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7 B.S. (or at least half-truths) you hear about HIV in the Philippines

For Michael David C. Tan, “a big part of why the Philippines’ HIV situation doesn’t seem to be getting better is because of the continuing use of ‘lies’ (okay, fine, let’s just call them half-truths!) in dealing with HIV.” As such, it’s time to debunk long-held beliefs that aren’t helping deal with this issue.

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PHOTO TAKEN DURING AN OUTREACH PROGRAM TO PLHIV OF THE PROJECT RED RIBBON

In 1998, when Shola Luna started her antiretroviral therapy (ART), she had to take 30 tablets in the morning and another 30 tablets at night. It can be said that things are not as “bad” as they were in the early days of HIV. Nowadays, when compared to the early plight of the likes of Shola, many Filipinos living with HIV (for instance) need only take one antiretroviral (ARV) tablet a day.

But this is not to say that everything is now rosy, considering that: the country registers approximately 31 new HIV cases EVERY DAY; less than half of PLHIVs in the Philippines access ART (in June 2017, that’s 21,035 of the 45,023 total reported cases); and those getting infected with HIV are getting younger (again in June, half of 1,013 cases reported were from the 25-34 year age group while 32% were youth aged 15-24 years).

I advance the position that a big part of why the Philippines’ HIV situation doesn’t seem to be getting better is because of the continuing use of “lies” (okay, fine, let’s just call them half-truths!) in dealing with HIV.

1. There’s a law that protects persons living with HIV

Yes, we have RA 8504, which – aside from mandating efforts to stop the spread of HIV in the Philippines – actually offers SOME (that’s in CAPS for emphasis) protection against discrimination of PLHIVs.
BUT (again in CAPS, for emphasis) the law itself is FLAWED, not to mention that having this law doesn’t mean it is actually being properly implemented.

Issues with it being flawed include: not allowing minors to get tested for HIV sans parental/guardian’s consent, even if the age of those getting infected in the Philippines are getting younger; only medical professionals who disclose one’s HIV status is punishable; lack of PLHIV representation in the national body (that’s the Philippine National AIDS Council) that is also supposed to look after their issues; and lack of clarity re bodies responsible re implementation (or non-implementation) of the law’s mandates (for instance, insurance companies still discriminate sans sanctions).

Issues with implementation are numerous, including: abundance of agencies that mandate HIV testing even if this is against the law – e.g. some are government offices and employment companies; absence of bodies PLHIVs can actually approach if/when violations happen; non-formation of Local AIDS Councils in local government units (with the devolving of healthcare to local governments); and so on…
So consider having a law as a good thing; but that it’s largely toothless makes it… largely inadequate.

HIV stigma and discrimination and official indifference?

2. Social media caused the surge of HIV

Eric Tayag of the Department of Health was one of the earliest to stress that easy access to social media networks (online and app-based, like Grindr, PlanetRomeo, Blued and even the likes of Facebook and Twitter) helped cause the surge of HIV infections in the country.

I’d say this is true… BUT only to the extent that technology made hooking up easier (and with more sexual partners, one’s risk of exposing oneself to STIs increases).

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I contend, nonetheless, that this is also a questionable blanket statement because even if you are not into monogamy but practice safer sex, your risk of getting infected may be lower than someone who is in a monogamous relationship but: A) does not know his/her HIV status; B) have had unsafe sex prior to the relationship he/she has now; or – if one is HIV+ – C) has issues with his/her meds so his/her VL is in doubt.

In the end, educating people on how to stay negative (or if positive, how they won’t infect others) is the BETTER approach, instead of the admittedly catchier extensive claim of the Internet as (solely) blame-worthy for the spread of HIV.

3. Most affected by HIV are men who have sex with men (MSM)

Many people will not necessarily agree with me here; and they have every right opposing me. After all, data shows that the population most affected by HIV in the Philippines involves MSM. For instance, in June 2017, of the 1,013 Filipinos who were newly infected with HIV, most (93%) were male.

BUT for those willing to hear me out, my position is largely based on anecdotes we’ve encountered while interviewing (and even attending training) for articles developed for Outrage Magazine.

