Suspension of Disbelief

Archive for the ‘Walk This Way’ Category

The hottest gay man in the world

leave a comment »

Outrage Magazine | 20 May 2017

 

***

ALL PHOTOS COURTESY OF MR. GAY WORLD ORGANIZATION

A LANDMARK VICTORY FOR FILIPINO LGBTS.

Thirty-five-year-old John Fernandez Raspado brought home the Mr. Gay World crown – the first for the Philippines.

He also won several awards during the competition, that include: Best in Swimwear, Best in Formal Wear, Mr Gay World Closed Door Interview, Mr. Online Vote, and Mr. Social Media.

“It was very fulfilling. I served as a voice for the entire (LGBT) community; it was a moment that helped Filipinos become visible and be heard,” Raspado said in an exclusive Outrage Magazine interview.

He added that the experience was overwhelming and unforgettable, and “I learned a lot from it – the place, the people, and the other delegates, as well as their stories.”

Raspado is first to admit that “it was not an easy feat.” Perhaps highlighting how pageants dwell on the physical (first, before anything else), he admitted that he had some insecurities during the pageant.

“I was not the tallest and sexiest, nor did I have the most chiseled body,” he said. But “despite all this, I had to exude confidence. It paid off.”

Raspado also made friends during the competition, becoming close with Mr. Gay Belgium, Mr. Gay Venezuela, Mr. Gay Finland, and “my new besty” Mr. Gay New Zealand.

Leading up to the pageant, Raspado went through a series of trainings, courtesy of Mister Gay World Philippines Organization; Wilbert Tolentino – the first Filipino to join Mr Gay World; and Kagandahang Flores.

“Physically, I had to trim down my weight. And since my legs were quite big – which made me look small, short-legged, and heavy – I had to tone it down as well,” he said. “I conditioned myself emotionally and spiritually. I also prepared for the Q&A by updating myself with current events.”

Now with the title, Raspado plans to further promote his advocacy – #iheartLGBTQI, which stands for:
I – image modernization
H – healthy lifestyle
E – equality
A – acceptance
R – responsible sexual behavior and awareness
T – testing and treatment of HIV/AIDS

Recognizing that his win somehow gives him a platform to be heard, Raspado stressed his support for marriage equality and the anti-discrimination bill.

“I’m all for the rights that LGBTs should have – we should experience the full benefits of these rights. And these two (marriage equality and anti-discrimination bill) are important and beneficial for us to be protected as citizens and as human beings,” he said.

And his message to LGBT Filipinos is to “have faith and fight for what is right. Be true to who you are and empower yourselves. Have courage and be involved in the community.”

Albeit the emphasis on physical beauty (first of all), Mr. Gay World is still considered as one of the more celebrated beauty pageants in the LGBT community. And by winning the competition, Raspado hopes that it will “give Filipino LGBTs the platform to be recognized and be heard,” he ended.

.

(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.)

***

OFW guide: How to make every remittance count

leave a comment »

VERA Files | 13 November 2016

***

ofw

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.

.

.

(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.”)

***

HB 3398 seeks more benefits for 14M solo parents

leave a comment »

VERA Files | 24 October 2016

***

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.

.

.

(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.”)

***

And Ryan met Sebastian

leave a comment »

Outrage Magazine | 18 June 2016

***

Screen Shot 2016-06-28 at 8.14.00 PM

“He has been my crush since I saw ‘Bubble’ (Sebastian Castro’s music video),” Ryan Chua said.

But initially, there were no intentions for the two to have an actual face-to-face meet-up.

“I was (just) thrilled when he added me on Facebook and followed me on Twitter,” Ryan added.

As is common with online friends, the two chatted now and then.

But then fate had other plans for them.

In 2013, they finally met when Sebastian invited Ryan to his art exhibit. And that first time they met, “no one had to put his best foot forward or send chocolates and flowers just to please each other,” Ryan said to Outrage Magazine.

It was not an immediate “thing”; there wasn’t even any second meet-up. At that time, Sebastian had to fly to US and Ryan had to prepare to leave for the UK for his journalism scholarship.

But their communication continued. That is, while they were away from each other, they would Skype on a regular basis and talk about different things – from Philippine politics and entertainment gossips, to ideas for Sebastian’s new songs. And there were also surprise visits in between.

Ryan-and-Seb“We became best friends first even before any love confession was made,” Ryan said.

When Ryan finished his scholarship, he returned to the Philippines. The two started living together.

