Suspension of Disbelief

Archive for the ‘Under Pressure’ Category

Defiance without understanding

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Outrage Magazine | 6 October 2017

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At least in the Philippines, during the late 1990s to early 2000s, the campaign for equal rights for all genders was not yet as mainstream as it is today. There were in fact only a handful of groups that demonstrated (concrete) actions that could really contribute to the betterment of the community. These were led/peopled by those who helped start the struggle with their defiance.

Fast-forward to the present – an era where issues and causes are often dictated by “trends” (with their promotion often spearheaded by Millennials), and the medium primarily used to spread information is social media – when there are now hundreds and hundreds of so-called “activists” and “advocates”.

But here’s the tricky part: Particularly if you are not a member of the LGBT community and you are looking into the issues being faced by LGBT Filipinos, it could be extremely challenging. And not because of the complexity of the issues; rather, it’s because of the mixed (if not confusing) messages being conveyed by a great number of our new “representatives.”

You’d think things would become clearer since (almost) everything can now be researched with a click (e.g. of the mouse, of a button, or whatever). Alas, things seem to be getting murkier.

Perhaps my (aging) slip is showing, but so many encounters particularly with younger LGBT leaders/“leaders” continue to highlight this observation. I have spoken with someone in his early or mid-20s who said that the “gays in the Philippines are no longer discriminated… except those who work in parlors”. Another young-ish “activist” said that “the biggest problem for the LGBT community is that its members would be alone when they grow old.” Still another one said that “we’re confusing people by focusing on too many issues (such as HIV, bullying, ADB); we should just focus on same-sex marriage.” Yet another proudly said “we (just) represent the LGBT conyo.” And then there’s Pride, of course, with so many believing that the best way to go is for it to just mimic much-criticized Western models of plain partying, instead of it ALSO being political in nature.

Yes, these are important, but these do not epitomize the real – and particularly not the full – struggle of the LGBT community. This is more akin to losing sight of the big picture.

The sadder thing is the powers in play, with the inexperienced “activists”/“advocates” the one being “chosen” by everything mainstream (e.g. media) as representations of the community. Think Valkyrie (that bar that made the news for banning transwomen from entering its premises) and the packaging of that incident as the struggle for equal rights for all… and then realizing that those involved seemed to only be complaining about accessing partying, instead of the bigger issue of denial of so many services as experienced by LGBT Filipinos (e.g. in educational institutions, healthcare, and so on). Missed opportunities to further the education about the ongoing LGBT struggle particularly in the Philippines…

This is not to say the fault is with the young alone, perhaps because (let’s admit this) of the failures of the “adults” who ought to have done the proper teaching as they pass the baton. Alas, failures abound – from promoting political ambitions, desire to earn/profit from the LGBT advocacies, hunger for fame…

We need to re-connect. And this re-connection needs to start from within our ranks – i.e. the young learning from the old, the old properly teaching the young, and both old and young going back to the basics of the struggle so we don’t forget why we’re all here.

Because if we don’t learn, then our failures will become the new normal. Our divisions will become the typical. Our lack of cohesion will be the standard. And it will spell the doom of the entire struggle.

We are still a long way away from being respected, or even being accepted, not just tolerated by the society. The struggle is still ongoing. And even while the narrative of the fight for LGBT rights in the Philippines is changing (as should be), we have to make sure that nothing gets lost in translation. Otherwise, we’d continue being a community that is great in quantity, but is mediocre as a group. And this is the new normal we have to change.

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(Established in April 2007, Outrage Magazine remains the only publication exclusive for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex, asexual and allied community in the Philippines.)

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Pride in the eyes of those at the fringes of LGBT community

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Outrage Magazine | 23 June 2017

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Everything LGBT-related is magnified in June every year, marked as the month when LGBT Pride is supposed to be celebrated (thanks, largely, to its Western-led identification as “Pride Month” because it was when the Stonewall Riots happened in New York City in 1969).

But while discussions on the evolution of Pride has already been happening overseas (again, largely in Western contexts, with the commercialization of Pride getting flak, such as THIS, THIS and THIS; and yes, some support), the same has not been really happening in the Philippines. Yes, discussions about the annual “walk” being identified as a “march” (meaning it’s political) versus a “parade” (meaning it’s just for show) have happened in the past, but – by and large – the evolution of Pride here to end up mimicking Western model/s can be argued to be not happening.

Fact: There will be opponents and supporters of both sides.