For instance, I have spoken with HIV counselors in Cagayan de Oro City and in Davao City who alleged that they were blatantly told by agencies implementing HIV-related programs in their localities to “only test MSM.” I personally attended a government-sanctioned training (to give community-based HIV testing) where the participants were told to “only use the rapid test kit to MSM, and NOT women (even if these women wanted to get tested)”. We also heard of populations (e.g. women in prison) who want to get tested, but aren’t tested.

So YES, existing figures show that MSM “drive” the spread of HIV in the Philippines. But I’d argue that THIS DOES NOT SHOW THE WHOLE PICTURE.

On this, note that we refer to the key affected population as “men who have sex with men”. Meaning, these are men who are not necessarily gay or bi, but are hetero-identifying men who just happen to have (had) sex with other men (e.g. DOTA boys, sex workers, masseurs who give extra service). Any other time, they will (also) have sex with women (they’re hetero, after all). So that if they have HIV, they may also infect these women they have sex with. Now, if we don’t test women (particularly those who want to get tested), our efforts are lacking…

4. Antiretroviral medicine is free

You’d often hear NGO workers, and EVEN GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS claim that Filipinos should get tested to know their HIV status because – if they turn out to be positive – meds are given out for free anyway.

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Let’s call this a B.S.

Because the general rule is for a PLHIV to pay PhilHealth (if voluntary, this totals to P2,400 per year) first before he/she can get the ART. Specifically, 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. To those who are enrolled in PhilHealth, P30,000 is allocated per PLHIV per year, or P7,500 every quarter.

There are “exceptions” – e.g. for some, their fees are paid by local governments (say the mayor), NGOs, faith-based organizations, et cetera. But again, as a general rule, payment happened before the service (including the meds) is accessed. Meaning, you have to first cough up the money to access the life-saving meds (and HIV-related services).

This is important to point out here because:

A) Telling people outright that the meds are ALL FREE is a lie; and

B) Many PLHIVs consider themselves “lucky” for being “served” by treatment hubs, when the fact of the matter is that they paid for that “service” and therefore have every right to complain if that same service sucks.

5. PrEP is now available in the Philippines

Here, it’s a yes and no.

YES because it is being piloted, with a very select few chosen for the pilot.

So NO, too, because IT STILL ISN’T AVAILABLE FOR EVERYONE WHO WANTS/NEEDS IT (e.g. opposite sex couple who want to get pregnant, and those in serodifferent relationships). So if you’re a fisherman or a farmer somewhere in Visayas or Mindanao (and yes, there have been reported cases of HIV infection in these populations!), PrEP isn’t available for you (though for that matter, so is ARV).

What’s ironically funny for me is this: PrEP was already proven to be effective, so why the continuing delay in just rolling it out in the Philippines?

As a side note here: Do you know that even post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) is still not (widely) available in the Philippines?

6. There’s no money for HIV

A common message we hear in HIV advocacy is that there’s not enough money to deal with a burgeoning problem.

I say: Yeah, right!

When we have NGO workers who: A) get to travel the world (for leisure at that!) using (most of) the money supposed to benefit people living with HIV; B) can afford to buy high-end gadgets (e.g. Apple Watch, think of the latest iPhone units, including iPhone X) and luxury goods (e.g. LV, Coach, et cetera) from a “low” salary; C) can afford to pay for cosmetic surgery from the same “low” salary; D) can buy properties (e.g. car/s and condos); and E) have “meetings” in – say – Boracay (and then present the same as an “achievement” to donor agencies), then we know THERE IS MONEY if not FOR, then at least IN HIV.

The emphasis, therefore, is NOT on whether there is money; but on WHERE THE MONEY GOES.
Of course, it’s easy to blame the government’s continuing seeming non-focus on HIV (e.g. remember those ARV procurement issues that happened because of non-payment of taxes?).

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But I’d also argue that part of the problem are some donor agencies that partner only with “big” NGOs, and then solely base indicators of “success” on reports given to them, as if these can’t be (or aren’t) faked.

