Suspension of Disbelief

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OFW guide: How to make every remittance count

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VERA Files | 13 November 2016

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Overseas Filipino workers are considered to be some of the hardest-working people in the country. But as unfortunate as it sounds, most of the fruits of their hard work are not put into something that can possibly gain great rewards – which in return, if managed properly, can give them the option to stop working abroad and go back to the Philippines and be with their loved ones.

Based on statistics, the remittances most of them send home are poorly managed by their families. In some cases, they are spent on unnecessary things, like buying the latest gadgets, and dining at expensive restaurants.

And this unnecessary spending can be avoided with proper financial education for both the OFW and their families.

“In order to make a big difference in the lives of OFWs and their families, there has to be a comprehensive, extensive and sustainable personal finance program nationwide. There has to be a program [that] will teach the spouses of OFWs  how to manage their money,” said registered financial planner Alvin Tabañag.

The starting point of the personal finance journey should come from the OFWs themselves.

“An OFW, or anybody for that matter, should not be too busy to make sure that his/her family’s financial future is secured,” Tabañag stressed.

He also added that financial education should be adopted by the entire family, not just the overseas worker. And the most crucial part of the journey is to teach basic money management to OFWs before they are deployed, so they can also teach it to their families before they leave.

Currently, the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration offers Pre-Departure Orientation Seminars (PDOS) to would-be OFWs.

“The PDOS is only five to ten minutes, and the topics do not cover much on the subject  of money management,” Tabañag said, “and if you bombard them with too much information, they will just shut down.”

So he proposed to make it an hour-long orientation, wherein the basics of money management will be discussed. He pointed out that it would only be effective if the families of the OFWs would also participate and make the effort to learn personal finance.

“Ultimately, it’s the OFW’s responsibility to teach his/her family how to better manage its finances. Responsible money management is more about attitude and discipline, rather than knowledge and skills,” Tabañag explained.

He also gave initial steps on how OFWs can educate their families when it comes to money management, as follows:

1) First, overseas workers should sit down with their families and talk about the importance of a secure financial future. They should ask them about their goals. After hearing their answers, the OFWs should explain what is required to achieve such goals.

2) Next is to paint a picture of the negative consequences if the families left behind do not manage the money responsibly.

“The problem with a lot of Filipinos, not just OFWs, is they do not look far enough into the future. That’s why they don’t realize or see the long-term consequences of the money decisions that they make today. But if you plan ahead and try to create a vision of the future, then probably, you would think twice about how to spend your money wisely,” Tabañag stressed.

On the part of the OFWs’ spouses, they need to realize and keep in mind that their husbands or wives who are abroad will not be working there for life. The OFWs will eventually return home and the money coming in will stop at some point. And if they do not take care of what was being earned right now, they might suffer later.

“OFWs and their families need to master budgeting and spending wisely, so they can secure their financial future. Just follow a budget which will tell you how much you need to spend for a certain period and then exercise discipline. Make every peso count. Do not spend on impulse,” Tabañag ended.

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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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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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QC LGBT Pride celebration: More than just a parade

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VERA Files | 13 December 2015

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More than the parade, more than the march and festival, this celebration is the delivery of actual programs and policies for LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) people,” Percival Cendaña, commissioner of the National Youth Commission, said of the recent LGBT Pride celebration in Quezon City.

The celebration took special significance held after the court ruling on Jennifer Laude’s case, which found US Marine Lance Corporal Joseph Scott Pemberton guilty of homicide.

Though many LGBT advocates and groups said that “murder” should have been the rightful verdict, they still see it as something that they can learn from. “Now, more than ever, especially because of the decision on Laude’s case, is the right time for the [LGBT] community to get together and reflect on what happened to Jennifer, and to also inspire the next course of action,” Cendaña explained.

Cendaña also said that the event is the highlight of all the achievements throughout the year, specifically the passage of the Gender-Fair Ordinance in Quezon City.

