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#HEALtheILLS launched to highlight continuing rapid spread of HIV in Phl

To highlight that the rapid spread of HIV and AIDS in the Philippines is a growing concern of different sectors of society, the National Council of Churches in the Philippines, Bahaghari LGBT Organization, Gabriela NCR, University of the Philippines (UP) Diliman Student Council, and STAND UP launched the #HEALtheILLS campaign during World AIDS Day 2015.

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ALL PHOTOS COURTESY OF NCCP/JSR PHOTO

ALL PHOTOS COURTESY OF NCCP/JSR PHOTO

To highlight that the rapid spread of HIV and AIDS in the Philippines is a growing concern of different sectors of society, the National Council of Churches in the Philippines, Bahaghari LGBT Organization, Gabriela NCR, University of the Philippines (UP) Diliman Student Council, and STAND UP launched the #HEALtheILLS campaign during World AIDS Day 2015.

In a statement, Rev. Rex Reyes Jr, general secretary of NCCP, said that the intersectionalities of issues need to be confronted to defeat HIV.

“Poverty, unemployment, lack of access to quality and affordable social and health services, lack of political will and gender inequality… all contribute to increase the vulnerability of people to HIV and AIDS,” said Reyes.

STIGMA AND FEAR

Aaron Bonette, national chairperson of Bahaghari LGBT Organization and Outrage Magazine youth representative, lamented that HIV and AIDS continue to be seen by many as diseases only of gays, bisexuals, transgender people, and other men who have sex with men.

“Despite scientific evidence that HIV infection and AIDS are not gay diseases, homophobia and transphobia continue to make LGBT people highly vulnerable to them,” Bonette said.

For Justice Siscar of STAND UP College of Mass Communications, some media practices have contributed to the stigma on HIV and AIDS. “Fear of HIV and AIDS and those infected and affected by it are perpetuated by some media practitioners. Media should play the role of educating ways to prevent infection and highlight how government and other institutions should respond comprehensively,” she said.

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POOR RESPONSE

Mench Tilendo, also of STAND UP, cited that despite the steep increase of new HIV infections in recent years – from less than one case a day in 2006 to 22 cases a day in October 2015, “the Philippine government had a very low service coverage due a low investment in HIV and AIDS prevention.”

NCCP – in a statement – added that “for 2016, the Philippine government pegged the budget for combating HIV and AIDS at P1.08 billion, almost double the amount allocated in 2015. Yet this is only 26% of the estimated P4.1 billion which UNAIDS has estimated as the amount needed for effective HIV and AIDS prevention coverage.”

For Bryle Leano of the People’s Struggle Committee of the University Student Council of UP Diliman, poverty, joblessness, and lack of social services aggravate the HIV and AIDS epidemic.

“The pervasive reality of unemployment and poverty among people living with HIV has led to the deaths of many due to AIDS related complications that are difficult to manage in the current and dominant state of commercialized and privatized health care system in the country,” Leano said.

COMPREHENSIVE RESPONSE NEEDED

The NCCP added that the current approaches in addressing the epidemic have been inadequate.

“The ‘Abstinence, Be mutually faithful, Use Condoms,’ ‘Awareness,’ and ‘Behavior Change’  approaches have been necessary but have proved to be inadequate as they have failed to take into account the other ways in which HIV can be transmitted and other drivers of the epidemic, including poverty, unemployment, poor healthcare systems, gender inequalities and the role of power in sexual relations. Middle class and wealthy Filipinos respond to awareness campaigns because their participation in risky sexual behavior is voluntary,” said Reyes.

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Lean Flores of Gabriela NCR cited the case of an 11-year-old girl from one of their member communities who tested positive for HIV after being paid as a sex slave in exchange for rice.

“There will always be new HIV infections, as long as there is poverty and violence against women and girls. We need to realize that for the poor, risky sexual behavior is generally compelled by structural and social factors beyond their control,” Flores said.

The NCCP calls on their churches and associate members to enhance their knowledge, skills, and attitudes on HIV and AIDS and awareness of safer practices covering all different modes of HIV transmission; and on gender, sex, and sexuality.

