No longer just for gay trysts…
Geosocial networking apps get criticized as just good for picking up. But research from Blued showed that more users actually create profile to “make or find friends to form a community”, topping looking for BF or even – get this! – looking for a sex partner. For media educator and advocacy filmmaker Libay Linsangan Cantor: “The basic human need to connect, plus the easier access to technology, is the winning combo here… Development is always a good thing if it serves some basic human purpose.”
Aaron Bonette was around 15 or 16 years old when he first created an account in Guys4Men.com, a now-defunct gay-centric social networking site. At that time he was still based in Lucena City, some 152 kilometers south of Metro Manila, where he lived with his mother and a younger sister. “I was still unsure, perhaps even confused about my sexuality then,” Aaron recalled. “At that time, I really had no one to talk to about what I was going through.”
Aaron remembers sneaking out to go to a computer shop “just to open this gay-centric social networking site,” he said. And even when already online, “I was somewhat paranoid, chatting only after making sure no one around me saw the site I logged into.”
But once logged in, Aaron said it was like entering a “completely different world, where there were other people like me with whom I could confidently speak with with discretion.”
Now 23 years old and based in Makati City, Aaron said that in hindsight, “I guess that gay ‘space’, even if online, helped me discover myself.” In fact, since those days of sneaking out, he was able to form close friendships with some people from various gay-centric social networking sites (and nowadays, geosocial networking applications/apps). “I’ve come to realize that we can make these sites as spaces where we can be free, enjoy a sense of belongingness, and look for someone to share and enjoy that sense of freedom.”
And in the current analysis of gay-centric social networking sites/geosocial networking applications (apps), this value is often relegated – if mentioned at all – to the more generally accepted raison d’être of accessing them just to find sexual partners.
TRUTH IN THE STEREOTYPE
There’s no going around the fact that the impetus of gay-centric social networking sites like the aforementioned Guys4Men.com and its ilk Adam4Adam and ManHunt, and their more current iterations, the geosocial networking applications (apps) like Grindr, Jack’d, Scruff, Tinder and Hornet was to primarily connect users to enjoy the proverbial “joys of the flesh”.
Speaking to Outrage Magazine from Roxas City in the Province of Capiz in Eastern Visayas, 29-year-old Simplicio Vito Jr. bluntly said that “I created accounts (in the apps) to get fucking buddies,” he laughed. “I may be wrong here, but isn’t that why most join these sites to begin with?”
Simplicio isn’t alone with this line of thinking.
In Las Piñas City, 30-year-old Ayem Tan said that “to be completely honest, I created accounts (when I was 23) so that I could meet other gay guys for sex.”
When they created accounts in these apps, both Simplicio and Ayem weren’t out yet and were therefore largely unfamiliar with the gay scenes where they were based, much more how to navigate the gay scene.
“I didn’t even know where gay guys hang out, or – even if I knew – how to make ‘awra (approach them)’, so picking up online was a no-brainer for me,” said Ayem who, when he started using the apps, only just broke up with a girlfriend.
This does not come as a surprise to Evan Tan, country marketing manager for the Philippines of Blued. “We don’t discount the fact that (gay) apps do help people look for sex,” he said.
But this is not all there is to it, said Tan. “What we can say though is that, from what we’ve seen, there’s (a sizable number of people who) put primary importance in looking for friends, a community they can belong to, or a romantic partner,” Tan said.
NOT CAST IN STONE
Tan ought to know what he’s talking about.
When Blued conducted a research of its users, the main reason cited by those surveyed on why they created a Blued profile to begin with was to “make or find friends to form a community” (13,204 respondents). Looking for BF as a reason only came second (11,092 respondents), while – get this! – looking for a sex partner came in last among the options, with only 6,094 respondents claiming this as a reason for creating a Blued account.
Community formation as a priority may be said to be not surprising since – still in Blued’s study – a big percentage of those surveyed were still not out. Specifically, only 37.4% were out to close friends, and less than 10% (or 9.7%) claimed that their family knows of their sexual orientation/gender identity.
According to Libay Linsangan Cantor, media educator and advocacy filmmaker, the evolution of forming groups/finding friends, with a growing number of LGBT people now doing this online, is not surprising.
In 2013, Cantor conducted a study on online homosocialization in the Philippines. In this study, she found that the middle to lower classes created groups online that were eventually appropriated offline; some of these online groups are the so-called “clans”, which are informal groups of LGBT people whose initial – if not main – mode of contact/staying together is with the use of tech.
“These online platforms served as the entry points of the queer doors one would want to enter, and queers had the luxury to choose which doors they want to enter, to have those connections they seek,” Cantor said.
For Cantor, “the basic human need to connect, plus the easier access to technology, is the winning combo here… Development is always a good thing if it serves some basic human purpose. If it lessens the queer depression and suicide rates, then yes, it’s good. Not all humans are designed the same way, so if this tech thing helps some people cope with life better, then that will always be a good thing.”
In a way, however, Blued is helped by its being different particularly when compared with other LGBT-targeting apps.
