Suspension of Disbelief

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State of the Nation: The Grievances of PLHIVs

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Outrage Magazine | 22 July 2014

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WAD2013

“It is clear: The state was established to serve you. If you have health problems, the government must care for you. In times of illness, it should be there to give aid and support. What has our government done in this regard?”

That was the question posed by President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III himself during his fourth State of the Nation Address last year.

And this year, four years since Filipinos were led to the daang matuwid (righteous/right path)”, the commitment made by PNoy to Filipinos – that there will be a better tomorrow – seems to be untenable.  In fact, there seems to be no decent stopovers along the way, only obstacles.

The plight of Filipino people living with HIV (PLHIVs) exemplify this.

‘WITCH HUNT’

In an earlier interview on ABS-CBN News Channel, Department of Health (DOH) assistant secretary Eric Tayag said that the government agency is working on the details to make HIV tests compulsory.

“(DOH) Sec. Enrique Ona would want to shift from voluntary testing to something that’s compulsory. We want health providers to screen adults who may have a risk for HIV, so that they can be properly counseled on what to do next,” Tayag was quoted as saying.

While the DOH blindly considers this move to be beneficial to everyone, especially to those who are “unaware and reckless with their lifestyle”, different HIV-related organizations and support groups believe otherwise.

“We were surprised and very alarmed by the pronouncement of the DOH. We feel that the mandatory testing, other than being very violative of the AIDS law, will also violate fundamental human rights. If HIV testing would be required for employment or upon entry to educational institutions, then that’s a violation of the socio-economic and socio-cultural rights. It will promote greater stigma and discrimination,” Perci Cedaña, National Youth Commission’s commissioner-at-large, said.

The DOH also noted that the prevalence of HIV among men who have sex with men (MSM) is really alarming and it shouldn’t be taken lightly.

What the DOH leadership fails to see is the diversity of the LGBTQ community, whose members don’t follow the stereotyped images that the media or the everyday Filipino perceive.

“Even (if) DOH possesses evidence that show the complexity of Filipino behavior, in a concentrated epidemic among MSM and transgenders, who do you actually require to get tested? This population does not conveniently fit whatever stereotypical images that Sec. Ona may have about the (LGBTQ) community. Would DOH require all of them to get tested? The problem is not simply about increasing uptake of HIV testing. There’s a more fundamental issue: it’s Sec. Ona himself,” Network to Stop AIDS (NSAP) said in a statement.

Project Red Ribbon, an organization that composes mainly of PLHIV, noted that typecasting a certain group will not solve the growing problem of HIV in the country.

“It’s basically a witch hunt, and different organizations and institutions, especially BPOs, will be affected by this. (We are) so against this because it’s basically typcasting a certain group. The problem is, when you say MSM, not all MSM are gay. So does this mean that they will only focus with this group? What about the other groups? This is a clear typecasting of MSM. We don’t think it’s going to work,” said Pozzie Pinoy, founder of the Project Red Ribbon.

DISAPPOINTMENTS

While the government is “trying” to decrease the prevalence of HIV infection in the country, the quality of service and professionalism among medical practitioners in some health centers and treatment hubs continue to be lacking.

One PLHIV, RT, found out that he’s HIV-positive while he was finishing the requirements needed for a job application in Dubai.

“When I went back to the clinic in Malate to get my confirmatory test, the nurses and medical technicians who were on duty immediately went to the reception area to take a good look at me and they whispered to each other,” he recalled.

And what the attending physician told RT was even more alarming. “Okay lang ‘yan, matagal pa naman ang 10 years. Mga five years pa bago mo maramdaman na may AIDS ka. Marami ka pa naman pwedeng magawa (That’s okay; you still have 10 years. It will take five years before you start feeling the effects of having AIDS. You can still do a lot ’til then).” After hearing that, he just left the clinic.

Several days later, he consulted with another doctor in San Lazaro Hospital.

It has been three years since that incident.

RT is now taking antiretroviral medicines (ARV) to help control the growth and spread of the HIV virus in his body. His doctor told him that he’s in superb shape – he goes to the gym every other day and he hasn’t experienced any opportunistic infections.

