Suspension of Disbelief

Archive for the ‘Under Pressure’ Category

Covid-19 and the freelancer’s dilemma

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Outrage Magazine | 24 May 2020

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Kate is a visual artist. She resigned from her day job to pursue her passion two years ago. Painting and creating origami, her income mainly came from the sales of her artworks; supplemented by home-based art classes to elementary and high school students.  

Nicole is a freelance makeup artist. Her clients varied from celebrities to socialites to brides and debutantes… and everything in between. Nicole used to earn a minimum of P3,000 per client, with the amount increasing depending on the type of service being offered.

Lumina is a drag artist, a common face in dance clubs and in events. Aside from her “talent fee”, she also used to get “tips” from customers.

But when the Covid-19 related Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) took effect in Luzon starting last March 17, their capacity to earn a living was also put on hold. And people like them – a.k.a. “freelancers” – are many.

In May 2019, PayPal (the payment system company) reported that the Philippines is home to a “vibrant gig economy”, with an estimated 1.5 million freelancers in the country. In fact, this is a segment that is fast becoming an influential part of the Filipino workforce and a key engine driving the growth of the country’s economy.

The terms used to refer to them may vary – e.g. In October 2019, the Philippine Statistics Authority reported that of the 73,528,000 population in the Philippines, ages 15 years and over, 95.5% are employed. And 25% of them are “self-employed workers”. Freelancers also fall under PSA’s categorization.

And ECQ has been devastating to these Filipinos.

“The current lockdown left us, freelance workers, in a complete halt — events and shows were cancelled. It technically made us jobless since we do not have the option of working from home,” Lumina said.

Like Lumina, Kate said freelancer workers are “so tied to the situation.”

“Even if I want to sell my work or earn a living, I cannot do anything right now,” Kate added.

Painting and creating origami, Kate’s income mainly came from the sales of her artworks; supplemented by home-based art classes to elementary and high school students. Everything was affected by Covid-19.
Photo by Fallon Michael from Unsplash.com

What gov’t support?

There are supposed to be government support for workers affected by the ECQ.

In a statement released last March 17, for instance, the Department of Labor and Employment stated that they “may be able to address the pressing needs of the rest of the affected workers in the quarantined areas.”

DOLE developed the following mitigating measures: “Covid-19 Adjustment Measures Program” (CAMP), “Tulong Panghanapbuhay sa Ating Disadvantaged/Displaced Workers” (TUPAD), and “DOLE-AKAP for OFWs”.

CAMP will serve “affected workers regardless of status (i.e. permanent, probationary, or contractual), those employed in private establishments whose operations are affected due to the Covid-19 pandemic.” TUPAD “aims to contribute to poverty reduction and inclusive growth.” The program is “a community based (municipality/barangay) package of assistance that provides temporary wage employment.” And the DOLE-AKAP specifically caters to overseas Filipino workers who have been displaced due to the imposition of lockdown or community quarantine, or have been infected with the disease.

DOLE reiterated that the only qualified beneficiaries are the underemployed, self-employed and displaced marginalized workers. To help these people, “employment” is offered – i.e. the nature of work shall be the disinfection or sanitation of their houses and its immediate vicinity, and the duration will be limited to 10 days. The person will be receiving 100% of the prevailing highest minimum wage in the region.

Pre-Covid-19, Nicole could earn from P3,000 per client; nowadays, she relies solely on what her barangay provides: relief goods and minimal ayuda.

Another government body eyeing to supposedly help is the Social Security System (SSS), where employees of small businesses may apply to be considered for the Small Business Wage Subsidy (SBWS) Program.

To add, the government agency is also geared up to pay some 30,000 to 60,000 workers projected to be unemployed due to possible layoffs or closures of Covid-19 affected private companies.

Some arts-focused institutions like the Film Development Council of the Philippines (FDCP) also developed their own “disaster-triggered funding mechanism” to help address the “lack of support from the government.” In FDCP’s case, the program aims to help displaced freelance audio-visual workers—from talents, to production staff and technical crew members.

But note how all efforts are mum on freelance workers.

For drag performer Lumina, Covid-19 “technically made us jobless since we do not have the option of working from home.”

Making ends meet

And so many are left to do something they never did – i.e. rely on others just to survice.

In the case of Nicole, she relies solely on what her barangay provides: relief goods and minimal ayuda.

Sobrang hirap ng sitwasyon ngayon. Hindi ko alam kung saan ako kukuha ng panggastos. ‘Yung ipon ko paubos na, tapos kailangan ko pa magbayad ng renta sa bahay at ibang bills (The situation now is very hard. I don’t know where to get money to spend. My savings are almost gone, and yet I still have to pay for my rent and the bills),” she said.

Lumina, for her part, is “lucky” because she still lives with her family, and “they have been providing for my basic needs since the lockdown started.”

Her luck isn’t necessarily shared by many – e.g. Human Rights Watch earlier reported that “added family stresses related to the Covid-19 crisis – including job loss, isolation, excessive confinement, and anxieties over health and finances – heighten the risk of violence in the home… The United Nations secretary-general has reported a ‘horrifying‘ global surge in domestic-based violence linked to Covid-19, and calls to helplines in some countries have reportedly doubled.”

To add: “In a household of six members, I think the goods that we are receiving from the government is not enough,” Lumina said, hoping that “every freelance worker also receive benefits from the government that would in a way cover the earnings that we lost.”

Bleak future?

In 2017, when PayPal conducted a survey of over 500 freelancers in the Philippines, the results showed that the country had a “very optimistic freelancer market”, with 86% of freelancers claiming they anticipate future growth in their businesses. In fact, at that time, 23% of the respondents said their business is growing steadily, while 46% said their business is stable.

