Suspension of Disbelief

Archive for September 2014

Act, speak up – Geena Rocero

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Outrage Magazine | 24 September 2014

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Geena

Everyone should stand in their truths.

That, in not so many words, is the lesson that US-based transgender model and LGBTQ rights advocate Geena Rocero wants LGBTQ Filipinos to learn, as she made the rounds during her recent trip to the Philippines.

Rocero“As an individual, being visible… being vocal is a big step. Knowing about your rights is a huge step. You need to know when and how to speak up when your rights are being violated. And speak up when you see there are violations,” Geena said toOutrage Magazine.

TURNING POINT

Geena didn’t always have it easy.  When she was still living in a humble alley in Guadalupe, she also had dreadful experiences.

“I remember walking from home to school, school to home. (There were) moments when I would be scared because, somehow, the tricycle drivers – maybe they just feel like they’re mobilized – would feel entitled to scream at me, saying: ‘BAKLA(FAGGOT)!’,” she recalled.  This is traumatic to “anybody who had experienced that.  It creates something in you, that internalized fear. (It was) a very degrading word, (especially with) the way it was said. That’s a moment that I would always remember; a pain that I will never forget. Because it was a reminder of how much I’ve gone through.”

Though Geena moved to the US, the bad experiences persisted.  Such as that time she had a very disturbing experience in Japan.

“I remember a moment in 2005, when I was traveling from New York to Tokyo.  My California driver’s license had a female name and gender marker, but my Philippine passport had a male name and gender marker. I was at the airport, and the next thing I know, two immigration officers took me and said: ‘We are going to take you to the holding office’,” Geena recounted. “I got to that place where one girl was screaming at one of the officers, saying: ‘There’s this one guy who you know who definitely did something wrong!’, and I was with them just because my documents didn’t match. Just because I’m existing as I am. The experience was very embarrassing. I was asked about the most personal questions. It was a very embarrassing moment, but it also raised my consciousness (and made me ask) on why is it like that.”

Geena eventually came out via the now much-hyped TED Talks episode.

 

Geena also eventually founded Gender Proud, “an advocacy and awareness organization that brings attention to the need for all transgender individuals to self-identify with the fewest possible barriers.”

CRUSADE FOR EQUALITY

Geena shared with Outrage Magazine her sentiments on the lack of efforts from the government to protect and help improve the lives of members of the LGBTQ community.

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Because of the lack of a national mandate to ensure that the human rights of LGBTQ Filipinos are protected, “what’s interesting… what’s happening in (localities) is important. What activist groups have been doing underground (is) try to pass anti-discrimination ordinances in different local government units. It’s important to keep that momentum going because that’s what’s going to protect LGBTQ people. (So we move) city by city, barangay by barangay.  Because if the protection is not going to happen in the national (level, then local) communities should make their own steps,” she said.

Geena, nonetheless, conveyed her position on the importance of passing the Anti-discrimination Bill.

“Our campaign for the passage of the Anti-discrimination Bill (is) considered as a controversial issue in the Philippines given that this is a very conservative and highly religious country. So we need to really effectively communicate what we’re advocating for. That this is not just for the LGBTQ community, but also for all members of the Philippine (society),” she said.

Geena already met with Sen. Bam Aquino, with the Association of Transgender People in the Philippines in tow, to discuss the progress of the long overdue Anti-discrimination Bill that Aquino sponsored.  They were supposedly assured by Aquino that he will look into the possibility of asking for the creation of a “sub-committee”, which he will head, to initiate a public consultation on the issue.

“Gender Proud’s work in the Philippines is in a different context.  The Anti-discrimination Bill is the first step.  And me, someone from the Philippines, I know what the culture is, I would lend my voice, my resources, and in any way I can to contribute in moving the conversation forward,” Geena said.

PASSING IT ON

For many, the passage of the Anti-discrimination Bill would probably be one of the best solutions for the different recurring problems that members of the LGBT community continue to face every day. But for Geena, the first step to change what’s been happening in the community will “begin from each one of us”.