“Unlike other apps that were developed in countries that were friendlier towards members of the LGBT community, Blued originated from China, which is less open to gay men,” Tan said. “These gay men sought other people who shared the same experiences as they did, and Blued became the channel where they can discuss their shared experiences. This may have set the purpose for the app itself as it expanded to other places: more than sex, which is not bad, this is a place to meet friends and form relationships.”
Blued was launched in 2012 by Geng Le (a.k.a. Ma Baoli), a married former police officer in northern China. For 12 years, he secretly managed Danlan.org, a website for gay people. But his superiors discovered the website also in 2012, and Geng Le lost his family and job. It was this that drove him to create Blued
Many gay men – arguably particularly those who are exposed to Western (e.g. American) media – are familiar with Grindr, another geo-based dating app, which was established in 2009. The popular app counted four million users in 192 countries in 2012, growing to 10 million in 2016. As per Grindr data, it now has 2.4 million active users every day.
Surprisingly, Grindr’s numbers are not even half Blued’s, which now counts 27 million users (majority of them still in its country of origin, China), making it the largest gay social network in the world. Every day, Blued sees active use from 11 million pax.
Again, this popularity may illustrate how an app can become a safe space. After all, if a gay American opts not to use Grindr, he can always go to a gay bar, which is something not afforded other people in other contexts (for instance in far-flung areas in China, or even in the likes of Lucena City or Roxas City).
In the Philippines, Blued has about half a million users, with most between 19-32 years old. A big bulk of the current members come from Quezon City, San Juan City, Makati City, Banugao, Bacoor and Bacolod.
Not surprisingly, even Grindr has been evolving – if not the approach, then at least its market base. In a survey involving 2,500 users, almost half (or 47%) said they formed close friendships through the app, perhaps also showing that not everyone is just searching for ‘Mr. Right Now’.
Cantor said that “we have to remember that LGBT people redefined the definition of the ‘closet’ since not all queer lives can be displayed outside confidently, for oppressive and marginalized reasons we already know. Online life became like one important and highly significant window from where closeted queers can still see and connect with the outside world while ‘comfortably’ ensconced in their closets. This lessens many negative things that closeted queers previously handled alone and in the proverbial dark: isolation, self-doubt/hate/loathing/denial, depression, and even suicidal thoughts,” she said. “The online world lets us see that there are so many of us out there pala, like we are not alone in feeling the things we feel which society deem as ‘abnormal’ or ‘being deviant’, et cetera. That there are people like us out there who successfully navigate this judgmental world, whether their victories are small or huge, that’s such an important thing to see, witness, and realize. In a way, online connections have empowered queer people to reach out to others and connect in small ways or big ways.”
For Cantor, people gravitating towards friendships formed online is “but the next natural progression of being human, even if it feels artificial sometimes because technology use is involved. But remove tech and you still get that fundamental need of humans to connect. So this is why I believe we shouldn’t demonize this new way of ‘making friends’.”
INTENT (AND CONTENT) VARIATION
This is also why the drive for Blued, said Tan, goes beyond just helping people pick up, but to “help people find friends and a community.” With this intent, the app is therefore atypical when compared to other similar apps.
“Blued actually allows you to add friends, join groups, and even broadcast your hobbies and interests to other people,” Tan said. “We encourage people to keep it wholesome, because ultimately, they can always go to other apps if they’re just solely looking for sex. We want Blued to be more than just that. We want it to be a safe space where people can be who they are, without fear of judgment or discrimination.”
Blued features include: verification to guarantee that people have been manually authenticated as genuine profiles by Blued’s moderation team; ability to go live within a community of peers and to show what life is like around them; feeds to allow users to scroll through a stream of photos or videos posted by guys they have chosen to follow; grid that displays nearby profiles by distance, and users can either follow those profiles or engage in one-to-one conversations; and – obviously – the groups that allow the online homosocialization to develop/happen.
For Tan, the approach makes Blued more similar to Facebook than other hook-up apps.
No matter the form, Cantor said that online platforms are where people search for like-minded individuals first, then they bring the interaction offline via EBs (eyeball, usually one-on-one meetings) and meet-ups (for groups). “Early chatrooms like FLO (Filipino Lesbians Online) inside Gay.com’s women chatrooms pioneered this, followed by Friendster, and then later Facebook and Twitter. Now, there are the apps,” she said. “That basic need to connect — for friendship or love – never changes, even if media platforms for doing that changes in leaps and bounds.”
Twenty-three-year-old Aaron recognizes that “there may be differences in the approaches with making friends online/virtually versus making friends in the physical world. However, these differences eventually disappear once we get to know people – meet them to have drinks, catch up for coffee, watch flicks, and so on. By then, the only thing that will matter is having met someone who you can truly call as a friend, regardless if you first met him virtually or in the physical world.”
Las Piñas City-based Ayem agrees, considering that “since coming out gay after breaking up with my long-term girlfriend, I found most of my gay and bi friends from virtual communities,” he said. “Finding one good friend from (these apps) is good enough as it has a snowball effect; just find one and he can introduce you to his other friends. And before you know it, you find yourself a new tropa/barkada.”