But in the midst of the noise, what needs to be kept in mind is that Pride is supposed to celebrate the “rainbow diversity”. That is, it’s supposed to be for everyone, not just for the select few (who can afford to access it).

Because there remain many members of the LGBT community whose narratives are often just left in the cutting room, marked as “not sexy” or “not newsworthy”.

These are the #KaraniwangLGBT, our LGBT brothers and sisters who are at the fringes not just of society, but even of the LGBT community. Those whose idea of Pride is limited to “it’s not for people like us”.

Outrage Magazine chats with some of those still looking for Pride… and yet seemingly left by the very movement that’s supposed to help them find this Pride.

THE LESBIAN CONFIDANT 

People always mistake them as lovers. They’ve known each other for more than five years now.

But “magkaibigan lang kami. May boyfriend siya at mga anak, tapos ako, may nililigawan (we’re just friends. She has a boyfriend and kids, and me, I’m wooing another),” Jeng said.

They both live in Tondo, among the informal settlers there. Each day, they share meals together – with the kids and other family members.

Alas-otso ng umaga nung tumawag siya sa akin. Iyak siya ng iyak. Binalita niya sa akin na nakuha na niya ‘yung HIV test niya, at positive siya (She called me at eight in the morning. She was crying. She told me she got the result of her HIV test, and that she tested positive),” Jeng continued.

Jeng is a pedicab driver. On a good day, “kumikita ako ng P150. Pero kung wala masyadong pasahero, P50lang. Nagbibigay pa kasi ako sa may-ari ng pedicab (I earn P150. But if there aren’t many passengers, just P50. I also have to give the pedicab owner his share).”

But nowadays, “mas mahirap kumita. Kasi binabantayan at sinasamahan ko siya palagi kapag nagpupunta sa ospital. Hindi ko siya kayang pabayaan kasi ang dami na namin pinagsamahan. Noong ako ang nagkaproblema dati, nandun siya palagi sa tabi ko. Kahit na hirap ako sa sitwasyon ko, okay lang kasi masaya ako at kasama ko best friend ko (it’s harder to earn. I go with her to the hospital. I can’t leave her alone. We’ve been through a lot already. When it was me who had problems, she was there. It’s not easy but, I’m happy I can be with her),” Jeng said.

Asked about Pride, and the annual march/parade, she looked confused: “Pride March? Ano ‘yun? Puro kasiyahan lang yata yan at same-sex marriage. Paano naman kami makikinabang dyan (What’s that? It’s just for partying and for same-sex marriage? What’s that to us)?” she asked.

THE ‘KERI LANG’ WORKER 

“Al – two letters lang. ‘Yan ang binigay sa akin na pangalan. Keri lang, at least madali lang tandaan (My name is Al – just two letters. That’s the name given to me, so that’s okay. At least it’s easy to remember),” he said.

Al flips burgers for a living.

Wala akong basic na sahod, porsyento lang. Kapag kumita itong store, may take home ako (I don’t get basic salary, just a percentage of what the store earns. If the store earns something, then I get to take home something),” he said.

Al works for 16 hours every day. Sometimes, he earns P500 in a day. But on a regular basis, his take home is from P150 to P200 per day.

Pinapaaral ko pa kapatid ko. Tapos nangungupahan lang kami (I also send a sibling to school. And we just rent our place),” he said.

Then trying to sound optimistic: “Keri lang, buti nga at may trabaho ako. Hindi katulad ng iba dyan, hirap na hirap maghanap ng trabaho (It’s okay, at least I have a job. Others have a hard time finding a job),” he added.

With Al only getting some five hours of rest every day, “celebrating” Pride is far from his mind. The priority, he said, is for him to earn a decent living – even a small amount – as long as “wala akong ginagawang masama (I don’t do anything illegal).”

THE DEVOTEE

Ano pangalan mo? Dadasalan kita. Sa ngalan sa Amahan, sa Anak ug sa Espiritu Santo, amen. Senyor Sto Niño, Mama Mary, Senyor San Pedro Calungsod, mga santos, mga santas. Mahal na Senyor Sto. Niño…”

Her name is Gretchen. She has been a candle vendor at Magellan’s Cross in Cebu for more than 30 years now. She inherited her job from her ancestors. It was passed onto her mother, and after she passed away, Gretchen took over.

Araw-araw ako nagdadasal dito kay Senyor Sto. Niño. Si Sto. Niño, mas more na malapit kami sa kanya, maraming blessing siya binibihgay sa amin,” she shared.

As a devout Catholic and believer of Sto. Niño, Gretchen is always ridiculed because she is trans.