For instance, there are many (admittedly smaller) HIV-centric NGOs in the Philippines that DO NOT HAVE MONEY to implement their projects, and yet there are many (bigger) non-HIV NGOs that get funds to run HIV-specific projects. The main difference is the “established systems” (e.g. accounting) of the bigger NGOs. A common practice is, therefore, for the bigger NGOs to get the money, and then hire (and pay less) the smaller NGOs to implement the projects for them. In a way, they become the “middleman” who gets “cut” not necessarily because they know what they’re doing, but solely for holding the power of the purse…

If these donor agencies really wanna help, I’d say EMPOWER THE SMALLER NGOs/CBOs by giving them the money (including to train their people to become competitive with the bigger NGOs) and JUST GET RID OF THE (profiteering) “middlemen”…

Another senseless indicator of success, for me, is the “noise” made in social media. For instance, I’ve attended a presscon of a well-funded “effort” to encourage people to get tested for HIV by using celebrities. The budget went to these celebrities (some even had the gall to complain that they were getting “peanuts” from the project), the photographers/videographers, PR firm, et cetera. After the project (and the money was spent), actually counting people who got tested because of the effort was sidelined because, as was said, “that’s not an indicator for success”.

Again, to emphasize, there is money for HIV. It just isn’t necessarily getting spent where it ought to be.

7. The HIV “community” is unified – NOT!

When somebody from the HIV community claims to speak for the entire HIV community, he/she is bullshitting you. This includes “speaking on behalf of the HIV community in amending RA 8504”, or giving citations to very select people who are supposed to have helped HIV advocacy in the Philippines (and even if their roles in HIV advocacy are questionable).

Remember that study about thinking twice before talking about the “LGBT community”? Yes, there would be similarities in the experiences (e.g. the need for ARV). But the same principle holds true here – i.e. this community is so diverse that speaking for it AS A WHOLE is not only erroneous, but ill-advised.

The first step to doing something about anything is acknowledging the truths (and lies, for that matter) about it. And so for me, here are the BASIC truths/half-truths/lies we need to tackle when discussing HIV in the Philippines…

The founder of Outrage Magazine, Michael David dela Cruz Tan is a graduate of Bachelor of Arts (Communication Studies) of the University of Newcastle in New South Wales, Australia. Though he grew up in Mindanao (particularly Kidapawan and Cotabato City in Maguindanao), even attending Roman Catholic schools there, he "really, really came out in Sydney," he says, so that "I sort of know what it's like to be gay in a developing and a developed world". Mick can: photograph, do artworks with mixed media, write (DUH!), shoot flicks, community organize, facilitate, lecture, research (with pioneering studies under his belt)... this one's a multi-tasker, who is even conversant in Filipino Sign Language (FSL). Among others, Mick received the Catholic Mass Media Awards (CMMA) in 2006 for Best Investigative Journalism. Cross his path is the dare (read: It won't be boring).

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What it’s like to be trans in Taiwan

Tamsin Wu visits gay-friendly Taiwan, where she meets Abbygail Wu, founder of Intersex, Transgender and Transsexual People Care Association (ISTSCare), who said that the country is still failing its LGBTQ citizens, and particularly lags in promoting trans rights.

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Photo detail by Thomas Tucker from Unsplash.com

Taiwan may be the most gay-friendly country in Asia, but according to Abbygail Wu, founder of Intersex, Transgender and Transsexual People Care Association (ISTSCare), the country still receives a “failing mark” when it comes to LGBTQ equality. Transgender people, in particular, usually bear the brunt of sex-based discrimination.

ISTSCare has a one-woman 24/7 hotline service. Abby has dealt with calls concerning struggles related to suicide attempts, job insecurity or homelessness, and even domestic violence. To provide support and assistance to hotline callers, ISTSCare also partners with NGOs and other LGBTQ-related organizations.

Aside from the hotline service, the organization does its advocacy work through protests, by maintaining an online presence, as well as directly communicating with political figures and trans-friendly journalists to rouse awareness and discussion on transgender and intersex issues.

ISTSCare in Taiwan

In 2014, four years after the first official notice regarding gender reassignment procedures in Taiwan was issued, the Ministry of Interior (MOI), with the support of the Ministry of Health and Welfare (MOHW), announced the easement of legal requirements on changing gender identity. MOI promised that it would immediately work on letting transgender citizens change their gender marker without having to go through rigorous psychiatric assessments, sex reassignment surgery (SRS) and parental approval. However, MOI backtracked since then.

