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Brian Shane Gorrell: The Accidental Advocate

In 2007, an Australian landscape designer started a blog, The Talented Mr. DJ Montano (delfindjmontano.blogspot.com from blogger.com), which spilled the beans on everything about the socialites and social climbers of Metro Manila. Soon, the blog stopped becoming just personal, as it started helping better HIV awareness.

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PHOTO BY GLENN AFALLA, COURTESY OF BRIAN GORRELL

Gucci Gang.

That, sans any argument, was what started it all.

The fame, that is, of Brian Shane Gorrell.

In 2007 (March 4, to be exact), the Australian landscape designer started a blog, The Talented Mr. DJ Montano (delfindjmontano.blogspot.com from blogger.com), which spilled the beans – so to speak – on everything about the socialites and social climbers of Metro Manila, from Celine Lopez to Tim Yap to, yes, Delfin DJ Montano, whose relationship with Gorrell served as the impetus to the whole story.

“I started my incredible blogging journey under the most dire of circumstances, when my Filipino ex-lover Delfin DJ Montano fraudulently obtained my life savings (of $70,000), leaving me with nothing (as he) eventually fled the Philippines for San Francisco in disgrace,” Gorrell states in his site, adding, nonetheless, that while Montano allegedly stole everything from him, he didn’t take from Gorrell “my ability to write and warn others through my blogging campaign for the truth.”

And so an advocate was born.

“I live proud with my HIV. I rarely have real issues with my status expect for the ignorance that continues to exist all over the world with regards to the new HIV information and facts,” Brian Gorrell says. “You must own your HIV and wear it like a badge of courage. We must not ever be afraid to be free and continue to grow and evolve with our HIV. It truly is a new life.”
PHOTO BY GLENN AFALLA, COURTESY OF BRIAN GORRELL

MAKING OF AN ADVOCATE

Allegedly, Montano swindled Gorrell of his life savings totaling $70,000 – supposedly sent to Montano as a silent investor for two investments, a failed restaurant (to be called Bonza) in Makati City, as well as a tour booking company in Boracay Island in Malay, Aklan. After discovering that his contributions were used to pay up Montano’s personal debt, the ensuing confrontation of Gorrell of Montano led to the now infamous Gucci Gang controversy.

There was, to begin with, the initial charging of Gorrell of assault, said to be “through the help of Montano’s (well-connected) friends,” as now states Wikipedia.org (which, interestingly, has an entry of the controversy). Seemingly as if to show Gorrell their power over everything in the Philippines (And, seemingly, how everything in this country can be bought – Ed), the then ruffled socialites/social climbers were allegedly able to have the Australian kept in custody for a while, even if, in the end, the case was just dismissed.

Then there was the storytelling of everything about the, yes, socialites and social climbers of Metro Manila – from infidelity to pervasive drug use to… everything; among the juiciest, of course, was the alleged pervasive drug use (and see how they remain untouched by the law enforcers of the Philippines) in home parties, in clubs, in… everywhere.

Then there were the eventual media coverage – gossip blog ChikaTime.com, of course, first carried the story (in February 2007); ABS-CBN News Channel, through Korina Today (of broadcaster Korina Sanchez), interviewed Montano and his family; and ABS-CBN’s Media in Focus tackled Gorrell’s blog, among others.

And then there were the, well, repercussions – e.g. in March 2008, Gorrell stated in his site that officials from the Philippine Consulate in Sydney, Australia, as well as the Australian Federal Police took him in for questioning; and the correspondences between the parties involved [Lopez’s lawyer supposedly wrote Gorrell that “she is no longer in communication with Montano, and, in as much as she wants to help (him) with (his) problem with the latter, (she) does not have the capacity to assist (him) as she was not privy to the transaction which only (him) and Montano can properly resolve”].

No matter the stance taken regarding the issue, though (i.e. for or against Gorrell), what cannot be denied about the hullabaloo is its popularity. When Technograph (technogra.ph), reviewed the site in 2007, it begrudgingly admitted (the site is not for Gorrell, who was seen to use technology to blackmail or at least arm-twist people) that the blog has attracted a total of 200,000 (then, for the first two months of the blog’s existence in 2007), “making it one of the most popular Filipino-related Web sites.”

Wikipedia.org is more generous, pegging the visits of the blog to have reached 270,000, amounting to 36,600 visits a day, with each lasting an average of 52 minutes – at least for the first 10 days of the blog’s online existence. The site adds how the blog has been visited over two million times as of end-June 2007.
To date, it counts approximately 30 million hits.

