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HIV stigma and discrimination and official indifference?

Outrage Magazine takes a closer look at alleged discrimination experienced by some Filipinos living with HIV at some government agencies. This begs the question of whether it is time to re-visit “official” policies to ensure that they do not violate the rights of PLHIVs, and even end up promoting stigma and discrimination of those living with HIV.

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Time to revisit ‘official’ approaches to HIV?

The Bureau of Quarantine’s (BOQ) form specifically states that it “encourages” those who will get the yellow fever (YF) vaccination (to get their “yellow card”, which is needed by those traveling to/from select Latin American and African countries, among others) to be “honest” to “avoid possible medical complications”. But honesty, in this case – and as relayed by a Filipino living with HIV, Xander* – came at a price.

“The first step is to fill in a form that expects one to detail his/her medical condition. This form is then checked by a nurse (the second step), who will decide if you can proceed to the third step, which is the actual vaccination. If he/she has doubts about your entries in the form, you will be sent to one of the doctors on duty; he/she will determine if you can get vaccinated,” Xander relayed to Outrage Magazine.

The problem, said Xander, is in the handling of HIV-related cases.

When he went to the BOQ in the City of Manila, first, “my filled-in form was handled by at least three people who passed it around before I was forwarded to the doctor on duty (that day).” And because this section of the BOQ did not have partitions that could have afforded him privacy, Xander deemed what happened to him as “invasive, as it failed to respect my right to privacy,” he said. “In fact, by the time I was forwarded to the doctor on duty, even the other people who were also only there to get vaccinated already knew of my HIV status.”

And then the doctor on duty “was not even familiar with HIV-related cases,” Xander alleged, basing his assumption/observation on this doctor’s “lack of knowledge about CD4 and ARV (antiretroviral medicines) – he kept saying ‘Kailangan ko yung CD-CD ba ‘yun (I think I need that CD thing)?’ and ‘Dalhin mo lahat ng gamot mo sa akin. Hindi ko masyado alam ano yang Lamivudine-Tenofovir-Efavirenz (You have to show me all your medicines. I’m not very familiar with Lamivudine-Tenofovir-Efavirenz).” The doctor’s table was, by the way, right beside the waiting area (where people who were already vaccinated were awaiting their yellow card) and the cashier (where those who get vaccinated pay for the services received), so that everything discussed was done in public.

Xander – with head hanging low – left the BOQ sans knowing that the vaccination he desired; but also shamed because of his HIV status.

HIV AND YF VACC

The doctor on duty when Xander went to the BOQ was – in a way – right to be cautious when he asked for more information about Xander’s health condition.

In a study titled “Yellow fever vaccination in HIV-infected patients”, published in HIV Therapy, Olivia Veit, Christoph Hatz, Matthias Niedrig and Hansjakob Furrer stated that “millions of HIV-infected individuals are at risk to YF, a severe hemorrhagic disease which is endemic in tropical areas of Africa and Latin America.” To deal with this, “the 17D YF vaccine (17DV) is the most effective preventive strategy.” The World Health Organization (WHO), in fact, recommends that all people aged ≥9 months living or travelling in areas where there is a risk of YF transmission to be vaccinated.

Particularly in relation to HIV, there are some things worth stressing here.

First, “data regarding safety and immunogenicity of 17DV in HIV-infected individuals are limited to small studies, mainly in travelers with CD4 cell counts above 200 cells/mm”.

Second, even with sparse information, “according to current recommendations, 17DV should only be given to asymptomatic HIV-infected individuals with a CD4 cell count above 200 cell/mm” since “rare serious adverse events cannot be excluded”. As per WHO, “the vaccine is contraindicated for people who are severely immunocompromised”.

And third, at least according to some studies, “yellow fever vaccine did not result in any serious adverse events in HIV-positive individuals. However, people with HIV responded less well to the vaccine than their HIV-negative counterparts, and the protective effects of the vaccine wore off more quickly.”

All in all, though, there is still “a special need for further studies to investigate the safety and efficacy of 17DV in HIV-infected individuals”.

Section 41 of the IRR (implementing rules and regulations) of the RA 8504 states: “Medical confidentiality shall protect and uphold the right to privacy of an individual who undergoes HIV testing or is diagnosed to have HIV."

Section 41 of the IRR (implementing rules and regulations) of the RA 8504 states: “Medical confidentiality shall protect and uphold the right to privacy of an individual who undergoes HIV testing or is diagnosed to have HIV.”

LAW OF THE LAND

But again, as Xander stressed, YF vaccination isn’t his issue, per se; instead, it is the handling of his situation by a government office as a Filipino living with HIV.

Republic Act 8504 (or the Philippine AIDS Prevention and Control Act of 1998, otherwise known as the AIDS Law) states (in Section 3b): “The State shall extend full protection of human rights and civil liberties to persons living with HIV.” Part of the protection clause of the existing law is ensuring that “the right to privacy of individuals with HIV shall be guaranteed.”

Section 41 of the IRR (implementing rules and regulations) of the RA 8504 states:

“Medical confidentiality shall protect and uphold the right to privacy of an individual who undergoes HIV testing or is diagnosed to have HIV. It includes safeguarding all medical records obtained by health professionals, health instructors, co-workers, employers, recruitment agencies, insurance companies, data encoders, and other custodians of said record, file, or data.

“Confidentiality shall encompass all forms of communication that directly or indirectly lead to the disclosure of information on the identity or health status of any person who undergoes HIV testing or is diagnosed to have HIV. This information may include but is not limited to the name, address, picture, physical description or any other characteristic of a person which may lead to his/her identification.

“To safeguard the confidentiality of a person’s HIV/AIDS record, protocols and policies shall be adopted by concerned officials, agencies and institutions.”

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Section 44 of the IRR, in fact, details the sanctions against violators, i.e.:

“Penalties for violating medical confidentiality, as provided in Sec.s 30 and 32 of RA 8504, include imprisonment for six (6) months to four (4) years. Administrative sanctions may likewise be imposed…”

FAILURES OF THE SYSTEM

YF vaccine can only be had in three BOQ offices in the Philippines – i.e. BOQ – Manila, 25th Street, Port Area, Manila (Monday to Friday, 8am to 2pm); BOQ – Cebu, General Maxilom Avenue (Wednesday and Thursday, 8am-9am); and BOQ – Davao, Chavez St. (Fridays 8-9am).

Xander went to BOQ – Manila.

(Outrage Magazine sent on two separate dates two representatives to observe the processes of BOQ – Manila; and we can verify the same – Ed)

The BOQ “system” is somewhat different in Cebu City, still another place where the YF vaccine can be had; though there, forced HIV disclosure could still happen.

(Outrage Magazine also sent a representative to observe the processes of BOQ – Cebu; and we can verify the same – Ed)

In Cebu, people who intend to get the YF vaccine are first asked to “register”. Then those who will be given the vaccination for the first time are ushered into a private room where they are given a mini-lecture by the resident doctor re YF (and in our undercover representative’s case, sermon re HIV). During this mini-lecture, the resident doctor also asked the group if any one of them is HIV-positive. Not surprisingly, none openly admitted his (as there were only males in that batch) HIV status.

Emails were sent by Outrage Magazine to Dr. Janette L. Garin, Secretary of the Department of Health (since BOQ is under DOH), and to Dr. Ferdinand S. Salcedo, Director of the BOQ.

