The stigma of STIs in the Filipino culture

Posted January 1st, 2018

For a Filipino, what are the implications that are brought about when he or she contracts a venereal disease? Would it be social isolation, rejection, prejudice, depression or would it be acceptance and understanding? To answer that question we must first delve into the Filipino culture and tradition, specifically on the aspect of sexuality. You may have heard the term delicadeza used a number of times when referring to acceptable behavior and moral standards of people in power or prestigious positions. However, it could also mean moral standards of the common folk. Sometimes, the actions that are legal by law are not always appropriate by moral standards because the moral standards in the Filipino culture have a higher bar than legal law owing to the fact that it is mostly influenced by religion. In Filipino culture and tradition sexuality is viewed as something that is accessed through romance and passion. When a Filipino man loves a Filipino woman, he goes through a long process of courtship to prove his love to her and when she finally says ‘yes’ they enter a romantic relationship which would most of the time lead into marriage. If a woman would say ‘yes’ to a man even after a short period of courting; it is generally frowned upon. Needless to say, when a man or woman would enter into a sexual relationship casually, something which is becoming more and more common today, people would judge them harshly. These kinds of ideals are in line with the teachings of the dominating religion in the Philippines, Christianity and Islam. The two religions condemn premarital sex, homosexuality and sexual immorality as a whole. 

You must be thinking, if this is how Filipino tradition and culture views sexuality why did it change? It has to do with globalization and modernization. When the Americans came into the Philippines they brought with them their western ideologies; that was the start of the drastic changes to the Filipino culture. A huge influx of modern ideologies, ideologies from other countries that influenced the Filipino culture through open trade and communication, entered the country since then. The Filipino culture became a mix of colonial Spanish and western ideologies; this did not do so well with the Filipinos because of the contrasting views in the aspect of sexuality. One has a strict view on practicing it while the other has a more lenient view on it. The more lenient view on sexuality out-weighs the stricter one because it is the view that is most supported by the modern trend.

Leniency on sexuality is not always good, for it brings in a lot of health concerns. According to an article by CNN, they stated that the Philippine Department of Health (DOH) discovered that HIV cases rose up to 18% in 2016; this brings the total count of all HIV positive to 9,264. This number could even be higher considering not a lot of people had themselves tested. Another article by the Manila Bulletin stated that the DOH’s HIV and AIDS Registry of the Philippines (HARP) and the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) also discovered that there are a total of 550 blood units that were positive with HIV in 2016 alone. These statistics are alarming because HIV is a devastating disease; it is not only transmitted through sexual contact but also through pregnancy and blood transfusions. STI’s are not only limited to HIV, STI’s could also include Syphilis, Gonorrhea and Chlamydia; the latter of which are not being monitored closely by the Philippine government. 

With the contrasting views on sexuality, what does contracting a sexually transmitted disease do to a Filipino socially and psychologically? Truth is, and I hate to admit it, most Filipinos that have contracted STIs experience a lot of negativity from fellow Filipinos. To Filipinos, contracting STI is like God’s judgment; labeling those who practice sexual immorality with an afflicting symbol of shame. A person who contracts a venereal disease will easily become the talk of the town and people would start giving them nasty looks of disgust. This kind of treatment is one reason why a lot of Filipino would be in denial and refuse to get tested. Some Filipinos could even reach a point of depression due to their fear of judgment; some Filipinos would even commit suicide. There are even bizarre cases where in the person in denial would intentionally infect other people by stabbing them with a syringe full of HIV positive blood. 

Since STIs are not only devastating physically but also socially and psychologically, what is the Philippine government doing to remedy this problem? The Philippine government enacted a law, RA 8504 or the Philippine AIDS Prevention and Control Act of 1998. In this law, the government moves to promote public awareness, protect the human rights and prevent discrimination of those who are infected, promulgate measures to protect health workers from HIV and eradicate factors that could increase the spread of the disease. So far the government did not enact a special law for other STIs but Syphilis is being tested when screening blood donors.

Ultimately, Filipino culture and tradition is greatly influenced by religion, thus every Filipino is expected to meet religious moral standards. However, the influx of new or foreign ideas and culture, specifically on sexuality, and it’s melding with the Filipino culture has challenged traditions. Thus, creating an environment where those who actively defy religious standards by pursuing sexual immorality, including most of Filipinos with STIs, are socially shunned.  

Sources:

Official Gazzete. Republic Act No. 8504. (February 13, 1998). http://www.officialgazette.gov.ph/1998/02/13/republic-act-no-8504/

Echaluce, Charina Clarisse L. (February 3, 2017). DOH says 550 blood units found positive for HIV last year. Manila Bulletin. https://news.mb.com.ph/2017/02/03/doh-says-550-blood-units-found-positive-for-hiv-last-year/

Morales, Yvette. (February 9, 2017). HIV cases rise by 18% in 2016 – DOH. CNN Philippines. http://cnnphilippines.com/news/2017/02/01/HIV-cases-increase-2016-DOH.html

Sexuality - Cross-cultural Variations. http://family.jrank.org/pages/1509/Sexuality-Cross-Cultural-Variations.html

Danuco, Apple Grace C. (September 19, 2017). DOH: Don’t discriminate people with HIV, AIDS. The Freeman. http://www.philstar.com/cebu-news/2017/09/19/1740568/doh-dont-discriminate-people-hiv-aids

Filipino Culture, Customs And Traditions. http://www.livinginthephilippines.com/culture-and-people/philippine-culture/culture-and-traditions/415-filipino-culture-customs-and-traditions

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