But she said: “Unsa ang kinahanglan nga ako kaulawan? Dili ko usa ka kriminal, dili ko usa ka kawatan (What should I be ashamed of? I’m not a criminal. I’m not a thief),” she said.

Gretchen thanks God that despite the discrimination she is experiencing, there are still many people who continue to trust her with their religious intercessions.

But – aside from praying for others – every night, she also prays for people to respect her for who and what she really is.

Mahal na Senyor Sto. Niño, salamat sa pagpasaylo kanako (thank you for forgiving me). Viva Pit Senyor! Mahal na Sto. Niño,” she ended. 

THE CHARMING WAITRESS

Nagkaroon ako ng boyfriend dati, estudyante lang siya. Gwapo siya, fresh na fresh ang itsura. Kaya lang tuwing nagkikita kami, binibigyan ko siya ng allowance para may panggastos siya sa school (I had a BF before. He was a student. He was handsome. But every time we met, I had to give him money, his allowance for his schooling),” Kakay shared as she prepared the paresorders. “Wala naman akong choice. Wala ako mahanap na matinong lalaki na pwedeng maging boyfriend. Isa sa marming rason, wala akong maayos na trabaho – trabaho na pwede ako ipagmalaki at iuwi sa bahay para ipakilala (It’s not like I have a choice. I couldn’t find a proper man to be my BF. One of the reasons is I don’t even have a good job – a job that will make him proud to introduce me to his family).”

Kakay works in one of the pares houses in Manila. She has been with them for many years already, even if“mababa lang ang sahod, okay na rin (I don’t earn much, though that’s just fine).”

She tried her luck – several times actually – to apply for other jobs. But the usual answer that Kakay said she gets: “Hindi kami tumatanggap ng bakla. Mahirap na, baka magkaproblema pa kami sa iyo (We don’t take in gay people. You could just give us problems).”

Kakay identifies as a woman, and she longs to be able to transition. “Hindi ako pamhinta, hindi ako bakla, babae ako. Hindi niyo palang nakikita ang totoo kong anyo (I’m not ‘straight-acting’, I’m not gay, I’m a woman. But you haven’t seen my real personhood yet).”

Kakay is proud with her life – somehow. Pinaghirapan ko ang lahat ng ito (I worked hard for what I now have),” she said. “Pero kung may pagkakataon na mas maging okay ang sitwasyon ko, syempre attack ako doon. Pero sa tingin ko malabo na mangyari ‘yun, kasi hindi naman kami nakikita (But if there’s a chance to do better, I’d go there. Though this doesn’t seem realistic because no one really sees us).”

THE ANGEL BARKER

Outrage Magazine first met the Angel of Quezon Avenue in 2014, a transgender woman barker who said “matagal ko na ginagawa ito. Bata palang ako,barker na ako (I’ve been doing this for a while now. I was just a child, I was already a barker).”

She did not finish college because her family could not afford to send her to school. She was left with no choice but to succumb to one of the easiest ways to earn a living.

Sumubok ako rumaket sa iba last year pero walang nangyari. Tapos naghanap ako ng ibang trabaho, wala rin tumanggap sa akin (I tried looking for other jobs, but nothing happened. No one wanted to hire me),” Angel said. “Ganito talaga ang buhay, kailangan mong tanggapin ang sitwasyon mo. Ngayon tiis-tiis lang. Basta magkakasama kami ng pamilya ko (That’s life. You have to accept your situation. Now, you just put up with things. As long as I’m with my family).”

Of course, if given a chance to do a different work with a better pay, “tatanggapin ko ‘yun! Walang pagdadalawang isip (I’ll accept that – no second thoughts).”

Today, Angelo continues to be a jeepney and FX barker. She earns P50 to P60 in a day.

THE SEX WORKER

PJ just turned 18 last May. He celebrated his birthday with two of his closest friends over a bottle of Red Horse Mucho and Chippy while walking at Plaza Divisoria.

Ito lang kaya ng budget. Wala kasi masyadongcustomer. Okay na rin, na-celebrate ko namanbirthday ko (This is all I can afford. There aren’t a lot of customers. But it’s okay, I was still able to celebrate my birthday),” he said.

PJ is from Cagayan de Oro. When he was 16 years old, he went to Manila to look for work. In just a matter of two days, he got a job at the pier. He was earning P150 per day.