Specifically, Outrage Magazine sought for more information on:

  1. The intake forms of BOQ – e.g. if these rely on self-disclosure of HIV status, and who handles these forms since (as was reported to Outrage Magazine, these were just left on tables so that everyone could see them; and
  2. The set-up of BOQ – e.g. if the doctors on duty were trained to handle HIV-related scenarios, and if people living with HIV are allowed to get more private consultation (instead of discussing the cases in public).

As of press time, however, NO RESPONSES WERE RECEIVED FROM BOTH GARIN AND SALCEDO.

BOQ's Ferchito Avelino is hopeful that stakeholders “work together and disseminate information on HIV and correct myths that breed unnecessary fear that results to stigma and discrimination.”

BOQ’s Ferchito Avelino is hopeful that stakeholders “work together and disseminate information on HIV and correct myths that breed unnecessary fear that results to stigma and discrimination.”

On May 30, however, Ferchito L. Avelino, M.D. of the BOQ responded to Outrage Magazine, stating the bureau’s appreciation of “your effort to communicate to us your concerns. These information is important to us as we continue to improve client-to-doctor engagement (to) make sure that such engagement is within the bounds of medical confidentiality.”

Specific to the first concern raised by Outrage Magazine, Avelino stated that, “yes, the answer to the query on HIV status is based on self-disclosure of the client… although we strongly encourage client to disclose their status as this information is vital prior to the administration of any antigen. Also, our doctor may request the client to secure a certification from their attending physician on the needed for vaccination.”

(The HIV status is based on self-disclosure because of the confidentiality clause in the law – Ed)

Pertaining the possible breach in confidentiality that Xander noted in BOQ, Avelino stated that “aside from the doctor, (the) nurse on duty handles the information that are inputted in the BOQ form.” He added that “actions are made and continuously being updated to put in place systems and processes to make sure that other clients and service providers will have no access to this information.”

Avelino also stated that “the Bureau has medical doctors trained in internal medicine and in public health”, and that “to be updated on clinical practices, we conduct sessions in handling medical cases. In the past, we had sessions on HIV with representatives from the positive community.”

Avelino is hopeful that stakeholders “work together and disseminate information on HIV and correct myths that breed unnecessary fear that results to stigma and discrimination.”

a person living with HIV (PLHIV) was given a PWD (person with disability) card by the City Social Welfare and Development (CSWD) that identified the bearer as a “PLHIV”. After a complaint was filed, the card was replaced; though the replacement now stated that the bearer of the ID is “mentally ill”.

A person living with HIV (PLHIV) was given a PWD (person with disability) card by the City Social Welfare and Development (CSWD) that identified the bearer as a “PLHIV”. After a complaint was filed, the card was replaced; though the replacement now stated that the bearer of the ID is “mentally ill”.

While the BOQ is used here as a sample government office, it is – incidentally – not the only office (and a government office, particularly) that has issues when dealing with HIV-related cases.

Humphrey Gorriceta, a Filipino living with HIV, once recalled how he was “forced” to disclose his HIV status in the Land Transportation Office (LTO). Upon renewing his license in the LTO in Rosario, Cavite, Gorriceta had to take a drug test (a requirement).

“I just took my ARV about an hour or two before the testing (before giving my urine specimen), and the drug test result turned out positive. They asked me the routine questions if I have consumed alcohol recently or have taken any prohibited drugs. I said no. I asked why, and they said that they will have to send it to the DOH for confirmatory (drug test). I told them no need for that. I confessed that I am on ARV, and possibly the false-negative result is due to my ARV. I showed them my ARV caplets. They asked what ARVs are. I was surprised they didn’t know. I told them I have a lifetime condition that required me to take ARV, and that ARVs are like very strong antibiotics for a specific infection. They still didn’t get it and continued to ask about the meds. So I told them that ARVs are maintenance medication for HIV. I had to make the disclosure. I ended up explaining about HIV and ARV,” Gorriceta said.

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Gorriceta added that he “felt it was uncalled for. I felt I was pushed against the wall to do the disclosure. For them to have a drug testing service means that they should be educated or at least be oriented of the possible scenarios why a person would come out (false) positive to drug testing.”

The mandatory drug testing for driver’s license applicants was scrapped after the Republic Act 10586 (Anti-Drunk and Drugged Driving Act) took effect in June 2013.

In another case, this time in Cagayan de Oro City (CDO), a person living with HIV (PLHIV) was given a PWD (person with disability) card by the City Social Welfare and Development (CSWD) that identified the bearer as a “PLHIV”. After a complaint was filed, the card was replaced; though the replacement now stated that the bearer of the ID is “mentally ill”.

For Stephen Christian Quilacio of the Northern Mindanao AIDS Advocates (NorMAA), this highlights “the lack of knowledge in handling an issue that continues to be very sensitive,” he said.

Stephen Christian Quilacio: Voice from Northern Mindanao

NorMAA now helps provide support to the CDO PLHIV.

“While we say that there is no shame in being HIV-positive, as it is supposed to be only a medical condition, we remain cognizant of the fact that society as a whole continues to not be accepting of PLHIV, who are often stigmatized and discriminated. Care should therefore be given in handling HIV-related cases; and this is not always provided even by those in government offices,” Quilacio said.

NorMAA: Safe space for PLHIVs in Northern Mindanao

According to Ico Rodulfo, president and CEO of Project Red Ribbon, “discrimination among PLHIVs in government offices is still rampant. Project Red Ribbon has encountered a lot of reports and from personal experiences in the PLHIV community, where PLHIVs were bullied, not given chances to be promotion or are talked into quitting their posts. The Foundation also had an experience with one government agency which has an HIV program, but where the staff didn’t respect the confidentiality of the PLHIV and disclosed the status of the client to the neighborhood where she resides. This eventually caused her to be bullied and pressured to move out as her neighbors feared that her HIV might infect the entire barangay.”

Project Red Ribbon: Responding to a growing need

CONFRONTING STIGMA AND DISCRIMINATION

Yet another example happened back in Cebu City, with the handling of the cadaver of a PLHIV who passed on. There, after the demise of the PLHIV, his family was allegedly told to “ilubong dayun ang patay kay basin makatakod (immediately bury the dead as it could infect others)”. His casket was also tightly wrapped in layers of plastic.

Outrage Magazine contacted the office of Dr. Ilya Tac-an, head of Cebu City’s Epidemiology Center and STD Detection Center, who said she will refer the publication to the one in charge with the cadaver section. Tac-an, nonetheless, stated that as far as she knows, the City Health Department is following the provision on the proper disposal of dead persons as mandated in the Presidential Decree 856, s. 1975, or the Code on Sanitation of the Philippines.

IRR of Chapter XXI (Disposal of Dead Persons) of PD 856, s. 1975, states that when the death due to “dangerous communicable diseases”, including HIV, the following are the requirements:

  1. The remains shall be buried within 12 hours after death;
  2. The remains shall not be taken to any place of public assembly;
  3. Only the adult members of the family of the deceased shall be permitted to attend the funeral;
  4. The remains shall be placed in a durable, air tight and sealed casket; and
  5. No permit shall be granted for the transfer of such remains.

As of press time, Outrage Magazine did not receive the referral from Tac-an.

However, according to Nenet Ortega, R.N., a licensed embalmer who is with the International Development Leadership and Learning Corporation now as one of its technical experts on health system strengthening/health sector reforms, as long as Universal Precautions (standard infection control guidelines) are followed, the risk of infection from a dead body is very low.

Hindi naman gaya ng Scarlet Fever or diphtheria ang AIDS para ilibing (AIDS is not like Scarlet Fever or Diphtheria that requires for the body to be buried) within 24 hours. It also does not require hermetically sealed coffin,” Ortega said.

