WARNING: Vulgar words ahead. Also, this is kind of long, so grab some popcorn or something.
1. Pinoys in general just tolerate, not accept, gays.
There is a huge difference between tolerance and acceptance. I don’t see complete acceptance at all. I only see tolerance of a certain amount of the “gay culture.” So what kind of gayness do Pinoys tolerate? Filipinos like gay folks who live by their established stereotypes. Vice Ganda-esque sort of gayness, that’s what people like. If you’re gay, you have to be funny and you should work as a make-up artist or a fashion designer. If you work in the military or play with a sports team, you’re going to create a lot of fuss, so just stay in the closet if you do.
2. There’s still too much religious bigotry in this country.
“God designed you to be straight.”
“You have a dick, so act like a man.”
“Homosexuality is a sin.”
“Remember Sodom and Gomorrah.”
“It is unnatural.”
Ad infinitum, ad nauseam…
The strange thing about the Philippines is the seeming disconnect within its evolving culture. We’re taking large leaps into progress, but we keep old customs–especially ones that are either useless or ridiculous. I’m not a fan of customs and tradition. I want this country to evolve and embrace change. Enough with overrated family values. Enough with Christian values. Enough with old religious concepts of morality and stuff. We have to grow as a community, not as discrete packets of supposedly Christian families. We have to learn how to respect individual differences and accept that idea that we can be a solid community that encourages a beautiful diversity.
The old gender dichotomy needs to rest. The average Pinoy should understand modern concepts of sexual identities or at least leave people with non-conventional identities alone. After all, if you’re a straight Christian, it’s not you who’s going to face God in the afterlife and be judged for homosexuality. It’s us! I’ll ask God questions if he shows up on my funeral.
3. Pinoys confuse gay with transgender or vice-versa.
There is still a ridiculous number of people, even within the LGBT community, who think that gay men want to be girls and that transgender people are gay. I don’t blame them. The word transgender is like a new word for Filipinos. The first time you heard it was probably just a few years ago. The problem is when you explain to people what transgender is, they refuse to accept the meaning. Instead, they insist their own bias about “men wearing makeup and skirts,” that they’re still men, or that Aiza Seguerra is still a woman. Filipinos are preoccupied with sex organs. So if you have a penis, you’re supposed to be a man.
Gay means you like to be a girl, because you like men and you like a dong shoved up your turd cutter, and so gay and transgender are basically the same for many Pinoys. But can you blame them, when the gay community itself flaunts Miss Gay pageants and other drag shows that serve to create a hilarious caricature of the “gay culture”? It’s partly our fault. Maybe we should stop calling it Miss Gay because it’s a misnomer. Maybe we should call it Miss Drag or Miss Trans or I don’t know. It’s not a gay pageant per se. It’s a pageant for the gender non-conforming queer folks – drag queens, crossdressers, and transpinays. They are fabulous, and we love the flamboyance, but many of these people are not gay, and many gay men don’t do drag shows.
And please, I think it’s time we did drag shows with class. Let’s end the culture of comic drag shows that mock our community.
4. Many Pinoys think gay men spread STDs and HIV.
Look at the forums about HIV/AIDS. You’ll be astounded at the magnitude of ignorance of arrogant anti-gay people who think that HIV is a gay disease, a sort of plague nature designed to wipe out gay men–because stigmatizing HIV is better than showing concern and giving assistance.
Fr. Dan Vicente Cancino of CBCP implied in a recent article about STD cases in the country that distorted concepts of sexuality and erosion of family values may be a factor in the rise of HIV cases in the country. It’s a wild assumption that needs more study. Influential figures like him can manipulate the thinking of the less than informed members of the population, propagating wrong notions about sexually transmitted infections, like HIV.
5. Conservatives don’t like gay people to be gay.
The infamous “love the sinner, hate the sin” banner is one of my favorites. It doesn’t make any sense. The church and its blind sycophants endorse it. Maybe they think it’s comforting for us gay people to hear they love us, but then we abhor what follows. Be gay but don’t be gay. Be gay but don’t suck dick. Be gay but don’t fuck or get fucked. Be gay but don’t touch someone else’s boner. These are sins.
Sins. Big word!
We can talk about the awesome number of sins religious texts want people to avoid. For instance, you’re not supposed to engage in sex before marriage or you shouldn’t perform any form of birth control, including the pull-out method. But conservatives single out gay people in their quest to spread their gay-focused sexual morality. You don’t see these people on issues about increasing cases of premarital sex, teenage pregnancy, and rape.
