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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.

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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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DOH: HIV virus infects 16 Filipinos every day

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VERA Files and Yahoo Philippines | 10 May 2014

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HIV-on-the-riseCases of HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) infection continue to rise in the Philippines.

Data from Department of Health (DOH) shows that HIV is now infecting 16 Filipinos every day, up from last year’s average of seven new patients daily.

Latest DOH data showed that 498 new cases were reported in March this year — the highest recorded in a month since the DOH started tracking HIV cases in the country in 1984.

Of this number, 380 involved MSMs (men who have sex with men); 54 were contracted because of drug use (through injecting); 63 were OFWs (overseas Filipino workers) who had unprotected sex; and one case of mother-to-child transmission.

Since January this year, 1,432 HIV cases have been recorded, 146 of which developed into full-blown AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) and 434 resulted in death.

The DOH also listed the most prevalent areas in the Philippines where new HIV cases were reported: the National Capital Region, Central Luzon, Southern Luzon, Cebu and Davao.

Assistant Health Secretary Eric Tayag said that the DOH is working closely with local governments to help address the problem. He added that the numbers may continue to rise in the coming months since not all persons at risk “are responsible enough” to get themselves tested and that based on their projections, there are still many undetected cases.

“We have continuously informed the public about this, and we are also reminding everyone that they need to be extra careful and conscious about their health,” Tayag said. “We are also appealing to those who are at risk to get themselves tested immediately.”

Those who get infected with the HIV virus remain asymptomatic up to 10 years. They will only have flu-like symptoms which would later disappear.

If an infected person continues to practice a reckless and unhealthy lifestyle, it won’t be long before the virus matures into AIDS and complications would start to manifest. It would be harder for this patient to recover and respond to medications.

The Philippines is currently using the traditional confirmatory test, called the Western blot, to detect if the HIV virus is present in the blood.

If the initial blood test (which is normally done in a hospital or laboratory) turns positive, the result will then be forwarded to the DOH for confirmatory tests. It normally takes 15 to 30 days before the DOH releases its findings and confirmations.

Health Secretary Enrique Ona said the department is exploring the possibility of making the process faster by making rapid HIV test kits available.

“The only problem we see with this rapid testing is that anyone can have it, just like the pregnancy test kits,” Tayag said. “We won’t be able to properly monitor the numbers. The people who will buy these kits will not be counselled by peer educators before they take tests, just like what the hospitals are doing and HIV/AIDS counselling is essential so you’ll know what to do.”

DOH-Assistant-Secretary-Eric-TayagAlthough in recent months the number of people who voluntarily took the test has increased, there is still a great number of people at risk who are not making the effort to know what their status is.

“Secretary Ona would want to shift from voluntary testing to something that’s compulsory,” Tayag said. “We’re working out the details and how this is possible. We want health providers to screen adults who may have a risk for HIV so that they can be properly counselled on what to do next.”

He continued: “In the Philippines, HIV testing is not done like how they’re doing it in other countries. Only some get themselves tested. The only way it can be done is when it is being offered, especially to people who are at risk.”

PLWHAs (persons living with HIV and AIDS) are currently protected by Republic Act 8504, or the Philippines AIDS Prevention and Control Act. All government agencies, medical institutions and individuals are mandated to keep all information regarding PLWHAs confidential. A person or institution found violating this law faces penalties that include imprisonment from two months to four years, and revocation of their licenses and permits.

There is still no permanent cure for HIV and AIDS, but there are ARVs (antiretroviral drugs) available to help slow down the growth and spread of the virus.

The Philippine government is providing free access to ARVs to PLWHAs. PhilHealth allots P30,000 per year for its PLWHA members to cover diagnostics, medications and other hospital needs.

“Some people may think that it’s [sort of] okay to have HIV since the government is giving free medications and that these medications will prolong their lives,” Tayag observed. “Don’t ever think that because for these medications to work, you have to religiously take them for life… all of these have side effects if you do not adhere to the correct ways of how to take them.”

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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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Five media personalities honored as ‘rainbow defenders’

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VERA Files and Yahoo Philippines | 22 March 2014

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Margarita-Holmes“Gay people are no different from straight people in terms of their needs.”

In making this statement celebrated advice columnist Dr. Margarita Go-Singco Holmes said she was not “purposely” advocating for gay rights. She was merely expressing her belief based on research and latest studies on homosexuality.

Such statement became a recurring message of her widely-read advice column “BodyMind,” published in the Manila Times in 1989. Gay men were among the first readers who wrote to seek her advice.

“Many letters were from adolescents who were seriously considering suicide because they believed that God would punish them for their ‘abnormality.’ I was furious and wanted to explain the difference between the opinion of some moralists and what current research said about homosexuality,” Dr. Holmes said.