“MOI, which is handling the national ID cards, they said there are still a lot of research to do about the gender issue and they try to get some professional opinions, but MOHW already said this is not a medical issue, it’s an internal affair issue. So MOI, they’re just under the pressure and paused a lot of meetings… and now the issue is still under research for four years,” Abby lamented. “We’re the first Asian country to pass the bill but it’s not implemented.”

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Despite MOHW already stating that medical professionals should not have a say when it comes to determining one’s gender identification, transgender citizens are still presently forced to consider SRS. Besides that, they are also required to seek the expensive involvement of psychiatrists and, outrageously, the consent of their parents. Otherwise, their gender identity cannot be legally recognized.

Abby clarified that not all transgender people want the help of doctors to validate their gender identity. Hence, SRS is especially discriminatory towards transgender citizens who do not wish to undergo surgery. “What is gender? Is it just based on our anatomy? Or is it in our behavior? In our mind? Or in the way we dress?… There are a lot of factors that influence what gender one identify as, but society focus on the least publicly visible aspect – our sex organ.”

Abby continued, “There are risks to surgery and that is one of the reasons why not all transgenders want to go through it. And also, they may question themselves, ‘Do I really want to have surgery or is it just for the sake of getting this ID?’”

Abby standing beside the transgender pride flag.
Photo credit: Ketty W. Chen

“One day before the presidential election, I went to the DPP (Democratic Progressive Party) headquarters to talk with the Department of Woman. I told them, ‘tomorrow is already the day for voting, are you going on stage and advocate for transgender rights? This has been neglected for the past 3-4 years. Then they just told me, ‘this requires social consensus’… I went out of that meeting deeply upset,” Abby shared.

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With lack of funding, community support and societal understanding of trans issues, how could transgender rights obtain social consensus when this feat requires acceptance and approval from the status quo in order for the relevant social change to take effect? Why should the rights and well-being of a minority group fall in the hands of the majority? Currently, both the public and the government possess inadequate knowledge in dealing with transgender issues, which exacerbates the struggles transgender citizens face.

Prejudice against transgender folks can also be felt within LGBTQ communities. On one hand, some non-transgender members of the LGBTQ community question the gender identity of trans people. On the other hand, there is also internalized transphobia.

“A lot of transgender are more binary [in the way they see gender]. They think a man should act and look a certain way and that a woman should act and look a certain way… ISTSCare does not condone this kind of thinking,” Abby said.

Trans activist Abbygail Wu and her partner in a protest for their marriage right.
Photo credit: Ketty W. Chen

When asked why ISTSCare is run by only three people (including Abby and her partner), she shared that many transgender citizens in Taiwan find it difficult to prioritize doing advocacy work because their life situation is oftentimes mentally and emotionally taxing. On top of having to deal with an unsupportive family, they often face discrimination in the job market. Hence, there’s a high level of difficulty for them to get a good job, gain professional working experience and make a decent living, let alone have the financial resources to go through SRS. As of now, they’re in this loop of societal discrimination and economic vulnerability with no recourse.

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Another reason for the lack of transgender-focused activists in Taiwan is attributed to the problem of privilege. Abby adds that well-off transgender citizens tend to be exclusive in their social group. Post-surgery and after assimilating in heteronormative society, they also tend to ignore the struggles faced by less fortunate transgender citizens. They would rather not get associated for fear of being found out and face discrimination. Albeit joining Pride Parades, they are at other times nowhere to be found when it comes to advocating for transgender rights.

Abby clarified that not all transgender people want the help of doctors to validate their gender identity.
Photo credit: Abbygail Wu

Abby said that ISTSCare’s main goal right now is to push for a non-discriminatory, comprehensive gender identity law in Taiwan.

“We hope to be like Argentina. Just file [required] papers to the courthouse and they will assign the legal gender change. No need to go through any kind of medical process.”

Having a well thought out gender identity law may not help solve all transgender issues and alleviate them from all of their struggles. However, getting the said law done and implemented right would be one significant progress for the recognition of the human rights and dignity of, not only transgender citizens, but also intersex and non-binary people.

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Chance of HIV-positive person with undetectable viral load transmitting the virus to a sex partner is scientifically zero

The PARTNER 2 study found no transmissions between gay couples where the HIV-positive partner had a viral load under 200 copies/ml – even though there were nearly 77,000 acts of condomless sex between them.