6. Conservatives are obsessed with what two men or two women do in private.
There are far too many conservatives in this country, some of them are celebrities, one of whom stated on a TV show that homosexuality is a lie from the devil. What? I didn’t know I was a devil’s lie. Ha! Anyway, look at so many threads on articles about gay, lesbian, or transgender people, and you’ll see an awful number of homophobic and transphobic comments. One thing I’ve observed about religious conservatives is that they are too obsessed with what a gay or lesbian couple do in their room together. Why is it important to know or assume what they do in private? It’s none of anyone’s business. We don’t look at a straight couple walking on a street and think about them going down on each other. It’s total perversion. But conservatives who go to church every Sunday get away with this perversion by citing their moral uprightness. They are too morally upright, they can imagine two guys naked in bed. The cognitive dissonance sickens me to the stomach. Also, how come they seem to know too much about what two gay men do in bed? Who knows, maybe they’re voyeurs or gay porn enthusiasts.
7. Two men holding hands in public can draw so much flak.
Two guys holding hands on the street, in the mall, or at school would earn the ire of nosy bystanders. If they were kissing, it would be a scandal.
Look at that Bench billboard of two guys holding hands. They weren’t even kissing in that picture. But the hands had to be painted over for some vague reason. Then followed rants from self-righteous churchgoers.
Tell me honestly. How many gay couples can you see holding each other’s hands in public? And if you’re gay and you have a boyfriend, do you hold each other’s hands on the sidewalks as you take a stroll? If yes, good. If no, then why? Ask anyone in the family or your friends what they think of two guys holding hands in public? Come back here and give me honest answers.
8. Gay tagging is fun here.
Piolo Pascual is gay. Enchong Dee is gay. Ethel Booba is gay. Everyone is gay! The gay tag remains controversial in a country where being gay is still stigmatized. Otherwise, no one would care about anyone’s sexual orientation. Piolo Pascual is notoriously accused of being gay for strange reasons that escape my logical reasoning. I really don’t care whether or not he is gay, and it shouldn’t be anybody’s business. People just like to ridicule other people, and one way is to call them gay.
Pink shirts are so gay! What? You mean pink shirts suck dicks too?
9. Anti-gay slurs abound.
People have yelled “bakla” at me so many times in the past. It was never fun, especially when you know it’s not simply an affirmation but a homophobic slur. It blighted my childhood. It blighted my teenage years. The memories stay deep in the wounds they seared. Those people are never forgiven.
I know that while a gay teenager may just let gay slurs on the streets pass, he’s just suppressing the urge to strike back for the fear of getting physically hurt or because he’s convinced he deserves the homophobic slur. I know how that feels. Ad misericordiam aside, yelling slurs at anyone because they’re different is an unnecessary showing of disrespect and miseducation. You don’t need to yell at me the word GAY. I know I am already since the sixth grade.
10. Many gay people have to stay in the closet.
Do your parents know you’re gay? How many gay people are still hiding their true identities from their families, co-workers, or wives? Why do they have to hide? A community that is completely open to gay people should encourage them to come out and just be themselves. But even today, I still know gay, bi, or transgender people who have to keep their identities from their families and live in pretense.
Coming out can be a traumatic experience.
Many LGBT people hesitate to come out because what follows after scares the shit out of them. Your family changes the way they treat you. You get misunderstood. You could lose your job. You could lose your friends.
When Charice Pempengco came out, there was a wild feast of homophobes in discussion boards and forums about her. The amount of narrowmindedness was nauseating. It was difficult to defend her in the forums without your defense getting lost in the wild convolution of disturbing homophobic attacks. The homophobia is certainly uncharacteristic of a country coined as gay friendly.
Gay friendly my arse!
11. Discrimination and bullying of gay and transgender folks remain a threat to LGBT freedom and welfare.
Without any law that protects LGBT people from discrimination, anyone can deny them of accommodations, enrollment, or service and cite their internal policy or religious freedom for doing so. It’s curious how difficult it is to pass the Anti-Discrimination Bill in a country that they call gay friendly. Schools have kicked out students who have been exposed as having homosexual affairs or teachers who have been exposed of engaging in homosexual activities. Companies can fire gay employees, if not force them to stay in the closet.
Some of the critics of the anti-discrimination bill cite their favorite dishonest line: “there are still many problems in the country that need attention.” This fallacy of relative privation annoys me because it’s like saying skip your dinner because there are hungry homeless kids in the streets right now.
12. Same sex marriage is taboo.
Conservatives and even quasi-liberals cringe at the idea of same sex marriage, citing the infamous sanctity-of-marriage argument. Marriage after all is largely a heterosexist construct, defined within the bounds of Christian religion by the law, in this case. Heterosexual partnerships, even those that are considered immoral by Biblical standards, are considered superior to homosexual partnerships. After all, a dick cannot be married to another dick, or so say the dick-minded marriage equality critics. Many people in this country seem too preoccupied with people’s sex organs. Dicks are meant for pussies. So if you have a dick, date someone with a pussy. A Catholic figure once quipped, gays are free to marry–women. You know, they say it’s because the parts fit. It’s the parts that get married after all.