Dr. Holmes, a psychologist, was one of the five winners of the first Bahaghari Awards launched by Outrage Magazine, the only LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) magazine in the country.  The other winners as announced by the magazine on March 10 were: multi-awarded broadcast journalists Cheche Lazaro and Jessica Soho, University of the Philippines professor Solita “Winnie” Monsod, and singer-actress Lea Salonga.

The award is conferred on media personalities identified by Outrage Magazine, with the help of select LGBT organizations, as having made efforts to educate and inform the public about the struggle of LGBTs for equal rights.

CheChe-LazaroLazaro, another awardee, helped provide positive media exposure to LGBT Filipinos. It was in the 1990s when she made a special report on the first-ever solidarity march in the Philippines (and in Asia). Since then, Lazaro has continued to cover and report stories on the plight of the LGBT community.

“Like any other issues facing our society, our intention as media practitioners is to clarify, inform and give our audience information that is based on facts. Many times, our understanding of issues are based on wrong information or a lack of it as well as biased perceptions,” Lazaro said. “The challenge of telling a good story is to get all the facts right, to present both sides of the issue and be fair to all parties concerned.”

Today, Lazaro produces a monthly documentary that airs on ABS-CBN. It tackles pressing issues in the country like LGBT issues along with the pork barrel scam and election automation, among other things.

Winnie-MonsodMonsod, more popularly known as “Mareng Winnie” has been an analyst in Philippine media for more than three decades. She focused on the problems the Philippine government has been facing throughout the years.

In 2012, Monsod tackled an important issue troubling many members of the LGBT community—HIV. She attempted to answer the question why HIV continues to be a problem in the Philippines, and stressed the importance of self-awareness of people’s behaviors to clearly grasp the risks of HIV.

“I did not actually see it as an LGBT issue,” she said. “I saw it as a human rights issue.” As such, “it was not my intention to advocate for LGBT rights.”

Lea-Salonga

Salonga, who has been making waves in the international scene with her countless appearances in the world of theater continuously making Filipinos proud, has become vocal about her pro-LGBT stance.

In her column “Backstory,” published in Philippine Daily Inquirer in March 2013, she wrote: “I spend much of my time around gay people. Some of it is purely by circumstance, but a lot is by choice.”  She added that “it’s time to think of gay people differently.”

Salonga also stressed, “That’s what gay people ultimately are—men and women on this adventure we call life, navigating it with much uncertainty, fear, anxiety and hope.”

She is also active in the social media, confronting issues that are LGBT-phobic.

For multi-awarded broadcast journalist Soho, LGBT issues are deemed a regular issue that deserves proper reportage and airtime.

In her investigative news magazine shows on GMA-7 like “Brigada Siete,” “i-Witness,” and “State of the Nation,” Soho highlighted and mainstreamed the issues of the LGBT community.

Jessica-Soho

Soho also discussed intersecting issues on sexuality, sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression, thus, giving the viewers a closer glimpse of what it’s like to be an LGBT in a country where discrimination is still happening.

The five Bahaghari winners were chosen based on the following criteria: fairness, accuracy, inclusive representations, and most significantly, the impact of their efforts in the community.

“Saying that giving credit where it’s due may now be considered cliché, but the thought remains the same: best practices need to be emphasized as they could help influence other endeavors attempting to do good,” said Michael David C. Tan, editor in chief of Outrage Magazine.

Outrage Magazine,  which Tan established in 2007, initially focused on  coverage of LGBT issues and events in the Philippines. Through the years, the magazine also launched several LGBT-related projects, including photographic campaigns like the “I dare to care about equality” that coincided with the annual celebration of International Day Against Homophobia held on May 17 and “No different” which was part of the Transgender Day of Remembrance on Nov. 20; and established an organization (Bahaghari Center) that focuses on LGBT research, education and advocacy, among other things.

 

 

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

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Tips from experts on how to achieve financial stability

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VERA Files and Yahoo Philippines | 22 January 2014

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In life, it takes more than just talent and skill to succeed.

As important as physical and emotional health is financial stability.

ABS-CBN News Channel’s, On The Money (airs on ABS-CBN News Channel every day at 3:30pm ) recently gathered a group of financial planners to share their expertise in managing personal finances.

Online definition of personal financial planning is “a process of determining an individual’s financial goals, purposes in life and life’s priorities, and after considering his resources, risk profile and current lifestyle, to detail a balanced and realistic plan to meet those goals.”

Registered financial planner Alvin Tabañag advises to start with the children. It’s like hitting two birds with one stone because teaching children about managing their money properly will also force parents to be also more responsible when it comes to their finances.

“Even if you can afford it as a parent, do not give in to their every demand. If it’s something that they can really live without, then it’s not important, then do not give it right away. You can ask your children to save for it and just wait, instead of just buying on impulse. It’s a life lesson kids should learn,” Tabañag said.