Despite the unfortunate initial experience, RT is still “luckier” than most PLHIVs.

In the case of Paolo (not his real name), a 22-year-old barista who is also HIV-positive, the available resources in the Visayas region to attend to the needs of PLHIVs is insufficient, if not lacking.

Mahirap ang kalagayan ng mga may HIV dito sa Visayas. Minsan nangyayari na hindi kami naasikaso kasi hindi available ‘yung doktor namin. Kaya ‘yung iba sa aminnagbibyahe pa papuntang Cebu para macheck-up at makakuha ng ARV (Our status in the Visayas is difficult. At times, no one looks after us because there’s no doctor available. So, some of us have to travel to Cebu just to get checked, as well as to get ARV supplies),” he said.

As a minimum wage earner, Paolo cannot afford to skip work just so he can go to Cebu.

Naalala ko five or six months ago, nagkalagnat ako for three weeks, tapos noong nagpunta ako sa hospital namin ditonakaleave daw ‘yung doktor na naka-assign sa amin, at pinapapunta ako sa Cebu para matignan. Sumabay pa noon, naubos na ‘yung supply ko ng ARV, kaya hindi rin ako nakainom ng gamot ng almost one month. Tapos nag-consult na lang ako sa general practitioner doctor, at sinabi ko ang status ko. Wala naman akong choice (I remember five or six months ago, I had a fever for three weeks, so I went to the hub here, but the doctor was on leave; I was told to go to Cebu for me to get checked. It was also that time that I ran out of ARVs, so I have not been able to take my medicines for a month. I was forced to consult with a general practitioner; I disclosed my status to him. It’s not like I had a choice),” he recalled.

UNNECESSARY PANIC?

Although Filipino PLHIV benefit from PhilHealth’s Outpatient HIV/AIDS Treatment Package, which covers the majority of their hospital and treatment expenses, there is also the growing problem that the government is facing in terms of ARV supplies.

“Actually, we don’t have a problem in ARV supplies. It just so happened that there was an abnormal situation. There was a miscalculation when they ordered the supply, that’s why there was a delay for a few months,” said Dr. Rossana Ditangco, research chief of the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM).  “We experienced the shortage not because we didn’t have a budget, there was just a delay in the delivery. There’s no need to cause unnecessary panic towards this. As far as the budget is concerned, I don’t think we will experience any problem because the ARVs that we are buying are very cheap, they are just generics. And PhilHealth is there and ready to take over eventually for the cost of treatment.”

Supposedly pacifying words that don’t hold sway to so many PLHIVs.

In the case of JB, who lives in Quezon City, going to RITM Alabang to get ARV supplies is a tedious task, especially if he will only be given one to two weeks’ supply.

“I have been taking ARVs for more than four years now, and this year was the hardest for me, not because of the side effects I feel whenever I take the medicines, but the stress I experience every time I go to RITM. The nurses told me that they cannot give three and half months worth of ARVs, which I normally get, because they are ‘budgeting’ it to accommodate other patients. They only gave me two weeks’ worth of ARVs and I was asked to go back after I finish them,” he said.

The government, it seems, is covering up the real situation by not being open about this, as a consequence, some organizations supporting the PLHIV community end up making their own efforts to help augment the problem.

“The PLHIV community has been panicking for months now. The DOH has not been that transparent with its programs when it comes to antiretroviral medicines. The Project Red Ribbon itself has already purchased ARVs to support the community. So if there’s no problem, why is it that we are buying from other countries to supplement the problems with the stocks?” Pozzie Pinoy said.

(IN)TANGIBLE EFFORTS

PLHIV in the Philippines is protected by the Republic Act 8504 (The Philippine AIDS Law), which includes the following provisions: HIV and AIDS education in the workplace; prohibiting compulsory HIV testing; medical confidentiality; and prohibiting discriminatory acts and policies in the workplace.

But while RA 8504 may be beneficial, it is not fully functional. Truth be told, it is not even being practiced by the people who are dealing with PLHIVs.

