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Op-Ed

In defense of honesty

Sass Rogando Sasot writes about the sexual ethics dimension of the Laude-Pemberton tragedy. “Your life is far more precious than the thrill, the excitement, and the utterly empty and ultimately useless affirmation of your womanhood brought by having sex or relationship with men who weren’t able to clock you. Disclosure is not about thinking of your womanhood as fake. Disclosure is accepting the fact that your womanhood is different from the womanhood of women born with vaginas. That our womanhood is different doesn’t mean it is inferior, invalid, immoral, or illegitimate. Disclosing who we are is an exercise in self-acceptance,” Sasot says.

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The Laude-Pemberton double tragedy has been analysed from different angles — from sovereignty to inhumanity. The recent, but unexpected, confession of Pemberton that he arm-locked Laude after finding out that Laude was dressed in blue when she was born stirred the passion of trans activists because it bears resemblance to the “trans panic defense.” I won’t deal with whether this defense must be admitted as a mitigating factor in the Laude case. BuzzFeed first trans writer Meredith Talusan, a transpinay, wrote about this extensively in The Failed Logic of “Trans Panic” Criminal Defenses. The transpinay literary enfant terrible Miyako Izabel offers a contrarian view in Trans Panic: A Matter of Law or of Neuroscience? 

Outrage Magazine’s editor asked me to write an article about Pemberton’s confession. At first, I said pass; but the subject kept bugging me. This article is about a dimension of the Laude-Pemberton tragedy that must be brought to light in order to save more lives and to encourage others to live authentically. This is a product of critical self-reflection and frank conversations with the members of the Society of Transsexual Women of the Philippines (STRAP), the pioneer trans support and advocacy group in the country.

Sass Rogando Sasot: “Honesty is about practicing self-acceptance: accepting our unique path to being girls and women. Asking trans women to be honest is encouraging them to be not ashamed of how their girl and womanhood unfolded. There is nothing wrong with being a trans woman; thus, there is nothing wrong about being honest about it every time.”

Sass Rogando Sasot: “Honesty is about practicing self-acceptance: accepting our unique path to being girls and women. Asking trans women to be honest is encouraging them to be not ashamed of how their girl and womanhood unfolded. There is nothing wrong with being a trans woman; thus, there is nothing wrong about being honest about it every time.”

DECEPTION AND HONESTY

Though conceding that Pemberton committed a crime, the controversial intersex lawyer Bruce Rivera highlighted the alleged “deception” Laude committed. He even offered some curious suggestions on how to avoid this tragedy in the context of sex work. And they are not all utterly ridiculous: here in the Netherlands, in the red light district, blue lights illuminate the windows of sex workers who are trans women. Bruce entitled his article “Pemberton and Deception.” Though I agree with some of his points, I find this reductionist title very problematic: Pemberton is named, while Laude’s reduced into a “deception.” It conveys a message that this tragedy is about Pemberton and deception when in its complexity it is about Pemberton AND Laude AND the unfortunate choices they BOTH made that tragic evening. Though we shouldn’t always judge an article by its title, titles inevitably color our prose. That’s why Bruce’s article was perceived as insensitive.

But it wasn’t just the title that was insensitive. Some of them were forcefully highlighted by Babaylanes President Meggan Evangelista in her article teeming with pathos: “There is little Love and no justice for Jennifer Laude.

“Many would use Jennifer’s fate as a reminder for other trans women to be “honest” to their cisgender partners,” Meggan wrote. “I’m curious how can this people in the LGBTQ community reconcile their call for trans women to be “honest” and their perpetual outcry for freedom in Pride marches. I ask this in the sense that a trans woman enjoys freedom when she lives her life and expresses her gender the way she wants. To ask her to be “honest” is telling her she’s a fraud. There’s an irony in all this and it’s vicious.”

Contra Meggan, reminding trans women to be honest to their partners is not about “telling her she’s a fraud.” That’s a very simplistic understanding of the function of honesty in the context of trans women’s sex and love life. Trans women live in the closet twice: the first time is when they try to hide that they are not the gender the doctor declared upon their birth; the second, when they conceal their life history, even to those they have an intimate relationship with. Without honesty, we live inside the closet. But closets are not for those who are seeking to live authentically.

Live authentically!  Isn’t that the message Geena Rocero imparted when she decided to come out? She came out despite the fact that she had passed quite well as a non-trans woman in the industry she was working in. Is Geena’s honesty telling us that “she’s a fraud”? Why are we celebrating Geena’s honesty on Ted, while frowning at those who are suggestion that trans women must be honest with their partners? Part of the answer is that the discourse on disclosure is currently dominated by transphobic demands. Accordingly, reminding trans women to be honest is all about forcing them to accept that they are “really” men. And that is why we must reclaim from bigots and ignoramuses what honesty entails. We must propagate a discourse of disclosure informed by ethics and our lived experience as trans women and not by our wishful thinking.

Honesty is about practicing self-acceptance: accepting our unique path to being girls and women. Asking trans women to be honest is encouraging them to be not ashamed of how their girl and womanhood unfolded. There is nothing wrong with being a trans woman; thus, there is nothing wrong about being honest about it every time. As we can learn from the Teduray People in Mindanao, our path to womanhood is as valid and legitimate as the path to womanhood of girls and women born with vaginas. We invalidate the legitimacy of our girl — womanhood if we don’t take the courage to fully accept how our girl — womanhood came to be. And there cannot be acceptance without honesty. To paraphrase Gerard Doyle in Being You: How to Live Authentically: Unlocking the Power of the Freedom Code and Incorporating the Philosophy of Adaptive Freedom, dishonesty is a major roadblock to acceptance, which requires openness to flourish. Acceptance without honesty is a delusion.

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Surely, there are people who chose to be in the closet. Let us indeed respect their choices. But respecting their choice doesn’t entail being blind and silent of the debilitating consequences of living inside the closet. In the context of the second closet, paranoia is one of these consequences. Geena even mentioned this in her Glamour News interview. She said she carried this paranoia with her every day. Rene, one of the members of STRAP who has already undergone sex affirmation surgery, described how she experienced this paranoia: The more she was able to hide to the guy her birth history, the more she feels her womanhood is affirmed by the guy, but the more her paranoia escalates.