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Confirmed and needs to be stressed: The chance of any HIV-positive person with an undetectable viral load transmitting the virus to a sexual partner is scientifically equivalent to zero.

This is according to researchers who released at #AIDS2018 the final results from the PARTNER study. Results originally announced in 2014 from the first phase, PARTNER 1, already indicated that “Undetectable equals Untransmittable” (U=U). But while the first study was lauded in tackling vaginal sex, the statistical certainty of the result did not convince everyone, particularly in the case of gay men, or those who engage in anal sex.

But now, PARTNER 2, the second phase, only recruited gay couples. The PARTNER study recruited HIV serodifferent couples (one partner positive, one negative) at 75 clinical sites in 14 European countries. They tested the HIV-negative partners every six to 12 months for HIV, and tested viral load in the HIV-positive partners. Both partners also completed behavioral surveys. In cases of HIV infection in the negative partners, their HIV was genetically analyzed to see if it came from their regular partner.

And the results indicate “a precise rate of within-couple transmission of zero” for gay men as well as for heterosexuals.

The study found no transmissions between gay couples where the HIV-positive partner had a viral load under 200 copies/ml – even though there were nearly 77,000 acts of condomless sex between them.

PARTNER is not the only study about viral load and infectiousness. Last year, the Opposites Attract study also found no transmissions in nearly 17,000 acts of condomless anal sex between serodifferent gay male partners. This means that no transmission has been seen in about 126,000 occasions of sex, if this study is combined with PARTNER 1 and 2.

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While this is good news overall in the fight against HIV, related issues continue to plague HIV-related efforts, particularly in countries like the Philippines.

Why aren’t we talking about ‘undetectable = untransmittable’ in the Philippines?

For instance, aside from the overall silence on U=U (undetectable = untransmittable), use of anti-retroviral therapy (ART) continue to be low. As of May 2016, when the country already had 34,158 total reported cases of HIV infection, Filipinos living with HIV who are on anti-retroviral therapy (i.e. those who are taking meds) only numbered 14,356.

The antiretroviral medicines in use in the Philippines also continue to be limited, with some already phased out in developed countries.

All the same, this is considered a significant stride, with science unequivocally backing the scientific view helmed in 2008 by Dr. Pietro Vernazza who spearheaded the scientific view that viral suppression means HIV cannot be passed via a statement in the Bulletin of Swiss Medicine.

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‘God loves LGBTQIA people; so do we.’

A Christian church wants members of the LGBTQIA community to know that “they are loved by God.” Val Paminiano, pastor of the Freedom in Christ Ministries, says that “we would like to apologize on behalf of the mainstream churches that condemn the LGBTQIA community. Sorry for hurting you; (and) even for using the Bible to hurt you.”

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God’s love is for all.

“(We want the members of the LGBTQIA community to know that) they are loved by God,” said Val Paminiano, pastor of the Freedom in Christ Ministries, which has been making its presence known particularly in LGBTQIA Pride events to highlight its Christian anti-anti-LGBTQIA position.

Approximately 80% of Filipinos are Roman Catholic, and the church’s teachings continue to dominate public life in the Philippines. As it stands, church’s teachings re LGBTQIA people still often revolve around the “hate the sin, love the sinner” statement, so that LGBTQIA people are tolerated so long as they do not express their being LGBTQIA.

This “hate the sin, love the sinner” stance seems to be reflected in dominant perspectives re LGBTQIA people in the Philippines.

In 2013, for instance, in a survey titled “The Global Divide on Homosexuality” conducted by the US-based Pew Research Center, 73% of adult Filipinos agreed with the statement that “homosexuality should be accepted by society”. The percentage of Filipinos who said society should not accept gays fell from 33% in 2002 to 26% that year.

But more recently, in June 2018, a Social Weather Stations (SWS) survey showed that a big percentage of Filipinos still oppose civil unions. When 1,200 respondents across the country were asked whether or not they agree with the statement “there should be a law that will allow the civil union of two men or two women”, at least 61% of the respondents said they would oppose a bill that would legalize this in the country. Among them, 44% said they strongly disagree, while 17% said they somewhat disagree. Meanwhile, 22% said they would support it, while 16% said they were still “undecided”.

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For Paminiano, “we would like to apologize on behalf of the mainstream churches that condemn the LGBTQIA community. Sorry for hurting you; (and) even for using the Bible to hurt you.”