An ordinance providing for a comprehensive anti-discrimination policy on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity and expression signed November last year, is the first of its kind in the Philippines.

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The ordinance states: “It is hereby declared a policy of Quezon City to actively work for the elimination of all forms of discrimination that offend the equal protection clause of the Bill of Rights enshrined in the Constitution, and other existing laws and to value the dignity of every person, guarantee full respect for human rights, and give the highest priority to measures that protect and enhance the rights of all people.”

According to Councilor Lena Marie “Mayen” Juico (First District), author of the Gender-Fair Ordinance, “they (Quezon City officials) have tackled all areas where the LGBT community may experience discrimination.”

“The Quezon City government expanded the ordinance to be the most comprehensive so far. In fact, it is more comprehensive than the anti-discrimination bill that is still pending in Congress right now,” Cendaña added.

There were more young participants in this year’s Pride celebration, which was a good indication that LGBTs are slowly becoming aware of their rights, observed Juico.

“LGBTs in Quezon City [should] take the time to find out what their rights are. The city already has an ordinance that encompasses all areas where they can experience discrimination. It is all a matter of utilizing it and making sure that it is implemented,” she explained.

Juico also said that it is the desire of Mayor Herbert Bautista to see gay union or gay marriage happen in Quezon City. Adding, Bautista also knows, “it can only happen if gay marriage becomes a national policy.”

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(Founded in March 2008, VERA Files is put out by veteran journalists taking a deeper look at current issues. Vera is Latin for “true.”)

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PhilHealth benefit package for people with HIV under review

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VERA Files | 01 December 2015

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PhilHealth HIV - ARV Bottles

ARV Bottles

As the country commemorates World AIDS Day today (December 1), the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) is set to begin a formal review of its benefit package for people living with HIV (human immunodeficiency virus), or PLHIVs.

“We are currently reviewing the Outpatient HIV/AIDS Treatment (OHAT) Package, the implementation of it in treatment hubs, and the current rates, and if patients have questions, we can discuss it with them.  PhilHealth is going to conduct a formal review of benefits, this year up to next year, to address these issues,” Dr. Mary Antoinette Remonte, Medical Specialist II and Millennium Development Goals Benefit Products Team Head of PhilHealth, said.

PLHIVs in the country, who are members of PhilHealth, are entitled to several benefits under the OHAT Package. Every year, a member is entitled to P30,000, or P7,500 every quarter, worth of treatment, care and support (TCS) services from his chosen PhilHealth accredited treatment hub.

Also included in the OHAT Package are the following: drugs and medicines; laboratory examinations based on the specific treatment guideline, including Cluster of Differentiation 4 (CD4) level determination test, viral load (if warranted), test for monitoring antiretroviral (ARV) drug toxicity; and professional fees of providers.

Hospitalization coverage from PhilHealth ranges from P11,000-20,000, depending on the case. Any amount that will exceed the allotted budget will be charged to the patient.

DOH National Epidemiology Center

DOH National Epidemiology Center

However, PhilHealth has received  reports from several PLHIVs that the TCS services they get from their treatment hubs are different compared to other TCS providers.

“It has come to our attention that some treatment hubs charge for some laboratory tests, even after the release of the OHAT Package circular. Also, according to the guidelines set by the DOH (Department of Health), viral load testing is also covered by the OHAT Package,” Dr. Remonte said.

In the case of Paolo (not his real name), a person living with HIV  (PLHIV) from Manila who is receiving HIV TCS at San Lazaro Hospital, he was made to pay for the viral load test even if he is a PhilHealth member.

Sadly, if you are a PHLIV who had been charged for a particular TCS service, that is supposedly covered by the OHAT Package, “you cannot be reimbursed for what you spent, because the reimbursement goes directly to the facility. This is why it is important for a facility to properly maximize the reimbursement claims so they can help the patients,” Dr. Remonte added.

But the practice in other treatment hubs, like in the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM), is different. PLHIVs are able to receive free baseline laboratory tests and CD4 count.