Sass Rogando Sasot: “Surely, there are people who chose to be in the closet. Let us indeed respect their choices. But respecting their choice doesn’t entail being blind and silent of the debilitating consequences of living inside the closet.”

Sass Rogando Sasot: “Surely, there are people who chose to be in the closet. Let us indeed respect their choices. But respecting their choice doesn’t entail being blind and silent of the debilitating consequences of living inside the closet.”

Other trans women even go as far as constructing a different past in order to present themselves as women born with vagina. Can you imagine the web of lies they have to create and the resulting psychological, if not physical, tragedy that would ensue when that web collapses? Geena had something to say about this in her same interview with Glamour News:

“…the stress of constantly editing her life for her boyfriend proved too much. “One day he asked if I was ever a Girl Scout,” she recalls. “But I was a Boy Scout.” It was yet one more detail she had to gloss over, and, for some reason, the final straw. She felt sick and ran into the bathroom. “My head was spinning, and everything was going dark, like I was about to faint,” she says. “I was at the point of a breakdown.”

Even the cause célèbre of the Philippine trans community knows very well that living with constant paranoia is not living life in freedom. Paranoia will prevent you from forming an enduring intimate relationship and it will eventually make you really crazy.

ETHICAL SEX REQUIRES CONSENT AND CONSENT REQUIRES DISCLOSURE

I strongly agree without reservations that Laude didn’t deceive Pemberton by simply living as a woman. She is a woman. Period. She is, to use Meggan’s words, “[living] her life and [expressing] her gender the way she wants.”

To those who are confused, it’s okay to be confused, but don’t let your confusion lead you to kill people. Educate yourself. On the other hand, I also agree with Bruce: Laude concealed the genitalia she had. Based on Barbie’s testimony, Laude might have even exerted efforts to conceal it. For example, by asking Barbie to leave the room because Barbie was easily clockable. Throw rocks at me, but this act was deception. However, acknowledging this doesn’t entail invalidating Laude’s womanhood. Laude’s womanhood is not a deception. Again, her action during that night was the deception. But hold your rocks: I strongly believe that Pemberton must still go to jail. And I highly doubt that his invocation of self-defense can satisfy all the elements of the principles of the law of self-defense: innocence, reasonability, proportionality, avoidance, and imminence.

I’m not suggesting that we should always disclose what’s between our legs and that non-disclosure is always deception. For example, you don’t need to inform immigration officials at the airport which genitalia you have and they don’t have the right to ask it: your genitalia had nothing to do with border security. During job interviews, questions about your genitalia are very inappropriate and unnecessary, and can even count as sexual harassment — unless of course having a particular genitalia is essential in performing the job. I can go on and on discussing situations like these but this article is not enough.

But in the context of being a trans woman in intimate relationships, being honest about our genitalia is an important ingredient of the consent of people who would like to be intimate with us for a night or for life. This issue is not tacenda. We trans women must have a sisterly, open, and frank talk on how we negotiate sexual consent with those who don’t know we are trans.  I opened up this topic recently on the FB group of STRAP.  On the issue of disclosure, sexual consent and its relation with our bodies, here are some of the views of STRAP members who participated in that discussion:

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Clara replied concisely: “I go for full disclosure. Nothing will be lost when we do it.”

Svetlana: “If we always live the truth…Everything will be alright. We prefer honesty most of the time especially from men. If we want to gain trust, we should be honest. Hence, the disclosure of who we are as a woman.”

Carolina: “For me, I go by the principle on a “need to know basis”. As long as you have not asked, I will not disclose. On the other hand, I write immediately in my profile in dating sites that I’m a trans woman so that things won’t get so much complicated…Sexual consent for me means both have agreed to have sex in their own volition, without doubts and reluctance; and of course, both of you should know and respect your boundaries and limitations…And our bodies really matter in getting that sexual consent because there are men who don’t like to have sex with women like us.”

Satine: “Sexual consent for me is disclosing my identity as pre op trans before dealing with any men may it be just a friendly date or casual hook up. I always have to make sure that he knows my trans status before going any further. And by that I mean, he has to fully accept me and deal with it. Take me whole or don’t take me at all…Being passable won’t guarantee you safety. Disclosure will.”

Anna: “While we do not owe anyone any explanations nor do we owe disclosure of what’s between our legs, I think this changes when we are about to have a sexual contact/relationship with someone. While some men might be ok with whatever, others may not. So for me, sexual consent is giving someone a choice if he/she wants to proceed with the act.”

Marielle extended what Anna said: “I’ve been meaning to express my view on this one but have hesitated because of the boldness of it.

Sex is a physical activity where sex body parts play a key role. Outwardly presenting oneself as a woman, it is natural for the other partner to assume your physical makeup is that of a [cisgender girl], thus vaginal sex…Therefore, as trans women ,full disclosure is a safe, responsible and honest thing to do. Our assumptions of bodies and body parts associated to one gender is pre-wired in our brains. And we have expectations of the physical sexual characteristic of the people we sleep with. For a man to be suddenly confronted with a “big surprise” can, as we know now, lead to uncharacteristic actions that may be ignited by the heat of the moment…

This is the bold part: Anything that begins wrongly will always end up wrongly…Whilst I understand the great sense of self affirmation brought about by passing, there are responsibilities. And full disclosure should be on top of it.”

There are also STRAP members who are sex workers who shared why some trans women sex workers conceal their trans status. The reason is economic strategy.

Bella said that she knows a lot of sex workers who don’t disclose their trans status. “The main reason is,” she said, “the money is consistent.” Customers will be less demanding if you conceal your trans status. Though the pay is higher, she said that men who go for trans women are more demanding. Bella gave an example: “If I conceal my trans status, men would just be satisfied with oral sex. But if I go with men who prefer trans women, they demand threesomes. And finding another trans woman to have a threesome with,” Bella said,“could be very difficult.” That’s why having men who don’t know her trans status, Bella reflected, yields more consistent income.

Meanwhile, Satine, who is also a part-time sex worker, said that though she has never been with a client to whom she hid her being a trans woman, she is aware that “some sex workers [don’t] disclose because they fear having a specific market (men who are only into trans…), which means less potential clients = less income.”