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As for Gorrell: “Well over 30 million people have read my blog now, and it has broken every blogging record in the Philippines, including unique hits and page reads. No other blog has even come close to these incredible numbers, which I’m very proud of.”

It is this number that is now Gorrell’s intended market as the blog diversified.

While “I’ve (slain) my enemies and destroyed their theories” through the blog that “is my healer, and ultimately brought me to this wonderful place where I find myself today,” Gorrell’s “fight for justice” continues as he now recognizes “the responsibilities of being a blogger-advocate. I know myself to be the voice for many people. People who may never be heard, or have their passions acknowledged without a conduit like a blog,” he says.

POSITIVE LIFE

Gorrell is, by the way, HIV positive – a fact he never hid in his blog, and, for that matter, in his life (even Montano, while they were lovers, knew of Gorrell’s seropositive status, Gorrell stresses).

Thus, while “mindful of others (particularly when traveling abroad), taking into consideration that they may have a lack of knowledge and understanding of the HIV virus, I had no problems whatsoever when I lived in the Philippines. I have never had a problem with my HIV while travelling anywhere in the world.”

“I live proud with my HIV. I rarely have real issues with my status expect for the ignorance that continues to exist all over the world with regards to the new HIV information and facts,” Gorrell says. “You must own your HIV and wear it like a badge of courage. We must not ever be afraid to be free and continue to grow and evolve with our HIV. It truly is a new life.”

In his own words, therefore, Gorrell has become a “very proud HIV-positive writer/blogger/advocate/activist and humanitarian.”

“I’m a deeply devoted vehicle for change. Being such a passionate communicator is easy and my objectives are lofty but achievable nonetheless. Assisting faithfully the HIV/AIDS advocacy community to help eliminate HIV/AIDS related stigma is a primary goal that is closest to my heart,” Gorrell says.

The advocacy has, nonetheless, spread to include “a wide range of issues. Nothing is off limits or out of bounds. I write free with no commercial ties or restraints, which gets me into some trouble at times,” Gorrell says, smiling. But “I always prevail.”

EARLY BEGINNINGS

In hindsight, “I can say with 100% confidence (due to the fact that I was born into a very small homophobic ‘red neck’ infested northern Canadian trailer park town of Thunder Bay) that I’ve spent most of my life’s journey, in one way or another, fighting, battling and advocating against all forms of homophobia and sexually based discrimination. I’ve been beating my ‘I’m gay and fabulous’ drums since my early teens after I’d already endured so many years of torture and hate during my earliest days at school,” Gorrell says. “Having been on the receiving end of juvenile homophobia at such a young age prepared me for my life of advocacy and eventually sowed the seeds for the work I do.”

Gorrell adds: “As soon as I was old enough, I found myself rallying hard for more honest tolerance, unconditional understanding and complete compassion from all those around me not just for myself, but for my entire global GLBTQIA family. I craved early for a more altruistic acceptance toward any individuals who might find themselves positioned ‘outside’ of what society deemed to be ‘normal’.”

The “serious” advocacy, nonetheless, started in 2001, when Gorrell was diagnosed with HIV.

“I felt or rather I knew immediately, that I had a much bigger purpose in life, which was to help others who were perhaps not as equipped as I was when coming to terms with their own diagnosis and the stigma more often than not attached to it,” he says.

The notion of having a hard life, but still having it better than others has been, to Gorrell’s recollection, influenced by a fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Felix, “who was the first black person I’d ever seen in my life,” Gorrell recalls. “One day, only minutes before lunch bell, I said out loud – and obnoxiously I’m sure – for my classmates to hear, ‘I’m so starving.’ Upon hearing this, my teacher Mrs. Felix, in all her black African goddess glory, proceeded to approach my desk with a look of total and utter disgust (which I can still clearly see when I close my eyes) on her face. ‘Brian,’ she bellowed as she glared directly at me, ‘you are NOT starving young man, you are simply famished.’ I knew on that very day, because of this amazing special teacher, that I actually had it so much better than many other kids in the world.”
Gorrell remains a friend of Mrs. Felix, the person to teach him “the big difference between being starved as opposed to being famished – and there is a BIG difference,” he says.