Admittedly, there continue to be challenges. Simplicio from Roxas City, for one, said that meeting someone from online can be impersonal. “At times,” he said, “it’s like you’re talking to a robot. You cannot necessarily feel the sincerity of the person, and sometimes you can’t even understand each other.”
Then there are the “fakers”, Ayem said. “The person you might be talking to will be using a different picture or super filtered picture. They could pretend to be somebody they’re not.”
But “as it is in the physical world, you really just have to get to know people better,” Ayem said. And with this way of looking, “the onus is on you to take caution.”
For Cantor, “we still need to touch and kiss each other, right? And hello, sex! So no, these online worlds are just there for us to ‘shop around’ the market. And when we’ve picked our choices, we bring the online choice to the offline world, where the next level of exploration and interaction happens. This may seem very transactional, but isn’t that what love and friendship’s about, too?”
Cantor also recommends cautiousness. “Just don’t easily invest emotionally on every Tomasa, Darya or Henrietta who smiles at you, pokes you endlessly, winks, sends love-likes, whatever. The one thing that differentiates online interactions from offline is that you don’t easily see or feel the other person’s response, or responses can be faked. Anonymity is also a crucial hurdle here, since it’s also fairly easy for someone to pose as another person, or to hide one’s real persona, from the person they’re talking to,” she said. “Folks, common sense should still prevail, even online — especially online!”
“There’s a lot of BFF success stories out there that started virtually,” Aaron said. “I think you just have to have an open mind. And – perhaps just as important – recognize that there are those who, like me when I was still new to all these, have no other means of being with people like us but through these. Because yes, (the much maligned gay pick-up apps) can be more than just for gay trysts.”
Dumaguete City passes SOGIE equality ordinance
In a victory for members of the LGBTQIA community in the City of Dumaguete, an ordinance was passed in the City Council to ensure non-discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity and expression (SOGIE).
In a victory for members of the LGBTQIA community in the City of Dumaguete, an ordinance was passed in the City Council to ensure non-discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity and expression (SOGIE).
Dumaguete is a 3rd class city in the province of Negros Oriental. According to the 2015 census, it has a population of 131,377 people.
It is the capital and most populous city of the province of Negros Oriental, it has a population of 131,377 people, according to the 2015 census.
Authored by Councilor Rosel Margarette Q. Erames with co-authors Councilors Lei Marie Danielle Tolentino, Bernice Ann Elmaco, Edgar Lentorio Jr., Lilani Ramon and Nelson Patrimonio, the anti-discrimination ordinance (ADO) penalizes actual or perceived SOGIE-based discrimination in the workplace, school and other similar acts that undermines and harms the rights of the LGBTQIA people.
Under the ordinance among the prohibited acts include:
- Actual or perceived SOGIE-related discrimination from employment, training, promotion, remuneration;
- Delaying, refusing or failing to accept a person’s application for admission as a student;
- Expelling or any penalty on the basis of SOGIE;
- Harassment and intimidation committed by teachers, administrators and fellow students;
- Refusing to provide goods or service, or imposing onerous terms and conditions as a prerequisite for such;
- Denying access to health services and facilities;
- Refusing or failing to allow LGBTQIA to avail of services or accommodations;
- Denying application for licenses, clearances, certifications or other documents;
- Vilifying, mocking, slandering or ridiculing LGBTQIA people through words, action and in writing; and
- Executing any activity in public which incites hatred towards or serious contempt for or severe ridicule of LGBTQ and other analogous acts.
The bill didn’t have smooth sailing before it passed. For instance, the Diocesan Commission on the Laity (whose members consist of 42 Parish Pastoral Councils from the different parishes of the Diocese of Dumaguete, covering the provinces of Negros Oriental and Siquijor, with the exception of the municipalities of La Libertad and Vallehermoso, and the cities of Guihulngan and Canlaon), as well as the Diocesan Organization of Renewal Movements & Communities (composed of 14 organizations) expressed their opposition of the ADO.
When the passage of the ADO also made the news, a handful of locals expressed their disapproval, stating – among others – that LGBTQIA people do not face discrimination in Dumaguete (thereby contradicting their own statement), prioritizing other issues of the city, and that protecting the human rights of LGBTQIA people is against the will of God.
But now with the ADO, first time violators will be made to attend a gender sensitivity training. Second time offenders may be jailed for not less than 60 days but not more than one year, or be fined with not less than P2,000 but not more than P 5, 000 (or both at the discretion of the court).
With the ADO, SOGIE-related concerns will be incorporated in the functions of existing Barangay Violence Against Women and Children (VAW) Desk, which will document and report cases of discrimination against LGBTQIA persons.
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.”
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
A LIFE IN FEAR
“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.)”
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.
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.
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).”
Their relationship lasted for a year and three months.
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).”
‘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.
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.”
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.
CONFRONTING BIBLICAL BASHING
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.”
DEALING WITH CONFUSIONS
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.”
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.
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.
“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.
“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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