Paulina, also a sex worker, confirmed that among trans women sex workers she knows, concealment of one’s trans status is quite common.“Most of the time,” she said, “the men don’t find out. However, when men find out, the least-worst result is an argument; and we all know what’s the worst-case scenario.” Paulina shared that she almost got killed when she didn’t reveal her trans status to a client. That’s why she now always disclose her trans status.

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But no illusions: disclosure will not guarantee perfect safety. Nothing in this world could do that. There will be always assholes in this world. Even anti-hate crime laws, SOGIE 101, or TRANS 101 trainings  cannot keep you alive from a man who is going ballistic after discovering that you have a penis while you are giving him a blow job. What you do is RUN for your life, and don’t ever do that again.

But, based on the experiences of the STRAP members I spoke with: non-disclosure in intimate settings will lead you to trouble. From a crude consequentialist perspective, disclosure in intimate relationships yields more positive results than non-disclosure. Non-disclosure can be death. But from a deontological perspective, disclosure is a moral duty in sexual and romantic relationships because honesty is a fundamental aspect of being in a relationship.

Sass Rogando Sasot: “To those who are confused, it’s okay to be confused, but don’t let your confusion lead you to kill people. Educate yourself.”

Sass Rogando Sasot: “To those who are confused, it’s okay to be confused, but don’t let your confusion lead you to kill people. Educate yourself.”

LESSONS OF THE LAUDE-PEMBERTON TRAGEDY

I’ve been a trans activist for quite some time, and I will be retiring very soon. As I retire, I don’t want to impart a message that wishful thinking and lack of critical self-reflection will do my sisters any good. I have grown out of my naiveness. Thus, instead of telling my sisters to wait for Kingdom Come of the world where genitalia don’t matter in sex, I now prefer to tell them Montaigne’s sobering advice: “We must live in the world and make the most of it as we find it.” Further, my years of experiences as an activist and my new journey as a scholar made me realize that rights must always come with corresponding responsibilities and vice versa. Without rights, you diminish the individual into a mere presence. Without responsibilities, society is impossible.

We all have the right to choose our own sexual or romantic partners; and this right has accompanying duties. Honesty is one of them. This right implies that people have a right to reject anyone as their sexual or romantic partners. Thus, we are not entitled to a sexual or romantic relationship just because we have the right to choose our own sexual or romantic partners. We don’t have this entitlement because we need the consent of those who we want to be intimate with. We are not entitled to consent. We must work hard to secure it. And we have a duty to be honest as we get someone’s consent. More significantly, consent must be sought not during, not after, not after a big surprise, but BEFORE any intimate act.

This is a fact in all intimate relationships: People feel violated, duped, and abused when you, no matter who you are, don’t disclose an information that is a fundamental or an important factor in  making a decision on who they want to be in a sexual or romantic relationship with. WAKE UP, SISTER: Men are not open zippers. The happy endings in “tranny surprise porns” is a fantasy. In the real world, engaging in “tranny surprise” practices may not only be fatal, it is ALWAYS unethical. Not all men will give their consent to be in a sexual or romantic relationship with women like us. LIVE WITH IT. And you cannot determine which man would without disclosing an information that would help him forge his consent.Yes, there will always be rejection, but being rejected upfront is much safer and emotionally better than being rejected after you disclose your trans status at a much later period.

The Laude-Pemberton tragedy bears two important lessons. To men like Pemberton: Don’t take the law in you hands if you discovered that the person you are having sex or relationship with is not someone you would have given your consent to had you known that she was not born with a vagina. To be angry is an understandable response because you felt you were duped. And to paraphrase Sherry F. Colb in Is There a Moral Duty to Disclose that You’re Transgender to a Potential Partner?:

 “We might consider this strong feeling to be either a form of homophobia, a form of transphobia, or both of the above and not worthy of respect. Yet in intimate relations, we could choose to treat these “hang-ups” as part of a person’s own identity and not rightly subject to invalidation or dismissal.”

But violence will not redeem your slighted manly ego. You will just ruin your life.

And to women like Laude: Your life is far more precious than the thrill, the excitement, and the utterly empty and ultimately useless affirmation of your womanhood brought by having sex or relationship with men who weren’t able to clock you. Disclosure is not about thinking of your womanhood as fake. Disclosure is accepting the fact that your womanhood is different from the womanhood of women born with vaginas. That our womanhood is different doesn’t mean it is inferior, invalid, immoral, or illegitimate. Disclosing who we are is an exercise in self-acceptance.  Non-disclosure will not protect you nor will it encourage wider societal acceptance of women like us.

“If we want to be loved,” Sidney Jourard wrote in The Transparent Self, “we must disclose ourselves. If we want to love someone, he must permit us to know him. This would seem to be obvious. Yet most of us spend a great part of our lives thinking up ways to avoid becoming known.”

Save your beautiful life from paranoia and death.

The failure to recognize and learn from these twin lessons condemn us to repeat this preventable tragedy. And that is vicious.

Since 2001, as she was about to turn 19, Sass has dedicated herself to the LGBT Rights movement in the Philippines, most specifically to issues of gender identity and freedom of gender expression. James Green, an international transgender rights activist, served as her mentor via email. She started giving discussions on transgender rights and issues in Luneta Park in Manila. In December 2002, she co-founded the Society of Transsexual Women of the Philippines (STRAP). In 2003 & 2004, together with Drs Sam Winter and Mark King of the University of Hong Kong, she did the first comprehensive study on transgender women in the Philippines. The study has been published in the International Journal of Transgenderism. In 2009, she was one of the LGBT activists invited to speak in a historic United Nations General Assembly side-event at the United Nations Headquarters in New York. In 2013, she received the ECHO Award, given annually to excellent and promising migrant students in the Netherlands. In 2014, she received the Harry Benjamin Distinguished Education and Advocacy Award from the World Profession Association for Transgender Health. A nomadic spirit, Sass loves to write, walk, read, cycle, and cook. Together with the love of her life, Sass is currently based in The Hague, The Netherlands. She graduated with a Combined major in World Politics & Global Justice, minor in International Development (Magna cum Laude) at Leiden University College, which bestowed her the 2014 Global Citizenship Award. She is a contributing writer on TG issues for the mag, through The Activist. Sass.Rogando.Sasot@outragemag.com

Op-Ed

Being LGBTQ+ means nothing

Being unaware of and deviant from what that community is intentionally fighting for clearly does not make us a part of it. We have to realize that our identity does not really matter as much as what we actually say, do or stand for.