Churches continue to be lambasted for not changing with time – perhaps most obvious in the treatment of LGBT people of those with faith. But the number of denominations openly discussing – and even coming up with statements of support of – LGBTQIA issues is increasing.

Finding room for #queerinfaith

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All hail the beauty queen

A glimpse into the life of a trans woman beauty pageant enthusiast, Ms Mandy Madrigal of Transpinay of Antipolo Organization.

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This is part of #KaraniwangLGBT, which Outrage Magazine officially launched on July 26, 2015 to offer vignettes of LGBT people/living, particularly in the Philippines, to give so-called “everyday people” – in this case, the common LGBT people – that chance to share their stories.
As Outrage Magazine editor Michael David C. Tan says: “All our stories are valid – not just the stories of the ‘big shots’. And it’s high time we start telling all our stories.”

“I feel accepted.”

That, said Mandy Madrigal, is the main appeal of joining beauty pageants.

“I feel so loved when I join pageants. Especially when people clap for us, cheer for us. And when you win… it (just) feels different.”

FINDING ACCEPTANCE

Assigned male at birth, Mandy was in primary school when her father asked her if “I was a boy or a girl”. That question scared her, she admitted, because – as the only boy among six kids – she thought she did not really have “any choice”. “So I answered my father, ‘I am a boy’.”

But Mandy’s father asked her the same question again; and this time, “I said, yes, I am gay.”

No, Mandy is NOT gay; she is a transpinay, and a straight one at that. But the misconceptions about the binary remains – i.e. in this case, she is associated with being gay mainly because she did not identify with the sex assigned her at birth.

In a way, Mandy said she’s lucky because “I believe he (my father) accepted (me) with his whole heart.”

The rest of her family did, too.

Though – speaking realistically – Mandy said this may be abetted by her “contributions” to the family. “Hindi naman aka basta naging bakla lang (I’m not a ’typical’ gay person),” she said, “na naglalandi lang o sumasali lang ng pageant (who just flirts, or just joins beauty pageants). Instead, Mandy provides financial support to her family by – among others – selling RTW clothes and beauty products. In fact, some of her winnings also go to the family’s coffers. By helping provide them with what they need, “it’s easy for them to accept me as a transgender woman.”

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Growing up, Mandy realized that while “makakapagsinungaling ka sa ibang tao, pero sarili mo, hindi mo maloloko. Kaya mas magandang tanggapin mo ang sarili mo para matanggap ka ng ibang tao (you may be able to lie to others about who you really are, but you can’t lie to yourself. So it’s better to accept your true self so that others will be able to accept you too).”

Mandy was “introduced” to beauty pageants when she was 13 or 14. At that time, a friend asked her to join a pageant; and “I won first runner up.” She never looked backed since, even – at one time – earning as much as P20,000 after winning a title. Like many regular beauconeras (beauty pageant participants), she also heads to distant provinces to compete, largely because – according to her – prizes in provincial competitions tend to be higher. The prize money earned helps one buy more paraphernalia for the next pageants, and – in Mandy’s case – also helps support her family.

Generally speaking, Mandy Madrigal said that “ang tunay na queen ay may malaking puso (a real queen has a big heart).”

FORMING A FAMILY

Beauty pageants are competitions, yes; but for Mandy, pageants also allow the candidates to form bonds as they get close to each other. Pageants, she said, can be a way “na maging close kami, magkaroon ng magagandang bonding… at magkakilala kami (for us to be close, to bond and get to know the others better).”

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Pageants can be costly, Mandy admitted – for instance, “you have to invest,” she said, adding that a candidate needs to be able to provide for herself (instead of just always renting) costumes, swimsuits, casual wear, gowns, and so on.

In a way, therefore, having people who believe in you helps. In Mandy’s case, for instance, a lot of people helped (by providing necessities she needs) because “naniniwala sila na I am a queen inside and out,” she smiled.

But this support can also rack the nerves, particularly when people expect one to win (particularly because of the support given).