13. Laws are heterosexist.
Co-habiting same sex couples do not have the same rights as co-habiting heterosexual couples. If you have been in a same sex relationship for years, you are not entitled to co-ownership rules. The legal definition of marriage is heterosexist. The Family Code is heterosexist. This country in general is run by heterosexist nuts. President Aquino once suggested that gay marriage may be inappropriate because it is undesirable to children who will be adopted under such unions. That’s how I understood what he said. It’s a vague, absurd argument.
14. You cannot see two men kissing on mainstream shows and in movies.
But you can see teenage pregnancies, marital disputes, and concubinage on TV–that and all sorts of cliché soap operas and movies that fail the Bechdel Test. A scene of people in abandoned buildings exchanging bullets is great. A car crash? Grand! But two guys showing love for each other is a no-no. The media erasure of gay romance is offensive. Save My Husband’s Lover–it’s a rarity; and the romantic scenes between the two male protagonists were limited to them sharing sweet glances and caressing each other. Gay kiss is reserved for low-budget independent films starred by actors who couldn’t act to save their lives. It’s taboo in local mainstream programs, unfairly censored by a “morally upright” local regulatory board whose “child-friendly,” “family values-inspired” cinema informercial is plain nauseating.
15. Intolerance exists within the LGBT community.
You will be surprised that there are LGBT people who dislike other members. Let’s be honest about it. Straight-looking and straight-acting (cisgender) gay/bi dudes don’t usually hang out with femmes and cross-dressers. This is an issue that I’ll leave for another article. Anyway, I think this is a result of the lingering heterosexism and cissexism in the country, which eats into the LGBT community, creating its own version of homophobia and transphobia, weakening our force as an entity that seeks justice and equality.
Yes, Nigeria, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Saudi Arabia, India, Afghanistan, Sudan, and Senegal treat gay men terribly. But that doesn’t mean Philippines is gay friendly. The society is getting better at treating LGBT people, but we’re not really at the stage wherein the community is open to understanding non-heterosexual and non-cisgender people. They just know queer people exist. And when you’re queer, you become someone else, a second class citizen. The label becomes your differentiation. It doesn’t even matter if you’re a teacher, a nurse, or a doctor. People remember you as that fellow who flicks his hand when he speaks or sways his hips when he walks. Gay becomes an adjective used to describe you. You can be a successful artist or entrepreneur, but people refer to you as that gay artist, that gay teacher, that gay whatever. Then they want you have to conform to the heteronormative culture. All right, you’re gay, but don’t act like this, don’t wear that, act decently, and so on. So much for gay friendly.
We can only be truly gay friendly when everyone stops harassing, bullying, hurting, and discriminating against gay people. When no one has to lock their true identity up in the closet because of fear of embarrassment and humiliation, that’s the time I’ll say this country is truly gay friendly.
Acceptance and love as sources of Pride
For many LGBTQIA people, self-acceptance is difficult to achieve, even if it is generally accepted that only when one lives one’s own truth can he/she/they know true self-acceptance and the joy that comes with it. Lucky for Ahds who met Anna who loves him, even as they get the support of accepting families.
In 2015, Ada (or Ahds, as his friends and close relatives call him), was working in Toronto when he met Anna, the best friend of a cousin.
It “completely changed my life,” he beamed.
Ahds recalled that there were people who doubted their relationship.
During their first year together, he admitted that they experienced difficulties in terms of finances (and adjustments to being together). But Ahds said that even though things were a bit tough, it was okay because at least they had each other.
“May mga kaibigan kami na nagsasabi na hindi kami magtatagal, na maghihiwalay din kami (There were some friends who said that we would not last, that we would just part ways),” he said.
But they gave being together a try, eventually proving the the naysayers wrong.
On June 18, 2016 Ahds and Anna got married.
“Nag-decide kami na magpakasal kasi gusto ko ma-experience kung ano ang pakiramdam ng kinakasal, at gusto ko rin may kasama ako sa buhay habang tumatanda ako (We decided to get married because I wanted to experience how it feels like. I also want to have someone in my life while growing old),” Ahds said.
When they celebrated their wedding anniversary this year, Ahds said in a Facebook post: “The secret of a happy marriage is finding the right person. You know it is right if you love to be with that person all the time.”
“Basta anniversary namin, nagse-celebrate kami kahit kami lang dalawa. Mababaw lang ang kaligayahan namin. At bawal sa amin ang mga nega, ang gusto naming pareho masaya lang kami (Whenever we celebrate our anniversary, it is okay even if it is just the two of us. We find happiness in simple things. And we do not like negative things, we just both want to be happy),” he said.