Ortega added that “TB, polio, hepatitis and HIV can effectively be killed by formaldehyde and other embalming chemicals. Also, embalmers are trained to protect themselves from getting any infection during embalming process. You know what, as long as there are no microorganism that is resistant to formaldehyde and other embalming fluids and chemicals, and as long as embalmers have the means to protect themselves, embalmers can and will always be able to serve the public.”

The fear of the dead PLHIV infecting others is also baseless, Ortega said. “Remember that the virus need a living cell as its host in order to replicate. When the body dies, all the cells die, so therefore the virus dies as well kasi patay na din ang mga white cells (because the white cells also die) within 24 hours. And by exposing it to formaldehyde earlier than 24 hours, the faster the cells are preserved, but the virus dies.”

Ortega added: “That incident in Cebu exposed the immediate family of the person who died to further stigma and discrimination. That action indirectly tells people na namatay ang taong nasa loob ng ataul na nakabalot pa ng plastic sa isang nakakahawa, nakakadiri at (that the person inside the coffin that is wrapped in plastic died from a contagious, disgusting and) fatal kind of disease.”

For Ortega, “that incident in Cebu is a gross discrimination. As if balutin ng plastic ang coffin (by wrapping the coffin in plastic) would be a protection enough to keep HIV. That is bullshit! Ignorance spreads stigmatization and discrimination, including ignorance of the simple Universal Precaution. And Universal Precaution is basic. It is practiced in all clinics, lying in, hospitals of all levels, in schools with anatomy, physiology, clinical and chemistry laboratories, in morgues, in all places where exposure to bodily fluids may happen.”

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For Dr. Jose Narciso Melchor Sescon of the AIDS Society of the Philippines, “the City Health Office is handling and tracking these cases through the death certificate filed by relatives prior to the burial. Hospitals are required by DOH to report the types of infections borne as part of surveillance (PIDSR, or the Philippine Infectious Disease Surveillance Response). Take note what is discriminating is what you put in the death certificate and not necessarily the process or handling as there are funeral parlors highly competent to handle such cases (e.g. Funeraria Oro).”

For Sescon, “the reality is that not all funeral parlors are trained or are competent to handle bodies with infectious diseases. Yes, I agree that standard precautions must apply, but the reality is, not all abide by this. Add to this the reservations of the owners of embalming establishments if they are not trained to deal with such cases.”

In cases where there are no experts that can handle the cadaver of PLHIVs, “there are DOH memorandum or administrative orders that the city must follow that within 24 hours, the body should already be cremated or be buried. If only there are a lot of trained embalmers to handle highly infectious diseases, not only HIV but also the likes of meningococcemia and chicken pox, then it will not be a problem.”

Sescon added that “this may be why a PLHIV’s body had to be cremated or buried within 24 hours, particularly if there are no trained embalmers around, most especially in far-flung areas.”

He added, nonetheless, that “the manner of relaying the correct information is also important so that the situation is better understood.”

Both Ortega and Sescon advocate the further professionalization of the funeral industry for the people in it to know how to properly handle sensitive cases, such as when involving a dead PLHIV.

“I agree with the need to professionalize the profession for only then will this issue be somehow resolved. Professionalizing increases the quality standards of operations, provision of licenses and permit will depend now on meeting the quality standards in embalming bodies and or running a funeral parlor,” Sescon said.

RAMPANT STIGMA AND DISCRIMINATION

HIV-related stigma and discrimination has long been reported in the Philippines by the likes of Remedios AIDS Foundation and Pinoy Plus Association in a study called Exploring the Realities of HIV/AIDS Related Discrimination in Manila Philippines, published in 2005; APN+, Pinoy Plus Association and UNAIDS in AIDS Discrimination in Asia: From the Perspective of Persons Living with HIV/AIDS,

Published in 2002; and GNP+, Pinoy Plus Association and UNAIDS in The People Living with HIV Stigma Index in the Philippines, published in 2010.

These studies, in fact, note that the area where PLHIVs experience most discrimination is the healthcare setting (both public and private), with instances cited including: refusal to treat on the grounds of HIV status, different treatment on grounds of HIV status, testing for HIV without the knowledge of the individual, breach of confidentiality and denied of health insurance.

Eddy N. Razon of the Pinoy Plus Association, in his report AIDS Related Stigma and Discrimination in the Philippines, also noted the “non-availment of redress mechanisms” of PLHIVs. Among the reasons provided include: lack of understanding on what constitute human rights violations; lack of knowledge on available redress mechanism; unwillingness to come out and be identified in public in the course of seeking redress; and the cost of legal action.

And so – back to the access to the YF vaccine at the BOQ – Xander said it is a “Catch 22 situation. We’re damned if we disclose, and damned if we don’t disclose.”

In his case, Xander is first to admit the good of knowing how he may react to what will be injected into his body. He is now seeking medical clearance from his personal doctor, just so he can present some documentation to the BOQ.

But Xander said that he isn’t a “special case – there are others like me who also had YF vaccination, and who opted not to admit their HIV status just to be done and over with with the YF vaccination”.

And Xander said he understands the other PLHIVs, stressing that “unless protections are given to those who openly admit their HIV status, then expect PLHIVs to lie instead to protect themselves from stigma and discrimination.”

In CDO, NorMAA’s Quilacio believes in the need to revisit the approaches in the delivery of services of government offices, among others; though this time, “these need to be informed by the very people they claim to serve. Otherwise, if they persist as if it’s all business as usual, then they’re just going to continue doing things insensitively, and maybe even against the laws that ought to be upheld.”

Rodulfo said that “the challenges are aplenty. First, we need to educate the government offices and agencies about HIV and the law. Second, we need to implement the HIV in the workplace policy as required by RA 8504 and the DOLE mandate, so all government offices educate the workforce re respect of the rights of the workers with HIV. And third, we need to continue to push for anti-discrimination ordinances and policies.”

Rodulfo is, nonetheless, hopeful that change will come soon. “As change is coming with the next President, we are hopeful that reforms will be implemented to finally stop stigma and discrimination of members of the PLHIV community,” he said.

“We may still have a very long way to go when dealing with HIV-related issues,” admitted Xander. “But we’d have an even longer way to go if the very institutions that swore to uphold our rights – i.e. the government – are the very ones that violate them.” And so, “change needs to happen. And they need to happen fast.”

*THE INTERVIEWEE REQUESTED FOR HIS REAL NAME NOT TO BE USED TO PROTECT HIS PRIVACY

THIS IS A DEVELOPING STORY, AND OUTRAGE MAGAZINE WILL CONTINUE PURSUING LEADS THAT HIGHLIGHT NOT ONLY ERRONEOUS PRACTICES BUT BEST PRACTICES WHEN DEALING WITH HIV IN VARIOUS OFFICES

The founder of Outrage Magazine, Michael David dela Cruz Tan is a graduate of Bachelor of Arts (Communication Studies) of the University of Newcastle in New South Wales, Australia. Though he grew up in Mindanao (particularly Kidapawan and Cotabato City in Maguindanao), even attending Roman Catholic schools there, he "really, really came out in Sydney," he says, so that "I sort of know what it's like to be gay in a developing and a developed world". Mick can: photograph, do artworks with mixed media, write (DUH!), shoot flicks, community organize, facilitate, lecture, research (with pioneering studies under his belt)... this one's a multi-tasker, who is even conversant in Filipino Sign Language (FSL). Among others, Mick received the Catholic Mass Media Awards (CMMA) in 2006 for Best Investigative Journalism. Cross his path is the dare (read: It won't be boring).