One will not always win, of course; and this doesn’t always give one good feelings. In 2017, for instance, Mandy joined Queen of Antipolo, and – after failing to win a crown – she said many people told her she should have won the title, or at least placed among the runners-up. “naguluhan ang utak ko (That confused me),” she said. “‘Bakit ako ang gusto ninyong manalo?’ But that’s when I realized na marami ako na-i-inspire na tao dahil marami nagtitiwala sa akin (I ask, ‘Why do you want me to win?’ But that’s when I realized that I inspire a lot of people, which is why they count on me).”

This gives her confidence; enough to deal with the nervousness that will also allow her to just enjoy any pageant she joins.

A TIME TO SHINE

Mandy believes pageants can help LGBTQI people by providing them a platform to showcase to non-LGBTQI people why “hindi tayo dapat husgahan (we should not be judged).”

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Generally speaking, Mandy said that “ang tunay na queen ay may malaking puso (a real queen has a big heart).”

And she knows that not every pageant is good for every contestant. There will be pageants where you will be crowned the queen, she said, just as there will be pageants where you will lose. But over and above the winning and losing, note “what’s most important: that there’s a lot of people who supported you in a (certain) pageant.”

At the end of the day, “sa lahat ng patimpalak, pagkatandaan natin na merong nananalo at may natatalo. Depende na lang yan sa araw mo. Kung ikaw ay nakatadhanang manalo ay mananalo ka; kung nakatadhanang matalo ay matatalo ka talaga. Yun lang yun. Isipin mo na lang na meron pang araw na darating na mas maganda para sa iyo (in all competitions, remember that there will always be a winner and a loser. It all depends on your luck for the day. If you are fated to win, you will win; if you are fated to lose, you will lose. That’s that. But still remember – even when you lose – that there will always come a day that will be great for you).”

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Iloilo City passes anti-discrimination ordinance on final reading

The city of Iloilo has joined the ranks of local government units (LGUs) with LGBTQI anti-discrimination ordinances (ADOs), with the Sangguniang Panlungsod (SP) unanimously approving its ADO mandating non-discrimination of members of minority sectors including the LGBTQIA community.

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IMAGE DETAIL FROM jahcordova FROM PIXABAY.COM

Pride comes to the “City of Love”.

The city of Iloilo has joined the ranks of local government units (LGUs) with LGBTQI anti-discrimination ordinances (ADOs), with the Sangguniang Panlungsod (SP) unanimously approving its ADO mandating non-discrimination of members of minority sectors including the LGBTQI community.

The ADO was sponsored by Councilor Liezl Joy Zulueta-Salazar, chair of the SP Committee on Women and Family Relations. Councilor Love Baronda helped with the content/provisions of the ordinance.

“Everyone deserves equal protection under the law. This local legislation reinforces the Constitutional rights and the inalienable human rights of everyone to be treated equally,” Zulueta-Salazar said to Outrage Magazine. “It has always been a question of equality versus equity. Your government is a duty-bearer to protect everyone under the law. Moreso those who have time and again, been victims of injustice borne out from bigotry and indifference. That has to change now. Discrimination has no place in the ‘City of Love’.”

The ADO defines acts of discrimination to include: refusal of employment, refusal of admission in schools, refusal of entry in places open to general public, deprivation of abode or quarters, deprivation of the provision of goods and services, subjecting one to ridicule or insult, and doing acts that demeans the dignity and self-respect or a person because of sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, race, color, descent, ethnic origin, and religious beliefs.

Penalties range from P1,000 for the first offense, P2,000 for the second offense and imprisonment of not more than 10 days at the discretion of the court, and P3,000 and 15 days imprisonment on the third offense.

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The ADO also mandates the creation of the anti-discrimination mediation and conciliation board headed by the mayor. This board will initiate the filing of cases against violators.

“Discrimination… violates basic human rights thus making it our duty as public servants to protect our citizens from unwarranted and unfair treatment coming from their fellow citizens, or worse from their own government. We respect and give emphasis to the right of every person because what matters is for us to be humane and to do everything in love,” Baronda said to Outrage Magazine.

Zulueta-Salazar added that “having worked with the marginalized sectors of our society through non-government organizations like the Family Planning Organization of the Philippines Iloilo Chapter and the different barangay local governments in Iloilo City, we have seen how the struggles of the LGBTQI, of the urban poor, of the religious minorities including the Indigenous Peoples displaced in the city. This ordinance is for them, not for special or preferential treatment from their government, but to give them what they truly deserve: a more just and equitable treatment by providing an enabling environment for them to be equally productive members of the society.”