“The OHAT Package does not cover baseline tests yet, but due to good financial management, we can provide them for free to new patients. And once they start their treatment, they would be eligible for OHAT,” Dr. Rosanna Ditangco, research chief head at RITM-ARG, explained.

For patients who are already starting their antiretroviral therapy, “we provide free CD4 and CBC tests. Yearly, during their anniversary, we provide free CD4, CBC, blood chemistry – depending on what ARV they are taking, and viral load. And if the doctor suspects treatment failure, a free viral load test will be done anytime plus HIV drug resistance testing,” Dr. Ditangco added.

That has been the system of RITM ever since PhilHealth released their OHAT Package circular.

“The HIV treatment regimen is standard for all treatment hubs, but the cost of laboratories are not the same. The practice is also different on how they utilize the PhilHealth reimbursement and this is because of administrative problems in the treatment hubs,” Dr. Remonte explained.

She also reminded PLHIVs to check if their treatment hubs were filing claims and if they find out that there were lapses, they could write a complaint, anonymously if they are worried about confidentiality.

For PLHIVs who want to avail of the benefits of the OHAT Package, they should be PhilHealth members with three to six months contributions; submit a waiver allowing PhilHealth to look in to their records; and provide a copy of their HIV confirmatory result and treatment regimen.

There are currently 22 accredited hospitals all over the country that are designated treatment hubs for PLHIVs. There are also several satellite clinics that provide TCS services for HIV management.

Like other agencies and institutions, PhilHealth is increasing its efforts to help manage the detrimental effects of HIV.

The Philippines is one of the countries where the prevalence of HIV has been increasing.

On the other hand, statistics from other countries show that HIV is already decreasing, or at zero growth.

As of August this year, there were already more than 5,000 reported HIV cases in the Philippines, according to the DOH. This number is 17% higher compared to the same period last year.

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

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LGBT activists: We did not feel Aquino’s presence

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VERA Files | 03 August 2015

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Kapederasyon members air their lament while the President delivers his last SONA. - See more at: http://verafiles.org/lgbt-activists-we-did-not-feel-aquinos-presence/#sthash.YMqOuJ9W.dpuf

Kapederasyon members air their lament while the President delivers his last SONA. – See more at: http://verafiles.org/lgbt-activists-we-did-not-feel-aquinos-presence/#sthash.YMqOuJ9W.dpuf

THE countdown has begun for the last months of President Benigno Aquino III.

Activists from the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community hold out little hope that the Aquino administration will address their grievances in its final months after it failed to respond to their needs in its earlier years.

Murphy Red, chairperson of Kapederasyon LGBT Sectoral Organization, lamented the fact that unlike other marginalized sectors that receive support from local government units or the social welfare department, not one agency caters to the needs of the LGBT community.

“Ang ibang mga marginalized sectors ay, kahit papaano, may mga institution sa pamahalaan na nag-ca-cater sa kanilang mga interest, tulad ng iba’t-ibang programa ng mga LGUs at ng DSWD. Pero sa mga LGBT, wala talagang institution na nasa gobyerno ang nangangalaga,” he said.

The LGBTs joined other protesters to express disappointment at the Aquino government when the president delivered his last State of the Nation (SONA) address last Monday, July 27. They braved the rains as they marched along the stretch of Commonwealth Avenue.

Murphy Red, chairperson of Kapederasyon

Murphy Red, chairperson of Kapederasyon

“Nakalimang SONA na siya, pero ni minsan hindi niya binanggit ang mga LGBT. Wala sa agenda niya ang kalagayan ng mga LGBT,” Red stated.

“Hindi na kami umaasa at nagiilusyon na magbibigay siya ng tulong sa huling taon niya. Pero sana lang sa huling pagkakataon, sa huling taon ng kanyang paninilbihan, mamulat siya sa katotohanang may LGBT sa lipunan na pinagsisilbihan niya, sa bayan na tinuturing niya na boss niya.”