“I felt or rather I knew immediately, that I had a much bigger purpose in life, which was to help others who were perhaps not as equipped as I was when coming to terms with their own diagnosis and the stigma more often than not attached to it,” Brian Gorrell says.
PHOTO BY GLENN AFALLA, COURTESY OF BRIAN GORRELL

Deciding to become an advocate has not been difficult.

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“The decision to become a passionately driven full time HIV/AIDS advocate came very naturally to me, almost automatic, in fact,” Gorrell says, even if he laments that “the extreme exposure can be difficult at times due to the ‘sense’ of total loss of privacy, especially when I feel I’m sorely lacking it. I do feel over exposed at times and worry that people only perceive me as an HIV positive man due to my advocacy for change.”

The over exposure is needed, nonetheless, since even if “there is so much more to me than just my HIV status,” Gorrell says, “I continue to do battle against the old world stereotypes which are continually being perpetuated all around the globe (for people to realize the seropositive status is just an aspect of a seropositive individual).”

Gorrell is the first to admit his goals are lofty. “My objectives are so lofty because there is so much to be done. I need to help people come to terms with not only being HIV positive, but also how to move forward with the news,” he says, wanting to effect changes because “I dealt with it so well on my own; I’m a strong powerful guy when it comes to being honest about my HIV status.”

But the advocate believes “I’m already starting to achieve my main goals. Actually, I started to achieve them the very first day I began advocating against HIV related stigma. I feel my biggest achievement so far is having reached out and being accepted by the Philippines HIV advocacy community as well as other global advocates who write me asking me for help and my opinions. The thousands of e-mails I receive provide me with all the impetus I need to continue advocating and education people who need it.”

Gorrell adds: “I only want to help others now. I want HIV to be sexy. I want people to change their perception of it. And I am determined to do just that by showing people how healthy and happy I am every day. I want to smash those stereotypes into a million little pieces.”

LOVING LOVE

Gorrell is in a loving serodiscorant relationship now – i.e. he is HIV positive, his partner is seronegative. “Of course I am very concerned from time to time with regards to my relationship. My boyfriend is HIV negative so we face our own set of hurdles, which we jump over every single day,” he says. So “we have to work constantly on our relationship, which everyone has to do if you want it to last forever. You must find that special person who completes you and work constantly at it. I’m so proud of my relationship and I’m honoured to have a Filipino partner.”

Gorrell adds: “And you must practice VERY safe sex, which means blowjobs with condoms. I don’t ever want to give my boyfriend HIV so we are extremely careful and yet we still have an incredible AMAZING sex life. HIV does NOT stop you from having great sex. You must just be very mindful of your HIV negative partner.”

That Gorrell is in another relationship after the very public crash of his partnership with Montano is, well, refreshing.

“I believe in true love and everlasting love, and that would never change,” he says. “Love and stupidity got me into the mess I found myself in (in 2008). However, having said that, I would NEVER let another person stop me from achieving bliss in my life. I made a mistake and I learned a very valuable lesson – my mistake cost me $70,000, (but) I believe it to be the most important lesson I’ve learned in life so far, and I will never ignore my gut instincts again. The destructive man in question already took everything from me, and I was not about to let him stop me from moving on with another Filipino lover. My relationship with my current partner is the very thing that helped me recover and stand tall again. My beautiful relationship reminded me that not everyone is evil.”

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Gorrell’s lover, Emmanuel, just moved to be with him in Canada, where he now works at an exclusive resort in British Columbia. The two plan to wed before the end of 2009.

“We’re so excited to start our new life together here. The best thing about being in a relationship is being loved so deeply. I need to be loved because I’m so insecure, generally, as a person. With a boyfriend, I feel wonderful and happy because I hate being alone. The relationship I am in now is full of life force and passion and I’ve never been happier in my life,” Gorrell says.

HEAD ON

The GLBTQIA community, says Gorrell, still has much to achieve. “Until a transgendered person can walk into a restaurant in Greenbelt (at Ayala Center, Makati City) without being harassed or refused entry, there is still so much to be done. I feel the lack of concern for our transgendered brothers and sisters is both upsetting and shocking, (so much so that) we should boycott and march (against) the establishments that refuse to allow our GLBTQIA family through their doors simply because they are not dressed ‘normal,’” Gorrell says, adding that while the Philippines is very tolerant of homosexuals, “it is still a very homophobic country as long as (it is generally accepted that God is supposed to have said that) we are all going to hell.”