As a couple, they were almost always present in LGBT-related events. But as their relationship grew stronger, it also attracted bashers, many even from within the LGBT community.

“Hearing (negative) views comes with making a relationship public, especially when it’s between two men,” said Ryan, who nonetheless noted that the observations were somewhat superficial, comparing Ryan and Sebastian on “how we look.” “But we don’t let those comments affect our relationship. Most people see only the physical. Often, they don’t see the emotional and intellectual connection.”

But just as they’ve started establishing a life together in Manila, an opportunity came up for Ryan to work for a media outlet in Beijing, China.

Being apart from each other is not new to them; after all, they started out as online friends. Now, social media has become a tool for them to constantly communicate with each other.

“It is not always easy. Being away from each other always has challenges. I miss him every day. Nothing beats physical contact and intimacy,” Ryan said. “But we’re both mature enough to appreciate the joys of a one to three-hour Skype or Facetime call. When we don’t have time to call, short messages would do.”

Sometimes they would even watch movies or TV shows together while on a video call “because enjoying anything with him is always double the fun,” Ryan added.

Though they had not planned too far ahead into the future, they are currently focused on their own respective fields, so eventually, they could enjoy their successes together.

“I am very fortunate to have a partner who knows me more deeply than anyone does, who has big dreams like I do, and who understands that, sometimes, we need to be apart so that we could build a stable future,” Ryan ended.

Seb-and-Ryan1 Seb-and-Ryan7 Seb-and-Ryan8 Seb-and-Ryan6 Seb-and-Ryan5 Seb-and-Ryan2 Seb-and-Ryan3 Seb-and-Ryan4

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

.

.

(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.)

***

QC LGBT Pride celebration: More than just a parade

leave a comment »

VERA Files | 13 December 2015

***

 

IMG_4024 copy

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.

IMG_3984 copy

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.”

.

.

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

***

PhilHealth clarifies OHAT coverage

leave a comment »

Outrage Magazine | 29 August 2015

***

 

This is a continuing story on the disparities in the services received by PLHIVs in different hubs in the Philippines, even if they are required to pay the same amount by PhilHealth.

As the Red Ribbon Project eyes to help the country get to zero (i.e. zero new HIV infection, zero AIDS-related death, and zero HIV-related discrimination), its beauty queens – Binibining ARV-Universe, Bb. ARV-World and Bb. ARV-International; joined by Miss ARG 2012 – gives the “beauty with a purpose” tagline flesh, this time by reaching out to Filipino PLHIVs in RITM.
“That there’s still something to live for,” is the goal of the outreach, said Pozzie Pinoy, who helms Red Ribbon Project – seconded by Bb. ARV-Universe, who said in the vernacular that “if we can – even for a while – shed some hope, that’s good and well.”

In the Philippines, the treatment, care and support received by most people living with HIV (PLHIVs) are covered by the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation’s (PhilHealth) Outpatient HIV/AIDS Treatment (OHAT) Package. Specifically, to those who are enrolled in PhilHealth, P30,000 is allocated per PLHIV per year, or P7,500 every quarter.

But – as stated in a previous report by Outrage Magazine – PLHIVs from different treatment hubs in the country experience different and at times confusing disparities in the services that they receive, even if they pay the same PhilHealth premium/amount of approximately P2,400 per year.

READING THROUGH

After the release of PhilHealth’s OHAT Package circular in 2010, DOH published Administrative Order No. 2010-0036 – The Aquino Health Agenda: Achieving Universal Health Care for All Filipinos – in December 2010, signed by then Health Secretary Enrique Ona.

It stated that “the Aquino Health Agenda (AHA) is a focused approach to health reform implementation in the context of HSRA (Health Sector Reform Agenda) and F1 (FOURmula One), that all Filipinos especially the poor receive the benefits of health reform.”

ARV is part of the “free” TCS services received by PLHIVs in the Philippines

Under that guideline is the attainment of health-related Millennium Development Goals (MDG), which include the reduction of HIV/AIDS prevalence.

The administrative order also mentioned that the “DOH shall develop guidelines and protocols to organize the community health team and service delivery network, implement a functional referral system, deliver health service packages, contract with private providers, implement clinical practice guidelines, generate, retain, and use hospital revenues, and establish hospital pricing system to maximize benefits from PhilHealth.”

In the 2010 OHAT Package circular, it stated that the “package shall be based on Department of Health (DOH) guidelines on anti-retroviral therapy among adults and adolescents with human immunodeficiency virus infection. All treatment hubs in accredited facilities are required to follow the guidelines set by the DOH.”

