Keynote Speech – “Touching Lives”, 28th AIDS Candlelight Memorial
Rep. Kaka J. Bag-ao, AKBAYAN Partylist
Delivered at Citystate Tower Hotel, Manila / May 27, 2011
Magandang hapon sa inyong lahat.
We commemorate today the AIDS Candlelight Memorial in a middle of an emerging epidemic. It is not a perceived threat, or an imagined problem. We know our numbers, our statistics: that all over the world, the Philippines has the honor of being one of the seven countries where HIV infection is rising at an alarming rate; that the growing epidemic in the country is driven by the infection among most-at-risk populations, in particular men who have sex with men and transgenders; we know that we have a concentrated epidemic in Metro Manila, Cebu, Davao, and in other urbanizing centers.
But numbers are numbers. While I admit that I felt shame and shock when I saw the Philippine data during the Regional Universal Access Consultation that happened in Bangkok last month, the statistics failed to provide a complete depiction of the situation. Numbers and figures and charts sometimes provide a misleading, numbing comfort – how long, for instance, have we ignored the red flags of this epidemic and found false reassurance from the fact the rate of HIV infection in our country hasn’t reached 1% of the general population yet?
Do we wait for that before we act? Are we waiting for the charts to skyrocket, for the red flags to burn?
We have actually reached a point where in some areas and for some populations, the numbers have begun to shoot up. And I think that in hindsight we all know we shouldn’t have waited for this to happen.
Today we light our candles to give face to an epidemic that has robbed people, not numbers, of their dignity, of their rights, or of their lives. We honor and remember them, their significant others, and their loved ones, to get a real sense of the proportion of this epidemic – that the cost is ultimately human, not numbers, and it is measured by how it affects our human family.
We gather today to walk with companions and kindred souls whose lives have suddenly been changed by the virus. We are here to share the apprehension of that young man who found out, and found out late, that he has contracted an infection that is seen by many not as a condition that can be managed but as a punishment.
We are here to tell him not to feel guilty, that we are not here to judge, and that this is not and this shouldn’t be a solitary struggle.
Today we honor the significant others of people living with the virus, their parents and siblings, their relatives, their partners with our commitment that we will not allow this epidemic to tear us apart, or allow it to erode our capacity for compassion and our ability to love without fear, and love freely.
We light our candles to pay tribute to those who have passed away to promise that we will not cease remembering. Their lives shall continue to inspire us to move forward, that in our remembrance lies a promise that we will not allow this virus to defeat us, that we shall carry on with the fight, that we in the end shall prevail.