On 16 May 2021, while the country was celebrating the International AIDS Candlelight Memorial, Secretary Menardo I. Guevarra signed Department Order (DO) No. 107 of even date, which adopts a non-discriminatory policy on HIV and AIDS that will guarantee a workplace environment free from HIV-related stigma and discrimination. DO 107 institutionalizes in the Department various programs that will not only educate its employees about HIV and AIDS but will also empower those living with or affected by HIV (PLHIV) with legal literacy to access redress services. It is noted that the Department is the first government agency that adopted its own Guidelines on the Implementation of the Workplace Policy and Education Program on HIV and AIDS under Republic Act No. 11166, which was signed into law by President Rodrigo R. Duterte on 20 December 2018.
According to Assistant Secretary Margaret V. Castillo-Padilla, the Department’s representative to the Philippine National Aids Council, fear of stigma and discrimination is the main reason why people are reluctant to get tested, disclose their HIV status and take medications. Because of this, people are diagnosed too late when the virus had already progressed to AIDS, making the treatment less effective and increasing the chances of transmitting HIV to others. Asec. Padilla added that HIV-related stigma and discrimination are often rooted in the lack of understanding about the disease and how the virus spreads. Thus, educating people about HIV and AIDS is crucial in winning the fight against the HIV epidemic.
One of the highlights of this DO is the constitution of the HIV/AIDS Committee in the Department that will investigate complaints against discriminatory acts and practices and violations of the provisions on confidentiality and privacy, which were made punishable as Simple Misconduct with a penalty of suspension of one (1) month and one (1) day up to six (6) months for the first offense and dismissal from the service for the second offense. As such, the rights of PLHIV are protected.
Secretary Guevarra enjoins other bureaus and agencies attached to the Department to likewise adopt and implement their own policy guidelines on HIV and AIDS that are age-appropriate, culture-sensitive and gender-responsive.
With this development, the Department hopes to make an impact on government’s efforts to address the HIV epidemic in the country.