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Photo by Sharon McCutcheon from Unsplash.com

We’ve heard it all before — a woman who still espouses misogyny, Filipinos who can be insulting towards their own skin color, a devout Christian who has little knowledge about the Bible and the history of Christianity, a gay person who is against the rights of other LGBTQ+ folks. These seemingly self-contradictories show that our identity is nothing but superficiality.

Our identity does not hold the substance of what we’re all about.

Having a certain identity does not follow that we know all there is to understand about it.

More importantly, it does not immediately give us the authority or credibility to speak on behalf of a larger group we supposedly belong to. Otherwise, we only cause much harm and misinformation.

What does a community mean? Fumbling through the dictionary, we would find similar definitions that basically sum up as “a group of people sharing a commonality of interests, attitudes, characteristics, values, goals – even history – and living in a particular location or within a greater area”. Applying this to the so-called LGBTQ+ community, since LGBTQ+ persons obviously do not live in the same quarters or have exactly the same lived experiences (hence the need for the acronym with a plus sign), we need to take only the spirit of the word — that is, a community is a social state of more than skin-deep commonality.

People who label themselves as LGBTQ’s do not see the whole picture if they go against equality and the principle that human rights must be bestowed to all regardless of gender, sexual orientation, race, nationality, physical appearance and so forth. Such people who proclaim they are “part of the LGBTQ+ community but…” are merely disruptive tumors. They are not part of the community but only a part of the problem, which is compounded by ignorance, indifference, hate and discrimination.

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So before we open our mouths and ascribe to some sort of community or identity, let’s be truly certain first that we know what it’s all about. Being unaware of and deviant from what that community is intentionally fighting for clearly does not make us a part of it. We have to realize that our identity does not really matter as much as what we actually say, do or stand for.

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Literary Pieces

Babae. Lesbiyana.

“Babae po ako. Ngunit babae rin ang gusto ko. Pang-lalake man ang kilos at anyo. Sa babae pa rin naman ako nagbabanyo.”

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Photo by Chris Johnson from Unsplash.com

By Chris Salvatierra

Pilit kong iniisip
Kung inisip ko at pinilit
Kung nagbago ba ang ihip
Ng hangin noong ako’y isang paslit

Ang paghanga sa kapwa babae
Ang kilos, lakad at pananalita
Na animo’y lalake
Na nagsimula noong ako’y bata

Tinanong ako kung ako ba’y humanga
Sa mga guwapo at pogi
At ang sagot ko’y oo nga
Pagtangi ay sa babae lagi

Ni minsa’y hindi kinilig
Kahit na noong panahong
Maliit pa ang mga bisig
Suot ay bestida at hindi lontang maong

Matagal na proseso
Matagal na nilihim
Hindi umasenso
Dahil sa sariling paninimdim

Hanggang ako’y namulat
At seryosong nagkagusto
At sinimulang isulat
Nilahad, ipinusta pati pamato

Wala naman kasing nagturo
Naramdaman na lang
Tapos para akong tuliro
Noong ako’y pitong taong gulang

Kaibigan ko siya
Sa ikalawang baitang
Kapag kasama’y masaya
Kapag naka-akbay ay lutang

Marami nang napusuan
Panahon na ang lumipas
Gusto’y babae pa rin naman
Sa pagkatorpe’y walang kupas

Madalas sakin ay tinatanong
Kahit hanggang opisina
Siguro sila’y hilong talilong
Kung Ma’am o Sir ang itatawag twina

Babae po ako
Ngunit babae rin ang gusto ko
Pang-lalake man ang kilos at anyo
Sa babae pa rin naman ako nagbabanyo

Lesbiyana kung ako’y tawagin
Tomboy sa kanto namin
Ate sa kapatid ko
Tita sa mga pamangkin ko

Eto ang aking SOGIE
Lesbiyana – Sexual Orientation
Babae – Gender Identity
Butch/masculine – Gender Expression

Hindi napipilit ang puso
Kusang tumitibok sa ritmo
Hindi ito parang damit na nakiki-uso
Hindi sinisino kahit amo

Masarap sanang maging malaya magmahal
Malaya sa mga matang mapanghusga
Malimit pang nasasabihan ng hangal
Madalas pang tumanggap ng pang-aalipusta

Pantay-pantay na karapatan
Dinggin sana ang aming hiling
Hindi espesyal ang aming panawagan
Sugat ng diskriminasyo’y laging nasasaling

Lungkot ay aking ramdam
Kapag hindi niyo maintidihan
Sana hindi niyo maranasan
Ang araw-araw naming pinagdadaanan

Kapag maganda o guwapo sa paningin
Sayang ang palaging sinasabi sa amin
Pero bakit sayang ang sasabihin?
Ano bang nasayang sa amin?

Isa po akong babae
Mahigit apat na pung taong gulang na
Mukha lang pong lalake
Isa pong lesbiyana

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Op-Ed

Salvation our God is extending

“With a SOGIE Law enforced, the sensibilities of some (they cannot claim to represent the majority) will be offended as has happened in legislation on women’s rights. But the tradeoff will be LGBTQ+ individuals participating more meaningfully in national development. The Philippines would foster a culture of nonviolence, and I think God would be smiling down on us.”

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By Koko Alviar

The SOGIE Equality Bill is not against religious freedom. If anything, it will help us recapture the diversity of beliefs in our country.

I am Vaughn Alviar, from the Iglesia Filipina Independiente, a liberational Church that has interpreted Scripture in light of facts and God’s commissioning for charity and liberation. The Church coopted me some time in 2015 to help the Supreme Council of Bishops articulate a statement that wanted to affirm LGBTIQ+ individuals, “Our Common Humanity, Our Shared Dignity.” It was approved in February 7, 2017.

Incidentally, I am a homosexual cisgender male son of a heterosexual cisgender male priest. I say these belatedly because they have never negatively affected my craft as a writer and my practice as a good Christian, although I will not deny knowledge of my SOGIE has affected the perception of what I am capable of doing.

