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Op-Ed

Fighting for safe spaces in the Church

For Koko Alviar, advocates need to be reminded that they are not alone in their crusade. “Victims of injustice, peoples in unpeace, the disheartened and downtrodden among us deserve a Church that tells them: ‘Welcome, welcome. Come into this sacred, safe space.'”

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Photos from Riz-Pam SYC, courtesy of Koko Alviar

By Koko Alviar

“For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus, our Lord.”
Romans 8:38-39

A few days ago, someone asked me how the Iglesia Filipina Independiente’s Gender Justice advocacy has been doing. I sort of lashed out. In retrospect, I am sorry for it.

Being part of the drafting team of “Our Common Humanity, Our Shared Dignity,” I’ve been through a lot kasi. You may call me the pawn in the formation (probably because I was the only unordained person in the team).

Iglesia Filipina Independiente asks forgiveness from LGBT community, extends hand with pro-equality statement

Even before the statement was approved, I’d gone back and forth in discussions a gazillion times — with subject matter experts, church leaders, human rights and healthcare advocates, LGBTIQ+ individuals and allies through the Bahaghari Conversations and informal talks. I’d also been sent to the ILGA Conference in Bangkok to get a pulse on things. To think the idea came to our small group of IFI faithful over a few bottles of alcohol.

In February 2017, I was understandably teary-eyed (and men can cry) learning from Manila that the Supreme Council of Bishops approved the statement in Bohol. Soon after, I was part of a small group that joined Pride marches and other gatherings, facilitated HIV screenings and SSOGIE orientations, and spoke to the press and karaniwang tao (or liaised convos) about what “LGBTIQ+” meant, among other things. “What the heck is + supposed to stand for, man?” (Ask me; I promise I’m already very, very, very good at it.)

Looking at the journey of over two years now, I felt alone in the advocacy a great many times — and it has been a recurring feeling. I felt alone Holy Week 2017 and Holy Week 2018 when I fought against a black cloth on the altar displaying a clobber verse (a verse that people have used to harm, even kill, LGBTIQ+ people). I felt alone and stupefied in December 2017 when, in good faith, I asked a transgender woman-advocate how church people may better appreciate the transgender identity, and she said, pokerface and all: “You shouldn’t have written about us.” (So I should have worked on an LGBIQ+ statement, prolly.)

READ:  Being gay and serving capital H-I-M

But I haven’t been alone.

Because of a heterosexual male clergyman, the black cloth was finally removed, mid-Holy Week this year. In that gathering in Cebu City where I was shot down, I was with an ally from IFI and another LGBTIQ+ youth officer from the Diocese of Cebu (migrant from Mindanao, usual victim of contractualization and underpay, discriminated in the application process because he sported long hair) who hadn’t been to any such event and was thrilled to attend. Because of many women and LGBTIQ+ people in the Church, the advocacy has lived beyond myself. Because of an embracing bloc of young people in IFI, the Youth of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente has come out with progressive themes and events that embrace diversity — and worked on crucial partnerships with society and religious groups. (“Kung may nakakapansin po na makulay ang mga logo ng YIFI sa mga nakaraang aktibidad, ito ay dahil sinusubukan nitong manguna sa usapin ng pagkakasari-sari at sa pag-ibig ng Diyos na sumasaklaw naman sa lahat.”)

Yesterday, I was in Rizal-Pampanga discussing the LGBTIQ+ statement, not because of my own doing but because the diocesan youth officers and a bigger council of ordained and lay people allowed the input. Romblon-Mindoro accepted HIV screening for the first time in history. In Visayas and Mindanao, outside Mega Manila, up North and down South, people can now confidently discuss human sexuality and sexual health. Clergy people are taking on “revolutionary readings” of the Bible, revisiting feminist theologies and asking questions about the queer perspective. I’d like to believe the 20th year of woman priesthood in the IFI was better appreciated because of the rekindling brought about by the statement. A transgender woman took the seminary entrance exam to challenge the binaries in theological education.

READ:  Taking chances

The NCCP general secretary said recently that the IFI “went further” by apologizing for its maltreatment of sexual minorities. The Gender Desk has no money but other developmental projects everywhere encourage me to send proposals to get it running — and individuals have kept the #SimbahangMalaya advocacy alive, despite the institutional hurdle. Leaders of the Kalipunan ng Kristiyanong Kabataan sa Pilipinas appreciate why I prefer “chairperson” over “chairman.” There’s also no forgetting the voices we merely amplified; the voices I’ve never met and probably will not meet, but who at least smiled or cried or sighed a sigh of relief because of the statement. It is thus more than me. It’s people.