Ahds added: “Tsaka masaya kami dahil tanggap kami ng family namin pareho (Further, we are happy because our families accepts us).”
But for as long as he can remember, his family was always supportive of him and his decisions – at least as long as he doesn’t put himself in harm’s way.
“When I was three years old, lalaki na ako (I already identified as a boy). I still remember when I was in elementary, I was already attracted to girls. Masaya ako kapag nakikita ko ang crush ko na malaki ang tanda sa akin (I was happy when I saw my crush, who was older than me).”
He can actually still remember how things were when he was young.
“Noong bata ako, naaalala ko kung paano ako tinanggap na walang pag-aalinlangan ng tatay ko. Madalas niya ako dinadalhan ng bola ng ping pong. Tanggap ako ng pamilya ko kung ano talaga ako (When I was young, I remember how I was accepted without reservations by my father. He also liked to give me ping pong balls to play with. My family accepted me for who I am),” Ahds shared.
He was able to grow up “normally”, in a sense that his family supported whatever he wanted to do, as long as it would not harm him.
“When I was growing up, naririnig ko palagi na sinasabi sa akin na ‘Tomboy ‘yan’, siguro dahil na rin sa kilos at pananamit ko. Minsan, masakit sa pandinig (I always heard people call me ‘lesbian’, perhaps because of how I acted and the way I dressed. Sometimes, it pained me),” Ahds continued.
But it was not something he dwelled on. He knew that the people who mattered most in his life – his family – did not have a problem with who he really was and accepted him regardless of what other people said.
And that type of love has helped Ahds reach for his dreams, while providing for his family.
Ahds left to work overseas (for 22 years now); first heading to UAE in 1998 when Mt. Pinatubo erupted. After several years, he found his way to Canada… and Anna’s arms.
ACCEPTING AND LOVING
For many LGBTQIA people, self-acceptance is difficult to achieve, even if it is generally accepted that only when one lives one’s own truth can he/she/they know true self-acceptance and the joy that comes with it.
Equally important is acceptance [NOT mere tolerance] within the family – e.g. a study on LGBT youth acceptance and rejection revealed that it directly affects identity development, behaviors, physical and mental health. Those who experience rejection may experience serious consequences on physical and mental health.
And here, Ahds said he’s somewhat luckier, finding both acceptance and love, now his two sources of Pride.
Ahds believes that, yes, things will get better… eventually.
But while the road there may prove challenging, it starts with self-acceptance at least.
“Huwag kayo mahihiya na ipaalam sa madla kung sino kayo at kung ano ang totoong nararamdaman ninyo. Lalo na sa sarili mo, ilabas mo kung ano ka talaga. At para sa pagmamahal naman, para makamtam ang tunay na kaligayahan, dapat walang lihiman (Do not be afraid to let other people know who you are and what you really feel. Especially to yourself, show what you really are. And when it comes to love, for you to achieve real happiness, there should be no secrets),” Ahds said.
And who knows – like Ahds – this could also help others be led to having Pride.
‘Let us reclaim our crown, or what that represents, our right to be recognized as women’
STRAP: “Everyone’s opinion matters but if that was done without grounding yourself in the intersectional narratives and the lifelong struggles that speaks of our personhood, that you are contributing to the exacerbation of our problem.”
Statement of The Society of Transsexual Women of the Philippines (which was established in 2002), in reaction to the stance of Kevin Balot, Miss International Queen in 2012, who reiterated her segregationist perspective, saying that when transgender women ask to join beauty pageants traditionally only for those assigned female at birth, “hindi na siya equality eh, parang asking too much na (this is no longer about equality; it’s already asking too much).”
“If I can teach the world acceptance and love, I don’t need to win Miss Universe, I only need to be here.”
Miss Universe Spain 2018
Angela Ponce’s mere presence in the presentation of candidates for the 2018 Miss Universe was already enough to spark debate not only within pageant circles but within the greater society. But to many other Filipina transwomen, 2018 was doubly special not only because Catriona won Miss Universe but because some of us were also rooting for Angela to win.
Angela is the first out transwoman to compete in the Miss Universe pageant and the first from Spain, a Catholic nation which colonized many countries including the Philippines; and with colonization and the Christianization came the enforcement of gender binary and restrictive ideas on gender and sexuality as well as the erasure of gender transcending pre-colonial identities such as the Babaylanes, the Asogs, the Bayoguins among other names use in pre-colonial Philippines.
So with Angela winning Miss Universo Spain and officially representing her country in the 2018 Miss Universe, it becomes such a reflective and introspective moment for many Filipino queers who are within themselves trying to make sense of decolonization.
Angela failed to snag the crown or at least a spot in the finals; however, an unprecedented special walk and segment became the most touching moment for many if not cathartic for some. Angela’s powerful last line that “…she does not need to be Miss Universe, she only needs to be here” was enough to break the hearts of many transwomen who for many decades have been fighting for recognition and inclusion in all spaces, including pageantry.