Book author Marvin Germo, who is also a registered financial planner came up with an acronym for his personal finance tip: S.T.O.C.K.S.

Spending on a budgetGermo said that setting a budget before you spend on something can help you control your finances.

Throwback. Don’t be ashamed to recycle the gifts that were given to you, especially if it will not be useful for you.

Opportunities. Take any and all opportunities that will come your way because it’s always a way to increase your cash flow.

Cash is king. Cash gives you the position to invest and even save you in times of emergencies.

Knock off debt. Debt is a big killer. It’s always better to pay off your debt in full before you save, invest or go into anything else.

Start planning. Start out your year, 2014, with a goal. You need to put a name to every peso; is it for your retirement, is it for your investment, is it for you?

Another registered financial planner, Rienzie Biolena, stressed the importance of investing in one’s self.

“It’s the most overlooked, in terms of investments,” Biolena said adding that, “When you invest in yourself, you increase your knowledge, your capability, to earn and expand your resources, and also, you will be able to manage your assets properly.”

Attending seminars and conferences, reading personal finance books, searching the web, and watching personal finance programs are examples of investing in one’s self, Biolena said.

“Nowadays, people are spending like 30-40,000 for a gadget. My question for them is, how much are they spending on themselves to develop themselves?” Biolena asked.

Seasoned financial planner and ANC’s On The Money resident financial advisor, Salve Duplito, stressed the importance of a personal financial plan.

Duplito said making a financial plan is one of the best things you can do for yourself. “It doesn’t have to be all these very highfaluting financial plans. Just make sure all the details are there; your investment goals, your goals for yourselves, what you will do from now until that time when you need to retire, etc.,” she explained.

Duplito also said that having a financial plan helps you track your expenses and keeps you focused. Without a plan, it’s easy to get sidetracked by all the unnecessary things one wants to buy.

“Financial planning involves cash management, investment planning and estate planning. It should start with your goals and steps (created by you) to help you reach your goals,” Duplito said.

 

 

 

(The author is executive producer of “On The Money.” VERA Files is put out by veteran journalists taking a deeper look at current issues. Vera is Latin for “true.”

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2013 LGBT Pride March: counting winnings and losses

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VERA Files and Yahoo Philippines | 10 December 2013

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Text and photos by Patrick King Pascual, VERA Files

Just as loud as the colors of the banners they waved, were their impassioned chants of “Walang masama, walang masama, walang masama sa pagiging bakla! (There is nothing wrong with being gay!)”

The 2013 Metro Manila Pride Celebration, held in Malate last December 7, attended by about a thousand showed that they gay community in the Philippines has come a long way in their struggle for the most basic in a democracy: equality.

“It’s important for the LGBT community to celebrate Pride, because this is an event that highlights the successes and the challenges the community has achieved in the past year,” Michael David Tan, founder of Outrage Magazine, the only LGBT magazine in the Philippines and Bahaghari Center for LGBT Research, Education and Advocacy.

LGBT stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual and Transgender.

With the theme, “Strength in Colors”, Tan said this year’s Pride March “is a reminder to everyone that we have achieved a lot to enjoy equal rights, at the same time, it’s still a reminder for the entire community, that there is still a lot to be done.”

The Pride March started in the United States 44 years ago in the United States to commemorate the spontaneous protest on June 28, 1969 over the police raid of Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in Greenwich Village in New York.

The organisers said the Pride March would be an annual reminder for the gay community “to be more relevant, reach a greater number of people, and encompass the ideas and ideals of the larger struggle” for their fundamental human rights.

In the Philippines, the first Pride Parade was held on June 26, 1994 initiated by Rev. Fr. Richard Mickley, an American pastor of the Metropolitan Community Church with the support of PROGAY Philippines.

It was also the first Pride March in Asia.

At last Saturday’s parade, Mickley basked:“We have no reason to not celebrate our being equal – as what Nelson Mandela said- with everyone else, when everyone else try to tell us that we don’t belong in the society.”

Naomi Fontanos, executive director of Gender and Development Advocates (GANDA) Filipinas, one of the co-organizers of Metro Manila Pride March 2013, said, “We have an evolving movement. Every year we have successes and at the same time losses. The yearly Pride is our chance to highlight those successes and to take stack of our losses.”

They count in their favor the growing number of LGBTs in public office. At the recent barangay elections, Jhana dela Cruz, a transgender, was elected barangay captain of Iba in Hagonoy, Bulacan.

They also count as achievement the passage of anti-discrimination ordinances in the cities of Angeles, Bacolod, Cebu, Davao and Quezon. An anti-discrimination bill has been filed again in Congress. Government has improved its efforts to fight HIV and AIDS.

Christian-LGBTs

Christian LGBTs

There were more than 50 organizations who attended last Saturday’s celebration. Each of the organizations highlighted their specific cause. Akbayan Party-list, for instance, is pushing for the Anti-Discrimination Bill. During the parade, the members were chanting chanting, “Walang masama sa pagiging bakla, Anti-Discrimination Bill ipasa na! Now na!