 

“Sometimes, it’s hard to think that there’s still hope – like when you report a violence that you saw. But you need to remember that those little efforts count. And as a community, we are all tied-in together. We just need to really understand each other. Awareness is the most important thing,” Geena 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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At The Rainbow Bar: A space for Cordilleran LGBTQs

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Outrage Magazine | 20 September 2014

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It’s now probably one of Baguio’s main attractions for LGBTQ people. Though it may not have flashy interiors nor the addicting “THUMPA! THUMPA!” that most LGBTQ spaces in Manila offer, it serves as (arguably) the only place in the Cordillera region where LGBTQ people can freely hang out and be themselves without worrying about being judged (at least by non-LGBTQ people).

Located at the 4th level of the NRC building on Abanao St., Baguio City, At The Rainbow Bar is attempting to change the landscape of the LGBTQ nightlife in the “Summer Capital of the Philippines”.

“I wanted to create a space that specifically caters to LGBTQ people. Although there are already a lot of new bars and clubs here (in Baguio), LGBTQ people are still left to comply with the rules made by these bars – like they are not allowed to ‘cross dress’ or wear make-up; they are prohibited to show their affection, like kissing their partners; and many other things. They can’t be themselves,” Tita Bootz Yabut, owner of At The Rainbow Bar, said.

And so At The Rainbow Bar started to operate last May. So far, it has attracted many tourists, now-regular patrons from different parts of the region; and it has hosted several advocacy events for the LGBTQ community.

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During weekends, it offers different events for its patrons, like open mic nights, stand-up shows with impersonators, bikini open and beauty pageants, concerts for a cause, Metropolitan Community Church of Metro Baguio services and talks, and HIV awareness events, among others.

“We are not just a bar.  Although the building owner discourages us to play very loud music.  That’s why we can’t really have a dance floor here.  But we find other ways to entertain our guests. And these events are not just for fun,” Tita Bootz said.

At The Rainbow Bar may not be as eye-catching, nor does it offer a unique drink list like other bars (think Palawan 2 in Cubao), but hey, this might be a good option for you to spend your evenings in Baguio City while you enjoy a bottle beer and watch entertaining shows.

At The Rainbow Bar is a space specifically created for LGBTQ people. It’s a place where they can be who they want to be without being judged by other people. We are not here to milk money from LGBTQ people.  We just want LGBTQ people here in Baguio to have a place they can call their own,” Tita Bootz ended.

At The Rainbow Bar is open every night until the wee hours of the morning.

 For more information, visit At The Rainbow Bar’s Facebook page.

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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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Transgender model to PH gov’t: Let’s have a decent talk

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VERA Files and Yahoo Philippines | 21 September 2014

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Her battle cry is no different from what has been said many times over. But her journey is an inspiring and unique one.

Geena Rocero is a US-based Filipina model and an LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer) rights advocate. She first gained public attention, as an activist, when she came out as a transgender during TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) Talks’ annual conference early this year.

Rocero was recently in the Philippines. She met with different groups and spoke at several forums. She also met with Sen. Bam Aquino to discuss the status of the LGBTQ community in the country.

In an interview, Rocero shared her thoughts on the efforts of the Philippine government for the LGBTQ community.

Q: Where do you think is the LGBTQ movement in the Philippines today?

Rocero: I think there’s a lot of momentum, especially with the conversation about the anti-discrimination bill. That’s the big focus right now.

Q: What changes have you seen in the Philippines in terms of acceptance of LGBTQs?

Rocero: What’s interesting now is, we have this pageant culture – there’s a sense of celebration in the way  the media is representing us, but it’s not politically recognized. And since it’s not politically recognized, you see a lot of rampant violence, hate crimes, and unemployment rates continue to rise – the basic rights are not accessible for LGBTQs.

If you could create awareness and campaigns and really demand for dignified storytelling in mainstream media; so people can know us, so people can learn and don’t just use the stereotyping of what it means to be a transgender or what it means to be a member of the LGBTQ community, then it would be a bit easier.

Q: Philippines is a conservative country, do you think the passing of the anti-discrimination bill would help improve the status and welfare of LGBTQs?

Rocero: We need to really effectively communicate what we’re advocating for and it’s not just for this (LGBTQ) community. This is for all the members of the Philippine population, so everyone can fully understand the rich diversity of people. All we’re asking is just basic human rights.