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Ilagan City in province of Isabela enacts SOGIE-specific anti-discrimination ordinance

General Ordinance 198-2019 finds the “need to prohibit… discrimination against people on the basis of actual or perceived SOGIE on the areas of work, accommodation, education, provision of goods, facilities and services, memberships in organizations, and the administration of local laws and programs.”

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The rainbow rises up north.

Ilagan – officially the City of Ilagan – a first class city and capital of the province of Isabela, enacted its own anti-discrimination ordinance based on sexual orientation, gender identity and expression.

Authored by City Councilor Rolando Tugade, General Ordinance 198-2019 stated that the office of the Sangguniang Panglungsod “finds the need to prohibit, so far as is possible, discrimination against people on the basis of actual or perceived SOGIE on the areas of work, accommodation, education, provision of goods, facilities and services, memberships in organizations, and the administration of local laws and programs.”

According to Yonidick Pascua, president of City of Ilagan Gay Association, who pushed for the passage of the ADO, having the same is important “para mapangalagaan ang bawat LGBTQIA person,” he said. This is also needed, he added, to show respect to the rights and “dignidad ng bawat LGBTQIA person; para sa pagkapantay-pantay (na trato) bilang tao sa lipunan.

Passing the ADO was challenging, said Pascua.

Marami pa rin sa ating mga kababayan ang lubos na hindi naiintindihan kung ano ba talaga ang SOGIE,” he said, adding that this is – nonetheless – exactly why the ADO is needed. Fortunately, for him, City Mayor Josemarie L. Diaz and Vice Mayor Kit Bello backed the ADO.

With the ADO, “inaasahan natin na magiging mas ligtas ang bawat LGBTQIA person (dito sa Ilagan); inaasahan natin na mas lalong magkakaroon ng lakas ng loob at mamuhay ng mas panatag ang bawat LGBTQIA person, at inaasahan natin ang mas masaya at makulay na pamumuhay ng bawat LGBTQIA person dito,” he said.

READ:  Ilagan City in province of Isabela enacts SOGIE-specific anti-discrimination ordinance

Aside from the aforementioned acts prohibited by the ADO, also deemed unlawful is “discrimination through verbal or non-verbal ridicule and vilification,” where it is declared “unlawful for any… person to vilify or ridicule any person on the based of perceived or actual SOGIE which may result in the loss of self-esteem or sense of safety and security, or the infliction of psychological harm through: contemptuous imitating or mockery; and uttering of abusive and slanderous statements.”

Persons who violate the ADO may be jailed for up to 60 days, and/or fined up to P5,000.

With the ADO, the city mandates its barangays to “develop a system to record and document reported cases of discrimination and violence against LGBTQIA persons, and provide assistance to victims.” But the ADO also establishes an LGBTQIA council.

Yakapin po ninyo ang LGBTQIA people, itaguyod ang SOGIE para sa proteksyon ng bawat LGBTQIA person at bigyan sila ng pagkakataon na mamuhay ng mapayapa at ligtas sa pamamagitan ng pagpasa ng ADO,” Pascua said. “Ang mga LGBTQIA people ay kasama sa lipunan kaya nararapat laman na yakapin, tanggapin at bigyan ng respeto.

PHOTO COURTESY OF MS DINDI TAN

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Behind the bars on LGBTQIA life in prison

In the Philippines, it remains hard to monitor wrongful accusations (and eventual wrongful convictions); much more on how badly this affects members of the LGBTQIA community. Outrage Magazine interviews a gay man who experienced this, and what he went through as a minor behind bars.

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Photo by Dmitry Yakovlev from Unsplash.com

It was a tiring day for then-16-year-old Harry (not his real name). He just got home from two consecutive weddings, and so – right after arriving at their house in San Jose City in Nueva Ecija – he asked his mother if he could skip school to just rest.

Harry’s mother indulged him; but she also asked Harry to look after a younger sibling as she had to do some errands. On her way out, Harry saw his mother speak to the nine-year-old son of their neighbor outside their house; he said he was just wandering to catch a dragonfly.

With his mother gone, and before getting some sleep, Harry decided to harvest some mangoes from the tree beside their house. And while atop the tree, he noticed that the nine-year-old boy was no longer in the street. After getting down from the tree, he went inside their house, locked the door, and then slept.

It seemed that only a few minutes passed, but Harry was woken by knocking on their front door. He got up to open the door; it was the nine-year-old boy’s mother, asking about the clothes Harry wore to one of the weddings that day. When Harry moved to go inside the room to get the pants he wore, the nine-year-old boy surfaced from inside the room.

Anong ginagawa mo diyan (What are you doing there)?” the mother asked her son, flabbergasted.

He said “tinitingnan ko lang ‘yung kapatid ni Harry (I was just looking at the younger brother of Harry).”

Harry joined the conversation, saying he didn’t know that the boy was even inside.

The boy’s family went straight to the police station, accusing Harry of child molestation. Harry was eventually taken into custody.

Though he was only 16 then, Harry was detained at the lock-up facility of the Philippine National Police (PNP). This is – by itself – a violation of Republic Act 9344 or the Juvenile Justice Law of 2006, which sets the minimum age of criminal liability at 15 years old. This means that those between 15 to 18 years old (and Harry was 16 when the alleged rape happened) may be detained in youth centers and go through rehabilitation programs, while those under 15 years old are exempted from criminal liability and undergo intervention.

After a month with the PNP, Harry was transferred to the custody of the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP), an agency of the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), mandated to direct, supervise and control the administration and operation of all jails in the Philippines.

Though he was only 16 then, Harry was detained at the lock-up facility of the Philippine National Police (PNP). This is – by itself – a violation of Republic Act 9344 or the Juvenile Justice Law of 2006, which sets the minimum age of criminal liability at 15 years old.
Photo by Ali Yahya from Unsplash.com

RAINBOW INCARCERATION

Here’s a sobering fact: the incarceration rate of lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) people is up to three times than that of the general population. Sexual minorities (or people who self-identify as LGB and people who do not identify as LGB but reported a same-sex sexual experience) comprise: 9.3% of men in prison, 6.2% of men in jail, 42.1% of women in prison, and 35.7% of women in jail.

Note: As is often used, “jails” are facilities that hold inmates awaiting trial or serving short sentences, while “prisons” are facilities for those serving their (often longer) sentences.

Now this is worth stressing: Even if this has already been (partly) studied overseas, this continues to be largely ignored in the Philippine context.

One study – “Incarceration Rates and Traits of Sexual Minorities in the United States: National Inmate Survey, 2011–2012″, co-authored by Ilan H. Meyer, PhD, Andrew R. Flores, PhD, Lara Stemple, JD, Adam P. Romero, JD, Bianca D.M. Wilson, PhD, and Jody L. Herman, PhD and published in the American Journal of Public Health – found that sexual minorities are not only incarcerated at disproportionately high rates, but that once incarcerated, they are more likely to experience mistreatment, harsh punishment and sexual victimization.

Sexual minorities (or people who self-identify as LGB and people who do not identify as LGB but reported a same-sex sexual experience) comprise: 9.3% of men in prison, 6.2% of men in jail, 42.1% of women in prison, and 35.7% of women in jail.
Photo by Denny Müller from Unsplash.com

A LIFE IN FEAR

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Nung first time kong pumasok sa loob ng selda, binuhusan ako ng isang pulis ng tubig habang natutulog pa ako (The first day I got detained, a police officer splashed water on me while I was sleeping),” Harry recalled. Dazed and confused, and not knowing who the person was (because she was not wearing uniform), “tinanong ko siya kung naka-detain din ba siya; hindi ko alam na pulis siya. Nalaman ko lang nung bigla niyang pinakuha yung batuta niya (I asked if she was also a detainee; I had no idea she was a police officer. The moment she asked for her club/cudgel, everything just came to me).”