On being gay, “I’ve always been a fiercely open proud gay kid, teenager, and now adult. I grew up in an environment where you had to be loud in order to be heard, which suited me fine. I’ve never allowed society to squash my determination to live my life to its fullest potential with both dignity and purpose,” Gorrell says. “God made me gay so I am His glorious creation, born of His eye and His magnificent heart. It’s as simple as that. I’m living the life God wanted me to live – a life full of love, consideration, and deep compassion for others who may need some education, information, assistance, and, of course, comfort. I have a sense of duty to live the life God wanted me to live. A life to serve others the best way I know how. My challenge is to live God’s will, and to make Him proud of me.”

On his life thus far, Gorrell says he has no regrets. “I’ve absolutely no regrets. None whatsoever because every decision I ever made has brought me to this wonderful place where I find myself today. I’m thrilled with where I am in life, and immensely proud of my HIV advocacy work. I’m in love with the most incredible man and my friends and family love and support me. I lost my life savings to a man who swindled me and I never thought I would recover. But I have and I’m thrilled,” he says.

It is also good to note, he adds, of the “many positive things in our global GLBTQIA community, (e.g.) I’m deeply inspired by other HIV positive people who are not afraid to be open and free with their knowledge and journey; I am deeply inspired by unselfish people, who freely help others in desperate need of emotional support, tolerance, honesty, compassion and understanding; et cetera.”

For now, the focus continues to be on increasing awareness on HIV and/or AIDS – particularly in the Philippines. “My most immediate goal is simple. I want to be there for anyone who is having problems with their HIV status no matter where they live in the Philippines,” Gorrell says. “So much of my work happens behind the scenes, answering hundreds and hundreds of emails full of questions posed by others not as informed as I. Perhaps they are scared and in me they find a friend who they can trust.”

It is, Gorrell says, ignorance that continues to make people infected and/or affected by HIV and/or AIDS suffer. “HIV related stigma is killing people. Carriers are too afraid to tell other people they are HIV positive and this MUST stop. No shame. No shame. No shame,” Gorrell says, adding as a message to would-be advocates that “there is nothing more rewarding or fulfilling then helping others through advocacy. Information and education is the key. The more people we have out there in the advocacy community, the better. People thrive on the honesty of others so please share your experiences with those around you because you never know whom you could be helping.”

Brian Shane Gorrell is running the Anti Stigma Campaign. Visit him at:
http://delfindjmontano.blogspot.com/
http://donavictorina.blogspot.com/
http://twitter.com/TheBrianGorrell
http://picklies.multiply.com/

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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Trans kagawad at the COVID-19 frontline

As a frontliner during the COVID-19 pandemic, trans barangay kagawad Kristine T. Ibardolaza of Antipolo City said that her work may be risky, but it’s gratifying because she is one of those who help the needy. Right now, she said, everyone’s fighting, but “this is the time when we should be united as one. We should have one goal. And that is to stop this pandemic.”

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“It’s very risky to be at the frontline because (in the case of COVID-19) we can’t see the enemy,” said Kristine T. Ibardolaza, a barangay kagawad of Barangay Mayamot in Antipolo City, one of the frontliners facing COVID-19 pandemic. “But as days (pass), I am able to say that it’s gratifying because you know you are one of those who help the needy.”

Kristine admitted that “you’re also only human so it gets hard. It’s physically draining, and a mental torture.” However, “we still trust that everything (happens for a reason).”

A barangay kagawad (in English, barangay councilor) is an elected government official, a member of the Sangguniang Barangay/Barangay Council of a particular barangay, the smallest administrative division in the Philippines. As local leaders, they are directly in touch with people at the grassroots/communities.

With the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) due to Covid-19, barangay officials were tasked by Pres. Rodrigo Duterte to helm the response to the COVOD-19 pandemic. And so “with our barangay captain… we pack food for our constituents, while monitoring how they are doing. We also give them hope that this, too, shall pass,” Kristine said.

Kristine admitted that “you’re also only human so it gets hard. It’s physically draining, and a mental torture.” However, “we still trust that everything (happens for a reason).”

The barangay – Mayamot – that Kristine serves is big. “It’s like a municipality,” she said, with “more or less 80,000 registered voters.” The number doesn’t include the other family members of these voters – e.g children.

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“As much as possible, we want to reach everyone/all families,” Kristine said. But “sorry to say we still haven’t done this… for instance in the food packs made. But at the moment, I think we’ve reached 70% of the families; going to 80%.”