Q: There have been several LGBTQ organizations, individuals, advocates, and allies who have been pushing for the anti-discrimination law to be passed; what will be the contribution of your organization, Gender Proud, in this?

Rocero: With Gender Proud, we’re focusing in three countries that we’re advocating for gender recognition law: Brazil, Hong Kong, and the Philippines. Our work in the Philippines is in a different context: the anti-discrimination bill is the first step, and I, someone from the Philippines, I know what the culture is, I would lend my voice, resources, and in any way I can to contribute in moving the conversation forward. This is my role and that’s why I’m here, that’s why I’m willing to come back and use whatever platform that I have to create awareness around this and to work with different organizations with whatever way we could to move this law forward.

Geena-Rocero-for-VERA-Files

Q: While waiting for the anti-discrimination bill to prosper, what do you think should our government do to help protect and improve the lives of LGBTQs?

Rocero: In the national context, it’s proving to be difficult to pass the anti-discrimination bill that really protects the community. But what’s interesting, what’s happening in localized environment; the activist groups have been doing underground – trying to pass anti-discrimination ordinances in different local government units.

There are already seven cities and two provinces in the Philippines that have anti-discrimination protection. It’s important to keep that momentum going because that’s what’s going to protect LGBTs; city by city, barangay by barangay. If the protection is not going to happen in the national environment, communities should make their own steps.

Q: What else is lacking in our government aside from the anti-discrimination law?

Rocero: A lot is still lacking in the Philippine government. They’ve been trying to pass the anti-discrimination bill for a very long time already. The religious conditioning is much harder to change.  I think that’s an important factor to focus on when passing a law. If you’re not willing to change the cultural dynamics of understanding and just for people to see and accept us as who we are as human beings who all just want to go about our lives and pursue our truth and our dreams, then the fight for it would remain hard.

Q: What is your message to our government?

Rocero: Let’s have a decent human conversation. We want to be in front of you all and just have a human conversation and all that we’re asking for is basic rights. We are not asking for special rights, these are just basic rights; to be treated equally and just exist as we are.

Q: What is your message to LGBTQs?

Rocero: As a person who made a conscious choice to come out and be an advocate and specifically talk about these things, we can’t force people to be activists. It’s a personal choice. But as an individual, being visible and being vocal is a big step. Knowing about your rights is a huge step. You need to know when and how to speak up when your rights are being violated.

Speak up when you see there are violations. Sometimes, it’s hard to think that there’s still hope, like when you report a violence that you saw, but you need to remember that those little efforts count. And as a community, we are all tied-in together, we just need to really understand each other. Awareness is the most important thing.

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(VERA Files is put out by veteran journalists taking a deeper look at current issues. Vera is Latin for “true.”

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Problems abound in implementation of PWD benefits

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VERA Files and Yahoo Philippines | 06 September 2014

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LGBT community remembers those who died of HIV

LGBT community remembers those who died of AIDS

“Denver” (not his real name) is HIV-positive. He has been an outpatient at one of the HIV/AIDS treatment hubs in Manila for seven years already. And he just learned recently that he can avail some benefits and privileges from the government.

“I cannot blame them for not orienting us, the patients, that we can apply for a PWD ID, because they’re attending to a lot of patients already. We just hope that our government improves the dissemination of important information to the public,” Denver said.

Problems like that of Denver have been encountered by sick people whose disabilities are not physically obvious. It’s not just inadequacy in information dissemination but more on the issue of what is “chronic illness.”

Republic Act 7277, the Magna Carta for Disabled Persons defines Disabled Persons as those “suffering from restriction or different abilities as a result of a mental, physical, or sensory impairment, to perform an activity in the manner or within the range considered normal for a human being.”

R.A. 7277 was amended by Republic Act 9422 granting additional privileges and incentive to Persons with Disabilities (PWD).

It states that “Identification Cards shall be issued to any bonafide PWD with permanent disabilities due to any one or more of the following conditions: psychosocial, chronic illness, learning, mental, visual, and orthopedic, speech and hearing conditions.”

Chronic means a condition or disease that is persistent or otherwise long-lasting in its effects. HIV is one example of chronic illness which also includes asthma, diabetes, cancer lupus, and many more.

