Fill Esguerra who works for a Japanese gaming company, Ian Carandang owner of Sebastian’s Ice Cream , Toto Carandang a physician, and Benz Pagaduan, a travel expert, came together and had a passionate discussion about the current state of HIV awareness in the Bear community.

Having become the fresh faces of the LGBT bear community in the Philippines after they appeared in a witty ad for Chubby Bar, a new product in Ian Carandang’s ice cream business, the group of friends share their insights on HIV, how the virus is affecting the Bear community, and what drove them to rally behind Love Gala.

L to R: Fill, Ian, Toto, and Benz appear in 'Celebrate Love,' a collaborative project of Black Maria Pictures and Dentsu Jayme Syfu for the upcoming Love Gala

What is the biggest challenge in ending HIV?

“There’s always a negative connotation with it [HIV testing]. ‘Why are you getting tested?' ... And if somebody spoke about their status, then this guy has been seeing that guy, and this guy saw this guy -people connect the dots. It’s so small and ripe with gossip that it paralyzes everyone.” - Fill

Toto shared a conversation he had with a friend about the prevalence of HIV in relation to the Bear community. It led to the conclusion that the Bear community is somehow shielded from most HIV awareness programs because it is a “niche” among MSMs. Ian emphasized that most men in the Bear community are discreet and/or closeted, which amplifies the disconnection felt with larger LGBTQ+ community where HIV issues are mostly discussed alongside. Also mentioned was the lack of diverse body type representation in HIV awareness imagery. Fill, Ian, Toto, and Benz agreed that HIV advocates need to innovate their approach when it comes to reaching out to the Bear community due to the discreet nature of most of its members.


What is the strongest weapon we have to combat the HIV Crisis in the Philippines?

The group discussed how love plays a role in fighting HIV in the Philippines. Toto emphasized the importance of respect when it comes to love. He explained, “When we begin to respect each others’ differences, then I think love can come in.”

In relation to the passion that drives HIV advocates to continually spread awareness, Toto further stressed the importance of working together in fighting against HIV in the country: “I think, also organization amongst ourselves [is important]. We haven’t been seeing a lot of representation of us in the community, so people are kind of scattered. There are a lot of groups, but they haven’t exactly banded together out in the open. So when we start organizing, that’s when we can start educating.”

The group discussed how impactful positive dialogue is in fighting HIV. “Just talking about it. We often think it’s not there or hope that it’s not there because we fear it. Just make sure that the information is out there. That’s our biggest weapon,” Ian exclaimed. Fill then reiterated the value of the validity and truthfulness of the information relayed to the general public. “It’s easier to spread fear," he said.

Benz ended the discussion by pointing out the implications of being part of a community and how we are all connected: “It’s not just you. Everything you do affects other people. Whatever you do not only reflects you but the community you belong to.”

The Love Gala is one of the first steps the group has taken to contribute to the HIV advocacy. Their presence would certainly be significant in moving toward more inclusive awareness campaigns.

On December 1, we celebrate World AIDS Day in a special way. At the Love Gala in the BGC Arts Center, we can band together in support of ending the HIV and AIDS crisis of the Philippines with part of the proceeds going towards awareness efforts for the cause.

Attendees can expect to join a gathering of exceptional social advocates, influential people, game changers, artists, high fashion designers, and celebrities led by Miss Universe 2015 and UNAIDS Goodwill Ambassador for Asia and the Pacific, Pia Alonzo Wurtzbach. Asia's Songbird Regine Velasquez-Alacasid will be performing live together with a star-studded lineup including Morissette Amon, Wency Cornejo, Radha, Audie Gemora, Shiela Valderrama, Phi Palmos, Nicole Asensio, Polly Cabrera, and other surprise guests.

Learn more about the Love Gala event here, and get tickets here.

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