I am more than my SOGIE; in fact we in the LGBTQ+ community are all more than our SOGIE. Unfortunately, people have seen the physical manifestations of it and felt they could see right through us, judge and discriminate us. My classmates from Day Care in Sanchez Mira, Cagayan, to university in Baguio City had always criticized my being effeminate and emotional, my not being manly. Despite all these, I had the will power to prove my value in my communities and circles. I can’t say the same for many others, whose chances were impaired by abuses far worse than I’ve experienced and who didn’t belong to families that earned well enough to send them to good schools or who disowned them – sometimes because of the faith they profess.

Being LGBTQ+ is a choice, we are told. But, given all the disadvantages laid out before us (per the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, LGBTQ+ people experience more poverty, hunger, joblessness and depression than our heterosexual, cisgender counterparts), what would we benefit from choosing to be minoritized? Having to prove we are good, capable and beneficial workers, or hiding how we express ourselves to conform with straight environments, these are definitely burdens. Our siblings in the faith have claimed that the law sees us equally, but our lived experiences and jurisprudence claim we are not. Thus, vulnerable sectors need the State to help us claim equity, aid us in reminding everyone that we are human too, and enable us to fight back when our rights are abused.

It has also been claimed that a law protecting LGBTQ+ persons against discrimination would negate Christians’ freedom of religion. It is a preposterous claim that insults the very spirit of “freedom of religion”: that individuals will not be force-fed belief systems; and that we are all free to hold beliefs – or not – and to conduct ourselves accordingly, except when we harm others. If anything, many people, driven by their “Christian” beliefs, harmed LGBTIQ+ individuals without provocation.

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While they lift from the Bible, the holy book cannot be seen as a definitive guide to what must be social convention. It has, in fact, been used to stall important laws to end slavery, and to uphold the rights of persons with disability and women.

For example:

I permit no woman to teach or have authority over men; she is to keep silent.” (Timothy 2:11)

Whosoever … hath any blemish, let him not approach to offer the bread of his God. For whatsoever man he be that hath a blemish, he shall not approach: a blind man, or a lame, or he that hath a flat nose, or anything superfluous, Or a man that is brokenfooted, or brokenhanded, Or crookback, or a dwarf, or that hath a blemish in his eye, or be scurvy, or scabbed, or hath his stones broken … He shall not go in unto the vail, nor come nigh unto the altar, because he hath a blemish; that he profane not my sanctuaries.” (Leviticus 21:17-23)

Slaves, obey your earthly masters with deep respect and fear. Serve them sincerely as you would serve Christ.” (Ephesians 6:5)

With verses inapplicable in our time, how do we know for sure that verses chastising LGBTIQ+ individuals should still apply? In the laws enacted for women, children, senior citizens, persons with disability, among others, the justification was unequal treatment on the ground, in real life, despite the Constitutional guarantee of equality that our other siblings cite. The drawback was sensibilities getting hurt; the reward has been greater empowerment and participation in society for those sectors. We need our guarantee, too.

Another case in point: If two people are equally passionate about Bible-based beliefs, do we have objective criteria to judge which person is more righteous?

Here is an example: A cisgender man has been a top employee for years. He is the breadwinner for his family, encouraged by 1 Timothy 5:8: “But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” One day, he comes out as homosexual and discloses he has a boyfriend. The heterosexual cisgender owner, who comes from a conservative background, fires the person, because of Romans 1:26-27: “Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another.”

“We believe that the best way to fulfill our duty to establish heaven on earth is the full realization of human rights for all – and LGBTQ+ rights are human rights.”

Who’s to say that the business owner holds the right understanding of faith? What if the homosexual man goes to church more often? Doesn’t that make him better? The law must declare that productivity trumps sexual orientation.

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One thing I’ve observed among people of faith who decide not to support the SOGIE Bill is self-righteousness – a confidence that they are to be seen as authoritative, the voice of a majority. In doing so, they downplay other peoples’ faith, among these that which LGBTQ+ individuals have forged from their lived experiences of discrimination and resilience.

While some traditions will scoff at the justness of the ordained going to protests, the Aglipayan faith believes it is a legitimate expression of Christian witness. We believe that the best way to fulfill our duty to establish heaven on earth is the full realization of human rights for all – and LGBTQ+ rights are human rights. Thus, the crusade for equality on the basis of SOGIE falls within our fight for equity, along with our advocacy for peace talks, economic equity, genuine land reform and more.

Another Christian community is the Metropolitan Community Church, which has a presence in the Philippines. It casts more importance on love, genuine relationships and nondiscrimination than on punishment and fear. Many of their members are victims of SOGIE-based discrimination even in their own Christian homes, or are people living with HIV who have the added burden of stigma. One member told me that her family attends a Church that has a ministry helping LGBTQ+ individuals possessed by the devil – she worships with her family in the morning, is occasionally prayed for; she worships at MCC in the afternoon, is welcomed fully as a gender-nonconforming woman. There has to be a policy to guard LGBTQ+ lives against torturous conversion rituals if and when they occur. The SOGIE Bill has that.

The above instances illustrate that a single religion on its own has variations and pluralities. But, if regardless of this, lawmakers side with the more conservative Christian belief that tends to put LGBTQ+ lives in the way of harm and indignity, what compels the State other than to reward the conservatives and, thus, violate the Church-State separation?

As faithful Christians, too, we stand on the passage of the SOGIE Law because we believe God wants us to exist in a community of love, and because it will permeate our lives beyond Church. “We love the sinner not the sin,” some anti-SOGIE Christians say, in an attempt to deem the law irrelevant. If we do love the sinner, however, shouldn’t we recognize the person of that sinner who has the secular, universal right to a job, education and healthcare, among others. None of these are about “the homosexual act.”

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It is a shame that some religious have led crusades based on falsehoods: from alleging we do not need the SOGIE Equality Bill because the law already pronounces equality; to criticizing our advocacy as an issue of restrooms and third spaces only; to misleading people that the SOGIE Equality Bill will allow same-sex marriage; to stretching religious freedom – weaponizing it to homogenize the nation when the measure actually protects diversity.