Pero wala akong tinutuluyan ‘nun, doon lang din ako sapier natutulog. Tapos syempre maliit lang ‘yung P150 na kita. Kadalasan isang beses lang ako kumakain sa isang araw (But I was homeless then. Often, we just slept at the pier. Also, P150 isn’t a big amount. At times we just eat once a day),” PJ recalled.

To augment his income, he resorted to sex work.

Pagkatapos kong magbuhat ng mga delivery, naglalakad na ako sa Roxas Boulevard hangang Star City. Minsan may edad na babae ang kumukuha sa akin, minsan matandang bakla, minsan mag-asawa (After work, I’d walk along Roxas Blvd. until I reach Star City. At times, older women hired me, at times older gay men, and at times couples),” PJ said.

But after three weeks, he lost his raket at the pier. And since he did not have a place to stay or know anyone in Manila, he saved up – from paid sexual encounters – and went back to CDO.

Today, he is with his boyfriend and girlfriend – yes, he is in a relationship with two people. Both are also sex workers.

Wala naman masama kung tatlo kami sa relasyon. Nagmamahalan kami. Mabuti rin ito, at least tatlo kami nagtutulungan sa buhay (There’s nothing wrong with having three people in a relationship. We all love one another. It’s also good since we’re all able to help each other out),” PJ ended.

THE FATHER AND THE SON

Dati akong construction worker, pero huminto na ako ngyaon. May anak akong bakla (I used to be a construction worker. But I stopped. I have a gay son),Mang Rey shared.

His gay son is only 16 years old and they live in Quezon province. Every two months, they wake very early in the morning, around 2:00 AM, to travel to Manila.

Nalungkot ako nung nalaman ko na HIV-positive ang anak ko. Tinatanong ko siya kung saan o paano niya nakuha yung sakit, pero hindi siya nagkukwento. Tumutulo na lang ang luha niya (It saddens me knowing he has HIV. I ask him how he got infected, but he doesn’t tell me. He just sheds tears),” Mang Rey said, wiping his own tears.

Their family used to be in a better financial situation, but because of his son’s medical condition – and the insufficient support that PhilHealth gives to PLHIVMang Rey is now struggling to make ends meet.

Lumapit kami sa iba’t-ibang agencies para humingi ng suporta. Tapos nung nalaman nila na bakla ang anak ko, parang naging komplikado yung proseso. May ganun pa pala hangang ngayon (We’ve approached various agencies to ask for help. But when they found out my son’s gay, the process changed. I didn’t know things like that still happen these days),” he said, dismayed.

He added: “Sana ung mga NGO dyan o ung mga grupo para sa mga bakla at may HIV, tignan nila ung mga may kailangan talaga, hindi lang ung mga may kaya. Kami ang mas may kailangan ng atensyon at suporta (I hope NGOs, LGBT groups and groups for PLHIVs look at those who really need help, not those who are affluent. It’s us who really need attention and support).”

Pride – we say – is for everyone, including (if not particularly for) those at the fringes, the people most in need of finding this Pride.

Because sans them in the equation, ours is a tattered rainbow, with the destruction coming from within…

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(Established in April 2007, Outrage Magazine remains the only publication exclusive for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex, asexual and allied community in the Philippines.)

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HB 3398 seeks more benefits for 14M solo parents

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VERA Files | 24 October 2016

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Solo parents campaign for more support. Photo from the Facebook page of DSWD Secretary Judy Taguiwalo.

Solo parents campaign for more support. Photo from the Facebook page of DSWD Secretary Judy Taguiwalo.

Here’s a good news for all solo parents in the country, now numbering about 14 million based on the latest data released by the National Statistics Office.

Solo parents may look forward to an additional basic personal exemption from individual income tax in the amount of P50,000. That’s on top of the existing exemption that they may claim for their dependent child or children.

This tax exemption is just one of the added benefits for solo parents provided under House Bill 3398 that seeks to amend Republic Act 8972, or the Solo Parents’ Welfare Act of 2000.

Solo parents are composed of widows or widowers, persons separated, annulled, or abandoned by their spouses or partners.

House Bill 3398, filed recently by the Gabriela Women’s Party, also adds teeth to the old law by penalizing persons or companies found guilty of violating the Solo Parents Act. It provides a fine of P50,000 for the 1st violation, P100,000 for the 2nd violation, and P300,000 for the 3rd violation.

In addition, it states that businesses that refuse to grant the benefits and privileges mandated for solo parents may be ordered closed by the appropriate implementing agencies.  These penalties and administrative sanctions will also apply to government offices and officials.