In fact, on a broader note, many young people are “coming out” in favor of welcoming churches — churches that the least, last and lost can approach for comfort; that go down to the people to affirm their worth even as powers and principalities make them feel insignificant; that amplify the narratives of pain and suffering from the ground (even outside the Christian or mainstream fold) as necessary Christian work.

The statement for #AEYA2018Manado noted that Asian ecumenical youth “recognize that we as a church have sinned against women and LGBTIQ+ individuals. They have been excluded, discriminated against and, in some cases, subjected to violence from the church. We recognize that there are a variety of views on gender roles and sexual orientations, and therefore we must respect one another’s views. However, we are given the ministry of reconciliation (2 Cor 5:14-18). As God reconciled us through Jesus, we also seek to be reconciled with those the church has injured.” It came with an urge to the Christian Conference of Asia to design a SSOGIE program.

READ:  Breaking open the glass closet: 3 Barriers to LGBT career progression

(I’ll forever remember explaining human sexuality very smoothly [and with gusto] to an Indian participant in just over a minute.)

The buzz for gender justice is growing in the Roman Catholic fold, and I just joined a meeting hours ago confirming this. More and more Philippine Churches are talking about human sexuality. More are engaged in the dialogue on the basis of human dignity and human rights; the fullness of life.

Outside the topic of human sexuality, we are finally talking about mental health issues outside the “Jesus is enough” discourse. We are talking about poverty and globalization; immersion and solidarity work; the changing image of the family; the church in digitization and technology; persons with disabilities (or, different abilities); indigenous knowledge and spirituality; peace outside “the absence of war.”

I’ve heard biblico-theological reflections in many places proposing that our concept of “individuals outside the self” (I cannot articulate it better, sorry) should change from “the other” to “the neighbor.”

Of course, the level of appreciation varies; but the discussions are beginning everywhere. As we await the groundswell, our advocacies will require sacrifice. Naturally, where hopes run high, so must passion (and it could mean pain and suffering, as much as it means dedication). Where change is resisted, fervor must be stronger.

Advocates need to be reminded that they are not alone in their crusade. Victims of injustice, peoples in unpeace, the disheartened and downtrodden among us deserve a Church that tells them: “Welcome, welcome. Come into this sacred, safe space.”

Op-Ed

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.

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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.

READ:  Hormone therapy for trans patients may be safer than recognized, Mount Sinai researcher reports

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:

  1. I am gay…
  2. I am part of the LGBTQ community…
  3. I love / respect the LGBT community…
  4. 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.

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LIFESTYLE & CULTURE

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.

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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.

While some campaigns have backfired, some have really, really worked creating defining moments.
Image by irfanahmad from Pixabay.com

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:

1. #DressLikeAWoman

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.

2. #StopFundingHate

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.

READ:  Being gay and serving capital H-I-M

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.
Photo by KoalaParkLaundromat from Pixabay.com

3. #YouAintNoMuslimBruv

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.

4. #HeForShe

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 hashtag has emerged as a prelude to every important online conversation.
Photo by Lum3n.com from Pexels.com

5. #WomensMarch

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.

READ:  5 Reasons to visit Maryland

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Op-Ed

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.

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Photo by Cristian Newman from Unsplash.com

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.

READ:  Taking chances

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 ‘missing’ ARVs of the Philippines

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.

READ:  March 2016 continues upward HIV trend in Phl with 736 new cases

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.

“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.”
Photo by Elijah O’Donnell from Unsplash.com

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.

READ:  Being gay and serving capital H-I-M

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.

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Op-Ed

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.

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Photo by Mathew Schwartz from Unsplash.com

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)…

On beauty pageants and messed up priorities in dealing with HIV in Phl…

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.

READ:  March 2016 continues upward HIV trend in Phl with 736 new cases

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”.

Why so?

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:

  1. 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;
  2. 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
  3. 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):

  1. Release a financial statement on the pageant that just happened;
  2. Release DOH’s plan/s re HIV in the Philippines, particularly concerning numerous issues I am sure they already know/repeatedly hear about;
  3. and THEN call for a REAL (and non-rushed) dialogue.
READ:  Eggshells

The life-or-death issues – as already repeatedly stated – are numerous.

ARV shortage/stockout.

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…

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Op-Ed

5 Ways women empowerment in churches can prevent HIV & AIDS

The fact is, gender imbalances worsen the impact of HIV and disproportionately subject women to unequal power relations, violence, discrimination and poverty.

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The HIV epidemic is recognized to be gendered. In most countries half of the number of all people living with HIV (PLHIV) are women. However, in the Philippines, the gender breakdown of PLHIV has changed over time. In 1984–1990, 62% were female. From 1991 to the present, only 6% are female, although the absolute number of cases among females has been increasing. This situation is largely driven by gender inequality.

