PDEA apologizes over disclosure of drug suspect’s HIV status

MANILA -- The Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) on Wednesday apologized to the public for disclosing that one of the suspects arrested in a hotel buy-bust operation is living with the Human Immunodeficiency Virus/Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (HIV/AIDS).

PDEA has expressed regret in the inadvertent mention during a recent press conference that one of the suspects, though his identity was withheld, is infected with HIV. We may have gone overboard by violating his right to privacy, PDEA Director General Aaron N. Aquino said in a statement.

Aquino said that during the operation, one suspect admitted that he is HIV-positive after yielding to authorities a bottle of medication supposedly for treatment of the disease.

In our ardent desire to issue a warning that organized passion parties spiked with illegal drugs and involving male-to-male sexual partners may contribute to the high prevalence of HIV infections in the country, we have disregarded the context of privacy. It was never our intention to be insensitive and discriminatory against people with HIV, he said.

On Sunday, PDEA-SES operatives arrested 11 suspected male drug personalities in a buy-bust operation inside Room 609 of Seda Hotel, Bonifacio Global City (BGC), Taguig City, which resulted in the seizure of ecstasy, shabu and gamma butyrolactone (GBL), a dangerous drug.

The group was reportedly caught while having a sex party.

Seized during the operation were 20 ecstasy tablets, weighing 8.691 grams, with an estimated street value of PHP40,000; two transparent plastic sachets containing methamphetamine hydrochloride, or shabu, weighing 0.0981 gram worth PHP500; 12 bottles containing gamma butyrolactone (GBL), weighing 530.8 ml. worth PHP300,000; and one bottle containing white capsules, with a total value of PHP340,500.

GBL, a precursor of gamma-hydroxybutyric acid (GHB), is commonly referred to as a club drug or date rape drug, usually abused by young people at bars, rave parties and clubs and is often placed in alcoholic beverages.

GBL and GBH abuse results in euphoria, increased sex drive, and tranquility.

Meanwhile, Senator Risa Hontiveros, urged PDEA and other government agencies to observe current laws, protocols and systems in dealing with persons living with HIV.

"I call on our authorities to apprise themselves of all the current laws, protocols and systems of dealing with people living with HIV. Our law enforcers can't afford to be ignorant of these things. Lack of understanding promotes stigma and biases," Hontiveros said in a press statement.

She pointed out that disclosure of a person's HIV status without his or her consent is against Republic Act No. 8504 or the Philippine AIDS and Prevention Control Act of 1998.

"I welcome PDEA's apology but we cannot ignore the mental and emotional damage already inflicted on the said person. Living with HIV is not a crime. Whatever legal and criminal charges he is facing, testing positive for HIV has nothing to do with them," Hontiveros said.

She also urged the public to practice sensitivity in social media and in discussions surrounding the HIV status of a person.

"I personally know some people living with HIV and I'd like to tell the public that they are human beings just like us. A person's HIV status does not define him or her," she added.

The lady senator is the author and champion of the Philippine HIV-AIDS Policy Bill or Senate Bill No. 376, which seeks to address the gaps in the current law that governs the government's response towards HIV-AIDS.

Her measure pushes for an evidence-based, human rights-based and ecological response to the issue of HIV-AIDS.

Source: Philippine News Agency