The “definition of terms” in the proposed bills says that bad behavior – discrimination, stigma, hate crime and marginalization – will warrant punishment. Some religious are worried that LGBTIQ+ individuals will be empowered to file cases of discrimination simply because we “felt discriminated.” But suing should be within our rights as citizens, and with wisdom the courts should be able to decide which ones are nuisance and which ones bear sense.

In IFI, the statement has affirmed and validated the faithfulness of LGBTQ+ members, some of whom serve as ordained ministers. Through it, the faithful have been oriented on SOGIE and SOGIE-based discrimination; began to openly discuss sexuality, mental health and sexual harassment; and revisited the situation of women as part of the greater gender minority in a patriarchal society. We are now more equipped to counsel LGBTQ+ individuals and people living with HIV. The Church became more inclusive.

At the end of “Our Common Humanity, Our Shared Dignity,” the SCB stated a hope that our small act could spark bigger changes leading to greater inclusion for outcasts. The more accepting parents, you will note, express worry for their LGBTQ+ children based not on the worldview of conservative Churches but on the question: “How will you be in this world that is harsh on LGBTQ+ individuals?”

While some LGBTQ+ people are born to parents who are unequipped and would abandon their children, some are born to parents who are ready to understand and nurture them, and would worry that the world at large is not hospitable. Let’s lessen the legitimate fears by enacting a safeguard.

While the SOGIE Bill languishes, men could be raping homosexual and bisexual women to “convert them,” gay guys could be looking for their next boxing match or Miss Gay (for visibility and extra income), brilliant transgender individuals could be flying out to find career advancement elsewhere.

With the SOGIE Law enforced, the sensibilities of some (they cannot claim to represent the majority) will be offended as has happened in legislation on women’s rights, but the tradeoff will be LGBTQ+ individuals participating more meaningfully in national development. With the SOGIE Law, there will be no special LGBT bonuses or leaves, just jobs and schools and communities that value us as humans, and that hone and harness our skills as citizens.

The Philippines would foster a culture of nonviolence, and I think God would be smiling down on us.

On social media, there’s a viral post saying SOGIE means “Satanic Organization of Godless people who are Inspired of Evil”, which is so grammatically wrong. To me, it means “Salvation Our God Is Extending” – and I should enjoy a Constitutional guarantee to claim you can’t tell me I’m wrong. That is freedom of religion for you.

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Op-Ed

‘Members of LGBTQIA community should be afforded the same protection that others enjoy’

An open letter to Bro. Eddie Villanueva, now a politician, who continues to claim he supports equality but is fighting against the protection of LGBTQIA people from discrimination.

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Photo by Harry Quan from Unsplash.com

Sir, I am Posit Bo, a proud member of the LGBTQIA+ and PLHIV community in the Philippines. I was once a follower of your faith; I am still a believer of the Almighty God but no longer of your faith.

This letter is made as rebuttal of your privilege speech against the SOGIE Equality Bill. This is not intended to convince you and your group to vote for the proposed law; but rather, a letter that aims to see a future where there can be mutual respect.

You raised two constitutionally supported arguments against the SOGIE Equality Bill, to wit: (a) it imperils academic freedom, and (b) it endangers freedom of speech and religion.

I) ON ACADEMIC FREEDOM

You cited Article XIV, Section 5, par (2), of the 1987 Constitution, which states that: “Academic freedom shall be enjoyed in all institutions of higher learning.” This provision’s meaning can be viewed from two perspectives, namely: (a) Freedom of a Faculty member, and (b) Freedom of an academic institution of higher learning.

Certainly, faculty members have the freedom to discuss subjects with the responsibility not to discuss matters not related to the subject matter and with respect to the opinions of others. In the same manner, the academic institutions per se are given the freedom to decide what is the best manner to attain its aims and objectives.

You seem to fear that religious academic institutions being compelled to accept LGBTQIA+ students or employees, against the institution’s dogma on gender.

Under Section 5(c) of Senate Bill 159, it has two portions, to wit: (a) it declares discriminatory when educational or training institution refuses admission by reason of SOGIE, and (b) the right of educational and training institutions in determining qualifications for admission shall be duly upheld.

It is clear under the second portion of the aforementioned provision that religious institution’s right to determine qualification for admission shall be duly upheld. Compulsion to admit against dogma on gender by religious institutions cannot be feared when in the Bill itself it is protected, not to mention, in our very own Constitution as you cited, Sir.

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The bill cannot obviously be made to circumvent the Constitutional guarantees as it echoes the very essence of this Constitution that is – Equality. Moreover, I would like to believe that in proposing this law, the case of Ateneo de Manila v. Capulong, was taken into consideration, wherein the Court beautifully fleshed out the concept of academic freedom. The Court held that: “Academic institutions are free to determine for itself on academic grounds who may teach, what may be taught, how it shall be taught, and who may be admitted to study.”  The Court further held in Isabelo Jr. v. Perpetual Help College of Rizal that: a school of higher learning has the discretion to admit or not to admit students. The Court further stated that: Admission is not a right but merely a privilege.

No, Sir. Religious academic institutions cannot be compelled to admit LGBTQIA+ students or employees. As these juridical entities are protected under our Constitution based on the very law you cited. But the likes of KJ T. Lorenzana and the students of Bulacan State University are not protected against discrimination based on SOGIE in a secular educational institution; no, they are not protected for this particular kind of discrimination, not even by the Constitution. While sectarian institutions enjoy protection under our Constitution, what about the protection of the LGBTQIA+ students and employees who have been and still are being discriminated in secular educational institutions.

“The SOGIE Equality Bill cannot obviously be made to circumvent the Constitutional guarantees as it echoes the very essence of this Constitution that is – Equality.”

The LGBTQIA+ community, more than the letters, consists of individuals, of humans who should be afforded an equivalent amount of reasonable protection that you enjoy in professing your religious beliefs, protection against any form of discrimination without engendering violation of constitutional guarantees.

II) ON FREEDOM OF RELIGION

There are three principal parts of the Constitutional provision for Religious freedom under Article III, Section 5 of the 1987 Constitution.

First, the NON-ESTABLISHMENT Clause: No law shall be made respecting the establishment, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.

The SOGIE Equality Bill does not establish LGBTQIA+ community as a religion, neither does SOGIE Awareness prohibit the free exercise of any religion, including yours. Hence, the proposed law does not violate the non-establishment clause.