Meanwhile, the Guidelines on Antiretroviral Therapy (ART) among Adults and Adolescents with Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) Infection – DOH Administrative Order No. 2009-0006 – released in January 2009 stated that as part of monitoring the response to ART treatment, “for patients with good compliance to ART, clinical response is recommended to be used together with CD4 count and viral load determination (whenever feasible) to detect treatment failure.”

And that “treatment hubs through its HIV AIDS Core Team (HACT) shall provide treatment and clinical monitoring of patients under ART.”

ACTUAL COVERAGE

In an interview with Outrage Magazine, PhilHealth’s Medical Specialist III and Millennium Development Goals Benefit Products Team Head Dr. Mary Antoinette Remonte said that “it has come to our attention that some treatment hubs charge for some laboratory tests, even after the release of the OHAT Package circular.”

The 2010 circular only specifically stated that “covered items under this benefit are drugs and medicines, laboratory examinations including Cluster Difference 4 (CD4) level determination test and test for monitoring of anti-retroviral drugs (ARV) toxicity and professional fees of providers.” As such, Remonte said that “some treatment hubs take what was written in the circular literally.”

Remonte, however, said that if a PLHIV needs “viral load, if it’s really needed, they can still charge it on the OHAT package. Any laboratory tests related to ART treatment, they can use the OHAT Package for it.” For Remonte, “even if viral load testing was not written in the first circular, it was already included in the coverage.”

The revised OHAT Package released last June already clearly states that “covered items under this benefit are drugs and medications, laboratory examinations based on the specific treatment guideline including Cluster of Differentiation 4 (CD4) level determination test, viral load (if warranted), and test for monitoring anti-retroviral (ARV) drugs toxicity and professional fees of providers.”

PhilHealth also monitors the disparities among the services offered by treatment hubs, particularly on whether they are putting into effect what were stated in the circulars that were released.

“We are currently reviewing the OHAT Package, the implementation of it in treatment hubs, and the current rates; and if they have questions, we can discuss it with them,” Remonte said.

PLHIVs, meanwhile, are encouraged to contact PhilHealth if they have concerns regarding their PhilHealth membership and coverage.

PROPER MANAGEMENT

According to Dr. Rosanna Ditangco, research chief atThe Research Institute for Tropical-AIDS Research Group (RITM-ARG), a treatment hub located in Alabang, management issues also come to play in the delivery of TCS services to PLHIVs.

For instance, while “the OHAT Package does not cover baseline tests yet”, at RITM-ARG, PLHIVs are able to receive free baseline laboratory tests, such as CBC, chest x-ray, PPD and blood chemistry (i.e. lipid profile, BUN, Creatinine, FBS), and CD4 count.

“Due to good financial management, we can provide these free baseline services to new patients; and once they start treatment, they would be eligible for the OHAT Package and RITM would be able to regain the initial investment,” said Ditangco.

Older PLHIVs, meanwhile, can already use their PhilHealth membership when availing different services and laboratory tests that are needed and related to their antiretroviral therapy (ART) treatment.

There are minimum number of tests that DOH mandates for treatment hubs to give to PLHIVs, so that hubs now offer different services aside from those mandated – and even if the amount they pay to PhilHealth remain the same

There are minimum number of tests that DOH mandates for treatment hubs to give to PLHIVs, so that hubs now offer different services aside from those mandated – and even if the amount they pay to PhilHealth remain the same

“Every six months, we provide free CD4 and CBC tests. And yearly, during their anniversary, we provide free CD4, CBC, blood chemistry – depending on what ARV they are taking, and viral load tests. If the doctor suspects treatment failure, a free viral load test will be done anytime, plus HIV drug resistance testing,” Ditangco said.

Ditangco added that “all of these are covered by OHAT. And this has been our system ever since PhilHealth released their first circular.”

RITM-ARG also receives “additional support” from the DOH, which the facility also uses when providing TCS services to PLHIVs.

“Our funding is mostly from our OHAT reimbursement, but every now and then, we receive funding from DOH and we use this to provide free viral load, CD4 or HIV drug resistance testing for other treatment hubs,” Ditangco said.

WAY FORWARD

Interviewed by Outrage Magazine in Davao City during the 1st HIV Summit in southern Philippines, DOH Usec. Vicente Y. Belizario Jr. said that the DOH mandates the “minimum package (to be provided by hubs to PLHIV).” However, “(health care) is decentralized to local government units, (and) there are LGUs that are more innovative.”

