I was one of the 20 participants in the 14th Lopez Jaena Journalism Workshop on Media and Gender Sensitivity conducted at the UP CMC in 2005. Each participant is required to submit an article for critiquing. This story appeared in People’s Tonight in Oct. 2005.
JOSIE, a 37-year-old mother of two, was diagnosed five years ago (nine years ago today-2009) with the virus that causes acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS). She is just one of the more than 2,000 Filipinos who have been infected with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).
Josie contacted HIV from her husband, a former seafarer.
“Gusto kong malaman ng mga tao, ma-educate sa ganitong uri ng sakit para hindi na dumami ang tulad namin, dahil nakakaawa ang may ganitong kalagayan,” says Josie. “Imbes na kumonti, lalong dumadami ang mga OFW na may HIV/AIDS.”
HIV attacks white blood cells in the body’s immune system that ward off infection. AIDS is the most serious illness that occurs in people who have been infected with HIV.
A person with AIDS (PWA) experiences symptoms from cancer and diseases caused by protozoa, parasites, fungi and bacteria, as well as other illnesses.
Josie was found positive for HIV in 2000, three months after her husband died of an AIDS-related disease. It took two years for her to finally accept her fate. She could not help but think she might end up like her husband.
“Nang malaman ko na positibo ako, naiilang na akong lumabas ng bahay. Pilit kong itinatago maski ang tunay na sakit ng asawa ko sa mga kapitbahay na nagtatanong,” Josie says.
But she is thankful that her two children, aged 12 and six, are not positive for the AIDS virus.
“Pumi-pick-up na ang number of women na nahahawahan ng asawa nila because they [husbands] couldn’t help but engage in unprotected sex abroad,” says Dr. Maribel Melgar, a psychologist and a board member of the AIDS Society of the Philippines.
Six out of 10 women being served by the Positive Action Foundation Philippines Inc. (PAFPI) worked abroad. PAFPI is a community-based organization catering to the migrant population and persons who have HIV/AIDS and their families.
Four are married to seamen, says Celestino Ramirez, PAFPI vice president and training director.
In search of better-paying jobs, a number of Filipinos are forced to work abroad, with dire effects on the families who are left behind.
Three years ago, PAFPI documented the difficult working conditions of migrant workers. It has compiled anecdotal stories for the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific that illustrate how workers cope with the changes of living abroad.
The documents show, for instance, that most migrant workers develop new relationships. Many of them end up having unprotected sexual contact in the host country.
The danger of acquiring HIV infection and passing it on to their partners back home becomes high.
Most male workers abroad are seafarers who — voluntarily or due to group pressure — frequent commercial sex establishments in many, if not every, port of destination.
Female migrant workers, on the other hand, end up in countries where women enjoy very little social status where they have very little bargaining power.
There, they end up with low-paying jobs and are often exploited, making them vulnerable to violence.
“Mahirap if you are an OFW, iniwan mo ang asawa mo, you have to deal with loneliness, situation from family and alienation from the culture that you are in, they are highly vulnerable to romantic liaisons. Problema nga lang you can’t determine if she or he is positive for HIV sa tingin lang,” Dr. Melgar pointed out.
Seven hundred ninety-seven or 34 percent of the 2,354 people living with HIV/AIDS in the country at the moment have worked overseas.
Of which 282 were seafarers, domestic helpers, 132; employees, 69; entertainers, 62; and health workers (nurses, caregivers, health education, medical technologists, midwife, pharmacist, physical therapist, dentist and physician) 56.
Seventy-five percent of affected OFWs were males, according to Dr. Rick Poblete, director of the Philippine National AIDS Council (PNAC).
All seafarers undergo pre-departure orientation seminar (PDOS) that emphasizes safe sex. But, according to a recent study made by the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Center, they have low level of knowledge on HIV/AIDS.
Worse, only half (49 percent) practice safe sex.
Rafael, a former seafarer who has been positive for HIV since 2000, says that the 30 to 45 minutes lecture on HIV is not extensive enough to educate and prevent workers going abroad from engaging in sex that may potentially cause the fatal disease.
