. That Call Center thing is misleading, because HIV testing is not common and widespread. The Call Center industry is among the few that require HIV test for their employees. If everybody got tested (not just OFWs and call center people), then it will be likely that the share of call center HIV plus people will be low or not as high as it is made out to be.

    Also, a large percentage of male employees at call centers are gay. That's just me making my own conclusion.



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