“We are hoping that next year, House Bill 3398 will get enacted,” Carina Javier, president of the Federation of Solo Parents in LuzViMin and United Solo Parents of the Philippines, said. “As of now, the bill is with the committee on revision of laws.”

“For the first time ever, we, solo parents, were consulted. We actually sat down with them in crafting this bill; all the recommendations and provisions were from the actual suggestions of solo parents all over the Philippines,” Javier explained.

Solo parents. Photo from FB page of DSWD Secretary Judy Taguiwalo.

Solo parents. Photo from FB page of DSWD Secretary Judy Taguiwalo.

HB 3398 seeks to give the following additional benefits to solo parents whose net annual income is P250,000 and below:

  • 10% discount on purchases of clothing for a child, made within a period of up to 12 years from the kid’s birth;
  • 20% discount on all purchases of baby’s milk, food and food supplements made within a period of three years from a child’s birth;
  • 12% discount on all purchases of basic necessities;
  • 20% discount on purchases of medicines and other medical supplements and supplies for a child made within a period of 18 years from birth;
  • at least 20% discount on the hospital bill of the solo parent or his/her child, if admitted for medical care, be it in a private or public hospital;
  • at least 10% discount on consultation and laboratory diagnostic fees, and purchase of medicines for solo parents and their dependents;
  • 10% discount on school tuition fees per child who is in college;
  • 15% discount on all purchases of school supplies for the child made within a period of 21 years from birth;
  • at least 20% discount on all private and public recreational facilities, provided that the discount can be availed only when the solo parent and his/her dependent/s are together.

Under RA 8972, solo parents are entitled to a flexible work schedule, safety net against discrimination in the workplace, additional parental leave, educational and housing benefits, and medical assistance.

Also included in the Act’s comprehensive package are the following: livelihood development and counseling services, parent effectiveness services, critical incidence stress debriefing, and special projects for individuals in need of protection.

“Sadly, only a handful of local government units are aware that RA 8972 exists and have the political will to implement the programs and services for solo parents,” Javier said. “The majority are not aware, do not care, or do not have a budget.”

On Nov. 30, solo parents will hold a unification meeting and launching of their advocacy campaign, “Kapakanan ng mga Solo Parents.”

“We are part of the disadvantaged sectors of society who need assistance. Let’s call on our local officials, whom we had voted for in order to help us,” Javier said in Filipino. “Go or write to your congressmen so that HB 3398 will immediately be passed into law.”

“This piece of legislation will be a blessing for all of us – solo parents and our children,” she stressed.

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(Founded in March 2008, VERA Files is published by veteran Filipino journalists taking a deeper look into current Philippine issues. Vera is Latin for “true.”)

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Week 1: Road to #JusticeforJennifer

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Outrage Magazine | 29 March 2015

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Laude

Jennifer Laude’s mother, Julita, still in anguish over the death of her daughter, at a press conference.

Various developments marked the first week of the trial of US Marine Private First Class Joseph Scott Pemberton, the main suspect in the death of slain transgender woman Jennifer Laude, including the re-emergence of the issue of plea bargain, and the appearance in court of key witnesses.

NO PLEA BARGAIN AGREEMENT

The camp of slain transgender woman Laude expressed dismay over Olongapo City Prosecutor Emilie delos Santos for allegedly pushing the family to enter a plea bargain agreement with the camp of Pemberton.

Atty. Virgie Suarez (TOP), and Jennifer Laude’s siblings face the media.

Atty. Virgie Suarez (TOP), and Jennifer Laude’s siblings face the media.

Hours before the trial began, the lead counsel of the Laude family, Atty. Harry Roque, said that “in the last hearing, she (Delos Santos) manifested that she would want to proceed with the plea bargain, where Pemberton could plea to a charge of homicide and will allow the civil case to continue; (this) is unprecedented,” Roque said. “Given the preference of Judge Delos Santos to enter this plea bargain, there’s now no guarantee for the Laude family that the prosecution will remain steadfast to procure a conviction for murder.”

Due to this, the camp of Laude submitted a formal request to the Department of Justice, requesting for Delos Santos to be replaced.

“The Laudes (submitted) a formal letter to ask that Delos Santos should be replaced, believing that thousand of prosecutors in the National Prosecution Service ought to be prosecuting, as they would be able and willing to see a convicted Pemberton for murder and not homicide,” Roque said.

Delos Santos denied the claim that she is pushing for a P21-million plea bargain deal in the case.

DOJ Secretary Leila De Lima already said that she would look into the complaint of the Laude family against Delos Santos, and has also directed the prosecutor to make comment about it “before I make a decision.”