Aside from the lack of support programs for LGBTs, Kapederasyon also regrets that Aquino has not backed the passage of the Anti-Discrimination Bill that would safeguard the rights and security of the community, saying it is not a priority of the government.

“Hindi priority ng rehimen na ito iyong pagpasa ng Anti-Discrimination Bill, para mapangalagaan iyong mga karapatan ng mga LGBT at iyong seguridad ng mga LGBT na nagreresulta sa sunod-sunod na pagpatay,” Red pointed out.

LGBTs stage their own SONA

LGBTs stage their own SONA

The Anti-Discrimination Bill, if passed, will enforce fines and jail time to anyone who commits discriminatory acts against LGBTs.

Some of the prohibited acts in the bill include the denial of access to public and military services; refusal of admission or expulsion from educational institutions; denial of access to medical and other health services; denial of access or use of establishments, utilities, or services including housing that are open to the general – all of which, on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

Contrary to government pronouncements that the LGBT sector is part of state’s gender advocacy, in reality, their needs and concerns are not being addressed, Red added.

As Aquino’s term comes to an end, Kapederasyon calls for the inclusion of LGBT issues in the platforms of the 2016 presidential candidates.

“Sa mga tatakbo sa 2016, para masiguro nila na makukuha nila ang boto ng mga LGBT, kailangan may malinaw silang agendang ilalatag para sa kagalingan ng mga LGBT,” Red concluded.

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

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Use ‘she’ for Jennifer Laude

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VERA Files and Yahoo Philippines | 15 October 2014

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Jennifer Laude1

Reporting on the brutal murder of a 26-year-old transpinay (pinay transgender) Jennifer Laude by a United States Marine, Private First Class Joseph Scott Pemberton, Saturday, one question in the minds of members of media aside from the details about the crime was what pronoun to use for Jennifer.

Naomi Fontanos, executive director of Gender and Development Advocates (GANDA) Filipinas, said, “When referring to a transgender woman, like Jennifer Laude; who was assigned male at birth, but identified herself as a woman — the appropriate pronoun to use is ‘she’.”

GANDA Filipinas is a non-profit, nonpartisan, non-government organization advocating genuine gender equality for all Filipinos. It also upholds the view that transgender rights are human rights. Most of its members consist of transgender women in the Philippines.

When writing about lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ), there is a need to understand the difference between “sex” and “gender.”

“Sex” is the term used to refer biological and physiological characteristics of a person while “gender” refers to the socially constructed roles and behaviors of a person. Gender does not necessarily have to match one’s sexual orientation.

The term “transgender” is commonly used as an umbrella term for those people whose gender identity and/or expression don’t fit their assigned sex at birth.

Another confusion that most people have when identifying someone whose gender identity and sexual orientation don’t match is the term “transsexual”.

“Transsexual” is a term referring to a person who does not identify with the sex that was assigned at birth and desires to realign their gender and sex through medical intervention.

“In the Philippines, there is poor understanding of these terms in spite of the uptake in their usage. Many Filipinos have the wrong notion that a transgender or a transsexual person [needs to] have some form of surgery. This is not correct,” Fontanos said.

The use of pronouns when identifying transgender and transsexual people should also follow their gender identity and/or expression.

In the case of Jennifer Laude, traditional media as well as those in social media, call her “Jeffrey, her birth name and use the pronoun “he.” This is politically incorrect.

In the same manner, calling a transgender or a transsexual person  “gay”, “lesbian”, “bayot”, “bakla”, or beki” is considered demeaning in LGBTQ community.

“Media practitioners should have the responsibility to educate themselves about sexual and gender diversity. If media people persist in telling stories involving the LGBTQ Filipinos, then it is their duty to tell those stories in a dignified way which means respecting their sexual orientation and gender identity. In Jennifer’s case, [the] media should respect the life she lived. Obviously, she lived her life as a woman and that’s the way we should remember her,” Fontanos said.