There was a time when Harry was almost transferred to Boystown (a facility for offending minors), but his mother pleaded for this not to be done since he would then be too far from home and she would be unable to visit him regularly. And because he did not entirely understand what was being discussed, all Harry said he could do was cry, “too scared of everything.”

Bullying/getting maltreated was a “norm” particularly for those who just enter prison.

In Harry’s case, he was beaten – an act, he was told, was “a way to welcome new inmates.”

Ano yung ginagawa ng mga jail officers? Wala lang din. Wala silang ginagawa kasi minsan parang sila na din yung nagsasabi o nagbibigay ng memo na i-welcome yung mga bagong inmates (The jail officers are not acknowledging this issue. They are not doing anything about it because there are times when they, themselves, are the ones who give orders to welcome new inmates in that way),” Harry said.

Inside the jail, minors are supposed to be separated from the adult inmates. But this policy is also amendable, depending on the whims of the warden. In their case, an inmate who was also a minor tried to escape because he wanted to celebrate his birthday outside the prison, but “after that incident, the (minors were already treated as adult inmates), included with the adult prisoners.”

Men and women have separate sections; but transgender women are mixed with men.

Wala silang sariling lugar doon sa kulungan. Isinasama sila sa mga lalaki kasi para sa mga tao doon, lalaki pa din sila (There’s no designated place for them. The jail officers still see/treat them as men),” Harry said.

Also as big as a risk for new inmates like Harry was getting raped.

Meron talagang rape na nangyayari sa loob. Lalo na sa mga bagong pasok. Yun din minsan ang parang pinaka-welcome ng mga inmates na lalaki sa mga inmates na bakla. Kahit ayaw mo, talagang pipilitin at pipilitin ka (It is undeniable that rape occurs inside the jail. They specially do it to the newcomers. This is how straight inmates would welcome gay people in their cell. Even if you don’t want to, you will be forced)” Harry recalled.

Harry was not exempted from this experience because, “sabihin ko man na ayaw ko, hindi pa din sila pumapayag na huwag kong gawin. Pag sinabi ng isang inmate na gawin namin, wala na lang din akong magawa kundi sumunod na lang (Even though I didn’t want to, I would never have a choice. If a straight inmate asked for it, you just have to obey them),” Harry said. “Na-experience ko yun as a welcome sa akin nung pagpunta ko don (I experienced it as a welcome greeting when I first got there).”

At 16, Harry was raped in jail by a 23-year-old.

Pag na-gustuhan ka nila, may mga grupo don tapos lalapitan ka nila. Papapasukin ka nila sa lugar nila tapos gagalawin ka nila. Mapapasunod ka na lang kesa masaktan ka (If you caught their interest, groups of boys would approach you and ask you to join them in their cell to rape you. You won’t have any other choice because if you refuse, they will hurt you),” he said.

This maltreatment, by the way, is not exclusive to members of the LGBT community in jail/prison, since “there, no matter what your gender is, they will hurt you if they wanted to.”

Though these may – no doubt – be known to those running the country’s jails/prisons, Harry said that they didn’t have access to any contraceptives and/or protection while inside the jail/prison.

Hindi sila nakakapag-provide ng ganun. Kahit minsan nasusubukan namin magkaroon ng sakit, hindi din kami nabibigyan ng kahit anong gamot. Itinatawag lang namin sa mga magulang namin yung mga ganun (They can’t provide things like that. Even at times when we were sick, no medicines were made available to us. We still rely on our relatives outside),” he said, adding: “Saka pa lang nagkakaroon ng aksyon pag parang mamamatay na yung tao (They only really act when someone is already really close to dying.)”

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There was a point in time when Harry said he almost gave up. But he kept telling himself that “hindi yun ang panahon na dapat akong mawalan ng pag-asa dahil naniniwala ako noon na darating at darating yung oras na malalaman talaga kung ano yung totoo (That was not the time for me to just give up. I had faith that the truth will come out),” Harry said.

In Harry’s case, he was beaten – an act, he was told, was “a way to welcome new inmates.”
Photo by Pavlofox from Pixabay.com

FLAWED SYSTEM

Much has already been said about prison management in the Philippines.

To start, and as noted by the Human Rights Watch (HRW), critical and chronic overcrowding has long been a perennial topic when discussing the country’s jail facilities. BJMP runs 415 detention facilities in 17 regions, and on average, its jailhouses report 380% overcapacity. In Metro Manila alone, the BJMP’s total cell area of 22,318 square meters, designed for 4,749 detainees; but it currently holds 21,868 detainees (a congestion rate of 361%).

The surprising – and somewhat senseless – thing worth noting here is that between 85% and 90% of the more than 94,000 inmates in the custody of BJMP are awaiting or undergoing trial.

“This makes the Philippines the Southeast Asian country with the highest number of pretrial and remand detainees and the second highest in all of Asia. Prolonged detention without charge or trial violates international human rights instruments, including Article 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which the Philippines ratified in 1986. Moreover, it ‘shall not be the general rule that persons awaiting trial shall be detained in custody,’ but rather released with guarantees of appearing for trial,” HRW stated.

HRW also noted that “the injustice of lengthy detention is compounded by the horrific conditions of the jail facilities (with) many detention centers in the Philippines failing to meet the minimum United Nations standards for such facilities, including inadequate amounts of food, poor nutrition, and unsanitary conditions.”

And yes, “torture and other forms of ill-treatment are also common,” HRW similarly noted.

LIFE LESSONS

Inside jail, fighting for oneself was never really an option, Harry said, because the inmates could just – eventually – get back to you for fighting back. Giving in to just go with the flow was the attitude being in jail teaches inmates.

Though one time, Harry said he tried to fight for his basic human right of… simply existing and being treated more humanely.

One time, he recalled, a lady jail officer started pushing his chest with her fist and kept asking him if it hurts. It reached a point where the officer was already pointing a knife at him.

Sabi ko sa kanya, hindi rin ako papayag na gaganunin niya ako. Bilang isang inmate, itrato din naman sana kami na parang tao dahil hindi naman kami iba sa kanila. Kasi sabi ko wala naman kaming ginagawang masama sa kanila. Tapos sabi ko pwede ko silang ireklamo sa ginagawa nilang ‘yun (I told her that I won’t let her do that to me. I may be an inmate, but I am also a person just like her. I told her that I did not do anything wrong to deserve the way she is treating me. I also told her that I could file a complaint on how she is treating me),” he said.

That – fortunately for Harry – silenced and prevented her from doing more harm.

It was while in jail that Harry finished high school under the Alternative Learning System (ALS) program offered there.

ALS is a practical option for learning in the Philippines, offering education to those who could not usually attend and access the formal type of schooling.

It was also while in jail when Harry first found love.

Harry met another minor, and “we became BFs.”

Prisoners who are in relationships and want to have sex may ask for permission from the jail officers who then give them space to do so. “Pwedeng-pwede lalo na pag LGBT ka; pero pag babae at lalaki, medyo mahirap kasi inmate na lalaki at inmate na babae, bawal ‘yun (ipagsama) (The officers are very open to that matter specially if you are a part of the LGBT community. But if the sexual intercourse is going to be between a man and a woman, they don’t allow it).”

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Their relationship lasted for a year and three months.

