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Davao’s 1st HIV Summit stresses need for new approaches to end HIV

Helmed by the Department of Health in Region XI, Davao City held its 1st HIV Summit, which not only highlighted existing efforts being done, but also attempted to find “more creative ways” to curb the spread of the epidemic. Davao City is one of the six cities in the Philippines with high HIV prevalence rates, third only after NCR and Cebu City. The city also has an HIV prevalence rate – at five percent – that is higher than the 3.5 national average.

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DAVAO CITY – As it now registers 40 new HIV infections every month, Davao City held its 1st HIV Summit, which not only highlighted existing efforts being done, but also attempted to find “more creative ways” to curb the spread of the epidemic.

Helmed by the Department of Health in Region XI, the summit was participated by other government organizations (e.g. Philippine National Police and Davao City Health Department), non-government organizations (e.g. Davao City-based HIV organizations ALAGAD and MAAAI), and other stakeholders (e.g. faith-based organizations with efforts on HIV).

In lauding the summit, Sen. Teofisto Guingona III, chairperson of the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee on Health, Peace, Unification and Reconciliation, noted the long-overdue need to act.

“I would have wanted to say with much drama: ‘Now is the time to act’. But that would be wrong. That would be misleading. The time to act was yesterday. In fact, the time to act was many yesterdays ago,” Guingona said.

WORSENING SITUATION

Davao City is, by the way, one of the six cities in the Philippines with high HIV prevalence rates, third only after NCR and Cebu City. The city also has an HIV prevalence rate – at five percent – that is higher than the 3.5 national average.

Since the first case of HIV infection was reported/documented in Davao City in 1984, the number of people living with HIV (PLHIV) in the city as of end-June 2015 has reached 1,569. Of these, 152 progressed to AIDS; and over 70 have died from AIDS-related infection.

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Following the national trend, men who have sex with men (MSM) are also the most affected population in Davao City, according to Dr. Josephine Villafuerte, Davao City Health Officer. This is even if the youngest documented case in the city, a 13-year-old, is a girl.

From January to June this year, a total of 240 new HIV cases were recorded in Davao City.

ADDITIONAL SERVICES

Not surprisingly, as noted by Dr. Abdullah B. Dumama Jr., regional director of Department of Health (DOH)-Region XI, current service providers are “already congested, thus the need to expand the services.”

The Southern Philippines Medical Center (SPMC), a treatment hub in Davao City, for instance, serves over 1,300 PLHIVs from southern Mindanao (not just Davao City).

“Already,” according to Dumama, “we are looking at expanding the services.”

DOH-Region XI has already been training additional manpower (e.g. medical technologists and nurses) to “better the proficiency of service providers,” Dumama said. The regional office has also already requested the regional office for additional CD4 machines, which it hopes will reach the city by end-2015.

Dr. Alicia Layug, who heads the treatment hub in Davao City, added that a machine to ascertain the viral load of PLHIV is also already being requested to include this service in the package offered to those in southern Mindanao.

For its part, the DOH in Manila is facing the “challenge of harmonization of services being offered to PLHIV in different treatment hubs.”

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Currently, even if PLHIV pay the same PhilHealth premium (pegged at P2,400 per year), the services they receive vary depending on the available services in their treatment hubs. The DOH mandates the “minimum package (to be provided by hubs to PLHIV),” said DOH Usec. Vicente Y. Belizario Jr. “But (health care) is decentralized to local government units, (and) there are LGUs that are more innovative. The challenge is to ensure harmonization, which we will continue to push.”

CONFRONTING STIGMA

With the Davao HIV summit gathering various stakeholders in the fight against HIV, the need to look at HIV as more than a medical issue was also stressed.

Guingona, for his part, expressed his dismay “not in the viciousness with which the HIV attacks the human immune system. What has shocked me in the apparent high level of… ‘immunity’ that our collective conscience is suffering from. I am shocked at our ability to be indifferent; to be in denial; to succumb to apathy in the face of the most cruel scourge in the history of man. What we probably have not realized is that the disease spreads faster in an atmosphere of denial, indifference… and prejudice,” Guingona said.

The summit stressed the need for “authentic dialogue” involving all stakeholders.

“(We need) to see one another as a valuable member of the human community; and.. recognize that we are all part of a human community which must find solutions if we are all to survive,” Guingona ended.

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At the 1st HIV Summit in Davao City, trans Davaoenas take an active part as they, too, eye to find solutions to stop the spread of HIV.

At the 1st HIV Summit in Davao City, trans Davaoenas take an active part as they, too, eye to find solutions to stop the spread of HIV.

Stop HIV now5

 

“I would have wanted to say with much drama: ‘Now is the time to act’. But that would be wrong. That would be misleading. The time to act was yesterday. In fact, the time to act was many yesterdays ago,” said Sen. Teofisto Guingona III, chairperson of the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee on Health, Peace, Unification and Reconciliation.

“I would have wanted to say with much drama: ‘Now is the time to act’. But that would be wrong. That would be misleading. The time to act was yesterday. In fact, the time to act was many yesterdays ago,” said Sen. Teofisto Guingona III, chairperson of the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee on Health, Peace, Unification and Reconciliation.

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Non-binary pronoun ‘they’ added to Merriam-Webster dictionary

“They” is now used as a pronoun by many non-binary people who identify as genders other than male or female. But for many English-speaking people, the use of “they” as a singular pronoun can be grammatically wrong and therefore confusing.

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Merriam-Webster has added a new definition of the word “they” to its dictionary, declaring that the pronoun may be used to refer to a “single person whose gender identity is non-binary.”

“They” is now used as a pronoun by many non-binary people who identify as genders other than male or female. But for many English-speaking people, the use of “they” as a singular pronoun can be grammatically wrong and therefore confusing. With Merriam-Webster’s announcement, however, made on Twitter on Tuesday, an official stamp of approval is being made on the term that is increasingly used by those with non-binary identities.

In a blog post written before the announcement, Merriam-Webster noted that “they” has been used as a singular pronoun since the late 1300s, adding that “and that regardless of what detractors say, nearly everyone uses the singular they in casual conversation and often in formal writing.”

The singular “they,” the blod post stated, is “not quite as newfangled as it seems: we have evidence in our files of the nonbinary they dating back to 1950, and it’s likely that there are earlier uses of the nonbinary pronoun they out there.”

Merriam-Webster’s blog post similarly stated that “there have always been people who didn’t conform to an expected gender expression, or who seemed to be neither male nor female. But we’ve struggled to find the right language to describe these people—and in particular, the right pronouns.”

The new definition of “they” is among 530 new words added to Merriam-Webster dictionary. Other words include “deep state,” “dad joke” and “free solo.”

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Merriam-Webster’s move is not exactly groundbreaking.

Already, various journalism style guides allow gender-neutral pronouns. In 2017, for instance, the Associated Press announced that it would permit journalists to use the singular “they” in limited cases. Meanwhile, Washington Post has recognized the new pronouns since 2015.

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Trans woman hacked to death in Bolinao, Pangasinan

The lifeless body of Jessa Remiendo was found on the shore of Patar in Bolinao, Pangasinan. Remembered as kind and hard-working, Remiendo’s case highlights how “hate crimes can just be committed against people like us,” said Noreen Barber, overall president of the United Pangasinan Association LGBTQ+.

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Composite image by OutrageMag.com

Perhaps highlighting how LGBTQIA-related crimes continue to be pervasive in the Philippines, a transgender woman was found dead in Bolinao town in Pangasinan.

As earlier reported by Noreen Barber, overall president of the United Pangasinan Association LGBTQ+, the body of Jessa Remiendo was found on the shore of Patar on Tuesday, September 17. This was eventually confirmed by Bolinao town police chief Major Dennis Cabigat.

According to the police report, Remiendo – who used to work in one of the resorts in Bolinao – was drinking with coworkers and her sister at the Valdevia Resort on Monday, September 16. She left the group to buy some cigarettes; but she never returned.

Her lifeless body was found the next day. Stripped of her clothes, she was hacked multiple times.

In a post on her Facebook page, Barber said that this is the first time that something like this happened in the province. This is one “karumal-dumal na krimen na mahigpit na kinokondena ng LGBTQIA (community),” Barber stated, adding that “marami ang hindi makatanggap sa pangyayaring ito dahil isa siyang mabuting tao; napakabait at masipag si Jessa (this is a heinous crime that the LGBTQIA community condemns… Many cannot comprehend this because Jessa was a good person; she was kind and hard-working).”

Barber cautioned that the gruesome murder should signal other LGBTQIA people to be cautious because “hate crimes sa mga katulad natin ay walang pinipili. Hanggat di pa naipapasa ang SOGIE Equality Bill tayo ay mananatiling the most unprotected and neglected sector sa ating komunidad (hate crimes can just be committed against people like us. For as long as the SOGIE Equality Bill is not passed, we will continue to be the most unprotected and neglected sector in our community).”

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Various LGBTQIA organizations are already condemning the crime.

In a Facebook post, UP Babaylan stated: “Brutal hate crimes like this are the most violent expression of the prejudice against people of diverse sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, and sex characteristics (SOGIESC). In the transgender community alone, there were 29 murders documented in the Philippines from 2008 to 2015, including the high-profile case of Jennifer Laude.”

[TRIGGER WARNING: Hate Crime]Earlier today, the mutilated body of Jessa "Shantal" Remiendo, a transgender woman, was…

Posted by UP Babaylan on Tuesday, September 17, 2019

It, therefore, “condemns in the strongest possible terms this violent killing of our trans sister. We demand that the police immediately respond to this case with a fair and extensive investigation, and the prosecution of the perpetrators. We also call on the local government units of Bolinao and Pangasinan to prioritize the resolution of this case, and to enact protective measures for their LGBTQI community in the absence of a national anti-discrimination law.”

For UP Babaylan, similar to Barber’s call, “this only stresses the need for the immediate passage of the SOGIE Equality Bill. We demand that our senators do their duty to protect our constitutionally-recognized rights as human beings, and finally pass into law one of the policies that will protect us from discrimination on the basis of our SOGIESC.”

For Sanggunian: Commission on Gender Equality, the gruesome murder “incites fear among the LGBTQ+, and serves as a wake-up call to open people’s eyes to the vulnerability of the community.”

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Earlier this morning, the stripped and mutilated body of Jessa Remiendo, a trans woman, was found on the shores of Patar…

Posted by Sanggunian: Commission on Gender Equality on Tuesday, September 17, 2019

While mourning the death of Remiendo, it is also calling upon the government “to pass the SOGIE Equality Bill to prevent heinous crimes such as (this) from happening, and to protect the rights of (its) citizens.”

For its part, the LGBTQ+ Partylist called on the Philippine National Police and the local government of Bolinao to “act swiftly on (Remiendo’s) case and give her the justice she deserves.”

It added that “it is apparent that even with the safeguards provided by the law in our country, it is not enough to mitigate the discrimination, harassment, and violence experienced by the LGBTQ+ community. Thus, it is of utmost importance that both Houses of the Philippine Congress pass the SOGIE Equality Bill the soonest to provide a national law that will protect everyone regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression (SOGIE).”

The partylist also called for members of the LGBTQIA community to “continually push for a more just and inclusive society where people respect each other’s differences and individual rights. Until every LGBTQ+ person and other minorities in the Philippines feel free enough to live their lives without fear of oppression and violence, let us not stop advocating for our rights.”

For LGBT Pilipinas, “years after the brutal murder of transgender woman Jennifer Laude, the Filipino LGBTQ+ community is again shaken by the news of a mutilated body of transgender woman and breadwinner (Remiendo) who was found on the shore of Patar Beach in Bolinao, Pangasinan. She was hacked to death, almost severing her head from her body, by a criminal still at large. The gruesome image of her stripped body soaked in blood and sand is more than enough reason to say this is not a typical murder case. This is a case of hate crime expressed most violently in prejudice against transgender women and other individuals of diverse sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, and sex characteristics.”

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The partylist organization condemned “in the strongest terms such egregious act of hatred, bigotry and violence towards another of our sisters in the community. Remiendo’s murder is undeniable proof that the Filipino LGBTQ+ community continues to be the subject of discrimination amid lack of protection from our government and legal safeguards to rely on. Turning a blind eye on the plight of transgender women only makes matters much worse for our ostensibly civilized society. Whatever the reason, no one—LGBTQ+ or otherwise—deserves to perish in such manner.”

And since the Bolinao police agreed that the killing was “unusual” based on their investigation, “we challenge them to swiftly pursue every lead possible and ensure that Remiendo’s perpetrator will have his day in court. Hate crime, including gender-based violence, is no ordinary felony. It is rooted in one’s strong unfavorable emotions against an individual’s identity and being, that usually makes the LGBTQ+ community a vulnerable target. Time and again, we implore the 18th Congress to finally pass a national anti-discriminatory policy.”

Lastly, “to those who criticize our community for speaking up and fighting for equal treatment and opportunity, it is time you stop the hypocrisy. Keeping safe from harm of discrimination and violence does not give you the privilege to be apathetic and insensitive towards a group of people, especially a minority that has suffered much through the decades. Now more than ever, the LGBTQ+ community has the cause to demand justice,”LGBT Pilipinas ended.

The local police is still investigating the case with one lead.

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Bulacan holds 1st LGBTQIA summit

The LGBTQIA community in the province of Bulacan held its first-ever summit, eyeing to build the community by creating more accessible and affirming ways for its members to be accepted and recognized.

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Photo courtesy of Ms Dindi Tan

Rainbow gathering in Bulacan.

The LGBTQIA community in the province of Bulacan held its first-ever summit, eyeing to build the community by creating more accessible and affirming ways for its members to be accepted and recognized.

According to Bulacan Governor Daniel Fernando, the country is one of the most LGBTQIA-friendly nations in the world, ranking in top 10 out of 39 countries open to the LGBTQIA community.

But issues continue to plague the LGBTQIA community.

For one, Ron Chie Santos, nurse hub manager of the Luntiang Silong HIV Unit of the Bulacan Medical Center, noted that Bulacan is among the provinces in Central Luzon with the highest number of HIV cases. There are now 2,270 HIV cases in Bulacan (from 1984 to May 2019), with most of the cases coming from the cities of San Jose Del Monte (257), Meycauayan (123) and Malolos (115).

To date, to respond to the province’s HIV situation, the province has the Luntiang Silong HIV Unit of the Bulacan Medical Center, the mother hub facility in this province that conducts and offers HIV treatment and anti-retroviral therapy. It has seven facilities that offer HIV testing and therapy in the cities of Malolos, San Jose Del Monte, Meycauayan and towns of Guiguinto, Baliwag, Marilao and Sta. Maria.

The province still has no anti-discrimination ordinance to protect the human rights of LGBTQIA people; but in 2013, one of the barangays elected a transgender woman – Ms Jhane Dela Cruz – as the first transgender village chief of Barangay Iba in Hagonoy, Bulacan.

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Comprehensive anti-discrimination bill pushed in Congress, eyed to also benefit LGBTQIA Filipinos

Sen. Sonny Angara assured that members of the LGBTQIA community will still benefit in the passage of a more comprehensive anti-discrimination law. This following Pres. Rodrigo Duterte earlier expressing his intent to expedite the passage of the same, rather than the SOGIE Equality Bill.

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All photos taken during Metro Manila's Pride parade in 2018

Pushing for a more comprehensive anti-discrimination law.

Sen. Juan Edgardo “Sonny” Angara assured that members of the LGBTQIA community will still benefit in the passage of a more comprehensive anti-discrimination law. This following Pres. Rodrigo Duterte earlier expressing his intent to expedite the passage of an anti-discrimination bill (ADB), rather than the Sexual Orientation Gender Identity and Expression (SOGIE) Equality Bill.

In July, Angara filed Senate Bill (SB) 137, which seeks to prohibit discrimination based on age, racial or ethnic origin, religious belief or activity, political inclination or conviction, social class, sex, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and expressions, marital or relationship status, disability, HIV status, health status or medical history, language, physical features, or other status.

Meanwhile, Sen. Rosa Hontiveros is the sponsor of SB 159, the SOGIE Equality Bill that – as the bill’s name stresses – is more focused on SOGIE-related discrimination. This has been erroneously seen to solely benefit only members of the LGBTQIA community, even if everyone – including heterosexual-identifying people – also have SOGIE.

According to Angara, his proposed comprehensive anti-discrimination bill (CADB) is “still a step in the right direction. This bill has better chance of passing because it’s more comprehensive.”

For Angara, the SOGIE Equality Bill is more concentrated on a gender-based discrimination, whereas his version also talks about “religion, belief, ethnicity, appearance and many other issues.”

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Angara’s bill lists 13 “acts of discrimination”. Protected attributes under the proposed bill includes age, racial or ethnic origin, religious belief, political inclination or conviction, social class, sex, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and expressions, marital or relationship status, disability, HIV status, health status or medical history, language, physical features or other status.

The inclusion of SOGIE had to be highlighted, and even with the inclusion of other minority sectors, because there are fears that this will eventually be removed by those opposing the promotion of equal rights for every Filipino.

In July, when the bill was filed, Angara noted that “discrimination, in any shape or form, has no place in Philippine society.” And while the Philippines has come a long way in terms of being an open and equitable society, “there is still a lot more to be done to totally eliminate all forms of discrimination in the country.”

“Discrimination remains a problem be it for women, children, persons with disabilities or the LGBTQ community. We are currently enjoying remarkable economic growth, but while there is still discrimination taking place, we cannot call ourselves a truly progressive nation,” Angara said at that time.

He added: “Araw araw marami sa ating kababayan ang nakakaranas ng ibat ibang uri ng pang-aapi. Karaniwan ang mga nagaganap na diskriminasyon ay inaakalang normal o katanggap tanggap ng mga taong gumagawa nito… Nais nating maintindihan ng lahat kung anong mga gawain, salita o polisiya na maituturing na diskriminasyon o pang-aapi sa kapwa.

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The bill prescribes a penalty of one to six years imprisonment and/or a fine of up to P500,000 for any person found to have committed acts of discrimination.

“Discrimination is a problem that is not confined to a few people alone. It concerns everyone. No one should feel helpless when faced with discrimination. We appeal to our colleagues to support this bill,” Angara said.

Meanwhile, in the Lower House, Bagong Henerasyon party-list Rep. Bernadette Herrera, the author of an anti-discrimination bill in the House of Representatives, said that she “welcomed” the approach of Angara in including SOGIE-related discrimination as part of the CADB.

Herrera, however, expressed concerns over differing provisions in the anti-discrimination bills proposed in the Lower and Upper Houses.

For instance, there are some prohibited acts of discrimination listed on the House bill that are not included in the Senate bill. Also, while the House bill eyes for all law enforcers to enforce non-discrimination (including the police and other stakeholders), the Senate version identified the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) as the sole government body enforcer.

“What is important to us in the House is that all marginalized sectors and persons who are being discriminated against – including the LGBTQI+ – are given equal protection of, due process, access, and welfare under all our laws,” she said.

SB 137 has yet to be taken up in the committee level. It was already referred to the Senate committee on cultural communities, which is helmed by Sen. Imee Marcos.

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Young adults less LGBT tolerant, according to report

The survey found that non-LGBTQ adults who said they felt “very” or “somewhat” comfortable in all of those scenarios was 49%, reflecting no change from 2018. For the 18 to 34 demographic, however, that percentage fell from 53% to 45%.

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Photo by ROBIN WORRALL from Unsplash.com

Surprise, surprise!

A survey shows that overall acceptance of LGBTQ people among young adults – at least in the US – dipped for the second year in a row.

In “2019 Accelerating Acceptance Report”, conducted by The Harris Poll for LGBT advocacy group GLAAD, 1,970 Americans over the age of 18 were asked a series of questions with regard to their reactions to several different situations involving LGBTQ people. Participants were – specifically – asked, among others: 1) how they felt about seeing a same-sex couple hold hands; and 2) learning that a family member or a doctor identifies as LGBTQ and learning that their child has been placed in a class taught by an LGBTQ teacher.

The survey found that non-LGBTQ adults who said they felt “very” or “somewhat” comfortable in all of those scenarios was 49%, reflecting no change from 2018. For the 18 to 34 demographic, however, that percentage fell from 53% to 45%.

According to GLAAD, 2019 marks the second year in a row that LGBTQ acceptance for those aged 18 to 34 has dropped. In 2017, that figure was at 63%. The most striking drop in acceptance appeared among young women, whose comfort level dropped from 64% last year to 52% in the newly published report.

According to GLAAD president/CEO Sarah Kate Ellis, the two-year decline may be linked to the “divisive rhetoric both in politics and in culture.”

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Duterte open to certifying anti-discrimination bill as urgent

President Rodrigo Duterte said he would certify as urgent a bill seeking to protect the human rights of LGBTQIA Filipinos. “Yes… what would make them happy,” Duterte said in a speech in Malacañang Tuesday.

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President Rodrigo Duterte said he would certify as urgent a bill seeking to protect the human rights of LGBTQIA Filipinos.

The anti-discrimination bill (ADB) has been pending in Congress for 19 years now. Its latest iteration, the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity or Expression (SOGIE) Equality Bill, was filed by Akbayan Sen. Risa Hontiveros, and the intention remains the same – i.e. to prevent and penalize discriminatory acts committed against any person based on his/her/their sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression.

Duterte, in a speech in Malacañang Tuesday, said he would do whatever would make the LGBT community happy.

“Yes,” Duterte said in a speech in Malacañang Tuesday, “whatever would make the mechanisms, what would make them happy. Gusto ko, kagaya kay Senator Enrile, gusto ko happy siya.

Duterte was referring to former Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile’s campaign tagline, “Gusto ko happy ka (I want you to be happy).”

Duterte, however, did not specify which version of the ADB he will be pushing, with a comprehensive anti-discrimination bill (CADB) also proposed by Sen. Sonny Angara.

The SOGIE Equality Bill is currently at the committee level in both Houses of Congress.

The measure cleared the House of Representatives in the 17th Congress, but was blocked by conservative “Christian” senators in the Upper House.

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