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Second, the FREE EXERCISE Clause: The free exercise and enjoyment of religious profession and worship, without discrimination or preference, shall forever be allowed.

The SOGIE Equality Bill is in fact adherent to religious sensitivities that despite of it being both a secular and social legislation, the proponents had the basic human decency to hear sectarian opinion on issues of a marginalized community on account of being exposed to daily discrimination of all forms.

There are two aspects of religious freedom, which are as follows: (a) Freedom to believe; and (b) freedom to act on one’s belief. The freedom to believe is absolute but the freedom to act on one’s belief is not absolute. The freedom to act may be regulated if its actualization clashes with accepted norms of social behavior and established order of decency.

Therefore, you can absolutely believe that being an LGBTQIA+ is a sin in view of your religion as a part of your freedom. But to act upon it by spreading or imposing such belief upon nonbelievers or believers of a different sect may be regulated.

Status quo dictates that freedom to exercise can be regulated; unfortunately, even if it could be regulated, Christians have continuously condemned this community. Our community has been continuously ridiculed for no reason, discriminated for being diverse, and hated for merely loving; we, suffer all these, based on your religious beliefs. While we suffer, you continuously enjoy being guarded by your religious freedom.

This is the saddest part of our reality: Family and friends who exercises christian faith act upon their religious belief on gender through: sharing hate messages; treating us indifferently; laughing at our struggles; and being considered as an abomination. While you are guarded by your religious freedom, why does it have to be at our expense? When you speak of equality it must be uttered in fairness to everyone and not at the expense of others.

The SOGIE Equality Bill does not force upon people to become a member of the LGBTQIA+ community neither does it influence people to change dogma on gender; but this merely seeks to spread awareness and understanding of an existing community, which should neither be treated differently but your fair equal.

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Lastly, Sir, finally now that you are elected, as a member of the House of Representatives of the 18th Congress, I would like to congratulate you. You are indeed an inspiration to the LGBTQIA+ community, just like you did, no matter how long and how many failed attempts there may be, we will never say it’s over ‘til it is done.

In James Imbong etc. v. Hon. Paquito Ochoa, Jr. et al., the court held that: the state cannot meddle in the internal affairs of the church. On the other hand, the church cannot impose its beliefs and convictions on the state and the rest of the citizenry. It cannot demand that the nation follow its beliefs, even if it sincerely believes that they are good for the country.

Sir, there would be no confusion even if you both act for both the state and the church by simply applying the time-honored State policy under Article II Section 6 of the 1987 Constitution, that the separation of church and state shall be inviolable. Inside your church, you are your peoples Pastor. You don’t preach to them matters of legislation; but instead your bible. While in the House of Representatives, you are to act as a legislator not as a Pastor. Sir, in your privilege speech you interjected a biblical passage. I would like to humbly remind you that you now belong in a Secular institution. Inside the very ‘august chamber’ to where you belong, are muslims; agnostic;  and heck may be even atheist congress(wo)man, who are being alienated by your interjection. Sir, you do not merely answer to your representation but to the entire secular electorate.

“Our community has been continuously ridiculed for no reason, discriminated for being diverse, and hated for merely loving; we, suffer all these, based on your religious beliefs. While we suffer, you continuously enjoy being guarded by your religious freedom.”

I could not still imagine a day where we can live harmoniously even in diversity, when there’s no willingness to reach a compromise, taking into consideration: fairness and respect for everyone regardless of gender, age, race, ethnicity, color or religion. Religious freedom is a fundamental right under our constitution, it will forever be guarded and no legislation can circumvent this constitutional guarantee. You have exemplified in your privilege speech, that in the exercise of your religious freedom, there can be three options: (a) purvey discrimination based on scriptures; (b) exhaust available laws without state intervention in protecting a minority and marginalized group; and (c) when there is no law available, blame it on our SOGIE.

It was once said that we cannot normalize the culture of LGBTQIA+ despite its historical precedent being a cultural norm pre-colonial year of the Philippines; therefore, this being the case, incidents of discrimination by reason of SOGIE in the workplace and educational institutions may rise in the absence of any law that prohibits it. This is the very reason why an anti-discrimination policy should be enacted not by reason of entitlement but by reason of being exposed in an everyday struggle to surpass all forms of SOGIE-related discrimination.

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Op-Ed

Tulungan ang bawat isa na magmulat at mas mamulat pa

Pastor Carleen Nomorosa: “Tulungan natin ang bawat isa na magmulat at mas mamulat pa. Huwag tayong mapako sa mga sarili lamang nating pagdurusa, magsama-sama tayo at magtulungan. Huwag din tayong malunod sa mga pribilehiyong tinatamasa dahil marami padin ang hindi ligtas.”

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By Carleen Nomorosa
Program Coordinator, National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP)

Isa sa mahal ko sa buhay, na-rape. Ng paulit-ulit.

Sabi ng isang ahensya ng gobyerno noon sa amin nung nagpapatulong kami: Mabuti nga at nakauwi pa ng buhay ang nanay mo.”

Wala pa akong sampung taong gulang noon, seven years old pa lang ako, panganay. Probinsyana. Walang alam sa siyudad. Litong-lito ako bakit ganoon.

Kaya umuwi na kami, at sinubukang hilumin ang lahat ng pait na pinagdanan, hindi lamang ng aking ina, kundi ng buong pamilya.

Ang lupit ng lipunang ito, sa mga mahihirap at walang kakayanan.

Sana tulungan nyo ang mga katulad namin, para lumaban at makapag patuloy sa paglaban.

Tulungan natin ang mga magulang nila Eileen at Allan, hindi lang para panatilihin ang sentensya ni Antonio Sanchez.

Kundi imulat din ang henerasyong ito sa kalagayan ng bayan. Huwag nating hayaang gawin tayong manhid sa lahat ng pagpatay sa mga dukha at maralita. Huwag nating hayaang magdiwang ang mga panginoong maylupa na nagpapahirap sa magsasaka. Huwag nating hayaan na manatiling kontrakwal ang mga ordinaryong manggagawa. Huwag nating hayaang may inaaping sektor dahil minorya sila. Huwag nating hayaang marami ang nagkakasakit ngunit hindi makapag pa-ospital.