Problems arose when many persons suffering from a chronic disease but did not look physically ill were denied discounts by drugstores and other establishments.

Denver, in fact, said when heard some of his fellow PLHIVs (people living with HIV) tried to inquire and request for necessary papers needed for the PWD ID application, one attending nurse remarked, “hindi naman talaga kayo PWD, mas marami pang ibang nakaadmit dito na mas kailangan ng PWD membership.

In a Nov. 22, 2011 memo to a City Social Welfare Office in Alabang, Social Welfare Undersecretary Alicia R. Bala laid down the policy on 20 percent discount for persons with “chronic illness.”

Bala said, “It should be disability resulting from chronic illness that should be included in the ID.”

“For persons with skin allergy or asthma, although it is under chronic illness yet it is not included as disability whereas for diabetic person, if such illness results to a partial or total blindness, then a person can be considered PWDs because it affects his/her vision,” Bala further said.

Paz, a 40-year-old PWD who’s currently dealing with scoliosis, also expressed her frustration towards the government for not having enough facilities to accommodate them.

“People line up for hours to catch the MRT, taxi stands, and in bus stops, I don’t understand why the government is not doing anything for us,” she complained.

Carmen Reyes Zubiaga, director of the National Council on Disability Affairs

Carmen Reyes Zubiaga, director of the National Council on Disability Affairs

Carmen Reyes Zubiaga, director of the National Council on Disability Affairs, said “the LRT and MRT are implementing a special coach for PWDs, senior citizens, and pregnant women – they have to be in the priority lane. All they have to do is to show their PWD IDs.”

The Accessibility Law or the Batas Pambansa Blg. 344 mandates certain buildings, institutions, establishments, and public utilities to install facilities and other devices that can help accommodate PWDs.

“Although some institutions and establishment have implemented the necessary changes for PWDs, it’s [still] very sad to say that after more than 30 years of being a law, it’s only now that government agencies and even the private entities are really cramming to catch up with the implementation of the Accessibility Law,” Zubiaga said.

Penalty for violation or none implementation of the Accessibility Law provisions includes imprisonment of not less than one month but not more than one year, or a fine of P2,000 to P5,000, or both.

“Even though we have a law that protects us, it’s very vague in terms of penalties and sanctions for those who do not comply. We are now coming up with amendments to it. We are now developing the National Comprehensive Accessibility Law, which does not only cover physical environment, but also information and communication technology that will cater to our blind and deaf members,” Zubiaga said.

Despite the setbacks, Zubiaga is still positive because Filipino PWDs are becoming more aware of their rights and are asserting for their implementation. “We also educate the parents, so they can instill in their children with disabilities that like any other children, they have the same set of rights.”

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(VERA Files is put out by veteran journalists taking a deeper look at current issues. Vera is Latin for “true.”

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Once there was a proud gay father

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Outrage Magazine | 02 September 2014

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He tried to run away from his real self. He used to spend his days living a kind of life that will satisfy the norms of society. He never thought of himself as a defender of LGBTQIA rights.

But then everything changed.

One day, he met this “beautiful and special woman”. He fell in love with her. And in no time, they got married.

The love they shared brought to the world “three beautiful princesses”. The eldest is already in 3rd year in college, followed by a high school student, and the youngest is a 5th grader.

Emerson3His name is Emerson Soriano. He’s (still) happily married to a heterosexual woman. He is an artist, a defender of human rights, and a proud gay father.

“There came a time na pakiramdam ko nasasakal na ako sa pagiging closeta (I felt stifled hiding in the closet). I was so afraid to come out before,” Emerson recalled.

He used to teach in one of the schools in the Cordillera region. The pressure Emerson felt during that time didn’t help the anxiety he had when he was battling with himself on whether to come out of the closet or continue to pretend and lie about his true gender identity.

But Emerson then took a big risk.

“I came out to my officemates and sinabi ko na (I told them) I’m like this.‘Yung takot noon na kapag nalaman nila kung ano talaga ako, hindi naman talaga ganoon nangyari (The fear I had in the past if they found out my real identity, well, that’s not what transpired). It was a positive response,” he said.

Aside from the feeling of being free, Emerson was also pleased to discover that his friends and community have accepted him for who he really was, and nothing has changed after he came out.