Service delivery is also proving to be challenging.

“I’m not sure if some people think this is a joke; they act like there’s a fiesta. Lack of discipline is the number one challenge. If people follow social distancing, or stay home to save lives, then our job will be easier,” Kristine said.

Already, Kristine – with the other local officials – have been working round-the-clock.

After packing the goods during the day, for instance, and “with help from the sitio chairman, we decided to distribute goods at night, when more people are asleep and are indoors.” This is because when visits are done during the day, people tend to congregate; and this is to be avoided in the time of COVID-19.

“We thought a pandemic like this only happens in movies. It never occurred to me that at a time when I’m the elected barangay kagawad, I’d face a problem like this,” Kristine said.

Kristine said it’s also challenging being a public official because sometimes, “nakalimutan ko pala na may pamilya rin ako. At hindi kami exempted sa pandemic na ito (I forget I also have family. And we’re not exempted from the pandemic).”

To other LGBTQIA elected officials, Kristine said: “Let’s be brave. This isn’t a fight only of LGBTQIA people, but of the whole Philippines and the whole world.”

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She added that people should “never underestimate the power of prayers. If everyone prays, this will (soon) end.”

“Lack of discipline is the number one challenge. If people follow social distancing, or stay home to save lives, then our job will be easier,” Kristine said.

But Kristine said that bickering has to stop.

“Right now, everyone’s fighting; even within the LGBTQIA community. This is the time when we should be united as one. We should have one goal. And that is to stop this pandemic,” she said. “This is the time when we should be loving ourselves the most. This is the time when we should express our love to our loved ones. A simple smile for our frontliners. This could lift their spirits.”

And in the end, “everyone – no one is exempted – is experiencing difficulties. Hopefully, everyone is also eyeing a better future after this pandemic.”

As days pass, “I am able to say that (my work is) gratifying because you know you are one of those who help the needy.”

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Gay under COVID-19 monitoring

Stephen Christian Quilacio from Cagayan de Oro City is a gay person under COVID-19 monitoring. This means that sans testing, he had to isolate for 21 days. He is still anxious, but he says: “You just have to cooperate and follow protocols.”

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Last Monday, after a 15-day quarantine from his travel from Cebu City, Stephen Christian Quilacio from Cagayan de Oro City “noticed I have most of the COVID-19 symptoms,” he said. He has on-off fever from the night of Monday until the next day, shortness of breath but no cough, and muscle pain. And so on Tuesday, “I decided to go to the hospital.”

During the triage/screening process, he recalled being asked questions; and eventually, “most of the symptoms for COVID-19 were found on me.”

And so, sans COVID-19 testing because of continuing issues for the same (e.g. procurement issues of the Department of Health/DOH, and – basically – not prioritizing mass testing right now even if VIP testing has been repeatedly reported), the doctor informed Stephen “that I am considered PUM: person under monitoring. I have to (isolate myself) for 21 days.”

Looking back, even if this happened only a few days ago, “when I had fever, I got scared,” Stephen said.

While under quarantine, Stephen spends his days… admittedly lazily. Her reads, connects with friends on social media, sleep and eat (“My parents and my cousins just deliver food”).

If he needs to go out at all (e.g. shower), the family members go inside their separate rooms.

“We also make sure that we sanitize everything,” Stephen said.

Looking back, even if this happened only a few days ago, “when I had fever, I got scared,” Stephen said. “I panicked because I have a history of asthma and tuberculosis, and I’m also immunocompromised. I really have to be very careful (in heeding) what the doctor is telling me.”

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COVID-19 still has no cure. Stephen is taking, among others, antibiotics (for seven days).

“After the medication, I will be staying in isolation until the end of the quarantine period,” he said.

Even now, “no one told me yet what I need to do after the quarantine,” Stephen said. But he hopes that the enhanced community quarantine, as a whole, will soon end; and when it does, that “everything will be okay.”

While under quarantine, Stephen spends his days… admittedly lazily. Her reads, connects with friends on social media, sleep and eat (“My parents and my cousins just deliver food”).

Now, “my advise to people is: If you think you have the symptoms for COVID-19, you really have to get yourself checked,” Stephen said.

The contact details of the appropriate health facilities vary per locality, obviously; but these should be “on social media or you can ask your family members,” Stephen said.

And when visiting health professionals, “you have to be very honest, especially if you have travel history. That’s very important because you don’t know if you’ve been exposed while at the airport or while traveling.”