Inside jail, fighting for oneself was never really an option, Harry said, because the inmates could just – eventually – get back to you for fighting back. Giving in to just go with the flow was the attitude being in jail teaches inmates.
Photo by Ye Jinghan from Unsplash.com

THE WRONGLY ACCUSED

While in jail, Harry was repeatedly told that he would be transferred to “The Mansion” (how inmates called New Bilibid Prison, located in Muntinlupa as the main insular penitentiary designed to house the prison population of the Philippines). He was scared; and he was feeling bad, though not just for himself but also his mother who – even if she just gave birth – continued to regularly visit him.

And then one day, his lawyer – while on a visit – just handed him his already-signed release paper.

Bigla po akong na-congratulate ng attorney ko dahil nai-panalo ko daw yung kaso ko (My lawyer congratulated me because we won the case),” Harry said.

Relieved, he said he just wanted to have a life outside.

It is worth noting that Harry’s case is not exactly rare. And the warning bells have long been ringing.

In 2004, Free Legal Assistance Group (an NGO that provides legal assistance mainly for human rights cases) conducted a survey of death convicts in the Philippines, and it found “significant figures that could indicate a high judicial error rate”. The survey showed that 73.9% of the convicts were arrested without a warrant, 78.3% were not informed of their constitutional rights at the time of arrest, and – get this! – 90% were not assisted by counsel during police investigation and interrogation.

Perhaps it is also worth noting that 52.2% of the convicts belong to the lowest socioeconomic class.

In 2014, Innocence Project (a litigation and public policy organization composed of human rights advocates in Ateneo, UP Law School and De La Salle University College of Law, headed by Jose Manuel “Chel” Diokno) revealed that some 400 prisoners were wrongfully convicted by the court; most are charged with rape.

And in 2017, the Philippine Daily Inquirer reported of the Supreme Court’s admission that seven in 10 death penalty convictions in 1993-2004 by the lower courts, submitted for automatic review, were wrongly judged. Also, during trials, 59% of the suspects were represented by lawyers from the Public Attorney’s Office, but 54.1% did not have regular consultations with their trial lawyers, and 10.2% never even had a consultation.

So in 2017, during the 17th Congress, former Sultan Kudarat Rep. Horacio Suansing Jr. and Nueva Ecija Rep. Estrellita Suansing filed House Bill 5582 to create a commission mandated to review all cases in which an innocent person was convicted; identify the causes of wrongful convictions; and identify current laws, rules and procedures implicated in each identified cause of wrongful convictions. This is because, the politicians noted, “at present, there is no government entity in our country charged with conducting the independent expert review of wrongful convictions necessary to identify the primary and potential causes of wrongful convictions.”

The same bill was actually originally filed by the late Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago during the 14th Congress and refiled during the 16th Congress. It failed to pass the 17th Congress.

Suffice it to say, in a country like the Philippines, it remains extremely hard to monitor wrongful accusations (as in the case of Harry) and eventual wrongful convictions; much more on how badly this affects members of the LGBTQIA community.  And then – yes – add to this the extra layer of hardships experienced by members of the LGBTQIA community if/when they are sent to jail/prison, some of them experienced by Harry, solely because of their sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression.

THE WORLD OUTSIDE

Upon his release from jail, Harry’s first stop was his brother’s house, where they accused him of escaping. “They only believed me when I showed them the release paper,” he recalled.

Not surprisingly, the complainants weren’t too happy that Harry was released. And this was even if other stories emerged – e.g. that the family of the complainant just paid the medical exam to release a report that stated that the boy was raped; that when the nine- year-old boy was interviewed, he actually denied that he was raped; and that the complainant demanded P30,000 from his family in exchange for his freedom.

Harry was also told that if he wants to turn the tables on them and file a case against his complainants, it would be a very strong lawsuit.

But not that Harry even cared at that point in time. “Pinabayaan ko na lang. Hindi ko inisip na maghiganti pa sa kanila (I moved on. Revenge is not what I wanted),” Harry said.

Harry’s relationship with his fellow minor inmate also did not prosper.

The BF is also already out of jail, Harry said, and he’s already married (to a woman). “Wala naman akong magawa kundi maging masaya na lang para sa kaniya. Pero magkaibigan kami ngayon (There’s nothing I can do but be happy for him. We’re still friends though),” Harry said.

As a freed man since 2016, Harry eventually found a job working for a local government official.

Sa totoo lang, mahirap talaga ang buhay sa loob ng kulungan kapag kayo ay papasok so kailangan talaga na mag-ingat kayo na wag gumawa ng kasalanan (My advice to the LGBT people is for them to watch their actions because it is very hard to live behind the bars),” Harry said.

And to the incarcerated: “Sana mag-ingat na lang din sila kasi kailangan din nilang maipagtanggol yung sarili nila sa lahat ng maling gawain doon sa loob (To those who are inside, they should take care and learn to fight for themselves from every wrong thing that is happening inside).”

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‘Practice what we believe without inciting hate’

With those opposing the non-discrimination of LGBTQIA people still using the Bible to promote their hatred/bigotry, there are numerous people of faith who say that practicing what we believe is possible without inciting hatred. In the end, the goal is to ensure everyone is treated equally; and for the State to sanction those who violate this concept of equality.

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The SOGIE Equality Bill is needed, said Pastor Carleen Nomorosa, program coordinator at the National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP), because “kinikilala niya at inaangat niya ang kagalingan at kahusayan at ang maaaring maiambag pa ng LGBTQIA people sa iba’t ibang larangan (it recognizes and elevates how good LGBTQIA people can be, and their contribution to various sectors).”

Nomorosa noted that currently, a handful of LGBTQIA Filipinos are not even allowed to share their potentials because they are hindered by their sexual orientation, gender identity and expression (SOGIE). “And as a Christian, as a pastor, I believe that this (SOGIE) should not hinder LGBTQIA people from… fully participating in society,” she said.

This is why, for Sen. Risa Hontiveros, the sponsor of the SOGIE Equality Bill in the Upper House/Senate, there is a need to “remind ourselves of (what unites us). That we are all against any form of discrimination. That we want what’s best for each other. And that we want to preserve our values, and the Filipino family.” So “let’s treat each other with respect, empathy and openness.”

DEALING WITH LAW’S LIMITATIONS

For his part, Atty. Lyndon Caña of the traditional Coalition of Concerned Families of the Philippines, passing the SOGIE Equality Bill will go against the existing law of the land by – to start – giving credence to gender identity. Caña is particularly cognizant of the Supreme Court (SC) decision on the 2007 case of Rommel Jacinto Silverio/Mely Silverio, where the SC stipulated that a female person is one who produces ova/egg cells; while a male person produces spermatozoa.

As background info, on October 22, 2007, the SC’s First Division junked Silverio’s plea to change birth certificate entries — i.e. name to Mely, and sex to female. This after Silverio already underwent gender affirmation surgery. The court ruled that “the words ‘male’ and ‘female’ in everyday understanding do not include persons who have undergone sex reassignment.”

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A Manila court earlier granted Silverio’s plea, but the Office of the Solicitor General elevated the matter to the Court of Appeals, where Silverio lost. The case was then raised to the SC, where Silverio lost with finality.

“While petitioner may have succeeded in altering his body and appearance through the intervention of modern surgery, no law authorizes the change of entry as to sex in the civil registry for that reason. Thus, there is no legal basis for his petition for the correction or change of the entries in his birth certificate,” the High Court said in the decision written by then Associate Justice Renato Corona.

But even the SC’s simplistic definition of what makes males and females may, however, be questioned.