Tulungan natin ang bawat isa na magmulat at mas mamulat pa. Huwag tayong mapako sa mga sarili lamang nating pagdurusa, magsama-sama tayo at magtulungan. Huwag din tayong malunod sa mga pribilehiyong tinatamasa dahil marami padin ang hindi ligtas.

Wala na tayong ibang aatrasan, kundi ang paglaban. Sana bukas wala ng rape. Wala ng papatayin. Wala ng gutom. Magtulungan tayo.

Ang pananampalatayang napapako na lamang sa pag-pikit, pagluhod o pagtaas ng kamay sa pananalangin ay hindi makakabangon sa ikatlong araw. Walang resureksyon and ganitong pananampalataya.

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From the Editor

3 HIV-related questions (plus sub-questions) to ask re the PhilHealth scam

Every PLHIV is allocated P30,000 per year. As of April 2019, 37,091 PLHIVs are on treatment. Multiply that by P30,000 per person (per OHAT Package/coverage), and the amount involved here is P1,112,730,000. Too much money involved for us not to ask how the money is getting spent.

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Here are the facts:

  • As early as last year, two former employees of WellMed Dialysis Center already reported that it has been forging signatures of patients who have long died to file claims from the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth) from 2016-2018.
  • Typical in the Philippines (e.g. think of Napoles, PDAF, fertilizer scandal, et cetera), this was soon “forgotten” (or at least not as widely covered anymore particularly by mainstream media, so not gaining traction with the public). That is, until June, when the Philippine Daily Inquirer detailed the scam (again) via an investigative report.
  • Still in June, President Rodrigo Duterte said he would “reorganize” PhilHealth after the agency lost some P154 billion to “ghost” patients and deliveries.
  • WellMed Dialysis Center’s accreditation was (finally) withdrawn in June. But in a privilege speech, Sen. Panfilo Lacson alleged that PhilHealth continued to pay WellMed Dialysis Center even after its accreditation was suspended because of its involvement in a scam.
  • A hearing was started by the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee (chaired by Richard Gordon) to look at the allegations of corruption in the Department of Health (DoH), and – yes – PhilHealth.

Now why is this issue important to PLHIVs and those in the HIV advocacy in the Philippines?

Aside from the fact that there may be LGBTQIA Filipinos who may also be needing dialysis, the money that actually pays for the “free” treatment and antiretroviral medicines of Filipinos living with HIV come from PhilHealth.

No, darling, you don’t get “free” meds; a PLHIV is expected to enroll in PhilHealth before he/she can access the treatment. Meaning, YOU are paying for your treatment via your P2,400 (if voluntary) PhilHealth contribution. Anyone who tells you the meds are “free” is hiding the truth from you, or is outright lying to you.

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And so the talk about stealing P154 billion should be an issue to PLHIVs and those serving them; particularly since it is not rare to encounter service providers who say that they can only offer shitty (and often lacking) TCS (treatment, care and support) services because there’s no money available (DUH!).

Every PLHIV is allocated P30,000 per year. As of April 2019, 37,091 PLHIVs are on treatment. Multiply that by P30,000 per person (per OHAT Package/coverage), and the amount involved here is P1,112,730,000.

Now off my head, here are a few questions that should also be asked as we tackle the PhilHealth scam (and questions that particularly touch on HIV in the Philippines).

1. Does PhilHealth monitor the use of the OHAT package, or they solely rely on reports that can – apparently, as the case of WellMed Dialysis Center highlighted – be faked/made up? Can individuals access the individual reports filed for them (on the use of their OHAT package)? If there’s none, why not? If these can be accessed, are there mechanisms to question the same?

These questions have to do with whether a PLHIV actually uses his/her allocation.

The Outpatient HIV/AIDS Treatment (OHAT) Package covers: drugs and medications; laboratory examinations based on the specific treatment guideline including Cluster of Differentiation 4 (CD4) level determination test, viral load (if warranted), and test for monitoring anti-retroviral (ARV) drugs toxicity; and professional fees of providers.

But in 2015, when interviewed by Outrage Magazine, PhilHealth’s Medical Specialist III and Millennium Development Goals Benefit Products Team Head Dr. Mary Antoinette Remonte said that “it has come to our attention that some treatment hubs charge for some laboratory tests, even after the release of the OHAT Package circular.” And so while the circular may specifically mention covered items, the same circular should not be taken too literally.

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For instance, VL is not included in the circular, but if a PLHIV needs “viral load, if it’s really needed, they can still charge it on the OHAT package. Any laboratory tests related to ART treatment, they can use the OHAT Package for it.” For Remonte, “even if viral load testing was not written in the first circular, it was already included in the coverage.”

2. The baseline tests are still not specified in the circular/OHAT Package. This is why many PLHIVs are lost to TCS – i.e. they are told to pay for their own tests (e.g. chest X-ray, CBC) before they can get their hands on the life-saving meds (the ARVs). Why is this idiotically still not included in the OHAT Package, and even knowing that (many) PLHIVs won’t end up consuming the P30,000 allocated them anyway?

3. Do they also withdraw the accreditation of treatment hubs/clinics/satellite clinics that claim the P30,000 even if they did not actually use the entire amount for the use of the PLHIV? Has there ever been a service provider that lost its accreditation because of non-delivery of services?

We have spoken with PLHIVs who were told to get lab tests outside of their treatment hubs (e.g. chest X-ray, VL, CD4 count); they were told to pay for the same. No, they may NOT use their OHAT Package for the same, a handful of them were told. They have to shell out their OWN money.

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The thing is, if these are already supposedly covered by PhilHealth, why the additional expenses? Who then benefits from the OHAT Package? The service providers not offering the services and yet getting the money? Isn’t this theft? And if one thinks so, what are the mechanisms for complaining? Are there any at all?

Let’s be blunt here: If these are not answered, here’s another avenue where profiteering is happening via PhilHealth, and at the expense of PLHIVs.

To end, let me state this to stress this: Every PLHIV is allocated P30,000 per year. As of April 2019, 37,091 PLHIVs are on treatment. Multiply that by P30,000 per person (per OHAT Package/coverage), and the amount involved here is P1,112,730,000.

Too much money involved and yet service providers still often saying “there’s no money” to help PLHIVs…

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