His family, the children in particular, learned about his true sexuality in an unexpected situation.

“During the Pride celebration last year, an AM radio station invited me and another transgender activist to talk on their show. We were asked about the LGBTQIA movement, what it’s like to love a gay person, among other things,” Emerson recalled. Pero ang hindi ko alam, nakikinig rin pala ‘yung family members ko sa radio station nayun (What I didn’t know was my entire family was also listening to that radio station). And they heard the whole interview.”

Emerson paused, took a deep breath, and smiled. Nakaoff ‘yung cellphone ko (My mobile phone was turned off) that time because I was in an interview. When I switched it back on after the program, the messages started coming in. I opened it one by one. I was smiling and teary-eyed at the same time as I read the messages. ‘Yung mga anak ko ‘yung nag-text. Sabi nila, tanggap nila kung ano talaga ako, at mahal na mahal nila ako (My children sent text messages. They said they accept me for who I am, and that they really, really love me).”

Emerson paused for a few seconds again, this time, a bit teary-eyed. “They accepted me for who I really am. And said that they love me,” he repeated.

Lahat ng ginagawa ko at mga pinaghihirapan ko, para lahatyun sa mga mga anak ko (Everything that I do and work hard for, it’s all for my children),” Emerson added.

Since then, a lot of things have changed.

He is now more active in various LGBTQIA events. The wariness he felt before, every time he speaks in front of the crowd, is no longer there.

“Ever since I came out, I feel so much free. Kahit sa Facebook, ‘yung mga friends ng mga anak ko (Even on Facebook, the friends of my children)they are all friendly. They don’t find being gay negative, they don’t have the concept that being gay is negative, that it is only limited to cross-dressing. They tell me that I am a positive influence to them, because I did what is right,” Emerson added.

Aside from being a human rights activist, Emerson spends his spare time making artworks and exhibiting them.

“My job, being an activist, medyo palaging nagkukulang ako pagdating sa (often, I run out of) allowance. My skill in the arts has helped me gain extra income,” he said.

Emerson is currently commissioned by the Ecological Sanctuary of Baguio to design the walls of “Earth House”, a structure completely made of clay and stones.

He is able to express his emotions through his artworks. “Sometimes, yung depression na nararamdaman ko (the depression I feel), you will see them in my works. It’s a great avenue for me to express what I really feel.”

Emerson’s message to those who are not yet out?

“Kung gaano niyo kamahal ang inyong pamilya, ganoon din ang ibabalik sa inyo. Kung gaano niyo sila nirerespeto, ganoon din ang ibabalik sa inyo. My advice is, pakiramdaman niyo muna ang kapaligiran niyo, malalaman niyo naman kung tama na ang panahon. Kasi mahirap pilitin ang isang environment na tanggapin ang isang bagay na hindi nila nakasanayan (The love you give your family, that’s the love they will give to you. The respect you give them, is the respect they will give to you. My advice is, get a sense if it’s the right time to come out. Because it’s hard to forcefully come out in an environment that is not yet ready).”

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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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RITM: PLHIVs may not receive ARVs next week

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Outrage Magazine | 03 September 2014

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ARV

Time to panic?

Dr. Rosanna Ditangco, research chief at the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine-AIDS Research Group (RITM-ARG, one of the treatment hubs in the country), highlighted the dire situation faced by Filipino people living with HIV (PLHIV) after she reportedly said that the distribution of antiretroviral medicines (ARVs) may be stopped due to processing delays.

In a letter sent to the Department of Health (DOH) Secretary, Dr. Enrique Ona, dated September 2, HIV activist Pozzie Pinoy of the Red Ribbon Project, quoted Ditangco for saying that if the ARVs that are currently being held by the Bureau of Customs (BOC) will not be released by Friday, September 5, then “HIV treatment will totally stop all over the country.”

The Project Red Ribbon claimed receiving insider information that “BOC is requiring DOH to pay P5 million for the tax of the shipment (i.e. ARVs)”, and that “the said shipment has been in the storage of BOC since August of this year.”