That moment in Miss Universe and the 2012 case of Miss Canada finalist Jenna Talackova were very important moments wherein transwomen or transpinays as we call ourselves, needed to heed others for recognition and acceptance of our self-determined gender identities.
If you come to think of it, Jenna and Angela among some other transwomen over the years, needed to explain fervently why we are women too, and why we need to be recognized and allowed to participate in events for women. The immutability of our birth registration and sex assignment and the absence of gender recognition deprived us of many opportunities, including scholarships, jobs, career advancements, proper media representation and inclusion, travel, marriage, adoption among so many others.
It is already a long process of discrimination and even violence that we experience everyday growing up as trans in our society. From the catcalls, to the heckling, dead naming to the occasional brutality that usually leads to murder such as that of Jennifer Laude who had to be a poster child of transphobia and transmisogyny. Incidentally Jennifer was nicknamed “Ganda” for she was indeed beautiful, yet vilified and mutilated not only by her American murderer but our fellow Filipinos who seemingly enjoyed dead-naming and misgendering her in social media platforms.
Jennifer’s case is still connected to Angela’s, because this proves, it is not only in pageantry do we experience exclusion and discrimination, we experience it everywhere else.
How many times have transpinays shared experiences of being humiliated in immigration counters around the world for the mismatch of their gender presentation and passports? Many of them detained and deported and other undocumented cases of violence in the process of proving their humanity not just womanhood. How many times have transpeople been rejected from jobs especially those not identifiable with being queer ( e.g. beauty salons, fashion design, cultural dancer, etc.) just because their gender presentations are viewed as unprofessional or unacceptable in work spaces? How many countless times, other than that of Gretchen Diez’s case, wherein transpinays were not allowed to use the female toilets and changing rooms because they are not considered to be “real women”?
In the plight for gender recognition, transpeople are viewed as fake versions or impostors of the gender they are identifying as.
Take note that the issues of transpinays don’t end in the recognition of gender but looking at other areas of life, oppression takes shape in the form of color, race, socio economic class, level of education, religion, etc.
Well, not only transpinays experience discrimination in those areas, everyone does, maybe implicitly. But transpinays go through more because we must first be accepted as women, beautiful or not. Now imagine if you are a transpinay, from the province, with dark skin, poor, did not finish high school, Christian, could not speak in English. I bet her life is going to be tremendously difficult.
Having said all of these, we want to educate everyone especially our fellow transpinays, that the inclusion of transwomen in pageants and the recognition of their gender identities is a simple step towards equality, diversity and inclusion, it is not in any way asking for “too much”. For maybe we are asking something “little”, just allow us to be here for our battle for that crown is still uncertain. But at least we are battling for it just like other women, for we are women too.
We have the right to self-determination and self- identification. It is nice to have a pageant of our own as they say, but we created those since other pageants are not allowing us to join for we are not women.
Angela’s battle is every transwoman’s and transpinay’s for that matter. Just because some of you are content with joining “Miss Gay” or other exclusive pageants, do not forget that our battle for equality does not end with pageants, it is only beginning. It is a simple step of recognizing our rights to be women and a platform to educate society that gender is not between your legs, that your anatomy is not why you will wear that crown.
It is even difficult to write a piece on pageantry and defending it while we are not even dissecting the issues of beauty and womanhood and how pageants are not exactly the end-all, be-all of being a woman. But for transpinays, it is a platform for recognition and inclusion. Don’t take away our sash.
As we continue to position ourselves everywhere in our society because we have as much right, we seek our fellow transpinays and the greater Philippine queer society to engage with us on discussions of our human rights issues. Everyone’s opinion matters but if that was done without grounding yourself in the intersectional narratives and the lifelong struggles that speaks of our personhood, that you are contributing to the exacerbation of our problem.
We ask our fellow transpinays to listen to us if you don’t know much, now that is not asking for too much. Because honestly, transpinays have been here, even before Spain came. Now we want to reclaim our crown, or what that represents, our right to be recognized as women.
‘All women – cis or trans – ought to enjoy the same fundamental rights and opportunities’
“Denying trans people access to a single-sex space when they fully identify as the sex to which it is confined, risks perpetuating forms of oppression that we would never tolerate if they applied to other groups.”
Reaction from Mujer LGBT+ Organization on the stance of Kevin Balot, Miss International Queen in 2012, who reiterated her segregationist perspective, saying that when transgender women ask to join beauty pageants traditionally only for those assigned female at birth, “hindi na siya equality eh, parang asking too much na (this is no longer about equality; it’s already asking too much).”