Perhaps not surprisingly, a 2015 National Council of Churches of the Philippines (NCCP) study found that mainline Protestant churches strongly support women’s empowerment, with almost all key informants supporting the equality and non-discrimination of women as safer practice for HIV and AIDS prevention.

The same study provide five ways churches can help prevent HIV and AIDS.

1. Understanding why Filipinas become vulnerable

Darlene Marquez-Caramanzana, former program secretary on Ecumenical Education and Nurture of the NCCP, added that gender imbalances worsen the impact of HIV and disproportionately subject women to unequal power relations, violence, discrimination and poverty.

“For Filipino women, negotiating condom use with their partners remain a challenge. Women also fear and experience violence and rejection from their partners or husbands, making them reluctant to get tested for HIV. Women as care providers of families also carry the burden of deaths from AIDS. We at NCCP commit to providing a space for both males and females to challenge harmful gender norms to reverse the negative impact on women and girls,” said Marquez-Caramanzana.

READ:  Northern Mindanao to observe World AIDS Day 2015 with ‘LIMA: The HIV Monologues’

2. Historical push for gender equality

“We are an open-minded church that gives women equal footing with men – may lady bishop na kami (we have a lady bishop). We have more female leaders than male leaders,” said a clergy from a NCCP member church in Luzon.

The ordination of women in mainline Protestant churches in the Philippines is seen as a milestone for gender equality.  At the 20th anniversary of women ordination of Iglesia Filipina Independiente, Rosalina Rabaria, the first woman ordained a priest in 1997, said the acceptance of women as part of the clergy is a “historical victory in the struggle against biblical patriarchy [and] church hierarchical and cultural biases.”

This milestone has been a key event in improving women’s key role in their faith communities.

The ordination of women in mainline Protestant churches in the Philippines is seen as a milestone for gender equality. This affects decision-making including in dealing with HIV.

3. Mainstreaming women’s empowerment

The NCCP study has shown that churches already have women-centric efforts, including hiring women as leaders, gender sensitivity trainings/workshops, and formation of women’s organizations within the churches. One key informant even said that to promote women’s rights within the FBO, they include discussions of Republic Act 9262 (The Anti-violence Against Women and Their Children Act of 2004) in existing programs, teaching female churchgoers that “puwede ka mubalibad sa imong asawa (you can refuse your partner’s advances).”

4. Building alliances outside the church

With this inclusion of women empowerment in existing efforts, the study showed that are at least some resources allocated by most churches on this, including all KI from Metro Manila and 63% in national offices.

READ:  Previously incarcerated trans women can be caught in cycle leading to repeat jail time

To implement existing efforts, or if there is need for efforts to be developed/implemented, all key informants also said that they already formed alliances to promote women’s equality, or are willing to ally to show their support for the promotion of women’s equality as a safer practice for HIV and AIDS prevention. Some of these allies include inter-faith organizations, local government units, and women’s organizations (e.g. Gabriela and Babae Plus).

5. Providing and advocating for better care and support

The Board of Women’s Work of the United Methodist Church (BWW-UMC), an NCCP member church, already started a partnership in assisting women living with HIV with their PhilHealth insurance enrollment and other medical expenses.

For Phoebelyn Carreon, former HIV program coordinator of the BWW-UMC, there are women-specific needs that existing programs fail to respond to.

“Women living with HIV tell us that finding obstetric and gynecological services in their treatment hubs is a challenge. While antiretroviral medication is provided for free by Global Fund, health services for women are not all the time free or affordable. While we educate our church on HIV and AIDS prevention, we do what we can to raise funds for the needs of women living with HIV, who mostly are unemployed,” Carreon ended.

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From the Editor

On beauty pageants and messed up priorities in dealing with HIV in Phl…

After encountering a young PLHIV who has to prostitute himself just to access ARVs, Michael David Tan finds it infuriating that the Department of Health saw it fit to allocate lots of money to HOLD A BEAUTY PAGEANT. For him, from the get-go, this approach needs to be closely looked at.

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Photo by Valentin Salja from Unsplash.com

I am chatting with a person whose HIV rapid test only recently showed he’s reactive. He was told by this satellite clinic in Mandaluyong City that he can actually proceed to get the meds; though only if:

  1. He pays his PhilHealth; and
  2. He pays for all his lab tests.

The problem is, this young person – who did not even finish schooling – is unemployed.

So he is chatting with me now to “manghiram ng P100 (borrow a hundred pesos) so I can go to a client who will give me P1,000; which I can then use to pay for my lab tests.”

Yes, he is resorting to selling himself. To access life-saving medicine that is supposedly – and ERRONEOUSLY claimed to be – “free”.