And this is why, according to Prof. Revelation Velunta of the Union Theological Seminary (UTS), there is a need to: 1. Recognize that existing laws may have loopholes; and 2. Come up with solutions to deal with these loopholes.

In the Philippines, Velunta said, there is the Penal Code; which was revised. And then there was a law made to deal with rape; this was also eventually revised. “We always assume that we have anough laws,” he said. “The question then is: If we have enough laws, why do we revise (existing laws)?”

For Velunta, laws can have loopholes that may not answer the current needs. “And this is the case with the SOGIE Equality Bill,” he said.

“For every (faith-based organization that) argues that (the SOGIE Equality Bill) should not be passed, there are (also) faith communities – Christians, Muslims and others – that say that it should be passed,” Prof. Revelation Velunta said.

CONFRONTING BIBLICAL BASHING

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Velunta also said that the attempt to attack the SOGIE Equality Bill by using Biblical texts is flawed. This is – largely – because of “diversity”. To start, “we always ask: Which Bible (do we use)?”

Velunta said that there are 78 books in the Eastern Orthodox Church Bible; 79 in Ethiopian Orthodox Bible; 73 in the Roman Catholic Church Bible; 66 in the Bible used by Protestant churches; and 24 books in the Hebrew Bible. Right now, too, there are 5,700 Greek manuscripts of the New Testament; no two of them are exactly alike. And, also right now, there are over 2,000 English translations of the Bible, so that “there are more English translations of the Bible than there are English languages.”

Velunta, therefore, said that asking “what version (of the Bible)” is always necessary; or better yet, to focus instead on human sexuality diversity.

“For every (faith-based organization that) argues that (the SOGIE Equality Bill) should not be passed, there are (also) faith communities – Christians, Muslims and others – that say that it should be passed,” Velunta said. “For us, for example, we follow the example of Jesus who always took the side of the marginalized, oppressed and the poor. And in this particular situation, the LGBTQIA community is being marginalized. (They’re not asking for special favors, they) are just asking to be recognized that they are God’s children, they are created in God’s image, and being LGBTQIA is a celebration of God’s diversity, of God’s creation, and God’s love.”

For Sen. Risa Hontiveros, the sponsor of the SOGIE Equality Bill in the Upper House/Senate, there is a need to “remind ourselves of (what unites us). That we are all against any form of discrimination. That we want what’s best for each other.”

DEALING WITH CONFUSIONS

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Confusion continues to exist re the SOGIE Equality Bill, nonetheless.

For Kata Inocencio, who is with the 700 Club Asia, there is fear that their freedom to tackle homosexuality – considered a “disorder” with adultery, among others – in their TV programs will be hindered. With her ilk, Inocencio believes that being gay can be “cured”; and conversion therapy is a regular topic discussed in 700 Club Asia.

The SOGIE Equality Bill, however, does not intend to infringe on Constitutionally mandated/protected rights; and earlier efforts were already made to clarify what the bill intends to do/does not cover.

Still, for her part, Nomorosa of NCCP said that “we can still practice what we believe without inciting hate, discrimination and fear against people who do not fit our notion of ‘normal’.”

Nomorosa urged non-use of the Bible to prevent LGBTQIA people from becoming productive members of society because this very act “shows hate, and not the love of God.”

Sister Mary John Mananzan: “Even if we are really against discrimination of (all people), sometimes you have to focus on groups of people that are actually suffering discrimination and violence.”

WANTED: HELP FROM THE STATE

From Cebu in the Visayas, helming the cirty’s anti-discrimination commission, Ms Magdalena Robinson said that there is a need for a national law to provide LGBTQIA people who experience discrimination a redress mechanism.

Robinson is cognizant that there are people – including members of the LGBTQIA community – who oppose giving protection to a minority sector that experiences discriminatory acts solely because of their SOGIE.

But “with our work in the (grassroots), we have really encountered (LGBTQIA people who experienced discrimination). You may not have experienced it firsthand, maybe you just heard of it, but we can’t dismiss that this is a reality for LGBTQIA people. That their identities, their relationships, their gender expressions… are used against them to attack their dignity and demean their very person. So what we want is for the State to provide (a) mechanism to exhaust legal remedies to deal with these.” – WITH ALBERT TAN MAGALLANES, JR.

EDITOR’S NOTES/ERRATUM (Sept. 11, 2019): In the earlier version of this article, Prof. Revelation Velunta of the Union Theological Seminary (UTS) was erroneously identified as “Prof. Salvation Velunta”. This has since been amended. 

Our apologies for this error.

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SC junks plea for marriage equality; but says Charter doesn’t limit marriage based on sex

The SC stated that the 1987 Constitution, from its “plain text,” “does not define, or restrict, marriage on the basis of sex, gender, sexual orientation, or gender identity or expression,” but the petition had to be dismissed based on Atty. Jesis Falcis III’s lack of standing, violation of the principle of hierarchy of courts, and failure to raise an actual, justiciable controversy.

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The Supreme Court (SC) of the Philippines unanimously voted to dismiss on account of a technicality a historic petition to allow same-sex marriage in the country.

The SC dismissed Atty. Jesus Falcis III’ petition “on account of his lack of standing, violating the principle of hierarchy of courts, and failing to raise an actual, justiciable controversy,” SC’s spokesperson Brian Keith Hosaka said in a news conference on Tuesday, September 3.

In 2015, Falcis filed a petition asking the High Court to declare Articles 1 and 2 of the Family Code unconstitutional. The provisions of the 31-year-old law limits marriage between a man and a woman. However, the 1987 Constitution does not categorically state that a marriage must be only between a man and a woman.

But it is worth noting that the SC said the Constitution does not restrict marriage on the basis of sex.

The SC stated that the 1987 Constitution, from its “plain text,” “does not define, or restrict, marriage on the basis of sex, gender, sexual orientation, or gender identity or expression,” but the petition had to be dismissed based on Falcis’ lack of standing, violation of the principle of hierarchy of courts, and failure to raise an actual, justiciable controversy.

The SC ruled with a reminder against “premature” petitions, stating that actions done in the name of public interest “should be the result of collective decision coming from well-thought-out strategies of the movement in whose name we bring a case before this Court.”

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Otherwise, the SC added, “premature petitions filed by those who seek to see their names in our jurisprudential records may only do more harm than good.”

For the SC, “good intentions are no substitute for deliberate, conscious and responsible action. Litigation for the public interest for those who have been marginalized and oppressed deserve much more than the way it has been handled in this case.”

The SC also held Falcis and his fellow lawyers, Darwin Angeles, Keisha Trina Guangko, and Christopher Ryan Maranan, liable for indirect contempt, stating that “to forget [the bare rudiments of court procedure and decorum] — or worse, to purport to know them, but really, only to exploit them by way of propaganda — and then, to jump headlong into the taxing endeavor of constitutional litigation is a contemptuous betrayal of the high standards of the legal profession.”

Associate Justice Marvic Leonen, the ponente, said the issue of same-sex partnerships “may, for now, be a matter that should be addressed to Congress.”

Leonen was quoted as saying by the SC’s Public Information Office (PIO) that the SC “recognized the protracted history of discrimination and marginalization faced by the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex and other gender and sexual minorities (LGBTQI+) community, along with their still ongoing struggle for equality.”

SC also “acknowledged that same-sex couples may morally claim that they have a right against discrimination for their choice of relationships” and said “official recognition of their partnerships may, for now, be a matter that should be addressed to Congress.”

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The SC ruled that judicial adjudication entails ruling on issues “propelled by actual controversies,” adding that it can fully weigh the consequences of its decisions “only through the existence of actual facts and real adversarial presentations.”