The Filipino Freethinkers on the other hand, carried placards with a sign “We March for Those who Can’t…” showing the flags of the countries who do not the support the LGBT community like Brunei, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Malaysia, Uganda.

Cultural activist Carlos Celdran said it was just fitting to have the gay parade back in Manila. “The LGBT community has always been a part of Malate and the downtown Manila atmosphere so we hope to have them come back and celebrate their identity here year after year. I’m not here to judge other local governments but all I can say is, in the city of Manila, we are very queer friendly.”

 

 

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

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AIDS education should be beyond World AIDS Day

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VERA Files and Yahoo Philippines | 01 December 2013

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Red-RibbonThe first day of December is World AIDS Day.

People observe World AIDS Day remembering the people who have lost their lives because of HIV and AIDS. Remembering means learning about the virus and the disease.

HIV stands for the human immunodeficiency virus that infects human being and leads to problems with their immune system.

AIDS is Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome is a disease caused by HIV to the body’s immune system.

As of October this year, the Department of Health (DOH) has recorded a total number 4,072 HIV reported cases; 3,874 of which are males and 198 are female; and a total of 272 AIDS cases.

It was also reported by DOH that 94% of the recorded HIV cases this year were infected through sexual contact, 6% through needle sharing among injecting drug users and less than 1% through mother to child transmission.

The theme of the World AIDS Day celebration is (still) “Getting to Zero”. “We are expecting all the countries, especially the one with rising numbers of HIV cases, to adopt innovative preventive approaches, to conduct a more through services when it comes to assistance and healthcare, and to improve the status of human rights awareness to alleviate discrimination and stigma,” the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV and AIDS, or UNAID stated in a press release.

“If you have stigma, then people wouldn’t talk about it. If you have stigma, it’s very difficult to give services because they’re afraid that they’re going to end up as the topic of gossips, so they’d rather hide instead of doing what they’re supposed to do,” Department of Health Assistant Secretary  Janette Garin on the prevalence of HIV/AIDS in the country.

Garin said there is still the misconception that only prostitutes are the most likely to get infected with HIV. “In reality, they’re even more protected than most people,” she said.

The Assistant Secretary expressed concern over the increasing number of men who have sex with other men referred to as MSMs infected with HIV. “A little on the drug users – those who are injecting drugs, but the increasing number of MSMs being infected is very significant. The homosexual population in our country are very productive,” she said.

Compared to other countries in Asia, the increasing number of HIV cases among MSMs in the Philippines are much higher; with only 19% in Malaysia, 15% in Sri Lanka and only 7% in Indonesia.

Garin said the Philippines is currently receiving support from the Global Fund (GF) to take care of the people with HIV and AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.

Through the Global Fund,HIV and AIDS treatment hubs in our country are able to provide free consultations to doctors; free laboratory testing including the CD4 testing, a blood test that measures the number of CD4 cells in a person with HIV or AIDS and also an indicator of one’s health; free preventive treatments to possible opportunistic infections; and most importantly, free access to antiretroviral drugs (ARVs), a series of medicine that help control the continuous escalation of the HIV virus.

But the Global Fund is expected to end next year.

“The DOH already filed an appeal to the World Health Organization and we’re hoping that it will be granted and that the funding would still continue even beyond 2014,” Garin said adding that without GF the DOH budget “will really not be enough because antiretrovirals are really expensive.”

Garin said a person living with HIV or PLHIV can avail health benefit packages from PhilHealth apart from the benefits they can get from the Global Fund.

PhilHealth CEO and president Alexander Padilla said it’s mandatory in the Philippine law that everyone should be covered by PhilHealth. “Since PLHIVs are covered by PhilHealth, we have a special benefit package for them, part of the millennium development goal benefit packages. For the HIV disease, we have a P30,000 package for one year or P7,500 per quarter.”

“They can easily avail our benefits, all they have to do is to just follow the process of application and pay their contributions. If they’re also worried with issues of confidentiality, we are bound by the law to keep everything private,” Padilla explained.

Garin also added that the DOH is also looking at the possibilities of discussing the policies of  Health Maintenance Organizations (HMO) when it comes to their HIV-positive members, “It’s being debated with PhilHealth, just like in HMOs, when they find out that you’re HIV-positive, they’re going to remove your membership, which is not supposed to be the case.”

Republic Act 8504, also known as the Philippine AIDS Prevention and Control Act, protects PLHIVs against detrimental actions and situations from companies, the community and from other institutions.

The DOH and PhilHealth reminds everyone that “people should be aware of HIV and AIDS even beyond World AIDS Day,” and that “we owe it to ourselves and to the community to be properly educated about the disease.”

 

 

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

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