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Where are the LGBT people of Sarangani?

Michael David C. Tan: “I get the points of those who abhor Pacquiao. I also get the points of those who are willing to give him chance to grow. BUT I DON’T GET THIS ERASURE OF THE LGBT PEOPLE OF SARANGANI.”

And so it came to pass that a group of Luzon-based LGBT people (some may say LGBT community leaders) went to General Santos City to meet with Manny Pacquiao following the Filipino boxer’s damaging (to him, obviously, since he lost contracts and dropped in the surveys while seeking for a seat in the Senate; and to the LGBT community, whose members have been experiencing vitriol as a result of his idiotic statements) anti-LGBT statements.

So many voices are getting raised, though these belong to (generally) two sides.

On the one hand, there are those who opposed the meeting, saying it smacked of opportunism, particularly since Pacquiao was obviously just trying to save his ass. And yes, there were unsubstantiated allegations of “pakimkim (bribes)”; that LGBT people can be bought, too.

On the other hand, there are those who believe in “engaging” Pacquiao – that is, while we continue hating him for his statements, it doesn’t mean we should stop attempting to educate people like him.

But beyond the pro and anti sentiments, what is noticeable is the absence of the LGBT people in Sarangani, the very district that Pacquiao represented (arguably not very effectively, as his attendance in sessions would show) in Congress.

And for me this is problematic.

So many politicians abhor the idea of federalism as it’s supposed to “break” the Philippines into “mini units”. Instead, as you’d hear most of the presidentiables say now, they’d rather keep the current government format, but just give more money to Mindanao, which continues to be left behind.

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Many would argue that this way of seeing continues to be Manila-centric – that is, we who are in Manila seem to always know what’s best for those in other parts of the country (Heck, even with so many non-Mindanao “brilliant” minds combining to draft the Bangsamoro Basic Law, ONLY one group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, was consulted, as if it’s the ONLY group representing Mindanao!).

And we’re seeing it here again, in the continuing Pacquiao debacle.

I get the points of those who abhor Pacquiao. The wounds, as they say, are still fresh. Plus we all agree that if he stays in the ring, we can somehow back him as he continues making himself rich (with the appeal to our nationalism arguably an incidental effect). But beyond the ring, particularly as a politician, he just doesn’t make the cut.

I also get the points of those who are willing to give him chance to grow. After all, learning doesn’t stop – for him, and even for us. And if we can help change minds by engaging people, that’s good and well.

BUT I DON’T GET THIS ERASURE OF THE LGBT PEOPLE OF SARANGANI.

It smacks of the Manila-centric approach to… everything. That the voices of LGBT people from Metro Manila matter more than the voices of those who aren’t here. Think of this: Did/do LGBT people meeting Pacquiao even mention the LGBT people from Sarangani when they talked to him?

For me, Pacquiao’s reaching out would have more weight if his LGBT constituents are also in the picture; and actually also benefit from it (I’d argue that more immediately since he is also their “representative” in Congress).

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But beyond the all-expense paid dinner meetings, some of the Sarangani-specific ways that Pacquiao can fix this include:

  1. Pass an anti-discrimination ordinance in his district;
  2. Hire (not on a contractual basis) LGBT people in decision-making positions in his staff;
  3. Give the Sarangani LGBT people an LGBT center (which could even serve as home for senior LGBT people; or halfway house for young LGBT people who experience abuse as effect of anti-LGBT statements like Pacquiao himself delivered);
  4. Give the Sarangani LGBT people livelihood programs;
  5. Et cetera, et cetera

Do not get me wrong: I get that this is bigger than Sarangani. This is even bigger than Pacquiao himself. This is about the continuing oppression experienced by LGBT people IRRESPECTIVE of where we may be (not helped by the positions of people in power like Pacquiao).

But the only time I actually ever saw some of the LGBT people of Sarangani (while dealing with the Pacquiao debacle) was when they made the news when Pacquiao turned some of them into his private cheerleading squad while he was playing basketball.

So members of the LGBT community (with – arguably – most of the noise coming from metropolitan areas like Metro Manila) can continue bickering over the best ways to deal with this. We can even continue bickering over the leadership roles of the very people claiming to be the LGBT community’s leaders. We can continue fighting over people who are just broadening their roles in our community (the mapapel) versus those who are calling them out for this. We can continue fighting over the real “value” of this sham of a dinner masked as an effort to be enlightened. Truly, the end of the road is not in sight…

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But as we move forward, please, PLEASE do not erase the LGBT people of Sarangani…

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