But legislation “ideally allows public democratic liberation on the various ways to assure these fundamental rights,” the SC was quoted by the PIO. “Often public reason needs to be first shaped through the crucible of campaigns and advocacies within our political forums before it is sharpened for judicial fiat.”

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Discrimination of LGBTQIA Filipinos goes beyond CR access, say activists

51% of 400 LGBTQIA community members surveyed claimed that they experienced discrimination in public schools, 31% in the streets, and 28% in private schools. This highlights that LGBTQIA-related discrimination happens in the Philippines go beyond toilet-related access.

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All photos taken during Metro Manila Pride parade in 2019

Gretchen Diez may have self-proclaimed herself to be the “face of the LGBT movement”, but advocates of the SOGIE (Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity and Expression) Equality Bill noted that LGBTQIA-related discrimination happening in the Philippines go beyond toilet-related access.

Diez recently made the news because of her ordeal while trying to access the female toilet in Farmers Plaza, a mall in Cubao, Quezon City. But Diez, who has been in the limelight following her experience and not because of her involvement in LGBTQIA advocacy, now fashions herself as the sole representative of the local LGBTQIA community/as the community’s “face”.

During a Senate committee hearing on the measure held on August 20, mentioned was a survey conducted by Rainbow Rights Project Inc. (R-Rights) with Metro Manila Pride Inc. from 2017 to 2019, with the results showing that 51% of 400 LGBTQIA community members surveyed claiming that they experienced discrimination in public schools, 31% in the streets, and 28% in private schools.

And so Atty. Jazz Tamayo, executive director of R-Rights, the Constitution’s equal protection clause is not enough to guarantee equality. “We need laws that will specifically compel if it cannot make people understand what equality is. The fight for the SOGIE (Equality) Bill has been too long, all these cases, all these suffering… they simply must stop.”

There are also instances when State bodies end up promoting LGBTQIA discrimination. In Cagayan de Oro City in 2016, for instance, the regional trial court (RTC) sided with a school principal who ordered a Grade 4 student to wear school curtains as punishment for violating the dress code.

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“The child was made to wear school curtains as a punishment for failing to abide by (the) uniform policy. This was done to the child no less than six times by the defendant principal,” Tamayo said. “The judge ruled that the child was too young to venture into a lifestyle of a gender identity that is different from the child’s assigned sex at birth.”

The RTC judge further ruled that the mother of the child was to blame for “not guiding her child better.”

“I can imagine the chilling effect it will have for other parents who would have to file cases like this… (with) the judge just berating them about how they did not discipline their child,” Tamayo added.

For her part, Disney Aguila, president of Pinoy Deaf Rainbow Inc. (PDR), the pioneering organization for Deaf LGBTQIA Filipinos, recalled how she – herself – encountered discrimination because she identifies as a transgender woman.

Speaking to Outrage Magazine, Aguila recalled how – when she applied for a job – the HR (human resource) person of a clothing company based in Pasay City at first “praised her for looking nice”. But the same PR officer – when going through Aguila’s bio-data – saw that her assigned sex at birth was male; and “she frowned.” The HR officer asked Aguila to turn around, and then started pulling her braided hair; she then asked Aguila to have her hair cut.

When Aguila asked why, she was told that it’s because she is a “he”, based on her assigned sex at birth, and that either she presents herself as a man or not be hired. Aguila left that office without a job.

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“The level of discrimination we encounter is doubled not only because we are persons with disability (PWD) but also because of our SOGIESC,” Aguila said.

Meanwhile, Perci Cendaña – former commissioner at the National Youth Commission, and now with Babaylanes Inc. – cited the cases of: 1) a certain Jay, a Grade 12 transgender man from Pampanga, who did not finish his secondary school because when he met with his principal for college requirements, he was berated for not following the school dress code; and 2) transgender senior high school students of the Polytechnic University of the Philippines who – at first – were told that they would not graduate if they won’t follow the school’s prescribed haircut, and though they were later allowed to graduate, they did not receive a certificate of good moral character, which is a requirement for many colleges/universities for incoming students.

“The Philippine youth development plan states that youth development is defined as enabled, involved, patriotic youth realizing their aspirations. Discrimination, stigma… is a deterrent to development,” Cendaña said. “We would like to reiterate that discrimination is an issue not just of human rights but a development issue because it deters our young people from realizing their aspirations.”

“When you give us equal rights, there is no taking from you. There is no lessening of you. No one is any less a man or a woman. The SOGIE Equality Bill means simply that, an acceptance that we are different but equal,” Tamayo of R-Rights ended.

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Civil partnership bill refiled in 18th Congress

Under House Bill 2264, all benefits and protections granted to spouses in marriage under existing laws, administrative orders, court rulings, or those derived as a matter of public policy would also be enjoyed by civil partnership couples.

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ALL PHOTOS TAKEN DURING METRO MANILA PRIDE PARADE 2019

Separate but equal.

A bill proposing to allow couples to enter into a civil partnership, whether they are of the opposite or of the same sex, has been filed by former Speaker and Davao del Norte 1st District Rep. Pantaleon Alvarez in the 18th Congress.

Under House Bill 2264, all benefits and protections granted to spouses in marriage under existing laws, administrative orders, court rulings, or those derived as a matter of public policy would also be enjoyed by civil partnership couples.

At the same time, laws on marital relations, including donations by reason of marriage, legal separation, adoption, child custody and support, property division and maintenance, and spousal support, will also apply to civil partnership couples.

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In refiling the civil partnership bill, Alvarez stressed the right of all Filipinos to equal protection under the law and to freely associate themselves with others.

“This bill… hereby proposes to allow couples to enter into a civil partnership, whether they are of the opposite or of the same sex,” he said. “It aims to be a landmark effort to provide civil rights, benefits, and responsibilities to couples, previously unable to marry, by giving them due recognition and protection from the State.”

Alvarez filed the same bill in the 17th Congress, where it failed to get pass the deliberations of its mother committee.

But at that time, Atty. Clara Rita Padilla, executive director of EnGendeRights Inc., a human rights organization that fights against discrimination of women and LGBTQI people, said that Philippine law should uphold the basic human rights of everyone regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, and expression (SOGIE).

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“LGBTQI people enjoy the same rights to equality and non-discrimination as all Filipino citizens, thus, our laws should afford LGBTQI people the same rights as heterosexuals. The right to marry is a basic human right that everyone should enjoy – heterosexuals and LGBTQI people alike. It is guaranteed by our constitutional rights to equality, equal protection of the law, privacy, religion and belief,” Padilla said.

Presently, LGBTQI couples are denied the benefits enjoyed by heterosexuals, such as the right to jointly adopt children, own conjugal properties, intestate succession, immigration, avail of tax exemption, and avail of benefits related to insurance, social security, medical, hospitalization, next-of-kin, burial, among others. These benefits have long been enjoyed by married heterosexual couples simply because they are heterosexuals.

In a 2018 Social Weather Stations (SWS) survey – done via face-to-face interviews from March 23 to 27, and which asked 1,200 respondents across the country whether or not they agree with the statement “there should be a law that will allow the civil union of two men or two women” – at least 61% of the respondents said they would oppose a bill that would legalize this in the country. Among them, 44% said they strongly disagree, while 17% said they somewhat disagree. Meanwhile, 22% said they would support it, while 16% said they were still “undecided,”

But according to Pres. Rodrigo Duterte’s spokesperson at that time, Harry Roque, the President is said to support civil unions but not same-sex marriage (https://outragemag.com/duterte-backs-civil-unions-not-same-sex-marriage-spox-roque/).

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