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Baguio LGBT groups protest proposed HIV tests

/ 12:12 AM June 23, 2014

RAINED OUT PARADE A mild rain fell over Baguio City on Sunday, but that did not stop over 50 gay rights advocates who mounted the 8th Baguio Pride Parade along downtown Baguio. The group is lobbying for an antidiscrimination law and has expressed objections to a plan to make AIDS testing mandatory for HIV-vulnerable sectors like the gay community. VINCENT CABREZA/INQUIRER NORTHERN LUZON

BAGUIO CITY, Philippines—The eighth staging of the annual Baguio Pride Parade, mounted on Sunday by the city’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community, protested a proposed mandatory human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) testing being discussed by the Department of Health (DOH).

During the parade, more than 50 activists and gay rights supporters marched down Session Road here despite mild rains, wearing colorful costumes and makeup. The rain soaked a giant rainbow flag carried by several revelers, who ended up dragging the fabric down the street.

Many carried placards denouncing the proposed mandatory HIV testing that was attributed to a top DOH official.

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Myke Sotelo, a minister of the Metropolitan Community Church of Metro Baguio, said the suggestion was made in May because of fears that cases of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) in the Philippines have risen further than expected.

At a May 30 candle-lighting memorial for AIDS victims, the city health office’s social hygiene clinic reported that 63 Baguio cases have been recorded by the HIV-AIDS Registry from 1992 to 2014, five of which were detected when the patients offered to donate blood.

Dr. Celia Brillantes, chief of the social hygiene clinic, said the five patients had no inkling they carried the disease until they were stopped from donating blood.

Brillantes said 18 of the 63 HIV-AIDS carriers have died from the disease. The patients—47 men and 16 women—were between 17 and 48 years old.

She said 26 patients were sexually active gay men while 19 were overseas workers.

Sotelo said the proposal to identify HIV-vulnerable sectors like the LGBT community through HIV tests arose from the latest AIDS statistics.

“Obviously the government is fearful,” he said.

“But the enforcement of the reproductive health law should be sufficient to help address AIDS, not a proposal that violates our civil rights,” Sotelo said.

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Sotelo said a strong-arm policy may once more force these vulnerable sectors underground.

The proposal has not been circulated and is being discussed internally by government medical experts, he said, “but the community has reacted with online petitions to preempt it.”

The Baguio Pride Parade again surprised Sunday churchgoers as participants marched from the Baguio Post Office park near the Baguio cathedral.

It was controversial back in 2011 because a local evangelical group had condemned the LGBT community for staging church-led “unions.”

As a result, the city’s LGBT community asked the city government to enact an antidiscrimination ordinance, which has not been discussed after the scandal died down.

But two Baguio councilors, Betty Lourdes Tabanda and Elaine Sembrano, joined the march and promised to revive the measure. Reports from Vincent Cabreza and Desiree Caluza, Inquirer Northern Luzon

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TAGS: Baguio Pride Parade, News, Regions
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