But Covid-19 turned everything upside-down for many.

There are rays of hope.

Toptal survey, for instance, pointed out that 90% of companies depend on freelancers to augment their professional workforce, and – get this – 76% of surveyed executives intend to increase use of independent professionals to provide expertise either to supplement full-time talent or to access skills and experiences they lack in their workforce.

This may be particularly true to those whose works do not involve face-to-face engagement (e.g. graphics design, BPOs).

And so for the likes of Kate, Nicole and Lumina — and many other freelance workers for that matter, whose works rely on being with people — the way to get through now is to just to make do with what they can grasp on… while hoping for a better future, where reliance (including in a non-responsive government) is not in the picture…

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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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The mental cost of Covid-19 lockdown

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Outrage Magazine | 26 April 2020

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Photo by Ian Panelo from Pexels.com

“Three of my closest friends committed suicide last week,” John Albert shared in a post. “I could not believe the news when I heard it. I saw them before the lockdown; everything seemed fine.”

I chatted with John Albert, and in a short online conversation, he said that one of these friends was a lesbian. Her body was reportedly found by a barangay tanod who was patrolling their area. When they checked the phone beside her, there were 30 missed calls and 57 unread notifications. According to John Albert, the last message his friend sent was to her brother: “Ang hirap pala ng ganito, nag-iisa ka lang at wala kang makausap. Nalulungkot ako pero wala akong choice. Sana matapos na itong lockdown.”

But John Albert’s lesbian friend is not the only such case – at least it seems – of members of the LGBTQIA community dealing with the mental strife brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Tere, a transgender woman who started her transition this January, lives in a small apartment and is used to doing things on her own, in her own way. But it changed on March 17, when Pres. Rodrigo Roa Duterte enforced the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) in Luzon, which halted just about everything.

Most people were forced to adjust to what is only available. And in Tere’s case, this meant “temporarily” moving back to her parents’ house. And there, she does not exactly feel fully welcomed.

“For some reason, my father always scolds me. He wants me to do this and that, always asking me questions about my decision to transition and what will happen to my future,” shared Tere, who lamented that all her movements are being monitored so she cannot do her usually routine. “It had already come to a point that I just stay in my room the whole day and cry. I started questioning myself, too.”

It is worth stressing that for those dealing with mental health issues, know that there are ways to lessen the stress and burden on the mind.
(Photo by Alan Cabello from Pexels.com)

FOCUS ON MENTAL STATE

“The new normal” – as people are now referring to the time of Covid-19 – is also testing how strong one’s coping mechanism is, particularly with the need to socially isolate that could trigger loneliness, which the American Psychological Association says increases the risk of premature mortality.

After all, two of the major factors that may contribute to a person’s mental health is the sudden change in physical and social environments. And so: What if you are someone who is struggling to manage how you think, feel and behave given the current controlled environment?

At this point, there is the acknowledgement that the Covid-19 pandemic not only attacks the body’s immune system, but also wreaks havoc on the mental state of people.

A recent chat with Filipino persons living with HIV (PLHIV), for instance, showed that aside from the paranoia about the disease (e.g. how it spreads, the constant danger of being in close contact with someone who has it), the battle with one’s self can just be as difficult.

Sadly, there are no available outlets to release these anxieties, just the confines of your home/room/house. And for many, this is proving to be very difficult.

Perhaps even more so for LGBTQIA people going through additional difficulties because of their sexual orientation, gender identity and/or gender expression.

LOOKING FOR A WAY OUT

John Albert’s lesbian friend’s demise highlights how bad things can turn out.

And suicide is not “rare” in the Philippines – even if still not as widely discussed. In 2016, the World Bank reported that the Philippines’ suicide rate was 3.20 per 100,000 inhabitants. The rate has actually been growing since 2000.

And as the country slowly copes with the “new normal”, the issue of mental health continues to be in the back burner. “Priorities” now continue to focus on: controlling the spread of Covid-19, and mitigating its impact on the economy.

In a paper published in Lancet Psychiatry, scientists already stressed the need to also prioritize mental health, since a crisis could have “profound” and “pervasive impact” on global mental health now and in the future.

The World Health Organization (WHO), itself, acknowledged that “as the coronavirus pandemic rapidly sweeps across the world, it is inducing a considerable degree of fear, worry and concern in the population at large and among certain groups in particular…”

WHO stressed that: “In public mental health terms, the main psychological impact to date is elevated rates of stress or anxiety. But as new measures and impacts are introduced – especially quarantine and its effects on many people’s usual activities, routines or livelihoods – levels of loneliness, depression, harmful alcohol and drug use, and self-harm or suicidal behavior are also expected to rise.”

But there are steps that can be taken.

US-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) added practical ways to cope with stress:

  • Take breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news stories, including social media. Hearing about the pandemic repeatedly can be upsetting.
  • Take care of your body.
    • Take deep breaths, stretch, or meditate.
    • Try to eat healthy, well-balanced meals.
    • Exercise regularly, get plenty of sleep.
    • Avoid alcohol and drugs.
  • Make time to unwind. Try to do some other activities you enjoy.
  • Connect with others. Talk with people you trust about your concerns and how you are feeling.

It is worth stressing that for those dealing with mental health issues, know that there are ways to lessen the stress and burden on the mind. And perhaps apt to stress is the need to help each other. Just as Cebu City-based transgender woman Magdalena Robinson, CEO of Cebu United Rainbow LGBTIQ+ Sector Inc. said, this is the right time to “fix each other’s crown.”

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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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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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