For Zulueta-Salazar, the salient points in the Iloilo ADP may be the same as the other ADOs across the country, “but the one we have here in Iloilo City is a product of hard fought struggle for equality not just for one sector of the society, but generally as a statement that the ‘City of Love’ does not discriminate based on gender, age, race or religion. That in the ‘City of Love’, truly it can be said now that love wins.”

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For Iloilo City-based Rev. Alfred Candid Jaropillo, who heads the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP), the ADO “is a step for the ‘City of Love’ in creating a community where the rights of all its constituents are respected and protected. As a clergy of the UCCP, I commend our government officials for passing the said ordinance (to show that) Iloilo is indeed a safe city for our sisters and brothers coming from the LGBTQI community.”

The Iloilo City Legal Office has 60 days from approval to promulgate the implementing rules and regulations (IRR), while the Public Information Office shall conduct an information drive 30 days from approval. The ordinance takes effect 10 days after its publication in a local newspaper.

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Mandaluyong City passes LGBT anti-discrimination ordinance

With the continuing absence of a national law that will protect the human rights of LGBTQI Filipinos, the city of Mandaluyng passed Ordinance 698, S-2018, which seeks to “uphold the rights of all Filipinos especially those discriminated against based on their sexual orientation, gender identity and expression (SOGIE).”

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IMAGE DETAIL FROM JUDGE FLORENTINO FLORO FROM WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

With the continuing absence of a national law that will protect the human rights of LGBTQI Filipinos (largely – at least for this year – because of a weak political support from the Philippine Senate via the non-leadership on this issue by Senate Pres. Vicente Sotto III and Majority Floor Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri), localized anti-discrimination efforts are again in focus. This time around, the city of Mandaluyng passed Ordinance 698, S-2018, which seeks to “uphold the rights of all Filipinos especially those discriminated against based on their sexual orientation, gender identity and expression (SOGIE).”

With this, it is now “the policy of the Mandaluyong City government to afford equal protection to LGBTQI people as guaranteed by our Constitution and to craft legal legislative measures in support of this aim.”

According to Dindi Tan, secretary general of LGBT Pilipinas, which helped push for the passage of this anti-discrimination ordinance (ADO), said that “the tactic now is to shift from a national lobby to local lobby, which is more pragmatic and feasible given the prevailing political environment in Congress.”

The Mandaluyong City ADO is specific to he LGBTQI community. Other ADOs in other localities lump the LGBTQI community with other minority sectors, including persons with disability (PWDs), seniors, cultural minorities, et cetera. But this city ordinance is specific to LGBTQI people, focusing on sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression.

“We continue to relentlessly lobby for the passage of local ADOs and similar policies such as this one from the Tiger City of Mandaluyong pending the enactment of a national law made for (this) purpose,” Tan said. “We can’t afford to wait forever for the Anti-Discrimination Bill (ADB) to pass in the Senate and the bicam while our LGBTQI sisters and brothers on the ground continue to be the targets of gender-based violence and discrimination.”

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Mandaluyong City’s ADO specifically prohibits such discriminatory acts as: denying or limiting employment-related access; denying access to public programs or services; refusing admission, expelling or dismissing a person from educational institutions due to their SOGIE; subjecting a person to verbal or written abuse; unjust detention/involuntary confinement; denying access to facilities; and illegalizing formation of groups that incite SOGIE-related discrimination.

For the city to attain its goals, activities lined-up include: incorporating LGBTQI activities in Women’t Month celebrations; hosting of seminars in private and public spaces; and month-long Pride celebration in November, culminating on World AIDS Day on December 1.

The ADO also “strongly” encourages the Mandaluyong City Police District “to handle the specific concerns relating to SOGIE through existing Violence Against Women and Children (VAWC) desk in all police stations in Mandaluying City.”

A Mandaluyong City Pride Council will also be established to oversee the implementation of the ordinance.

Any person held liable under the ADO may be penalized with imprisonment for 60 days to one year and/or penalized with P1,000 to P5,000, depending on the discretion of the court.

Pushed by Sangguniang Panglungsod councilor China S. Celeste, Mandaluyong City Mayor Carmencita A. Abalos signed the ADO on May 17.

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