“We also call on government to ensure that the budget of the Department of Health should be relevant to the needs of the people and the health allotment should be based on WHO recommendation of 5% of GDP.  We echo the call of UNAIDS that the national government must increase investments in the HIV and AIDS response and cover 50% to 75% of national needs (or $20 to $30 million per year) and reiterate our continuing call to address the inequitable access to health facilities, goods and services,” Reyes ended.

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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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Gay entrepreneur Ricky Reyes – earlier sued for discriminating gay man with HIV – expresses opposition for equal rights

Ricky Reyes, also known as “Mother Ricky”, who helms Ricky Reyes Corporation, joined the talks about the SOGIE Equality Bill, though this time taking the side of those opposing equal rights for other members of the LGBTQIA community.

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Screencap of Ricky Reyes who expressed his opposition for the passage of the SOGIE Equality Bill

Ricky Reyes, also known as “Mother Ricky” – who helms Ricky Reyes Corporation and who was earlier sued because he discriminated against another gay person who just happens to live with HIV – joined the talks about the SOGIE Equality Bill, though this time taking the side of those opposing equal rights for other members of the LGBTQIA community.

In a video now making the rounds online, the gay celebrity advocated for members of the LGBTQIA community to just accept their lower social status; at times even contradicting his own arguments.

Reyes, for instance, said that members of the LGBTQIA community should stop “cross-dressing”. “Tigilan na yang kabaklaan… wag na kayong magbistida sa kalye kasi lalo tayong pagtatawanan ng mga tao… dapat magtulong nalang tayo sa kapwa para mahalin tayo ng tao,” he said.

Reyes, incidentally, is also known for wearing clothing traditionally used by women.

He also said that only members of the LGBTQIA community could understand each other.

Lagi kong sinasabi, ang bakla walang makakaintindi kundi kapwa bakla lang,” he said, and so the affairs of LGBTQIA people should not be forced on other people. “Dapat ang affair ng mga bakla dapat sa atin lang yan wag na nating ipagpalandakan sa tao yan.

Incidentally, Reyes was earlier sued for discriminating against another gay man, Renato Nocos, because the latter has HIV.

In 2014, two years after he was illegally dismissed, Nocos – with support from the Associated Labor Unions–Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (ALU-TUCP) – filed a case of discrimination against Reyes and his business partner Tonneth Moreno in the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC). Nocos also filed a separate complaint alleging that Reyes and Moreno failed to pay his Social Security Service (SSS) and PhilHealth premiums since 2003.

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In October 2015, NLRC’s Labor Arbiter rendered a decision declaring that Nocos was, indeed, illegally dismissed. It ordered RRC to pay back wages, salary differential, 13th month pay, ECOLA and attorney’s fees (totaling P615,313.06).

In his recent interview, Reyes similarly advocated “passing”/“stealthing”, saying that “kung ikaw ay may nota, sa lalakeng restroom ka. Pag may kipay ka, sa babae ka. Tapos ang usapan… Lumugar tayo sa tamang lugar… kung ikaw ay babaeng-babae at hindi ka mabubuking, e di lumusot ka (sa banyo ng pambabae) diba? Kung hindi ka makakalusot, anong problema mo?

Reyes also does not believe in equal opportunity to access facilities and/or services. For example, for him, LGBTQIA people should not strive to access the same venues available for heterosexual people and that openly discriminate against LGBTQIA people.

Bakit tayo pupunta ng mga bar at ipagpipilitan mo na girl ka eh may bar naman para sa mga bading, doon ka sa lugar natin… wag mo ipagsaksakan ang sarili mo sa hindi ka matatanggap,” he said.

Perhaps highlighting lack of knowledge re “marriage” versus “civil union”, Reyes insisted that wedding should only be men and women. “Ang pagpapakasal ibigay natin sa babae at lalake yan,” he said.

“Let it be na lang. Ang bakla ay bakla… gilingin mo man yan paglabas niyan ay baklang hamburger,” Reyes quipped.

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Celebrity Anne Curtis stresses support for LGBTQIA community

“It breaks my heart and saddens me that people are so against the passing of the bill when in fact, it all boils down to equal rights as HUMAN BEINGS,” Anne Curtis stated.