By Toni Gee Fernandez
President/Executive Director, Mujer LGBT+ Organization
Equality is defined as the state of being equal, especially in status, rights and opportunities. That means, one right and opportunity can both be exercised and enjoyed by two or more individuals. The same principle is true in the context of womanhood.
Treating trans people as individuals of the gender identity they claim to be is a sign of basic respect. A recognition of their authenticity. Denying trans people access to a single-sex space when they fully identify as the sex to which it is confined, risks perpetuating forms of oppression that we would never tolerate if they applied to other groups.
While their anatomy and surgical history may be relevant in the context of medical care, it is not supposed to be relevant in everyday life. At the same time, by breaking down sex into ambiguous components and arguing that trans women lack some of them, or have too many residual male components, we imply that trans women are not women, or not the right kind of women — which is utterly discriminatory and oppressive.
This is why Mujer LGBT Organization, Inc. denounces the segregationist remarks of Kevin Balot.
We have to realize that pageant contestants and pageant queens are more than their ravishing long gowns, two-piece suits and national costumes. More than anything else, they are their causes and the issues they want to shed light on.
Besides, a trans woman in a socially deemed single-sex competition like pageants – i.e. Miss Universe – allows a room for debunking myths, shattering stereotypes and educating the public, and therefore reforming an oppressive status quo one step at a time.
Covid-19 and the freelancer’s dilemma
The Philippines is home to a “vibrant gig economy”, with an estimated 1.5 million freelancers in the country. But Covid-19 responses actually do not include them, so what happens to them now?
Kate is a visual artist. She resigned from her day job to pursue her passion two years ago. Painting and creating origami, her income mainly came from the sales of her artworks; supplemented by home-based art classes to elementary and high school students.
Nicole is a freelance makeup artist. Her clients varied from celebrities to socialites to brides and debutantes… and everything in between. Nicole used to earn a minimum of P3,000 per client, with the amount increasing depending on the type of service being offered.
Lumina is a drag artist, a common face in dance clubs and in events. Aside from her “talent fee”, she also used to get “tips” from customers.
But when the Covid-19 related Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) took effect in Luzon starting last March 17, their capacity to earn a living was also put on hold. And people like them – a.k.a. “freelancers” – are many.
In May 2019, PayPal (the payment system company) reported that the Philippines is home to a “vibrant gig economy”, with an estimated 1.5 million freelancers in the country. In fact, this is a segment that is fast becoming an influential part of the Filipino workforce and a key engine driving the growth of the country’s economy.
The terms used to refer to them may vary – e.g. In October 2019, the Philippine Statistics Authority reported that of the 73,528,000 population in the Philippines, ages 15 years and over, 95.5% are employed. And 25% of them are “self-employed workers”. Freelancers also fall under PSA’s categorization.
And ECQ has been devastating to these Filipinos.
“The current lockdown left us, freelance workers, in a complete halt — events and shows were cancelled. It technically made us jobless since we do not have the option of working from home,” Lumina said.
Like Lumina, Kate said freelancer workers are “so tied to the situation.”
“Even if I want to sell my work or earn a living, I cannot do anything right now,” Kate added.
What gov’t support?
There are supposed to be government support for workers affected by the ECQ.
In a statement released last March 17, for instance, the Department of Labor and Employment stated that they “may be able to address the pressing needs of the rest of the affected workers in the quarantined areas.”
DOLE developed the following mitigating measures: “Covid-19 Adjustment Measures Program” (CAMP), “Tulong Panghanapbuhay sa Ating Disadvantaged/Displaced Workers” (TUPAD), and “DOLE-AKAP for OFWs”.
CAMP will serve “affected workers regardless of status (i.e. permanent, probationary, or contractual), those employed in private establishments whose operations are affected due to the Covid-19 pandemic.” TUPAD “aims to contribute to poverty reduction and inclusive growth.” The program is “a community based (municipality/barangay) package of assistance that provides temporary wage employment.” And the DOLE-AKAP specifically caters to overseas Filipino workers who have been displaced due to the imposition of lockdown or community quarantine, or have been infected with the disease.
DOLE reiterated that the only qualified beneficiaries are the underemployed, self-employed and displaced marginalized workers. To help these people, “employment” is offered – i.e. the nature of work shall be the disinfection or sanitation of their houses and its immediate vicinity, and the duration will be limited to 10 days. The person will be receiving 100% of the prevailing highest minimum wage in the region.
Another government body eyeing to supposedly help is the Social Security System (SSS), where employees of small businesses may apply to be considered for the Small Business Wage Subsidy (SBWS) Program.
To add, the government agency is also geared up to pay some 30,000 to 60,000 workers projected to be unemployed due to possible layoffs or closures of Covid-19 affected private companies.
