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Every story matters

When the (now defunct) Philippine LGBT Hate Crime Watch was still reporting on crimes committed against LGBT Filipinos, one of the (major) criticisms it got was its over-emphasis on figures (particularly of those who were murdered). It was the group, after all, that claimed that the number of LGBT-related crimes in the Philippines reached over 130 as of end-2011, with 37 of these cases happening in 2011 alone. And in a (somewhat limited) way, I see the need to gloss over numbers – i.e. the numbers give us a sense of how bad the situation is by highlighting how many are affected by the issue/s being raised. Besides, these figures make for (sensational) news material – after all, marami na palang pinatay na LGBT Filipinos, pero wala pang ginagawa para tulungan sila (a lot of LGBT Filipinos were already killed, yet nothing has been done to help the community).

But what the group, and this approach fails to do is go beyond the numbers. That beyond Case #1 or Case #2 or Case #129 or Case #130 are people whose lives were destroyed by hate.

I was reminded by this last night when I was asked if I can back with figures (i.e. statistical data) a point I raised about Filipinos living with HIV – i.e. that many of those I encounter have problems accessing basic services for PLHIVs because, to begin with, they do not even have fare to go to treatment hubs.

This call for me to back my claim actually stemmed from a conversation about the need to balance the information given out about HIV – i.e. that emphasizing that HIV is no longer a death sentence is not necessarily and always good because it makes people complacent (that “may gamot naman pala kaya hindi na ito dapat problemahin pa”). For me, social class matters – that yes, there may be some people who are complacent because of the availability of ARVs, but we may need to first focus on the PLHIVs getting access to treatment because (as I said) I know of many who are unable to do so.

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And here’s the thing: I actually don’t have figures to back this claim.

But I do know of many cases to highlight this, e.g.:

In Davao City, members of the Mindanao AIDS Advocates Alliance Inc. (MAAAI) told me about students who tested HIV-positive but were unable to return to the local treatment hub because: 1) they didn’t have fare; and 2) they are unable to pay their PhilHealth, so do not have health coverage. These same students were also supposedly unable to get their CD4 count because they didn’t have money to pay for the lab test.

A close friend (John Jardenil) in Quezon City shells out his personal money to pick up newly diagnosed PLHIVs from convenient places so he can take them to the treatment hubs. As he once told me: “Kung hindi mo naman gagawin, hindi na lang sila pupunta (if you don’t do this, they’d opt to not just go).”

In treatment hubs, I have seen PLHIVs skip meals while waiting for their lab results – and NOT because they are on some diet, but because they do not have money to pay for food in the cafeteria.

I have seen PLHIVs ask doctors about “pinakamurang gamot lang po (recommend the cheapest medication please)” when being told to take something to deal with their opportunistic infections, otherwise “hindi na lang kami bibili (we just won’t buy the meds)”.

Inutangan na rin ako (Money was also already borrowed from me) just so a PLHIV can visit his hub.

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I also know of informal support groups of PLHIVs who meet in some food courts because they do not have a place to go to. And – if you must know – while there, they do not order a single thing, short as they are of cash. In these gatherings, among the most often discussed issues is poverty – e.g. how they may not be able to attend next week’s gathering unless someone lends them pamasahe (fare).

And I know of some HIV-positive people who want to be more active in the advocacy, but are unable to do so because “isang linggo nang tuyo lang ang kinakain namin (we have only been eating dried fish for a week now).”

Why were their stories not included in the existing narratives?

Honestly, I do not know.

Maybe those gathering the statistical data are asking the wrong questions?
Or for that matter, maybe we are focusing only on figures?

Too much emphasis on just the figures is not getting us much help, truth be told.
The number of HIV cases continues to balloon.
And many PLHIVs continue to be disadvantaged.

Yes, a key solution may be to have PLHIVs raise their issues themselves.
And there are so many issues that need to be raised – e.g. the non-practice of TAsP (treatment as prevention) among PLHIVs in the Philippines; the delays in the procurement of ARVs; the different approaches of treatment hubs when dealing with PLHIVs (with some of the approaches proving unfavorable to some PLHIVs); et cetera.
But wanting for PLHIVs to stand up and raise their issues is a naïve expectation, largely because most of PLHIVs are not even out.
Understandably so, too, considering that the social support system is still largely non-existent for those who do.

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Now ask me again if I have figures to back this claim.
And I’ll tell you again that I don’t have any.
But I can also share with you the (numerous) cases I know.
And again, don’t ask me why these cases did/do not reach those who gather/ed data; that is for them, and not for me, to answer.

In the end, we don’t need 130 LGBT-related hate crimes to happen before we acknowledge that there is a problem. We don’t need some figures to get as high as can be before we acknowledge that our responses may be lacking.  Because lives are at stake here. And as I always say: We need to look beyond the numbers because every single case matters.

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