As an additional tip, Stephen said people should “be vigilant with what’s happening in your barangay.” In his case, “our barangay is in the top three places with COVID-19 cases here. This is also why I got scared.”

And due to the much-criticized response of the DOH, Stephen said people are really not left with a lot of choice but “to cooperate; and just follow protocols.”

Now, “my advise to people is: If you think you have the symptoms for COVID-19, you really have to get yourself checked,” Stephen said.

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LGBTQIA people may designate partners as beneficiaries in insurance plans – Insurance Commission

The partners of LGBTQIA people may be designated as the beneficiaries of insurance plans, according to the Insurance Commission.

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The partners of LGBTQIA people may be designated as the beneficiaries of insurance plans, according to the Insurance Commission (IC).

As first reported by PhilStar.com, IC stated that it “affirms (the) position that the insured who secures a life insurance policy on his or her own life may designate any individual as beneficiary.”

IC’s clarification/position came after Prof. E. (Leo) Battad, program director of the UP College of Law Gender Law and Policy Program, sought guidelines from the IC on the right of the insured to designate a beneficiary, particularly the rights of members of the LGBTQIA community to designate their domestic partners as beneficiaries of their life insurance.

In the legal opinion issued to the University of the Philippines College of Law, Gender Law and Policy Program, IC commissioner Dennis Funa said that “an individual who has secured a life insurance policy on his or her own life may designate any person as beneficiary provided that such designation does not fall under the enumerations provided by Article 739 of the Civil Code, without prejudice to the application of Section 12 of the Amended Insurance Code.”

Exceptions contained in Article 2012 in relation to Article 739 of the Civil Code apply.

In Article 739, the following donations shall be void:

  • Those made between persons who were guilty of adultery or concubinage at the time of donation;
  • Those made between persons found guilty of the same criminal offense
  • Those made to a public officer or his wife, descendants and ascendants, by reason of his office.
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Funa was also quoted as saying that members of the LGBTQIA community “may present the legal opinion “if an insurance agent would have an adverse view.”

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Inter-Agency Committee on Diversity and Inclusion created via executive order

An executive order intends to create an inter-agency committee on diversity and inclusion, as well as establish the Diversity and Inclusion Program (DIP) that will consolidate efforts and implement laws “towards the identification and adoption of best practices in the promotion of diversity and inclusion.”

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Photo by daniel james from Unsplash.com

President Rodrigo Roa Duterte is flexing his supposed anti-discrimination cred with the signing of Executive Order (EO) 100, which focuses on minority sectors, including members of the LGBTQIA community, Indigenous Peoples, youth and persons with disability (PWDs).

The EO – titled “Institutionalizing the diversity and inclusion program, creating an inter-agency committee on diversity and inclusion (IACDI), and for other purposes – intends to create the aforementioned IACDI, as well as establish the Diversity and Inclusion Program (DIP) that will consolidate efforts and implement laws “towards the identification and adoption of best practices in the promotion of diversity and inclusion.”

The order was signed on December 17, prior to Duterte meeting with a politicized organization composed of LGBTQIA Filipinos that eye to win seat in Congress in the next elections via the country’s partylist system; but was only released to the media on December 19.

The to-be-established IACDI will be composed of: Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG), Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), Department of Budget Management (DBM), Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), Department of Justice (DOJ), Department of Education (DepEd), Department of Health (DOH), Philippine Commission on Women (PCW), Commission on Higher Education (CHED), Presidential Commission for the Urban Poor (PCUP), National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP), National Council on Disability Affairs (NCDA), and National Youth Commission (NYC).

Worth noting: No LGBTQIA representation is specifically mentioned/included in the committee.

The committee is expected to work with “relevant stakeholders, advocacy groups and NGOs” to develop a DIP; dictate the direction of the DIP; “encourage” local government units to issue ordinances promoting diversity and inclusion; and recommend possible legislation to address gaps in existing laws.

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Meanwhile, the to-be-established DIP is supposed to “consolidate efforts and implement existing laws, rules and issuances against the discrimination of persons on the basis of age, disability, national or ethnic origin, language, religious affiliation or belief, political affiliation or belief, health status, physical features, or sexual orientation and gender identity and expression, towards the identification and adoption of best practices in the promotion of diversity and inclusion.”

For trans activist Naomi Fontanos, who helms GANDA Filipinas, there are provisions in the EO that are problematic.