“The challenge is to ensure harmonization,” Belizario said, adding that this is what the DOH “will continue to push.”

For Dr. Jose Narciso Sescon of the AIDS Society of the Philippines, “one bright move towards ensuring standardization is that these are being discussed and taken on. This is a healthy step towards a more robust HIV package of services offered to clienteles… if and only if we are all open (government and private service providers) to take on to discuss and accept the real challenges faced by our program.”

“I believe all major government treatment hubs must agree on a standardized treatment package offered to their patients that can be availed under the PhilHealth OHAT Package. Having a national standard on HIV treatment services offered to Filipino PLHIVs will help avoid confusion and unnecessary inconvenience for patients,” said Kevin Kane Li of The AIDS Treatment Action Group (TATAG) Philippines.

Meanwhile, for Pozzie Pinoy of The Project Red Ribbon, “if your hubs are charging you for your laboratory tests in succeeding tests, you should start asking.”

Pozzie Pinoy likens the PhilHealth to having an insurance package, wherein “if you have an HMO, you have packages, and you must know what’s being spent on you.”  In the case of PhilHealth, “ask your hub what in your P30,000 is being spent. You paid for it, so it should be used for you. Learn to ask. Don’t turn a blind eye just to save face. This can be solved by asking.”– WITH INTERVIEWS BY MDCTAN

PhilHealth may be reached at (+63 2) 441 7444 or (+63 2) 441 7442, or email actioncenter@philhealth.gov.ph.

Outrage Magazine is one with the PLHIV community in demanding for a uniform implementation of TCS services, particularly as mandated by PhilHealth. 

.

.

(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.)

***

PLHIVs ask PhilHealth to reconsider HIV response

leave a comment »

Outrage Magazine | 14 August 2015

***

 

This is a continuing story on the disparities in the services received by PLHIVs in different hubs in the Philippines, even if they are required to pay the same amount by PhilHealth.

PhilHealth-on-San-Lazaro1

Living with HIV for eight years now, Paolo’s* CD4 count was going down. And so his attending physician told him to have his viral load counted. This test, Paolo said, “costs P6,000!”

PhilHealth-on-San-Lazaro2For Paolo, the costs of the viral load testing is not the problem per se; instead, it is the inconsistency of the services offered by the treatment hubs. At least in his treatment hub (i.e. San Lazaro Hospital), part of the treatment, care and support (TCS) that he receives is getting his ARV supplies every three months, and paying two other visits for his CD4 test to ascertain if his ARVs are working for him. The viral load counting is not included in the services offered, thus the need for him to cough up approximately P6,000.

There are other treatment hubs in the Philippines that provide other TCS services to PLHIVs enrolled in their systems. For instance, RITM-ARG in Alabang requires PLHIVs enrolled in its system to get their viral load counted, as well as CBC, Creatinine, TB skin test or PPD, and X-ray at least once a year, during their “anniversary” (that is, when they were enrolled into the system).  These tests are provided for free as part of PhilHealth’s Outpatient HIV/AIDS Treatment (OHAT) Package.

Paolo, like most PLHIVs who are taking ARV medications, is also a PhilHealth member. And his treatment hub requires him to completely pay, and then submit to them the necessary PhilHealth documents before they could serve him.

“Even if I’m an old PhilHealth member and I’m able to avail free CD4 count tests and my ARV medications, I was still asked to pay that amount [for the viral load test],” Paolo said.

CONFUSING DISPARITY

In an interview with Outrage Magazine, newly appointed PhilHealth director Risa Hontiveros said that particularly for a government hospital, not providing the complete tests could constitute a violation.

Under PhilHealth’s Circular No. 19, s-2010 or the Outpatient HIV/AIDS Treatment Package, “covered items under the benefits are drugs and medicines, laboratory examinations, and professional fees of providers.”  The circular adds that “all treatment hubs in accredited facilities are required to follow the guidelines set by the DOH.”

PhilHealth-on-San-Lazaro3

Meanwhile, under the revised OHAT Package, Circular No. 11-2015 released last June, PhilHealth once again stressed that “there shall be no separate accreditation for HIV/AIDS Treatment Hubs as OHAT Package providers, as long as they are PhilHealth accredited health care institutions.”

Similar to the first circular, the newer circular emphasized that “covered items under this benefit are drugs and medicines, laboratory examinations based on the specific treatment guideline, including CD4 level determination test, viral load (if warranted) and test for monitoring ARV drugs toxicity and professional fees of providers.”