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Screencap of the FB post of Anne Curtis expressing her support for the LGBTQIA community and the passage of SOGIE Equality Bill

Filipino-Australian actress, model, TV host, VJ and recording artist Anne Curtis expressed her support for the LGBTQIA community, re-stressing her 2016 statement that “we are all human beings who deserve a chance, and equal opportunities in life. May it be for work, life or love, we should be given equal rights”.

In a post on her Facebook page, Curtis noted the “heated” discussions happening around the need to pass the SOGIE Equality Bill that eyes to protect the human rights particularly of LGBTQIA people.

With the SOGIE Bill hearing recently happening and with such a heated discussion ongoing about it being passed. I just…

Posted by Anne Curtis on Saturday, September 7, 2019

“I am an ally of the LGBTQIA+ community and have been open about that for years. I have friends and family who are part of this community and whom I love very much. It breaks my heart and saddens me that people are so against the passing of the bill when in fact, it all boils down to equal rights as HUMAN BEINGS,” Curtis stated.

She added that it is exactly because of discrimination that “a bill like this has to be made… because, instead of kindness, compassion, respect and understanding, it has come to a point where they need this bill to protect their rights as human beings.”

Curtis stressed: “Equality is all they seek. Equality regardless of what gender they identify as or how they choose to express themselves and equality as human beings and citizens of this country… just like all of us.”

READ:  Life expectancy now near-normal for PLHIVs with CD4 counts over 350 a year after starting therapy

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Citing Catholic compassion, student councils of Catholic schools express support for SOGIE Equality Bill

“The delay, and subsequent non-passage of the bill in the last Congress is nothing short of disappointing. In the 18th Congress, it is time to renew our commitment to equality for every Filipino,” student leaders stressed.

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Amid heated debates, Catholic student councils from major schools backed the passage of the SOGIE Equality Bill, a measure aimed to protect members of the LGBTQIA community from discrimination.  

A statement expressing this support was signed by the student councils of the Ateneo de Manila University, De La Salle University-Manila, St. Scholastica’s College-Manila, and Miriam College.  

Citing the Christian values of compassion, love, and acceptance, the Catholic student councils urged the public to “recall the teachings of the Church” and “champion the cause of equality”.  

“LGBTQ+ persons live in constant fear of stigma, harassment, and in many cases, death”, the statement said.  “These are our fellow Filipinos, ating mga kapwa, that are deprived of, and denied the full enjoyment of their rights,” the student council furthered.  

The statement of support is below.

CATHOLIC COMPASSION DEMANDS EQUALITY 

We are student leaders from student governments of Catholic academic institutions, united under the pillars of respect for human rights, diversity, love, and equality. We express our support for the Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity, and Gender Expression (SOGIE) Equality Bill in the 18th Congress. This is a legislation that—if passed—safeguards the rights and welfare of Filipinos of diverse sexual orientation, gender identity, and expression, through government policies of acceptance and non-discrimination.

Everyday, people of diverse SOGIE face discrimination. They are thrown out of their homes, rejected by their families, bullied in schools, barred from employment, denied healthcare, or ridiculed in the streets.

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LGBTQ+ persons live in constant fear of stigma, harassment, and in many cases, death. These are our fellow Filipinos, ating mga kapwa, that are deprived of, and denied the full enjoyment of their rights.

The delay, and subsequent non-passage of the bill in the last Congress is nothing short of disappointing. In the 18th Congress, it is time to renew our commitment to equality for every Filipino.

Raised on the Christian values of compassion, love, and acceptance, as Filipino youth, as student leaders in our Catholic institutions, we reach out to the various groups who stand in opposition, to recall the teachings of the Church, and see that the LGBTQ+ community is no different from oneself. We strongly urge the Senate and the House of Representatives to champion the cause of equality, not just for us, but for future generations.

The time for Equality is now.

Signed: 

LANCE DELA CRUZ
President, University Student Government
De la Salle University – Manila

QUIEL QUIWA
President, Sanggunian ng mga Mag-aaral
Paaralang Loyola ng Ateneo de Manila

MA. ALLISON S. BOBIER
President, Sanggunian ng mga Mag-aaral ng Miriam
Miriam College

ALLIAH PRODIGALIDAD 
External Vice President, College Student Council
St. Scholastica’s College, Manila

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