It is cases like this young person’s that make it infuriating that the Department of Health (DOH) saw it fit to allocate lots of money to… HOLD A BEAUTY PAGEANT.

In a pageant-obsessed country like the Philippines, at least superficially, this seems like an “intelligent” move.

But from the get-go, this approach needs to be closely looked at and reconsidered.

  1. The pageant is supposed to create “HIV advocates”. BUT only those who fit specific qualifications can enter – e.g. age limit, height limit, vital stats requirement of participants (with the candidates even told to ‘model’ in swimwear as part of the screening process). So now – with this ‘move’ – what is being insinuated is that you need to be young, beautiful/handsome and be willing to strut in your bikini first before you can be considered an HIV ‘advocate’…
  2. We are supposed to dismantle this lookist society; to recognize people’s worth NOT based solely on how they look. Pageants – by their very nature – promote the status quo (of lookism) by giving “positions of power” only to those who “fit” socially-constructed standards of beauty and attractiveness.
  3. The country has a lot of REAL advocates who do for free what should be DOH’s job – e.g. community-based HIV screeners who go from barangay to barangay without any payment. There are those doing community-based HIV screening (CBS) who are RUNNING OUT OF RAPID TEST KITS, so they are now unable to serve; unable to be advocates. Seriously now, if there’s money for a beauty pageant, surely there’s money that can be given to those already working on the ground, or even to buy life-saving paraphernalia used in battling HIV in the Philippines.
  4. One of the supporters of this beauty pageant told me that Pia Wurtzbach’s effort to bring the spotlight to HIV is a good example of the “relevance” of a beauty pageant like this, as it could “create another Pia”. In a marketing standpoint, this is not a well-thought response; mainly because if you wanted to “create” someone to be like Pia to promote HIV awareness in the Philippines, then… JUST HIRE PIA HERSELF!
    Besides, as a friend aptly said: You can’t just “create” a Pia. She “works” because she’s unique.
  5. If you need a crown, a title and the prize money before you start advocating for HIV-related issues in the Philippines, then you’re not really an “advocate” and what you’re doing is not “advocacy”.
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PLASTIC CROWNS
There remain many life-threatening and urgent issues concerning HIV in the Philippines. And if you try bringing these issues up (e.g. to government people, or NGOs), you’d more likely be told “there’s no money”. But apparently there is. Just not for the urgent ones…
Photo by Pro Church Media from Unsplash.com

The fact is, numerous HIV-related issues continue to plague the country.

We get 31 new cases every day now.

A growing number of those getting infected are getting younger and younger (e.g. in July, 28% were from the 15-24 age bracket).

The ARVs in treatment hubs are OLD – e.g. many have expired, and the Philippines still uses meds already discontinued in Western countries. Don’t get me started with the shortage that the DOH continues to deny is happening.

We still don’t have widely-distributed pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) and post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP).

Newly-diagnosed PLHIVs – like that young person at the start of this article – are still unable to pay for their baseline tests; and so they can’t proceed to the next steps (including starting their ARV therapy). And even if they can get the lab tests done, their ARV supply is compromised because they can’t pay their PhilHealth.

There are treatment hubs that do not have viral load machines, so that PLHIVs do not know their VL years and years after they tested HIV-positive. And this is even if they have been paying the same PhilHealth amount that should give them that VL test. DOH accredited these hubs; they need to monitor if the hubs comply with policies related to their accreditation.

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There are accredited hubs that do not even offer CD4 test. This is accepted as “normal”, and again, this is even if the PLHIVs in these hubs still pay the same PhilHealth amount that should grant them the CD4 test. Similar to the above: DOH accredited these hubs; they need to monitor if the hubs comply with policies related to their accreditation.

There remains lack of updated knowledge even among existing service providers – e.g. try asking them about U=U, and you’re more likely to encounter internalized stigma and discrimination, largely because… this is not even openly discussed in the Philippines, including by DOH.

There are no 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.

I can go on and on and on…

But just try bringing these issues up (e.g. to government people or NGOs) and you’d more likely be told “there’s no money”.

Well… apparently there is money; just not for these…

DOH is complaining about the pending budget cut, but – the way I see it – it shouldn’t/can’t/ought not to complain about any budget cuts when it can spend money ON A BEAUTY PAGEANT. This may sound harsh, but words that immediately come at least to my mind include misuse, squandering (with a friend going as far as using the word “misappropriation”) or words similar to that…

As it is – and yes, I recognize this – I’ve already been repeatedly told that I’m too… negative.

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I’m not sure I’m being “negative”; instead, I am being more “realistic”.

And the thing is, as long there are PLHIVs like that young person who has to prostitute himself just so he can access life-saving meds and services even as a big amount of money is spent on a beauty pageant, I say we all should be…

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