Roque remained optimistic that their request will be granted by the DOJ.

“The victims have lost their confidence with the public prosecutor. I don’t see why the DOJ Secretary will consider Delos Santos as absolutely indispensable in this case given her actuation. And take note, her actuation took place in court. (And if our request is denied), we will go to court. Victims cannot be ignored in a criminal case,” Roque said.

THE BELLBOY TAKES THE STAND

A bellboy at the Celzone Lodge, the hotel where Jennifer was found dead, took the stand on March 23, the first day of trial.

Elias Gallamos, the first witness presented by the government prosecutors, narrated the what he witnessed on the night of October 11, the night Laude was killed.  Gallamos identified Pemberton as the man he saw with Jennifer, when the two checked-in at the hotel; he pointed to Pemberton, who sat in the courtroom, according to one of the Laude’s lawyers.

The US marine and Laude supposedly met at Ambyanz Disco earlier the night before they headed to Celzone Lodge.

Other details of the proceedings were not made available to journalists, as media coverage was barred during the trial.

THE CLOSE FRIEND AS THE STAR WITNESS

The star witness of the prosecution took the stand on the second day of the trial.

Barbie (birth name Mark Clarence Gelviro), a close friend of Laude, first made her testimony in the Senate, when Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago requested for her presence last October 2014.

It was noted by Atty. Virgie Suarez, lawyer of the Laude family, that during the trial last March 24, Barbie was calm and consistent with her answers, and “she showed confidence the entire time, and that was a good thing.”

The defense did not show much objections throughout Barbie’s narration. For Suarez, this may be a tactical response on their part.

During the direct examination, Barbie also admitted that she’s a sex worker. However, she said that she does not know if Jennifer was also engaged in sex work.

“I may say that there were questions na hindi magaganda (that were distasteful), focusing on Barbie being a sex worker or a prostitute. But I don’t think those issues (Barbie being a sex worker) will in any way lessen her testimony, because again, being a prostitute does not mean that you can’t be killed when your customer is not satisfied or anything,” Suarez said.

On the issue of a plea bargain, Suarez said that it’s no longer an issue as “we are now on trial, so that’s already water under the bridge and we can no longer get back to the that. We are now proceeding with trial, tuloy tuloy na ito (this will already progress).”

But the trial ended early, as the third witness – Jacinto Miraflor, Celzone Lodge’s security guard on duty at the time when Jennifer was found dead – was not able to testify due to health reasons.

Julita, the mother of Jennifer; and Marilou, her sister, may also become possible witnesses.  They were therefore not allowed to be inside the courtroom during the trial.  Michelle, another sister of Jennifer, was the only one present in the courtroom.

“Normal na normal si Barbie sa loob, hindi siya natatakot. Nakakatuwa dahil nung tinuro niya talaga si Pemberton, na si Pemberton talaga ‘yung kasama nila that night, tumayo siya (Pemberton), makikita mo sa mukha niya na nahihiya siya, na-conscious siya (Barbie was very normal/natural, she was not scared. It was good that when she pointed out Pemberton, that it was Pemberton who was with them that night, he stood up, and you can see in his face that he was ashamed, he looked conscious),” Michelle said.

A MOTHER’S GRIEF

Although Julita was not present in the courtroom, but she waited outside.

Ang babaw talaga ng kaligayahan ang tingin nila sa amin. Talagang akala nila na pwede na nila magawa o maapakan ‘yung karapatan namin. Ang gusto ko lang naman talaga mangyari ay ‘yung makulong siya (Pemberton), maranasan niya, maisip man lang niya, bakit ko ginawa ‘yun (They think our source of happiness is very shallow. They think they can take or step on our rights. What we really want to happen is for him to be jailed, for him to experience, to make him realize why he did what he did),” she said.

Julita also expressed dismay over the supposed P21 million agreement with the camp of Pemberton.

Ang sinasabi nila na ganung halaga ang hinihingi namin, hindi katumbas ‘yun. Kasi ako ang nakakaalam kung gaano kasakit ang nangyari. Hindi na nila maibabalik sa akin ‘yung anak ko, ‘yung pagmamahal niya, ‘yung haplos niya tuwing nagkikita kami, hindi mababayaran ng milyon (When they said that that’s the amount we’re asking for, I say that’s not worth considering. Because I personally know how painful what happened is. They can not return to me my child, her love, her touches whenever we see each other; they can’t pay those even with millions),” she said.

The trial will resume on April 13 and is expected to last until September.

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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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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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