As RT, who remains traumatized by the treatment he received at the hands of healthcare providers when he went to the clinic in Malate, is right in saying that he didn’t deserve to be judged by the people who are supposed to take care and make him feel better.

Paolo shouldn’t have suffered for three weeks because the attending physician for HIV patients in his locality was on leave.

JB could have used the time he spent traveling back and forth to Alabang to do other things.

If the government is really doing anything to improve the lives of PLHIVs, then why are there PLHIVs experiencing unnecessary distress?

In the end, as far as healthcare provision is concerned, how long must Filipino PLHIVs should wait until they see concrete efforts from this government? When will they stop questioning the decisions made affecting them, and just enjoy the supposed benefits?

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(Outrage Magazine remains the only publication for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community in the Philippines.)

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State of the Nation: The Plight of the Golden Gays

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Outrage Magazine | 18 July 2014

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For the likes of Mother Leony of Home for the Golden Gays, life is a constant struggle – discriminated for being gay when he was young, with an added layer of discrimination encountered now as a senior gay man…

For the likes of Mother Leony of Home for the Golden Gays, life is a constant struggle – discriminated for being gay when he was young, with an added layer of discrimination encountered now as a senior gay man…

Four years ago, Filipinos were reminded to remember an idea, an idea that there is hope for a better tomorrow.

This is no small thanks to the yellow fever Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III brought during his campaign for the Presidency, largely banking on the death of his mother. It was during the rise to power of his mother, Corazon Cojuangco Aquino, when Filipinos felt the same, as she represented the opposition to former President Ferdinand E. marcos.  And while everything changed after her term, with discontent marking her reign, when Noynoy won in the 2010 Presidential elections, the country surprisingly turned yellow once again.

UNQUEENLY MOVE OF THE SOUTH

It was also during that time when ‘Nay Josie, a 65-year-old gay living in Mandaue City, felt that her life would improve.

“I remember voting for Noynoy back in 2010. Some people tried to convince me to vote for another candidate, they said that Noynoy was just all talk, and that I would be just wasting my vote. I didn’t listen to them and still voted for him,” ‘Nay Josie recalled, speaking in the vernacular.

‘Nay Josie has been living on his own for more than 10 years. His family asked him to move out of their house after he lost his job. They told him that they never wanted to see him again because he’s a disgrace to the family. He now lives on the streets. He works as a part-time assistant in a small beauty parlor in Mandaue.

“I understand their reasons. I don’t want to give my family a hard time taking care of me, especially now that I don’t have a job, and I don’t have the capacity to give any monetary support to them. My situation is really hard, but I don’t have a choice,” ‘Nay Josie said, wiping away tears.

There was a time, some two years ago, when he tried to reach out to their barangay, but they also turned him away, saying that “we don’t offer help to LGBT people.  Ginusto niyo maging bayot, kayo ang may kasalanan kung bakit kayo nagkaganyan (You decided to be gay, so it’s your fault your life ended up that way).”

For many senior LGBT people, only their memories (and not even happy ones) keep them company…

For many senior LGBT people, only their memories (and not even happy ones) keep them company…

A couple of months after this, when he gathered back his strength to reach out for help again, he went to the City Hall of Mandaue. But, what he heard made him completely hopeless. “Our government doesn’t have a budget for homeless people.  And even if we do, it might be hard for us to accommodate you because of what you are. We’re not saying we don’t accept you, but other people might be offended,” he was reportedly told.

“Sometimes, the young gays I meet in the beauty parlor, they give me some money so I can buy clothes in ukay-ukay.  O minsan, pinapagamit nila ako ng CR nila para makaligo ako. Hindi ko na alam ang gagawin ko kapag nawala ang raket ko saparlor (“Sometimes, the young gays I meet in the beauty parlor, they give me some money so I can buy secondhand clothes.  Or sometimes, they let me use their bathroom so I can shower.  I don’t know what I’d do if I lost my job in the beauty parlor),” ‘Nay Josie said.

