MANILA, Philippines – On her 11th week as mayor of Quezon City, Joy Belmonte traveled to London in the United Kingdom, where she spoke on local government response to the Philippines' human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) epidemic.
Belmonte was among 9 elected officials from all over the world who joined a panel discussion at the Fast-Track Cities 2019 Conference held from September 9 to 11. She was also the lone Asian representative.
Quezon City is a partner of Fast-Track Cities, a network of more than 300 municipalities and cities around the world which focuses on responses to HIV, tuberculosis, and viral hepatitis.
According to the Fast-Track Cities website, Quezon City was home to 7,727 people living with HIV as of December 2018. (READ: IN NUMBERS: Global HIV/AIDS cases still on the rise)
Belmonte expressed wanting to reach out to marginalized people, particularly prisoners and sex workers. In line with this, Quezon City has established 4 "sundown clinics," which operate from afternoon to late night to allow people to come after work. There are also social hygiene clinics and adolescent centers for those who wish to seek advice.
These clinics provide free, safe, non-discriminatory, and confidential HIV testing and free counseling services to men having sex with men and transgender people.
Belmonte said the city government creates intervention programs by allowing sectors to have a hand in policymaking.
"The city government of Quezon is one of those [that] truly believe in people participation. So in our system of government, 20% of policy is made by the NGO sector or the civil society organizations. And what I am trying to do as the current CEO of our city is to try to organize all of the sectors so that all of them will have a voice in policymaking in our city," Belmonte said.
The mayor also acknowledged the mixed responses to these initiatives, particularly from conservative groups. Nonetheless, she said Quezon City prides itself as a city of tolerance.
Belmonte was joined in her London trip – which she said was paid for entirely by the hosts – by members of the Quezon City Health Department.
Illegal security structures
Back in Loyola Heights, Quezon City, a guardhouse and steel gates constructed by the Varsity Hills Homeowners Association (VHHOA) were demolished on Thursday, September 12.
According to Belmonte, the guardhouse and steel gates were illegal structures on a road maintained by the local government. The demolition was done through a court order, which the VHHOA was unable to stop.
"The Quezon City government abides by the court, which has already declared the VHHOA has no right to keep the guardhouse and steel gates already identified as illegal structures, and which were earlier demolished," Belmonte said in a statement.
The Quezon City Department of Public Order and Safety had already advised the VHHOA to self-demolish the illegal structures as early as May, but the homeowners did not do so.
Regardless, Belmonte said she is willing to meet with VHHOA officials to discuss their security and safety concerns, among others.
"Palaging bukas ang aking tanggapan para pag-usapan ang kanilang mga pangamba at maghanap ng mga solusyon sa kanilang mga hinaing," she said.
(We are always open to discourse so people can raise their concerns and we can find solutions.) – Rappler.com
Loreben Tuquero is a researcher-writer for Rappler. Before transferring to Rappler's Research team, she covered transportation, Quezon City, and the Department of the Interior and Local Government as a reporter. She graduated with a communication degree from the Ateneo de Manila University.