“Hindi ganoon ka-comprehensive ang itinuturo tungkol sa HIV/AIDS, pahapyaw lang. Gusto sana naming (HIV-positive people) na magkaroon ng separate at sapat na oras para sa HIV education dahil ito ang pangunahing problema ng mga seafarers,” he says.
“I suspected I had the virus as early as 1993,” says Josie who lives in Caloocan. She now thinks that her husband already had AIDS the last time he went abroad.
“Naging sakitin na siya, nagsusuka at tae ng tae siya, may German measles, sakitin ang ulo niya. Bago siya sumakay ng barko, sumasakit na ang lalamunan, akala niya tonsillitis lang. Pinadalhan ko pa siya ng gamot.
“May idea na ako noon at alam ko kung saan nakukuha ‘yon. Try pa nga itago ng mga relatives niya sa akin.”
Josie’s loved ones as well as her husband’s relatives have helped her gradually recover from the successive blows in her life.
“Supportive naman ang family ng asawa ko at nahihiya pa nga sila sa nangyari sa akin. Sa side ko naman, unti-unti kong sinabi sa kanila ang tunay kong kalagayan. Suportado naman nila ako at ‘yon ang nagpapalakas sa akin.
“Mas naging madali ang pagtanggap ko sa kalagayan ko dahil sa pagtanggap nila sa akin. Nagpapasalamat ako at tinutulungan ako ng kapatid ko sa pagkupkop sa amin ng mga anak ko.
When her husband was still alive, he used to joke what would happen if he had AIDS. “Siyempre asawa ako alangan naman sabihin ko hihiwalayan ko siya. Eh kung nagkaroon ka, matatanggap ko.
“Ang sabi ko sa kanya magbabaon siya ng condom kasi sabi ko siyempre matagal siyang malayo sa amin hindi kagaya ng ibang seaman anim na buwan, walong buwan lang ang kontrata. Call of nature ‘yan eh…”
About 40 percent of women, who were interviewed for the 2002 HIV/AIDS Coutry Profile (Philippines) project of the Health Action Information Network (HAIN), admitted that they do not have the confidence to ask their husbands to use condom even if they have adequate knowledge of STI/HIV/AIDS.
The study, supported by PNAC and the United Nations Joint Program on HIV in the Philippines (UNAIDS-Philippines), also showed that 43 percent of women admitted having been forced into sex at times and 15 percent believed it was their obligation to have sex with their partners.
Josie would like to share her experience with other mothers and wives, warning that there are many of them who are in the same situation with the same disease today.
“May mga kaibigan akong positibo rin ang nagsasabi na kaya naman sila nagkaroon ng HIV ay dahil sa na-rape sila or na-harass ng kanilang mga amo tapos malalaman nila na positibo ang amo nila.
“Meron din akong kakilala, asawa rin siya ng seaman. Nahawahan siya, pero ngayon mas mahina pa siya sa asawa niya.
While she has accepted her fate Josie cannot help but feel the pain, anguish and regret.
“Kahit papaano sinisisi ko siya sa nangyari sa pamilya namin. Ang hirap ng buhay namin.
“Kung naiwan niya ako ng walang ganito (HIV), mabibigyan ko sana ng magandang buhay ang mga anak namin. Makakapagtrabaho pa ako. Nawala na nga siya, may naiwan pang sakit kaya napakahirap tanggapin.
As for the wives of Filipinos working abroad, Josie has this advice: “Ang masasabi ko lang maging open sila sa asawa nila. Parating pagsabihan para hindi makakalimot. Padalhan na nila ng condom. Tsaka ipakita nila na mahal nila ang mga asawa nila para pagdating sa barko hindi na mangaliwa.
“Kung maiiwasan kung pwede, magsarili na lang sila. Matakot sila sa sakit na ito. Dumadami na ang mga mayroon.” — Miriam V. Torrecampo
(The article was edited by my former editor Paul Icamina. Gracias! )