Some arts-focused institutions like the Film Development Council of the Philippines (FDCP) also developed their own “disaster-triggered funding mechanism” to help address the “lack of support from the government.” In FDCP’s case, the program aims to help displaced freelance audio-visual workers—from talents, to production staff and technical crew members.
But note how all efforts are mum on freelance workers.
Making ends meet
And so many are left to do something they never did – i.e. rely on others just to survice.
In the case of Nicole, she relies solely on what her barangay provides: relief goods and minimal ayuda.
“Sobrang hirap ng sitwasyon ngayon. Hindi ko alam kung saan ako kukuha ng panggastos. ‘Yung ipon ko paubos na, tapos kailangan ko pa magbayad ng renta sa bahay at ibang bills (The situation now is very hard. I don’t know where to get money to spend. My savings are almost gone, and yet I still have to pay for my rent and the bills),” she said.
Lumina, for her part, is “lucky” because she still lives with her family, and “they have been providing for my basic needs since the lockdown started.”
Her luck isn’t necessarily shared by many – e.g. Human Rights Watch earlier reported that “added family stresses related to the Covid-19 crisis – including job loss, isolation, excessive confinement, and anxieties over health and finances – heighten the risk of violence in the home… The United Nations secretary-general has reported a ‘horrifying‘ global surge in domestic-based violence linked to Covid-19, and calls to helplines in some countries have reportedly doubled.”
To add: “In a household of six members, I think the goods that we are receiving from the government is not enough,” Lumina said, hoping that “every freelance worker also receive benefits from the government that would in a way cover the earnings that we lost.”
In 2017, when PayPal conducted a survey of over 500 freelancers in the Philippines, the results showed that the country had a “very optimistic freelancer market”, with 86% of freelancers claiming they anticipate future growth in their businesses. In fact, at that time, 23% of the respondents said their business is growing steadily, while 46% said their business is stable.
But Covid-19 turned everything upside-down for many.
There are rays of hope.
A Toptal survey, for instance, pointed out that 90% of companies depend on freelancers to augment their professional workforce, and – get this – 76% of surveyed executives intend to increase use of independent professionals to provide expertise either to supplement full-time talent or to access skills and experiences they lack in their workforce.
This may be particularly true to those whose works do not involve face-to-face engagement (e.g. graphics design, BPOs).
And so for the likes of Kate, Nicole and Lumina — and many other freelance workers for that matter, whose works rely on being with people — the way to get through now is to just to make do with what they can grasp on… while trapped inside and hoping for a better future, where reliance (including in a non-responsive government) is not in the picture…
The mental cost of Covid-19 lockdown
As the country copes with the “new normal”, the issue of mental health continues to be in the back burner. “Priorities” now continue to focus on: controlling the spread of Covid-19, and mitigating its impact on the economy. This is even if experts warn that the crisis could have a “profound” and “pervasive impact” on global mental health now and in the future.
“Three of my closest friends committed suicide last week,” John Albert shared in a post. “I could not believe the news when I heard it. I saw them before the lockdown; everything seemed fine.”
I chatted with John Albert, and in a short online conversation, he said that one of these friends was a lesbian. Her body was reportedly found by a barangay tanod who was patrolling their area. When they checked the phone beside her, there were 30 missed calls and 57 unread notifications. According to John Albert, the last message his friend sent was to her brother: “Ang hirap pala ng ganito, nag-iisa ka lang at wala kang makausap. Nalulungkot ako pero wala akong choice. Sana matapos na itong lockdown.”
But John Albert’s lesbian friend isn’t the only such case – at least it seems – of members of the LGBTQIA community dealing with the mental strife brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Tere, a transgender woman who started her transition this January, lives in a small apartment and is used to doing things on her own, in her own way. But it changed on March 17, when Pres. Rodrigo Roa Duterte enforced the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) in Luzon, which halted just about everything.
Most people were forced to adjust to what is only available. And in Tere’s case, this meant “temporarily” moving back to her parents’ house. And there, she does not exactly feel fully welcomed.
“For some reason, my father always scolds me. He wants me to do this and that, always asking me questions about my decision to transition and what will happen to my future,” shared Tere, who lamented that all her movements are being monitored so she cannot do her usually routine. “It had already come to a point that I just stay in my room the whole day and cry. I started questioning myself, too.”
FOCUS ON MENTAL STATE
“The new normal” – as people are now referring to the time of Covid-19 – is also testing how strong one’s coping mechanism is, particularly with the need to socially isolate that could trigger loneliness, which the American Psychological Association says increases the risk of premature mortality.
After all, two of the major factors that may contribute to a person’s mental health is the sudden change in physical and social environments. And so: What if you are someone who is struggling to manage how you think, feel and behave given the current controlled environment?
At this point, there’s the acknowledgement that the Covid-19 pandemic not only attacks the body’s immune system, but also wreaks havoc on the mental state of people.