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

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

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VERA Files and Yahoo Philippines | 21 September 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Geena-Rocero-for-VERA-Files

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

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

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

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

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

Q: What is your message to our government?

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

Q: What is your message to LGBTQs?

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

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

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

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Problems abound in implementation of PWD benefits

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VERA Files and Yahoo Philippines | 06 September 2014

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LGBT community remembers those who died of HIV

LGBT community remembers those who died of AIDS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Remembering those who died of AIDS

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VERA Files and Yahoo Philippines | 27 May 2014

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As of May this year, 966 Filipinos have already died of AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) since 1984.

To remember those who had passed on because of the AIDS pandemic, members of the people living with human immunodeficiency virus (PLHIV) community and support groups, organizations and foundations held a candlelight memorial in Quezon City last May 18.

The event, spearheaded by Project Red Ribbon and the University of the Philippines (UP) Student Council, marked the annual celebration of International AIDS Candlelight Memorial (IACM).

Through the years, different organizations have hosted IACM events, to remind everyone that there is still not enough education and awareness about HIV/AIDS.

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“IACM is all about honoring the people who passed on. We want to highlight their stories, learn from their experiences and at the same impart to everyone that there is still a growing need for education,” Pozzie Pinoy, founder of the Project Red Ribbon, explained. “We want to be more current, we want to be more dramatic this time — to make an impact and to make a commitment to the souls who had passed on that we can all be an instrument to make a change.”

Project Red Ribbon is a care management program that links advocacy groups with individuals to assist them to obtain discreet HIV testing, while also conducting awareness programs, and most importantly, provide care and support for PLHIV. It is also the only organization where 99% of the managers are PHLIVs.

“The PLHIV community wants to reach out to other organizations to show them that we are here and that we need their help. And the government should continue talking to different HIV/AIDS advocacy groups so they can hear the real problems.” Pinoy stressed.

The UP Student Council, for its part, expressed its intent to make HIV awareness more apparent.

“We want to bring the issue of HIV/AIDS here in UP, because the number of cases among the youth have been increasing continuously, and we also hope that other universities will do the same. The issue of gender and health awareness is very important, and everyone should be involved in this,” Julian Tanaka, councilor of the UP Student Council, said.

Working-together-to-enlighten-those-in-the-dark-about-HIV.Julius Elorpe, HIV program coordinator of Pilipinas Shell Foundation, said they have several HIV programs that seek to provide correct HIV information to the business sector through HIV 101 lectures. Elorpe described the programs as “the Philippine Business Sector’s response to the growing HIV/AIDS cases in the Philippines.”

“We encourage the business sectors, especially the private businesses, to have an HIV policy in the workplace… in line with RA 8504 or the HIV/AIDS law, which mandates each of the private companies to give basic information about HIV to their employees, as well as provide linkages to support HIV testing,” he said.

There is still no cure for AIDS, but over the years, the status of PLHIVs has improved because of ARVs (antiretroviral medicines) used in the treatment of HIV infection.

It has been reported that the Department of Health (DOH) has been experiencing a “delay in deliveries” of ARVs but it has kept mum on the issue to avoid unnecessary panic among the PLHIV community. Instead, the DOH has been focusing on other issues like the proposed mandatory HIV testing of those who are at risk of the disease.

“We feel that they [in the DOH] don’t listen to us. We feel that with the shortage of ARVs – they are not doing anything… and because of the delay, some PLHIVs are switching their ARVs from one to another, which is so hurtful to one’s health,” Pinoy said.

“We want transparency and open communication from our government. The PLHIV community has been panicking for the past three months now, and the DOH has not been that transparent with its programs when it comes to ARV supplies,” he added.

The Philippines is currently receiving support from the Global Fund’s Transitional Funding Mechanism to help fight HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria.

PhilHealth, on the other hand, has come up with Outpatient HIV/AIDS Treatment (OHAT) package for persons with HIV/AIDS, which entitles them to a P30,000 insurance package every year.

