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When the age of virality and number of likes meet with lack of education and awareness, a set of lethal consequences may ensue.

This is what the six-part series Mga Batang Poz tries to drive at.

It tells the journey of four teens, aged 15 to 16, who meet up and go on an unforgettable journey reminiscing about their short yet eventful lives.

They meet in a group chat called Pete’s Corner and decide to have an “eyeball,” young people’s term for meeting in person.

They then embark on a road trip that would slowly make them reveal the pains, losses and heartaches they went through because of their common condition — they are all HIV-positive, thus the title of the series. Poz is the slang word for HIV-positive. It is just one of the words used to refer to the condition.

The series started streaming on 26 July on iWant, which is downloaded in both iOs and Android. For those who do not have the app, they can register or log on in iwant.ph.

AWRA Briguela is Chuchay, an impoverished gay who tries to live positively.

Zeroing in

The series is based on the book of the same title written by publisher and known young adult novelist Segundo Matias Jr. The author of Moymoy Lulumboy started writing the said book in 2016 and published it last year. The story of Batang Poz was part of his thesis for a masteral degree he was taking at the University of the Philippines (UP).

He originally included a female character but when he looked at the demographic of those who usually contract the condition, he decided to write an all-male narrative.

“This was my thesis in UP for my masteral degree. I presented it with a girl (character). I didn’t want this to go out as an LGBTQ (story). He (thesis adviser) said that we should just omit the female character because we want to zero in on the issue. More than 90 percent are gays and they did it with MSM (men having sex with men). So I omitted the female character,” he shared.

Love Yourself project mananager Danvic Rosadino added, “Based on the data from the World Health Organization, the Philippines has the highest rate of increase of HIV epidemic in the world. It does not mean that we have the most cases, but we have the fastest-rising incidence of HIV. Right now, we have 36 cases per day.

The show tells the story of four teenagers living with HIV.

“If this book reflects the reality of the Philippines, then the reality of the HIV epidemic (is) focused on a key population, and most affected are the MSM. But it doesn’t necessarily mean that this does not affect women. In fact, in Africa, HIV is common in mother-to-child transmission. But in our reality, our epidemic is concentrated on a key affected population. And again, if you’re looking at it from a global perspective, there’s equal incidence between the male and female population. But if we’re going to spread the information using the Philippine context, this is what’s happening; this is reflective of what’s happening,” he explained.

The Philippines has the fastest-growing HIV epidemic in the Asia-Pacific region, according to the Department of Health (DoH). Majority of these infections are also reported to be among young people aged 15 to 24, said the Philippine National AIDS Council in 2018. This year, the DoH reported that 38 new HIV cases are reported daily, up from last year’s 32.

Self-regulation

Though the story is about male teenagers, only one of the four male leads is underage.

Fino Herrera (Luis), Mark Neumann (Gab) and Paolo Gumabao (Enzo) are all in their early 20s. Awra Briguela, on the other hand, is the only actor who plays a role of his age.

Director Chris Martinez said they have a psychologist on set to brief and debrief Awra. Awra (Chuchay), meanwhile, shared that he is aware of the issue and that he wanted to be part of the awareness campaign.

“As part of LGBTQ, I feel like I should represent gay kids like me so that they are going to be aware, so that they will not contract this,” the 15-year-old actor who rose to fame by starrring in Ang Probinsyano said in Filipino.

Concerns about the accessibility of the streaming site, which offers premium and free streaming of content, were raised, in particular with the young people who are going to be curious about the show.

Martinez and programing head of iWant Richard Reynante assured that they have considered these concerns. They may not be under any regulatory body such as the MTRCB, but they practice self-regulation and have given Batang Poz a rating of R-16.

But age can be faked online, one concerned media person said during the event expressed.
Reynante shared that they did their “due diligence” and that “we (meaning adults) should not underestimate them.”

Director Martinez agreed. “To be very, very honest, I wanted the young people to watch it. This is really for them. This is really for the young people. This is not an adult film disguising as an advocacy show. This is made for the teens. So whether they do it on the sly, whether they say it to their parents, I think I did my job, because I was able to reach them with my message. They will do whatever they want to do. This is not lewd or something that one would be ashamed to watch. This is to save them, to inform them, to make them aware of what’s happening around them.”

Timely reminder

Watching through the series may prove to be uncomfortable. It is because it is unabashedly honest and a topic that remains a taboo, as pointed out by Rosadino.

Each episode tells the back story of the four teens.

Luis is a 15-year-old Filipino Chinese who explores his sexuality after having his first taste with an older man. He is conflicted due to his family’s tight upbringing and expectations.

Gab is a 16-year-old bisexual who has a girlfriend but also keeps an affair with his best friend.

Sixteen-year-old Enzo grows up insecure brought about by his parents’ perceived favoritism over his sibling. He devotes much of his time online, finding assurance and acceptance by the number of likes he gets as his popular alter ego.

Though only 15, Chuchay has been living a rough life, growing up in a poor household. He will do everything to help his family including engaging in sex for money.

Their narratives are interwoven with today’s way of life – consumed by the Internet and social media. Thus, the show makes their stories even more urgent and pressing.

Mga Batang Poz dares to shed the light on relevant issues and is going viral for the right advocacy.

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