The revised guidelines also stated that the OHAT package can already be accessed in all 22 DOH-designated HIV/AIDS treatment hubs in the country.

Some PLHIVs enrolled in San Lazaro Hospital, and who were interviewed for this article claimed that they already asked about the “missing” services that other hubs are offering. They were, however, only told to discuss the issue with the PhilHealth coordinator/s assigned at the treatment hub. Some followed the advise; but the services continue not to be offered.

The disparities in the services received by PLHIVs do not only happen in treatment hubs in Metro Manila.

In Davao City, a PLHIV – who also works with the Mindanao AIDS Advocates Association Inc. – similarly said that viral load count is not offered to PLHIVs, even if they, too, pay the same PhilHealth amount. To his knowledge, only those who enrolled after April 2014 get free viral load count; though only once, upon enrollment.

He admitted that there is a feeling of “lugi (not getting what you paid for)” for not being given the viral load count, particularly since they know it can be offered since “gi-offer na man saManila (it is already being offered in Manila).”  But as far as they know, “walang (there is no) VL machine in Davao, so it can’t be offered here because of this”.

Meanwhile, in Cagayan de Oro City, a PLHIV, who is a volunteer at the Northern Mindanao Advocates Society (NorMA), said that viral load count is also not given to those enrolled in the treatment hub there.  Again, they are required to pay the same PhilHealth amount, since “pareha ra man ginabayran sa PLHIVs (all PLHIVs pay the same rate),” he said.

The NorMA volunteer added that there was even a time when “nahudtan ug reagent (the hub run out of CD4 reagent), so even the CD4 count was delayed.”  Nonetheless, at least as far as CD4 count is concerned, “naayo na gamay karon (it has bettered now)”, but as far as viral load count is concerned, “nganga (we wait for nothing).”

Because of the inconsistencies in the services offered by treatment hubs, there are PLHIVs who “shop around” – that is, they look for hubs with “the most number of services offered,” he said.  “Pero maayo ra kung tanan ka-afford mubalhin ug (But it’s not as if everyone can afford to move to another) hub. For those who can’t, suffer jud (you really suffer).”

For Hontiveros, situations like this “cannot be tolerated, it has to be corrected. The point of generating demand through an institution like PhilHealth creates the obligation to make the supply side available and accessible to the members or patients. So we have to correct that.”

RAISE THE ISSUE

Outrage Magazine coordinated with the office of Dr. Rosario Jessica Tactacan-Abrenica, HACT head of the HIV/AIDS Pavilion of San Lazaro Hospital, to get the facility’s position on the issue; but was forwarded to the office of Dr. Winston Go, Medical Center Chief II of San Lazaro Hospital. No response has been received from the latter’s office as of press time (The response/s of Dr. Go will be included in a follow-up article on this issue, along with the positions of other people also involved in HIV-related work in the Philippines – Ed).

But in San Lazaro Hospital, one PhilHealth coordinator who asked not to be named stated that “sa RITM lang libre ‘yun. Dito kasi, matagal na namin naayos ‘yung mga PhilHealth papers ng mga pasyente at na-submit na namin sa admin ng San Lazaro. Siguro natagalan lang (the viral load count is only free in RITM. Here, we’ve long prepared the documents of the PLHIVs and submitted these to the administrators of San Lazaro Hospital. Perhaps the inclusion of viral load count is just taking longer).”

For PLHIVs dissatisfied with the services rendered by their treatment hubs; or even if they have concerns, Hontiveros said that “members can write us (about the situation). They can also send proof of having been made to pay for a benefit package that is supposedly covered by the policy.”

This way, PhilHealth can “get back to the hospital and we will penalize them. Sisingilin namin sa kanila ng doble ‘yung ginastos ng pasyente (We will make them pay double what the patients paid). We really go after hospitals, including or especially government hospitals that don’t extend the mandated services of the PhilHealth institution,” Hontiveros said.

For Paolo, this is a welcome development. He just hopes “it doesn’t take forever”.

PhilHealth may be reached at (+63 2) 441 7444 or (+63 2) 441 7442, or email actioncenter@philhealth.gov.ph.

Outrage Magazine is one with the PLHIV community in demanding for a uniform implementation of TCS services, particularly as mandated by PhilHealth. 

Article amended on August 14, 5:30PM to include the interviews from Mindanao AIDS Advocates Association Inc. and Northern Mindanao Advocates Society (NorMA).

*NAME CHANGED TO PROTECT THE PRIVACY OF THE INTERVIEWEE

.

.

(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.)

***

%d bloggers like this: