They tried to bury us.
They didn’t know we were seeds.
This maxim was dancing in my head to the beat of Madonna’s “Express Yourself” booming from some locomotive speaker, as we paraded along the busy streets of Session Road. It was the 10th Baguio Pride event – a festive spectacle and public protest meant to put the LGBTQ community and relevant issues forward. My heart felt full as I relished my first time to participate in a Pride event, walking side by side with fellow LGBTQs and straight allies, fighting and celebrating our right to be heard and seen, to be respected, to be recognized, to be represented, and to just be.
Baguio Pride participants donned on statement shirts, holding up signs and flags echoing current LGBTQ issues, chanting and laughing together, marching purposefully, and some, flamboyantly, all under the metaphoric banner of equality as they blazed on through the heat of the day.
The hot and blinding sunrays did not feel like the flaming furnace of eternal damnation, which bible-thumpers were threatening us about. What was felt was light – like the heavens very warmly kissing into our being with the glorious salvation from every demon that tried to oppress us. The sky shone on us, willing us to go on; resonating our liberty from the stuffy darkness of closets, chasing away the shadows that religious rigidity and closed-minded dogma have cloaked us with.
There were the onlookers standing amusingly and curiously by the sidewalks, as well as people watching as they cross the walkways hanging over us. These eyes were not of the hostile stares from a wrongly cultivated belief that we were unnatural. We didn’t get the harrowing frown from the disapproving, disgruntled status quo. Rather, it was a mix of attentive smiles, nonchalance and quiet understanding.
Or, maybe, gay pride at that moment made me unwary of those who were cursing us as they plunk themselves down on the sides and corners of society’s spiteful ignorance.
A kid was marching alongside her lesbian parents. The rainbow flag was draped on her back. She was also casually sporting rainbow socks and a round rainbow pin. She seemed wise beyond her years and so sure of herself, with the spring in her steps and presence pointing toward an embracing dawn of a better tomorrow.
LGBTQ groups and LGBTQ-friendly organizations dotted Igorot Park as the march ended here. Colorful Pride flags were raised high around the stage that was set against the backdrop of the Cordillera Freedom Monument, an imposing statue signifying the tribal groups who settled in the mountainous region of Northern Luzon. It exuded a magnificent semblance of valor and dignity.
People were chatting and moving enthusiastically, snapping away pictures to capture the fun and loving moments among friends, families, lovers and other kindred spirits. It was bustling with encouraging speeches and entertaining performances. Everything was a show of jovial engagement and fiery determination of people coming together in spearheading hope for equality, as well as in encouraging meaningful actions against forces that dare to tear it apart.
Some of us sat by the concrete benches as we enjoyed the unfolding crowd and event. The little girl, who had a rainbow flag as a cape, sat next to me and opened up an empty red box labeled “condoms”, only to find that its happy emptiness was disturbed by a leaflet about Christianity’s concept of good and evil, and how Jesus Christ would redeem us all from sin. She browsed through the content of the leaflet while the other woman sitting beside her, seemingly a bit bothered by the flyer, calmly whispered to her that whatever was written in it wasn’t true. God (if s/he exists) only knows what was going through that little girl’s mind while she read through it. I wasn’t sure if the content was preaching against the event held or it was just a flyer being given out by a gay-friend religious group. My personal years of being subject to Christian indoctrination made me blasé about it. In my mind, I was thinking that it probably contained the same old guilt-and-fear-based rhetoric.
Musical performers and spoken word artists continued on gracing the stage as the hot sun bade goodbye and the night was gradually coming through. As night fell, a huge rainbow flag was spread on the ground welcoming us to rest on it. My date for the Pride, who was also the one who invited me to tag along, scooted beside me while I circled my arm around her. Every now and then, her proximity was inducing butterflies in my tummy. In those sweet hours, things felt all good. There were no questioning looks and whispers to ignore. There was neither malicious gawking from strangers nor the creeping paranoia blowing against our nape. It was only this piercing awareness that holding her close felt a million times right, and it was refreshing that people around couldn’t care less about it – a privilege that heteronormative society currently do not freely give to LGBTQ couples.
The cold night breeze pleasantly swept through around us. Steadily, people were leaving the park as the event was nearing its conclusion. Pretty soon, the streets and places graced by Pride would go back to their usual grind. We’d all continue on with our daily lives; but now, all the more empowered with renewed courage, a newfound support system and a stronger outlook in effecting societal change, at least, when it comes to LGBTQ-related matters.
December 3 was a definite highlight of my 2016.
Worsening #ARVshortage in the Phl?
On Jan. 9, the Philippines gained a new HIV and AIDS law that is supposed to better the lives of Filipinos living with HIV. But many in the HIV community mark this day with distress, largely because of the worsening ARV shortage.
In September 2018, Xander (not his real name; anonymity requested), a Filipino living with HIV, claimed that he was told by the person working in the pharmacy of his hub to “consume already-expired medicines (the three-in-one tablet of Lamivudine/Tenofovir/Efavirenz)”, and that “it is “still good for three months after the expiration date.”
Since dealing with ARV-related issue is not new to him (it happened to him in the last quarter of 2013), he complained and was given newer meds. Noticeably, “those who didn’t complain – like I did – ended up using the expired meds,” he said.
Xander can only recall how he earlier lamented – again in 2013 – that the ARV shortage will happen again, particularly considering the continuing denial of the Department of Health (DOH) about this issue.
The 9th of January is supposed to be a happy day particularly for Filipinos living with HIV and their advocates. On that day, the newly-signed Republic Act 11166 or the Philippine HIV and AIDS Policy Act was released after it was signed into law by Pres. Rodrigo Roa Duterte. By replacing the 20-year-old Republic Act 8504 or the Philippine National AIDS and Control Act of 1998, this new law is supposed to boost the government’s response to HIV and AIDS by making health services for HIV and AIDS more accessible to Filipinos.
But many in the HIV community mark this day with distress, largely because of the worsening ARV shortage, which is not helped by the denial of the issue by various heads of offices – including government officials, as well as those helming treatment hubs/facilities and even select non-government organizations (NGOs).
In an unsigned statement (as if so that no one can be “chased” to be held accountable for the same statement), the DOH seemed to belittle the issue by outright claiming that there’s an ‘alleged’ shortage of ARVs; even as it also stated that they take the issue of HIV infection in the country seriously. Part of this is to take “great steps to ensure that access for HIV treatments are available for those who are diagnosed with HIV.”
The DOH statement added:
“As of October 2018, we have enrolled 32,224 persons living with HIV for treatment with ARV such as Nevirapine, Lamivudine/Tenofovir. The DOH has been providing free ARV to Filipinos living with HIV through our HIV treatment hubs.
“Based on our records, there are 3,200 registered PLHIV who are on Nevirapine and 1,791 PLHIV on Lamivudine/Tenofovir, as of December last year.
That just about half of the total PLHIVs in the Philippines use ARVs is worth noting, even if it’s another issue altogether.
But the mention of these two meds/cocktails is important because the complaints reaching – among others – Outrage Magazine, Bahaghari Center for SOGIE Research, Education and Advocacy, Inc. (Bahaghari Center) other and HIV-related community-based organizations/non-government organizations particularly currently mention these.
In Quezon City, for instance, at least eight PLHIVs alleged that they have been given incomplete medications – i.e. they were supplied with either Lamivudine/Tenofovir or Lamivudine/Zidovudine, but they have not been receiving Nevirapine because this is not available. These people are, therefore, taking incomplete meds.
Pinoy Plus’s hotline, PRC, has received similar allegations of non-delivery of Nevirapine.
In Cavite (Imus, Bacoor and Dasmariñas), at least three clients surfaced to allege about the same issue. PLHIVs are now “borrowing” each others’ Nevirapine supply just so they don’t miss their required dosage because their hub does not have supplies from the DOH.
There are similar allegations in Cagayan de Oro City, Davao City and Zamboanga City.
And in Alabang, the pharmacy of a treatment hub even posted on January 8, 2019 an announcement that “due to the shortage and delay of the deliveries at DOH, only one bottle will be dispensed of the following medicines: Nevirapine (200mg tablet); Lamivudine (150mg)/Zidovudine (300mg tablet); and Lamivudine (300mg)/Tenofovir (300mg tablet).” The same hub is telling its clients to “wait for further announcement on stock availability.”
Note that the RITM-AIDS Research Group’s pharmacy is putting the blame on the DOH.
The same DOH statement stressed that “the latest data, as of January 4, confirms that Nevirapine has already been delivered to the 16 treatment hubs to meet the requirements for February-April 2019. For Lamivudine/Tenofovir, a month’s supply has also been delivered to Regions X, VI and I. The rest of the regions will expect deliveries within this week.”
Noticeably, the DOH statement responds to issues only this January, even if this concern has been circulating in the PLHIV community since 2018, and only peaked now.
There are fewer ARV refills now. If, in the past, the usual practice is for hubs to give PLHIVs three bottles of ARV to last them for three months, a growing number are now complaining about the supply being cut to one month in numerous hubs – e.g. there’s that post in RITM’s pharmacy. Some allege that they are even supplied ARVs just for a week or even just for three days.
Due to the ARV shortage that the DOH is not outright confronting, expired medicines are allegedly being given to PLHIVs – as in the case of Xander.
Also due to the ARV shortage, the medication of a number of PLHIVs are allegedly being changed not because it’s medically sound, but because their usual medicines are not readily available. In Mandaluyong City, there are PLHIVs who claimed to have been told to use Lamivudine/Tenofovir/Efavirenz because it’s the only available ARV. If they refuse to do so, then they will have to stop taking their usual medications until such time when the delivery of supplies are normalized again.
To allow the DOH to respond to these claims, Outrage Magazine repeatedly reached out to the government body. Upon calling the media relations unit (at +63 2 651-7800 loc. 1126), we were turned over to the office of Dr. Gerard Belimac (+63 2 651-7800 locs. 2355, 2352, 2354). Five attempts were made to speak with Belimac or any other authority in his office, but he has been unavailable at those five times; and even after leaving requests for a statement from him on the ARV shortage, as of press time, the publication has not heard back.
As this is a continuing story, coordination will continue to – eventually hopefully – extensively hear from the DOH on this issue.
The DOH statement also stated that it is “working closely with our suppliers to ensure that there are no gaps in our supply chain. In fact, we are waiting for deliveries of an additional 12,375 bottles of Nevirapine good for another three months and 7,024 bottles of Lamivudine/Tenofovir good for another two months.”
The DOH also claimed that it is continuing to explore “for more partners in providing excellent support for Filipinos living with HIV-AIDS and in ending the deadly disease.”
As if wanting to pacify the complaining PLHIVs, the DOH statement transferred to responsibility to “HIV doctors to explore possible options”, or visit Facebook page (PLHIV Response Center) or email email@example.com. Note the use of a gmail account for a body with millions in budget.
No investigations on where the errors in the supply chain is happening so that these can be fixed is forthcoming. No one being held accountable here.
THE NEED TO GO BEYOND LIP SERVICE
Incidentally, Article V, Sec. 33 of the newly signed HIV law states: “The DOH shall establish a program that will provide free and accessible ART and medication for opportunistic infections to all PLHIVs who are enrolled in the program… A manual of procedures for management of PLHIV shall be developed by the DOH.”
The IRR is not even there yet, but this mandate to provide life-saving meds is now already cast in doubt.
Xander – who only had a refill of his ARVs – said that many like him who posted about this issue online were told to stop doing so “because we are supposedly creating panic among PLHIVs.”
He now says that people who cover up this issue are “as worse as those paid to work on this issue. Because if you go to the HIV community, we’ve long lived with worrying that our meds may not be given us at any moment. If some people think complaining about this is wrong, then they shouldn’t be in HIV advocacy, but work as PR people of those failing to do their jobs.”
In the end, “this needs to be resolved fast. Enough with discussing semantics on what we’re having is a shortage or a stockout; the fact remains that there are PLHIVs not getting their supplies. Lives are at stake. So supply the ARVs; now.”
Work doesn’t stop for the rainbow warriors
The Rainbow Collective launched a daily journal called “I Want the World to Know”, which aims to educate LGBTQIA persons and the general public about issues facing the community, and what they can do to promote acceptance.
By Sandy Miguel
More pressure should fall on the Senate to expedite the passage of the SOGIE (Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity or Expression) Equality Bill, but even sans this (or perhaps exactly because this is not getting traction), new LGBTQIA-centered organizations are coming to the forefront to clamor for more visibility and acceptance for the community.
One of these new organizations, The Rainbow Collective (TRC), launched a daily journal called I Want the World to Know, which aims to educate LGBTQIA persons and the general public about issues facing the community, and what they can do to promote acceptance.
“There’s (still) this mindset that you’re a lesser person just because you are LGBT,” TRC founder Lady Allyson Dulnuan said. “It may be a long road to acceptance, but it is possible by properly educating people and correcting their misconceptions and biases about the community.”
Acceptance, obviously, continues to be an elusive concept in society for LGBTQIA individuals.
The Philippines was hailed as one the most “tolerant” in Asia-Pacific region towards the LGBTQIA community based on a 2013 Pew Research Center report that found over 70% of Filipinos believe that homosexuality “should be accepted by society,” the Huffington Post reported in 2015.
But this preceded by the brutal murder of transwoman Jennifer Laude in her Olongapo hometown by a US marine. Just as sadly, two more deaths believed to also be LGBTQIA-related hate crimes followed just weeks after Laude was killed.
These hate crimes bring attention to the reality that LGBTQIA discrimination is still an epidemic in the country.
Elsewhere in the Philippines, discrimination happens to LGBTQIA individuals on a day-to-day basis; from extreme bullying to hearing “light-hearted,” passive-aggressive jokes, LGBTQ persons experience some form of prejudice daily at their place of work, in public or even at home. Lesbians, for instance, can most likely cite an incidence when they were teased to get themselves a man to “correct” their gender identity. Many, if not all, of these incidences of gender biases go unreported.
Incidences also occur because of the lack of anti-discriminatory policies in various jurisdictions. In 2018, for instance, comedian Jervi Li, also known as Kaladkaren Davila, was barred from entering H&J Sports Bar in Makati. The club bouncer said they don’t let gay people in, and that it was a policy created by the management. The interaction was recorded in a video, which Li posted on her Facebook page.
TRC’s planner, I Want the World to Know, contains resources on sexual and gender differences, LGBTQIA adoption and family life, as well as facts on homophobia and how they would benefit from having the SOGIE Equality Bill passed. It also arms individuals with information on how to identify LGBT issues and how they can effectively cope up in the society. The planner similarly has works and art from a handful of artists and writers who support the LGBTQIA community.
But work doesn’t stop – not for TRC, nor should it for everyone.
TRC is now in front of the planning board for its next project, Project Halipan, which zeroes in on domestic abuse and rehabilitating abusers in an LGBTQIA relationships.
The Rainbow Collective’s LGBT Planner 2019 is still available at https://bit.ly/TRC2019LGBTPlanner for P699.00. Message TRC’s Facebook page to order. Proceeds from the planner’s sales will go to Project Halipan.
Hear ye, hear ye! Pageant ‘pundits’ against trans people
Your gay identity or your “I love my LGBT friends” proclamation mean absolutely nothing to the struggles of trans folks when you follow it with transphobic statements.
Way back when I came out to my mom, I remember assuring her that I would not be dating boyish, manly, butch girls. In my ignorant mind at that time, I regarded non-feminine lesbians as a “disgrace” to the lesbian identity. I did not want to be associated with that image of a woman.
WhenI started dating, I had my concerns about being in a relationship with a bisexual woman. My unfounded fears involved thoughts like, “What if she cheats on me with a guy? That would look pretty bad on me as a lesbian.”, “What if we break up and her next relationship would be with a guy? Would people think that she grew sick of me just because I’m not?”, “If she wants kids, then I might not be the most viable partner for her.” or “Would she ever miss dick or having sex with a guy in the long-run?”. I’ve never actually heard of a research or an actual experience that a bisexual woman would always choose a guy over a girl eventually. I also did not receive any warnings about the added emotional and future risks of dating a bisexual. But due to this ever-heteronormative society-and I’m sure a lot of lesbians bear the same feelings- I just felt like the chance that a bisexual would end up with a straight relationship is much higher since it has widespread acceptance, thus, less struggles. The thought of being one-upped by heteronormativity, again, can be an unappetizing thought.
Fortunately, after learning more about the human spectrum that is SOGIE, I’ve done away with those insecurities and misconceptions. In light of recent altercations among viewers about Ms. Spain’s participation in the Miss Universe pageant, it is obvious that a lot of people are also in need of much enlightenment.
But, alas, I am not about to educate people on SOGIE. I believe if they are truly open to understanding the complexity that is gender and sexuality, they would go find information on their own. But there is one thing that terribly needs to be pointed out. I’ve been seeing a lot of opinions thrown about regarding theUniverse pageantry’s welcoming of Ms. Spain; and I would just like to clarify that below opening remarks do not give credence to anti-trans statements:
- I am gay…
- I am part of the LGBTQ community…
- I love / respect the LGBT community…
- I have gay friends…
Your gay identity or your “I love my LGBT friends” proclamation mean absolutely nothing to the struggles of trans folks when you follow it with transphobic statements. Please, before identifying yourself as a member of the LGBTQ community or claiming that you respect said community, make sure that you’ve thoroughly educated yourself what that community stands for, as well as what each of those letters is actually fighting for.
Otherwise, you’re just a gay person concerned only about your own gay rights, as opposed to wholeheartedly being part of the LGBTQ community. As for those “I-respect-the-LGBT-but..”people, I hope one day you’ll get off your privileged high horse and see how the status quo stymies the human dignity and rights of the community you supposedly respect.
Moments when hashtag activism really worked
Every now and then, a new cause encourages users to send in a flurry of social media posts, all backed by a common tag used to grab the users’ attention to the issue. While some campaigns have backfired, some have really, really worked creating defining moments.
It’s been more than 10 years to the use of this so small and unprepossessing symbol – #. Little did its users know that it would contribute to changing the world. It’s emerged as the prelude to every important online conversation.
The phenomenon of using this symbol is popularly referred to as hashtag activism. Every now and then, a new cause encourages users to send in a flurry of social media posts, all backed by a common tag used to grab the users’ attention to the issue. While some campaigns have backfired, some have really, really worked creating defining moments. Let’s take a look at some of them:
When President Trump was alleged for asking his staff to dress like women, the internet was flooded with suggestions and opinions. Gendered clothing is available everywhere but unlike hashtags, their purpose is to only divide. Some women voiced their preference to dress their best for work while some pointed out how black is the new black. The campaign received extensive female support for obvious reasons.
This UK-based campaign aimed at taking action against the anti-migrant position of several British newspapers. It started somewhere around 2016 and has repeatedly gone viral several times. It has also made some great victories in the process. For instance, Lego ended its agreement with The Daily Mail and now does not offer any promotional giveaways with the newspaper.
The British respond to tragedy with both class and honesty. In fact, the Londoners like hashtag activism because it always keeps to the left. The #YouAintNoMuslimBruv campaign was the reaction to an incident that took place a few weeks before Christmas 2015. A man suffering from paranoid schizophrenia cut the throat of a passenger at a London tube station. The judge denounced the act to be motivated by Islamic extremism and sentenced him to life imprisonment at a high-security psychiatric institution.
However, before the papers went all gaga over Islamophobia, a young man gave the perfect reply to this religious criticism since the culprit was arrested by a Muslim policeman.
Gender equality has been talked about for generations. It affects everyone. The HeForShe campaign is just about that. The UN Women Campaign, supported by Emma Watson and Justin Trudeau, encouraged men and boys to support the women in their lives and actively involve themselves in the struggle that had previously been regarded as a ‘woman’s thing.’
Several countries participated in the campaign with their pledges and commitments to support the cause. Some of the leading countries worth mentioning are Rwanda, the UK, the US, Mexico, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The Women’s March in 2017 was a powerful campaign as women across the world united to fight for their status-quo and optimistically change the future. It focused on demanding an equal footing in society. The uniting power of the hashtag proved that women are not alone and can create a euphoric moment that will change history.
Death by inaction and misaction
If the people supposed to serve us are failing to do so, even if they know they can do something if they really, really want to, then I can’t help but be sad… and angry… and speak out.
By Stephen Christian Quilacio
In March 2015 – just over three years ago – playwright, author and longtime gay rights and AIDS activist Larry Kramer gave a blistering speech. Dubbed “Cure!”, he likened HIV to a “genocide inflicted upon gay people.”
To wit, and I quote part of his speech:
“Thirty-four years. HIV/AIDS has been our plague for 34 years. We should have known more about this plague by now. 34 years is a very long time to let people die.
I think more and more about evil. I believe in evil. I believe evil is an act, intentional or not, of inflicting undeserved harm on others. Genocide is such an act. I believe genocide is being inflicted upon gay people.
Genocide is the deliberate and systematic extermination of a national, racial, political, or ethnic group. Such as gay people. Such as people of color. To date, around the world, an estimated 78 million people have become infected, 39 million of whom have died. When we first became acquainted with HIV there were 41 cases.”
Then – to stress his point – he (aptly) added:
“I no longer have any doubt that… government is content, via sins of omission or commission, to allow the extermination of my homosexual population to continue unabated.”
I am bringing this up now, though this time to highlight what it’s like to be HIV-positive in the Philippines.
See… I am a Filipino living with HIV. I’ve been HIV-positive since 2013. And though hailing from Northern Mindanao, I have since moved to Metro Manila; and I am now based in Taguig City.
My life as a Filipino with HIV – from the start until now – continues to be extremely challenging. And in many instances, this is due to the inaction and misaction of service providers, including (if not particularly) the government.
Take for instance the continuous running out of supply of antiretroviral (ARV) meds in the country.
This has been an ongoing issue, first loudly raised in 2013 and then “denied” by the Department of Health (DOH) in 2014.
At that time, Dr. Rossana Ditangco, research chief at the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine-AIDS Research Group (RITM-ARG), one of the treatment hubs in the country, said that the limited ARV supply was “because of the delay in the delivery of (ARVs) to the Department of Health (DOH).”
This was belied by Dr. Jose Gerard Belimac, head of DOH’s National AIDS/STI Prevention and Control Program, who claimed then that there is no delay in the procurement of ARVs, just as there is no “official pronouncement from the DOH to the treatment hubs to control (the distribution of ARVs) because of a delay in the procurement (of ARVs),” he said in an exclusive interview by Outrage Magazine. Belimac stressed then that “for now, all the ARVs that we promised to provide to the patients are available.”
The denial makes one angry though, because – while still in Cagayan de Oro City at that time – we who were accessing meds were not getting our steady ARV supply. We had to “borrow” meds from other PLHIVs just so none of us would skip our dosage; though ending missing meds all together when the supplies didn’t arrive.
It was as if we were being told we were lying (by claiming there’s a shortage) by the very body that is covering up its erroneous system/s.
And then just a few weeks ago, I was informed by my doctor (this time in Metro Manila) that my meds may have to be changed because there is no supply of Nevirapine (what I have been taking). Apparently, I ain’t the first (and perhaps not the last) whose meds may be changed NOT because it’s necessary but because… the DOH’s supply system is problematic.
Looking back, I also remember not even knowing of viral load (VL) for years while in Mindanao. The hub I used to go to only offered CD4 count (not VL); and – come to think of it – this wasn’t even regularly done because the CD4 machine may not have been working or there was no reagent or… other such reasons were given to us.
To date, many PLHIVs from outside Metro Manila (and even those here) do not know their VL or CD4 count.
And this is even if the amount we paid PhilHealth was the same as everybody else; and the services we were supposed to be getting (based in the OHAT package) was supposed to include this.
I am not sure if there is reconsideration of DOH accreditation being done… but non-offering of paid-for services is, for many of us, an “accepted norm.” We actually pay for services that we don’t use.
Last July, 30 people died from AIDS-related complications in the country. And since January 1984 (when the first case was documented in the Philippines) to July 2018, a total of 2,735 deaths were already reported in the country. Ninety percent (2,462) were male.
Since we already have 57,134 reported cases (as of July 2018), the number of deaths seem… small. But – of course – this is ONLY those that were reported; I am certain that many more were unreported.
But note that even now, approximately only half of the number of Filipinos with HIV have access to life-saving meds. And – as repeatedly stressed – access isn’t even regular because of problems with the supply.
There comes a point when we have to say enough’s enough.
I write this piece not because I want to, but because I need to.
Because people continue to suffer and even die, and your efforts continue to be wanting.
Part of Kramer’s closure for his lament reads:
“Allowing people to die is evil and genocidal. Yes, I believe in evil. 78 million people have become infected, 39 million have died…”
I may sound melodramatic, so call me “drama queen” if you want.
But if the people supposed to serve us are failing to do so, even if they know they can do something if they really, really want to, then I can’t help but be sad… and angry… and speak out.
Because at this point, I see where Kramer is coming from.
And to his point, let me add: I know what he’s talking about.
How to organize a ‘community dialogue’ when you don’t want the community to go…
After the Department of Health (DOH) was criticized for holding a beauty pageant even though it supposedly has limited budget, a rushed “community dialogue” is scheduled, which won’t be surprising if the target community does not participate.
Yesterday, I was speaking to a close HIV-positive friend whose Nevirapene supply is already running out. “Giatay (I’ll be damned),” he said, adding that he was told that like a friend of his who is taking the same meds as him, he may have to be shifted to LTE already because THERE IS NO SUPPLY OF NEVIRAPENE.
This is yet another issue that the Department of Health (DOH) should be focusing on, instead of its recently-concluded beauty pageant.
So it should have come as a “pleasant” development that a “community dialogue” is being held with the DOH.
To be honest, I almost feel sad for the Department of Health (DOH). ALMOST.
First, it was criticized for holding that beauty pageant even as it laments that its budget is getting cut. Walang pera, supposedly; but may pang-pageant (There isn’t any money, supposedly; but there’s funding for a beauty pageant)…
And then now, to respond to the criticisms hurled its way, this “open dialogue” is supposed to happen so that “PLHIVs and other advocates (can) gain better understanding of the plans and programs of the government relating to the HIV situation in the country”.
If you are interested – or, perhaps even more importantly, if you are in the area – this “dialogue” is happening at the 3rd floor of DOH Bldg. 14 in Tayuman in the City of Manila on October 3 (Wednesday) from 3.ooPM to 4.ooPM.
But while this seems like a “good” effort to appease the critics, let’s be extremely blunt here: This seems like a thanks-but-no-thanks “effort”.
Info about this “dialogue” was only posted online 15 hours ago (by 10.10AM of the very day of the gathering).
The info was (solely) shared on Facebook; and so – if you don’t know anyone who saw this post – you won’t even become aware of this gathering.
Even if you forget the rushed organization of this “dialogue”, the people behind this are forgetting that:
- Not all PLHIVs or HIV advocates who may want to attend are near the area – e.g. there are those in the Visayas and Mindanao;
- Many of those who are adversely affected by existing policies/practices re HIV are NOT even from Metro Manila – e.g. no CD4 count and VL machines in many DOH-accredited hubs in Visayas and Mindanao; and
- Even Metro Manila-based PLHIVs have work (or other things to do), and they can’t just drop everything in such short notice.
This really is a no-win situation for the DOH for now. And by extension, a no-win situation for the HIV community in the Philippines.
If the intent is true, it may be best to (among others):
- Release a financial statement on the pageant that just happened;
- Release DOH’s plan/s re HIV in the Philippines, particularly concerning numerous issues I am sure they already know/repeatedly hear about;
- and THEN call for a REAL (and non-rushed) dialogue.
The life-or-death issues – as already repeatedly stated – are numerous.
DOH-accredited hubs that collect the PhilHealth money even if they do not render the services required of them anyway.
Access to pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) and post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP).
Absence of Filipino Sign Language interpreters who can assist Deaf Filipinos to get tested for HIV; and – if they test HIV-positive – access treatment, care and support.
Exclusion of life-saving meds in the OHAT package (e.g. Cytomegalovirus retinitis/CMV retinitis).
And – as already stated over and over and over again – I can go on and on and on…
That close friend who is, himself, experiencing the running out of ARV is NOT in Metro Manila right now, and he laments this fact. And for him, “kneejerk reactions are fucking up HIV-related responses.”
Earl Monroe once said: “Don’t rush. Be quick, but don’t hurry.”
Now this sure isn’t that…