DIRE SITUATION 

The number of HIV and AIDS cases in the Philippines already reached 19,915 as of July 2014, the National Epidemiology Center of the Department of Health (DOH) reported. And from January to July this year alone, the number of Filipinos living with HIV who are on antiretroviral therapy (ART) reached 7,172.

Obviously, the numbers are expected to rise, considering the continuing growing number of new cases reported by the DOH.

ON DEAF EARS

This issue was actually raised as early as February of this year, when PLHIVs started receiving limited supplies of ARVs from their treatment hubs. In a blog post by Pozzie Pinoy, Ditangco was quoted as saying that most Philippine HIV treatment hubs give out supplies for only either two weeks or one month, because of the delay in the delivery of meds to DOH.

After two weeks, Ditangco reported that the DOH will already deliver the ARV supplies to the respective treatment hubs.

Interestingly, according to Dr. Jose Gerard Belimac, head of DOH’s National AIDS/STI Prevention and Control Program, there is no delay in the procurement of ARVs, just as there is no “official pronouncement from the DOH to the treatment hubs to control [the distribution of ARVs] because of a delay in the procurement [of ARVs],” he said in an exclusive interview by Outrage Magazine.

Belimac also assured that “this is something we are trying to resolve, to ensure the continuity of treatment for PLHIV.”

What is not discussed is the delivery of ARVs differ from what PLHIVs use, with changes made to regimens of PLHIVs without medically sound reasons.  As a PLHIV whose medicines were changed last March stated, “the ARVs given [to] me were changed because there’s no stock of my usual ARVs. [The doctor said], no choice.”

ABNORMAL SITUATION?

Despite all these pronouncements about the availability of supplies, the fluctuating supply of ARVs continued in the next months. Different PLHIVs from different treatment hubs complained about the insufficient (from two weeks’ to one month’s supply, depending on the hub), ARVs given to them every time they get a refill.

Ditangco, in an interview by Outrage Magazine last April, said that “ang ARV supplies natin ay wala naman talagang problema. Nagkaroon lang tayo ng abnormal situation becausenagkaroon ng miscalculations in ordering (our ARV supplies do not have problems. We’re just having an abnormal situation because of miscalculations in ordering). There’s no need to cause unnecessary panic among PLHIVs.”

But panic is what is happening now.

During those months of notable ARV shortage, Project Red Ribbon actually purchased four boxes of Lamivudine and Tenofovir, a two-in-one mix of the two drugs.

“If there is no problem, why is it that we are buying from other countries to supplement the problems with the stocks? And we were able to release it from the (BOC) in just one week, as opposed to what other people are saying that it’s hard to release it from Customs. The PLHIV community is panicking for the past months now. The DOH has not been transparent with its programs when it comes to ARV medicines,” Pozzie Pinoy stressed.

Also, even as the DOH continues to deny that there is a problem with the supply of ARVs in the Philippines, one by one, treatment hubs started borrowing ARV supplies from other hubs that have “enough supply”.

Ditangco was in fact quoted by Pozzie Pinoy as saying that RITM-ARG, in the last two weeks, has been lending their ARV stocks to other HIV and AIDS treatment hubs in Metro Manila and in the provinces because of the shortage.

DELAY = DEATH

Last August 26, different LGBTQIA organizations from all over the Philippines – including Ladlad Caraga Inc., The AIDS Treatment Action Group Philippines (TATAG), REDx, Northern Mindanao Advocates, and The Well Philippines – wrote a letter to the BOC for it to provide a clearer picture on the following issues:

  1. What and how much were the duties and taxes imposed for the particular shipment?
  2. What is the basis of computation for duties and taxes levied against the imported ARVs?
  3. What is the cause of delay for the release of life saving ARVs to DOH?
  4. Is the agency taking any steps to expedite the release of ARVs to DOH?

To date, no response has been received, no matter the urgency of the issue.

Pozzie Pinoy is appealing to the DOH and the BOC to do something about this life and death situation.

“I am pleading and begging you, on behalf of the entire PLHIV community and the entire country, to please look into this matter immediately and find a quick solution to this problem. What we can do now is to call for the attention of your department, and of the BOC to take action before this gets out of hand,” he stated.

Outrage Magazine is one with the PLHIV community in demanding that the Department of Health should look into this matter as soon as possible and address this issue immediately. 

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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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