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

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Quezon City holds a different kind of santacruzan

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VERA Files and Yahoo Philippines | 24 May 2014

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A different kind of santacruzan was held recently in Quezon City. It was different not only because the participants were transgenders from different organizations from all over the country but also because it had the full support of the local government.

Called the trans-santacruzan (transgender santacruzan), the May 18 event was held in celebration of the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHOT). Aside from the annual Pride celebration held every June, IDAHOT is another important event that the LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer/questioning) community throughout the world celebrates every year.

“The theme of IDAHOT this year, coinciding with the international celebration, is ‘freedom of expression in all public areas’. We would like to show everyone that [we] trans people should be respected in terms of how we express ourselves in public places. We want to highlight LGBT rights and gender equality,” Dindi Tan, board member of the Association of Transgender People (ATP) in the Philippines and organizer of the trans-santacruzan, said.

Santacruzan5“The Q.C. government helped the LGBTQ community to make this event possible,” Tan added. “Without its help, we wouldn’t be able to mount this kind of event. Vice Mayor Joy Belmonte was also an integral part of this. She has expressed her advocacy and support for the LGBTQ community through her efforts.”

IDAHOT commemorates the World Health Organization’s (WHO) action removing homosexuality from the list of psychological diseases. It was the outcome of a long-fought battle by LGBTQs.

The trans-santacruzan was participated in by several LGBT organizations, including Alcaraz Beauties, Bellissimo Filipinas, Bermudez Beauties, Betera’s Powerhouse of Beauties, Deaf Rainbow Philippines, GANDA (Gender and Development Advocates) Filipinas, LGBT Pinoy, Miss Gay Philippines Winners, Sytangco Beauties, TAO (Transpinay of Antipolo Organization), TransDeaf Philippines, and Trippers Philippines-TWC.

“It was the first time the transwoman and transman communities were together for an event. We, [members of] TransMan Pilipinas, would like to show everyone that we exist, and that we are not lesbians,” Nil Orera Nodalo of TransMan Pilipinas (TMP) explained.

Another main feature of the event was the participation of US-based Filipino transgender model, Geena Rocero. She came to Manila to attend the event and to meet members of local LGBTQ organizations.

“This is a historic moment, for the first time we’re all together fighting for our rights. I’m happy to be here with my friends and everyone who joined this parade,” Rocero said. “I think organizations like ATP and TMP are doing an amazing work. People now are more aware of what we need.”

Santracruzan4Rocero first gained public attention when she came out as a transgender during TED Talks’ annual conference last March. Her video, a monologue about her life and the struggle she experienced during the years she hid her true sexuality, gained more than a million views.

During the IDAHOT celebration, Rocero gave another inspirational speech on the importance of fighting for one’s right.

“We all have to stick together. I think one of the basic rights that we all have is to fight together to advocate for our name and gender recognition… without being forced to undergo surgeries. We all have to come together as a community so we can succeed,” she said.

The trans-santacruzan did not only showcase the diversity of the transgender community, but also imparted a very important message to the public.

“It is very relevant to celebrate IDAHOT because… [many are] not familiar with the transgender concept in the Philippines. And we, [members of] the transgender community, are affected by that. Most people in our society don’t really understand what homophobia and transphobia really mean,” Kate Montecarlo Cordova, founder of the Association of Transgender People in the Philippines, stressed.

Although Quezon City has made many efforts to improve the welfare of the LGBTQ community, still majority of local governments are still unaware of the struggles LGBTQs are experiencing.

“The government is not doing what it is supposed to be doing in terms of alleviating discrimination against us. In the first place, how can it do it if it is not completely aware of us? That’s why, we in the transgender movement, want to be visible in the society. We are very visible and yet invisible when it comes to health, rights, and in many other sectors,” Cordova pointed out.

“It’s about time that we assert our rights,” she added. “The whole concept of this [santacruzan] event is that we are free in sending a message to the world that we can be ourselves, regardless of our sexual orientation, gender identity and expression – and we have the freedom to do that.”

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

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