THE Department of Justice (DOJ) has expressed support for several pending bills that would provide for a more comprehensive and integrated HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) and AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome) prevention and control program, which includes declaring as unlawful the disclosure of confidential information by media practitioners that would lead to the identification of a person infected with the disease.
In a five-page legal opinion, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said the justice department is fully backing the submission of several proposed measures before the House of Representatives that would further strengthen the Philippine government’s policy against the proliferation of the disease.
The DOJ is a member of the Philippine National AIDS Council (PNAC) which is the central advisory, planning and policy agency for the efficient prevention and control of HIV/AIDS.
The proposed laws before the House that pertain to HIV and AIDS prevention include House Bills 549, 1593, 2744, 3111 and 3242, titled “An Act Strengthening the Philippine Comprehensive Policy on HIV and AIDS Prevention, Treatment, Care and Support and Establishing the Philippine National HIV and AIDS Program, Revising for the Purpose Republic Act 8504, otherwise known as the Philippine AIDS Prevention and Control Act of 1998, and appropriating funds thereof”;
House Bill 1663, titled “An Act Strengthening Further the Philippine Comprehensive Policy on the Prevention and Control of AIDS, Amending for the Purpose Republic Act 8504,” and House Bill 3965, titled “An Act Providing for Counselling and Testing of Pregnant Women and Newbord Infants for Infection with Human Immunodeficiency Virus and for Other Purposes.”
“With regard to the provision declaring unlawful for any editor, publisher and reporter or columnist, announcer or producer in television, radio, and movie industry to disclose the name or picture, or any information that would reasonably identify any person living with HIV or AIDS or any confidential HIV and AIDS information without the prior written consent of the subject, it is suggested that this be clarified and limited to cases where the abovementioned persons would disclose confidential information that would identify any person as one living with HIV without the prior written consent of the subject,” de Lima said.
Currently, the confidentialy provision of Republic Act (RA) 8504, covers only health professionals and other medical practitioners.
Section 30, Article 6 (Confidentiality) of RA 8504 states that, “All health professionals, medical instructors, workers, employers, recruitment agencies, insurance companies, data encoders, and other custodians of any medical record, file, data, or test results are directed to strictly observe confidentiality in the handling of all medical information, particularly the identity and status of persons with HIV.”
Violation of the said provision, according to the law, is punishable by six months to four years imprisonment and the imposition of administrative sanctions, such as fines and suspension or revocation of the violator’s license to practice his/her profession and cancellation of the license to operate any business entity and the accreditation of hospitals, laboratories and clinics.
The DOJ expressed reservation as to the proposed provision on immunity for HIV educators, licensed social workers and other HIV and AIDS service providers, from suit, arrest or prosecution and from civil, criminal or administrative liability on the basis of their delivery of services in relation to the legitimate exercise of protective custody of children.
“To grant immunity to HIV educators, licensed workers and other service providers and to prevent the conduct of investigation and/or proceeding could work an injustice, especially in cases where there is actually no legitimate exercise of function or protective custody,” de Lima said.
With regard to the proposed provision requiring that all educational materials on HIV and AIDS prevention be made available at all international ports of entry and exit, the DOJ suggested that the said task be given to the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) in coordination with the Department of Tourism.
De Lima noted that the DOTC is mandated to establish and prescribe rules and regulations for the inspection and registration of air and land transportation facilities, and it is the said department to which the Philippine Ports Authority, Mactan-Cebu International Airport Authority and the Manila International Airport Authority are attached.