“(It) looks good on paper but has problematic provisions,” Fontanos said.

For example, “the composition of the IACDI excludes key government agencies like the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) and Civil Service Commission (CSC). Instead they have consultative status. This is surprising since based on RA No. 9710 or the Magna Carta of Women (MCW), the CHR is the Gender and Development (GAD) Ombud.”

Fontanos noted that with “funding for the implementation of EO No. 100, s. 2019 will either be from sources identified by the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) or through Gender and Development (GAD) funds, why then does the GAD Ombud only have consultative status?”

Also excluded from the IACDI is the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos, “which is unfortunate since the EO seeks to prohibit discrimination based on religious affiliation or belief,” Fontanos said.

Fontanos similarly questioned the chairmanship of the IACDI by the DILG.

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“The DILG’s main function is to ensure peace and order, public safety, and building the capacity of local governments for basic services delivery. Implementing a nationwide DIP better fits the mandate of the DSWD, which is to empower disadvantaged sectors in our country. The DSWD is only the committee’s Vice Chair.”

For Fontanos, “also most telling is that the committee is tasked to consult relevant stakeholders and NGOs to develop the DIP. Given that EO No. 100, s. 2019 was signed during the oath-taking of officers of LGBT Pilipinas Party-List at Malacañang Palace, will they be the default ‘stakeholder’ to be consulted on LGBT issues? If they are running for a congressional seat in 2022, won’t that give them undue advantage given that they will be working with LGUs through the chairmanship of the DILG?”

Following the release of the EO, future steps to be taken have yet to be announced.

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FEATURES

Province of Capiz holds first Pride parade

The city of Roxas in the Province of Capiz held its first LGBTQIA Pride parade, a “historic event that was organized for and by the LGBTQIA people of Capiz.”

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All photos courtesy of Charmel Delfin Ignacio Catalan

Pride in Capiz.

The city of Roxas in the Province of Capiz held its first LGBTQIA Pride parade, a “historic event that was organized for and by the LGBTQIA people of Capiz,” said Charmel Delfin Ignacio Catalan, who helmed the organizing of the event via Queens of all Queens and LGBT Community Capiz.

The local LGBTQIA community is not exactly completely “invisible”, admitted Catalan, having participated in the city’s/province’s past gatherings – e.g. last August 12, 2019, when a contingent joined the parade for the International Youth Day. But this Pride is “important – particularly as it is being held as the world observes World AIDS Day – because it highlights what’s solely relevant to our community.”

As is common with non-commercialized Pride events, “the main problem (we encountered) was financial,” Catalan said. This is because “we only relied on donations of generous individuals (to be able to hold this event).” But since “it had the backing of the community… we were able to push through.”

With Catalan in organizing the Pride parade were Atty. Felizardo Demayuga Jr. and Sandro Borce.

For Catalan: “I believe we still need Pride in this day and age to celebrate the unique individuality of the members of the LGBTQIA Community, and – of course – to continue the advocacy of equal rights and mutual respect and the causes that we are fighting for.”

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Roxas City, in particular, still records LGBTQIA-related hate crimes. In a 2015 interview with Outrage Magazine, Catalan recalled the bashing of a trans woman na napag-tripan (because some people just felt like it); sex work-related ill-treatment; and even killings.

This is why Catalan said she hopes for (particularly local) LGBTQIA people to attend the gathering as a show of strength that “we’re in this together.”

Catalan, nonetheless, recognizes that many non-LGBTQIA people still detest/discriminate LGBTQIA people. And so to them she said: “To all our bashers/haters, please take note that we have no ill feelings towards you; we love you and you are always in our prayers. Please take note that sticks and stones may break our bones but you won’t see us fall.”

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‘We need inclusive responses to HIV’ – Bahaghari Center

For Ms Disney Aguila, board member of Bahaghari Center, “it needs to be emphasized that HIV can only truly be dealt with if everyone is on board.”

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In early 2019, Jay (not his real name), a Deaf gay man who lives outside Metro Manila, was encouraged by his friends who knew community-based HIV screening (CBS) to get himself tested. It was, he recalled, “the first time someone offered me this service; so I caved in.”

Jay was reactive; and “my world crumbled,” he said.

Though his friends tried to comfort him, telling him that knowing his status is good, “since at least now I can take steps to get treatment and live a normal, healthy life,” Jay wasn’t assuaged. His friends had to eventually go back to Metro Manila, and he worried that he would be left on his own to “find ways to access treatment.” And the same issue that did not make testing accessible for him – i.e. him being Deaf – is now the same issue he believed would hinder him from getting treatment, care and support (TCS).