DEMISE OF THE GOLDEN GAYS

Alas, ‘Nay Josie isn’t allowing in what she’s going through.  This is because in the Philippines, the government doesn’t have a solution to accommodate homeless LGBT people; or, for that matter, it does not have any concrete programs specifically catering to LGBT people’s needs. Instead, even if it’s hard, people who are in dire situations are forced to come up with their own solutions to remedy their problems.

This way, for the government to serve as the go-to of the citizens who are in need is but a dream.

A few years back, there was a self-sustaining home for the elderly gays in Pasay City. It operated for several years, with the doors open to anyone who has no place to go to. This community built and sustained a small community of elderly gays, becoming each other’s family. But everything ended when Justo Justo, the founder of the home, passed away. All the members were asked to vacate the house by the family of Justo.

Simula noong nawalan kami ng tirahan, nagkahiwa-hiwalay na kami. May mga iba sa amin na sa kalye na lang natutulog. ‘Yung iba naman, umuwi sa mga distant relatives nila.Nagkakasama-sama lang kami kapag may mga activities (Since then, we’ve lost the home we’ve known; we parted ways.  Some of us slept on sidewalks. Others stayed with distant relatives.  We just see each other if there are activities),” Ramon Busa, president of The Home for the Golden Gays, said.

Sophia, an 85-year-old gay, stayed at The Home for the Golden Gays for more than 15 years. After they were sent away, he didn’t have choice but to go back to his family, who never showed compassion to him after they found out he’s gay.

“Wala din naman kaming choice kung hindi pilitin namin na umuwi na lang sa kanya-kanya naming bahay. Dahil sa edad kong ito, hindi ko na kakayanin ‘yung walang maayos na matutulugan (We don’t have a choice but to return to our families. Because in my age, I won’t survive not having a proper place to live in),” Sophia said. “Kahit na sa bahay namin hindi nila ako inaasikasoat least alam ko na ligtas ako kapag may dumating man na bagyo (Even if no one cares for me in that house, at least I am safe when there are natural disasters).”

Rica Ramasamy, a 60-year-old gay, has been a member of the “Golden Gays” since 1982. He ran away from home when he was young because his family, particularly his mother, refused to recognize him because he’s gay.

Unlike Sophia, Rica didn’t have the same option of returning to his family.  He has no one to run back to. He lived on the streets, sleep on sidewalks, and run for cover whenever the rain came.

Nakita ako ng barangay captain na natutulog sa kalye, tapos kinuha niya ako. Nakiusap siya doon sa may-ari ng isang bulok na apartment para payagan akong tumira doon. Kahit na sira-sira na ‘yung apartment at butas-butas na ‘yung bubong, malaking pasasalamat ko na doon. At least hindi na ako sa kalye natutulog (The barangay captain saw me sleeping on the streets, so he saved me. He spoke with the owner of a dilapidated bulding to allow me to live there. Even if that building is dilapidated, I am still thankful.  At least I don’t live on the streets anymore),” he recalled.  Ginawa akong barangay sweeper ni kapitan (He gave me job as a street sweeper).” 

SUNSET IN THE “DAANG MATUWID

In Negros, there’s a 55-year-old gay who lives in jeepneys. His name is Mang Joseph. His family disowned him because of the supposed “choices” he made when he was younger. He is currently unemployed. And he’s suffering from bronchitis.

With their government failing them, with the society continuing discriminating against them, many senior LGBT people have no one to turn to…

With their government failing them, with the society continuing discriminating against them, many senior LGBT people have no one to turn to…

“Sinubukan kong lumapit sa health centerdito, pero hindi nila ako pinayagan ma-confine, dahil daw baka may AIDS ako at makahawa ako sa iba. Binigyan lang ako ng mga gamot at pinababalik na lang ako kapag naubos ko na (I went to the health center here, but they won’t admit me because they said I may have AIDS and I’ll infect others. They just gave me medicines, and told me to return when I’m finished taking the medicines),” he said.

He went to the City Hall of Negros to ask for assistance, but he was also turned away because he didn’t have the necessary requirements needed to process his request.

Namamalimos lang ako para may pambili ako ng pagkain. Kapag hindi sapat ‘yung nakukuha kong pera, naghahanap na lang ako ng mga natirang pagkain sa mga basura (I just beg so I can have money to buy food. If the money is not enough, I scavenge to find food in garbage),” he added.

