Ang trans nga amiga ni Duterte (The trans woman who is a friend of presidentiable and Davao City mayor Rodrigo Duterte).
That, in not so many words, was how many members of the LGBT community of Davao City referred to Paloma Soledad, a 33-year-old ambulant vendor who sells knick-knacks (from kimpit or hair clips to blusa or blouses, to mobile phone chargers to DIY materials like screw drivers and the likes).
But Paloma is the first to dismiss this “title” (if it can be considered as such), saying that she may have crossed paths with Davao City’s somewhat revered mayor, but “pareha ra man iya treatment sa ako-a sa uban (he treats me as he does others),” she said. She does admit repeatedly crossing paths with him, particularly when “mubaligya ko sa city hall (when I sell my wares at the city hall),” she said. And at those times, “istoryahun pud ko niya. Sulti niya, bisan unsa mahitabo, bisan unsa kalisod ang kinabuhi, magtinarong daw sa life (he also spoke to me. He told me, no matter what happens, no matter how hard life gets, I should live accordingly).”
As a somewhat “regular” among those who cross paths with Duterte, it is not surprising for Paloma to be ribbed as the “rayna sa Dabaw (queen of Davao)” – something she just waves off with a laugh: “Walay rayna-rayna; nanginabuhi ra ta (no queens here; we’re all just making a living).”
For as long as Paloma can remember, “ingun-ani na jud ko (I’ve always been like this),” she said, referring to her being a transgender woman. “Gi-adopt lang man ko sa akong parents kay wala man gud sila anak. Pero bisan niadtong bata pa ko, binabaye na jud ko; gusto na jud ko ma-baye (I was adopted by my parents because they didn’t have children of their own. But even when I was young, I was already effeminate; I already knew I wanted to be a woman).”
Fortunately for Paloma, “wala man na-issue pagka-trans nako (my being trans was never an issue).” And this may be because “naa man ko pulos (I;ve always been useful).”
This usefulness, in Paloma’s case, can be largely seen in her supporting of her adoptive family – that is, she helped feed both her father and her mother when the latter was still alive; and now she solely supports her father who is now legally blind.
Paloma still occasionally sees her biological family (from Toril). “Usahay, mu-adto ko didto; adtuan pud ko nila diri (At times I visit them there; they also visit me here),” she said.
At times, too, “mag-offer sila’g tabang (they offer to help out),” but Paloma said she prefers to do things on her own. “Dili ko ganahan nga naa mamuyboy (I don’t like it when people tell me I owe them something),” she said. “Mas gusto ko ako mismo ang gumagalaw (I prefer to take actions myself).”
The offer of help is actually needed because “lisod pud akong kinabuhi (my life has been hard).” Paloma earns from selling stuff approximately P300 per day, though most days, “dili kaabot ana (I don’t even reach that).” This money is hardly enough to buy “mga panganihanglan namo (our basic needs).”
Incidentally, “nakatabang pud si Mayor (Duterte) nako (Mayor Duterte has also helped me),” Paloma smiled. “Nag-donate ug goods nga nakatabang sa adlaw-adlaw (He donated some goods that helped in our daily needs).”
Then she added, with a smile: “Pero ang ‘Pilar Pilapil’, ako lang gapalit. Kinahanglan pud baya aron ma-flawless ta; ug aron magka-lubot ta (But I spend on my own for my hormones. I also need this to have good skin and voluptuous body).” Apparently, “dili man ko kakuha ug pills sa Social Hygiene Clinic kay para sa bilat lang man ihatag, dili sa trans (I can’t ask for pills from the Social Hygiene Clinic because they only give these to those who were assigned female at birth, not to transgender women).”
Davao is actually considered the “least poor” among cities and municipalities in Mindanao, according to the National Statistical Coordination Board (NSCB), with the city having 13.2% poverty incidence rate in the 2009 Small Area Estimates of poverty among population by the World Bank and NSCB. But for those looking for a “face” of the impoverished in the city, Paloma (and her family) qualifies.
“Wala mi kuryente (We don’t have electricity),” she said to explain the darkness that envelopes her house by 6.00PM every day. This has been like this for her and her father for months now “kay wala ko P2,000 ika-bayad sa kuryente (I don’t have P2,000 to pay for electric connection).”
They use gasera (gas lamp), instead, even if “lisod makit-an tanan (it doesn’t allow you to see everything).”
But as if her impoverished state is not enough hardship for Paloma, she’s actually also a person living with HIV (PLHIV).
Paloma used to work in Manila, and at that time, “pamhin jud ko (I presented myself as a cisgender gay man),” she said. “Naa ko bangas, dude-dude pa jud (I had beard, and I referred to others as ‘dude’).”
It was while she was working in Manila when Paloma believed she was infected with HIV. “Didto ko naka-avail sa promo (It was there where I availed of the ‘promo’).”
With a CD4 count of five, Paloma returned to Davao, expecting for the worst to happen.
Region XI – where Davao City is – reported 58 of the 751 new cases from all over the Philippines in February 2016. The region is actually among the areas that continue to register high HIV infection rates; from January 1984 to February 2016, the region had 1,871 (6% of the country’s total) cases.
While Paloma was recuperating from an opportunistic infection, she got involved with local HIV-related organizations, eventually becoming a peer counselor. And it was what she learned that: 1) helped her face life, and 2) is now helping her help others.
“Niadtong nahibal-an sa mga silingan nga naka-jackpot ko, grabe ang tsismis (When the neighbors discovered I’m HIV-positive, the gossiping was never ending),” Paloma said.
But Paloma said that “nawala man ang kahadlok sa ako-a (the fear about me subsided),” she said. “Karon, gahatag ko’g HIV 101; pati skimiling (Now, I give them HIV 101; as well as condoms and lube).”
Paloma likes to think that she’s been effective in sharing her experience. “Importante nga safe sex jud kay kung dili, hala, maka-avail mo sa ‘jackpot round’ (Safer sex is important, else you’d put yourself at risk for HIV infection).”
Paloma remains optimistic that so long as one adapts accordingly in life, life won’t always be bad. “Uyon uyon lang (You just go with the flow),” she said. “Happy happy lang (Just be happy).”
It is because that she’s living positively that Paloma has found love – i.e. she has a partner for almost two years now, and “kahibalo siya sa akong status (he knows my HIV status).”
For Paloma, “walay makatabang sa ato-a kundi atoang kaugalingon (no one can help us but ourselves),” she said.
Paloma, nonetheless, stresses the need “nga magtarong sa life aron dili ta mapahamak, ug dili pud mapahamak ang uban (that we live life accordingly so we don’t harm ourselves, and we don’t put others at risk),” she said. “Ipakita nga honest ka sa people, honest ka sa imong sarili (Show people your honesty, and be honest to yourself).”
And so life continues for this rayna sa Dabaw…