A recent chat with Filipino persons living with HIV (PLHIV), for instance, showed that aside from the paranoia about the disease (e.g. how it spreads, the constant danger of being in close contact with someone who has it), the battle with one’s self can just be as difficult.
Sadly, there are no available outlets to release these anxieties, just the confines of your home/room/house. And for many, this is proving to be very difficult.
Perhaps even more so for LGBTQIA people going through additional difficulties because of their sexual orientation, gender identity and/or gender expression.
LOOKING FOR A WAY OUT
John Albert’s lesbian friend’s demise highlights how bad things can turn out.
And suicide isn’t “rare” in the Philippines – even if still not as widely discussed. In 2016, the World Bank reported that the Philippines’ suicide rate was 3.20 per 100,000 inhabitants. The rate has actually been growing since 2000.
And as the country slowly copes with the “new normal”, the issue of mental health continues to be in the back burner. “Priorities” now continue to focus on: controlling the spread of Covid-19, and mitigating its impact on the economy.
In a paper published in Lancet Psychiatry, scientists already stressed the need to also prioritize mental health, since a crisis could have “profound” and “pervasive impact” on global mental health now and in the future.
The World Health Organization (WHO), itself, acknowledged that “as the coronavirus pandemic rapidly sweeps across the world, it is inducing a considerable degree of fear, worry and concern in the population at large and among certain groups in particular…”
WHO stressed that: “In public mental health terms, the main psychological impact to date is elevated rates of stress or anxiety. But as new measures and impacts are introduced – especially quarantine and its effects on many people’s usual activities, routines or livelihoods – levels of loneliness, depression, harmful alcohol and drug use, and self-harm or suicidal behavior are also expected to rise.”
But there are steps that can be taken.
US-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) added practical ways to cope with stress:
- Take breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news stories, including social media. Hearing about the pandemic repeatedly can be upsetting.
- Take care of your body.
- Take deep breaths, stretch, or meditate.
- Try to eat healthy, well-balanced meals.
- Exercise regularly, get plenty of sleep.
- Avoid alcohol and drugs.
- Make time to unwind. Try to do some other activities you enjoy.
- Connect with others. Talk with people you trust about your concerns and how you are feeling.
It is worth stressing that for those dealing with mental health issues, know that there are ways to lessen the stress and burden on the mind. And perhaps apt to stress is the need to help each other. Just as Cebu City-based transgender woman Magdalena Robinson, CEO of the Cebu United Rainbow LGBTIQ+ Sector Inc., said, this is the right time to “fix each other’s crown.”
Covid-19 for people living with HIV
With persons living with HIV voicing their concerns regarding COVID-19, especially if their immunocompromised status makes them more vulnerable to the coronavirus, the AIDS Society of the Philippines provides the following advice for prevention.
How can Persons Living with HIV protect themselves from COVID-19?
Recently, persons living with HIV have been voicing their concerns regarding COVID-19, especially if their immunocompromised status makes them more vulnerable to the coronavirus. The AIDS Society of the Philippines acknowledges and empathizes with the key affected population, and provides the following advice for prevention.
Adhere to ARV regimen
Continue to faithfully take your anti-retrovirals (ARVs) and ensure you have enough supply of ARVs. Reach out to your treatment hub, primary care facility, or community-based organization so they can help expedite your ARV refill despite the community quarantine in NCR. Call them to set an appointment before you visit.
Maintain a strong immune system
Continue to maintain a strong immune system with proper diet and enough sleep. Currently, there is no COVID-19 data specifically about persons who are immunocompromised. However, Dr. John Brooks from the HIV/AIDS Division of the CDC said publicly that, most likely, the risk for severe illness will be greater for persons at lower CD4 cell counts and those who aren’t virally suppressed.
Follow general precautions vs. COVID-19
Continue to follow DOH and WHO advice in COVID-19 prevention. This includes frequent handwashing, practicing cough hygiene, avoid touching the mouth, eyes, and nose, social distancing (maintain 3 feet distance), working from home, going out as little as possible, and seeking medical care when you have fever, cough, or difficulty breathing.
If you have been exposed to a Person Under Investigation or Person Under Monitoring (PUI and PUM) for COVID-19, contact your treatment hub or primary care facility to request for advice. Home quarantine will likely be required, even without symptoms. If symptoms appear, visit your nearest government hospital for triaging and indicate the presence of co-morbidities.
Keep in touch with friends and family
Continue to take care of your mental health by reaching out and staying in touch with friends, family members, and support groups remotely or through the Internet. Social distancing doesn’t mean social isolation. But advise family and friends that due to your status, you have to limit your exposure to others. Finally, encourage other PLHIV and fellow Filipinos.
We stand with you in this difficult time. Stay strong—we will get through this together.
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