He tried to go back to his family, but they still refused him, especially now with his illness.

“Ang pinakagusto kong ginagawa kapag dapithapon ay ‘yung panoorin ‘yung unti-unting paglubog ng araw. Minsan naiisip ko, sana kasabay ng paglubog ng araw ay ‘yung pagkawala ng mga problema ko at ang pagkakaroon ng solusyon sa mga ito (What I like doing is watching the sun set. Sometimes it makes me wish that with the setting of the sun, my problems will also disappear),” he lamented.

‘Nay Josie didn’t choose to be gay to be treated unfairly.

Sophia, meanwhile, was lucky to have a family who begrudgingly welcomed him back, though not all golden gays have the same privilege.

Rica was lucky to have met the barangay captain with a golden heart, though if it wasn’t for thebarangay captain, what would have happened to him?

And then there’s Mang Joseph who doesn’t deserve to suffer the way he is suffering now, as it was never his choice to be gay or to be burdened by an illness.

At desperate times like this, the government is supposed to serve as the beacon of hope that the people could look to to ensure that their welfare is taken care.  And this is regardless of their social status, gender identity and sexual orientation, or the problems that they currently face.

But as their plights highlight, where is the daang matuwid (right/righteous path)” promised them?

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(Outrage Magazine remains the only publication for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community in the Philippines.)

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Once there was a young activist

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Outrage Magazine | 13 July 2014

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Clyde1

In the Cordillera regions, there once was a young, outgoing, and carefree individual. He used to not care about what’s happening around him. He lived a frivolous life. But, everything changed when he learned how the macho culture of the Cordillerans affects the lives of those who are considered “different”.

Clyde2His name is Clyde Pumihic. He is 23 years old. He is gay. And he is an activist.

It started when someone he knows narrated an instance of discrimination.

The locals say that in the Cordillera regions, lesbians are more tolerated compared with gays and male-to-female transgenders. In Baguio alone, when gays and transgender women walk along the stretch of Session Road, there wouldn’t be a single time when no one would tease them, or even grope them, touching them from behind.

“That is one of the reasons why gays here in Cordillera would rather hide in the closet. They are afraid that the public would ridicule them. But, if you would look at their situation closely, it’s not healthy to hide their real selves, they need to be educated, ” Clyde said.

At the recently held Baguio Pride 2014 celebration, the call for action of the local LGBTQ community was to come out and never be afraid, “because you are not alone.”

Clyde is a member of different advocacy organizations, but he focuses more on the ones that pushes for human rights.

He makes it a point that he is always present in all community-based activities.

“Regardless of anyone’s gender identity or sexual orientation, everyone deserves to be treated equally and accepted for who they really are,” he said. “I want to be part of that social change. I know it’s not an easy thing, but this what I really want to do.”

Aside from fighting for LGBTQ rights in the Cordillera region, Clyde also advocates for wage increase, lower commodity prices, and more jobs for those who live in the provinces.

Although he is “currently unemployed”, he considers his advocacy work as his 9-to-5 job.

“Another organization that I’m also active in is Gabriela. I don’t only join their activities, but I also write articles and other things for the organization,” Clyde said.

Contradictory to what many activists believe – that you need a sustainable job to fulfill and sustain your advocacy work – Clyde thinks otherwise.

“I don’t believe in what most people say that you can’t just focus on being an activist. I know I’m still young, but I currently have this mindset, that if you have the heart to help other people or affect change in your community, then that is the only thing that matters,” Clyde explained.

Nowadays, young LGBTQ people think that if they join a clan or an organization, and they participate in its activities like outreach and feeding programs, fundraising events, et cetera, then they are already considered advocates.  In reality, they are “just defiant without understanding”.

“Young people should understand and get themselves involved in what’s happening in our society, because it is our future. You cannot just complain that the system or the current administration is not doing anything, you also need to do your part,” Clyde ended.

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(Outrage Magazine remains the only publication for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community in the Philippines.)

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