Jay’s case, said Ms Disney Aguila, board member of the Bahaghari Center for SOGIE Research, Education and Advocacy Inc. (Bahaghari Center), highlights how “numerous sectors continue to be ignored in HIV-related responses.”

Aguila, the concurrent head of the Pinoy Deaf Rainbow, the pioneering organization for Deaf LGBTQIA Filipinos, added that “it needs to be emphasized – particularly today as #WAD2019 – that HIV can only truly be dealt with if everyone is on board.”

WORSENING HIV SITUATION

As reported by the HIV/AIDS & ART Registry of the Philippines (HARP) of the Department of Health (DOH), the Philippines has 35 new HIV cases every day. The figure has been consistently growing – from only one case every day in 2008, seven cases per day in 2011, 16 cases per day in 2014, and 32 cases per day in 2018.

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In July, when HARP released its (delayed) latest figures, there were 1,111 newly confirmed HIV-positive individuals; this was 29% higher compared with the diagnosed cases (859) in the same period last year.

Perhaps what is worth noting, said Aguila, is the “absence in current responses of minority sectors” – e.g. when even data does not segregate people from minority sectors, thus the forced invisibility that used to also affect transgender people who were once lumped under the MSM (men who have sex with men) umbrella term.

For Aguila, this is “detrimental to the overall response re HIV because specific needs are not answered.”

DEAF IN FOCUS

In 2012, Bahaghari Center conducted “Talk to the Hand”, the first-of-its-kind study that looked at the knowledge, attitudes and related practices (KAP) of Deaf LGBT Filipinos on HIV and AIDS. The study had numerous disturbing findings.

To start, majority of the respondents (33 or 54.1%) were within the 19-24 age range at the time of the study, followed by those who are over 25 (21 or 34.3%). Most of them (53 of 61 Deaf respondents) had sex before they reached 18. Many (36.1%) of them also had numerous sexual partners, with some respondents having as many as 20 sex partners in a month.
Only 21 (34.4%) use condoms, and – worryingly – even among those who used condoms, 12 (19.7%) had condom breakage during sex because of improper use.

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Perhaps the unsafe sexual practice should not be surprising, considering that not even half (29, 47.5%) of the respondents heard of HIV and AIDS, with even less that number (23, 37.7%) knowing someone who died of HIV or AIDS-related complications. And with not even half of the total respondents (29) familiar with HIV and AIDS, not surprisingly, only 19 (31.1%) considered HIV and AIDS as serious, with more of them considering HIV and AIDS as not serious (20, 32.8%) or maybe serious (22, 36.1%).

The study also noted that the level of general knowledge about HIV and AIDS is low, with 40 (65.6%) of them falling in this category. Only about 1/5 of them (12, 19.7%) had high level of knowledge about HIV and AIDS. Even fewer (9, 14.8%) may be classified as having moderate knowledge level.

For the Deaf community, at least, accessing testing and – if one tested HIV positive – the TCS is challenging because “we’d need Filipino Sign Language (FSL) interpreters who can help make sure we’re getting the right information/treatment/et cetera, Aguila said. And in the Philippines, the numbers of service providers who know FSL remain very limited.

Already there are Deaf Filipinos trained to conduct CBS particularly for other Deaf Filipinos – here in “Stop HIV Together“, a photo campaign stressing the need for inclusion.

INCLUDING OTHER MINORITIES

Aguila stressed that forced invisibility, obviously, does not only affect the minority Deaf community as far as HIV-related responses are concerned – e.g. “other persons with disability continue not to have HIV-related interventions,” she said.

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For Aguila: “To truly stop HIV and AIDS, we need to be inclusive.”

Back in the city south of Metro Manila, Jay was forwarded to a counselor who knows FSL so that he can be supported in accessing TCS. Even that was “problematic,” said Jay, because “I was ‘forced’ to come out to someone I didn’t necessarily want to disclose my status only because I had no choice.”

For him, this highlights “how we just have to make do with what’s there; and there really isn’t much that’s there to begin with.”

He feels “lighter” now, however, having started his antiretroviral treatment (ART). But he knows he’s one of the “lucky people with contacts”; and that “not every one has access to the same support I had… and that’s something we need to deal with.”

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