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Op-Ed

It is best that I am HIV positive

Posit Bo: “Stupid as it may seem, to those who don’t understand as they lack the capacity to intellectually discern, but yes, I’d rather be HIV positive for the rest of my life, as it is in this phase of my life that I found the core of my existence.”

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It’s been more than two years since I was diagnosed with AIDS, as my baseline CD4 then was only 195. From 2015 to this day, there had been a lot of things that have happened in my life as a PLHIV, as a student, and as a son.

It is – Outrage Magazine and I am writing as an HIV+, so I’ll recount my experiences as – POSIT BO.

Exactly two years ago, I started a blog called the “Voice of Positivism.” It was a convenient way of expressing my thoughts and reaching out to individuals, who were newly diagnosed – just like me. I never intended to have the blog for any purpose other than inspiring people with HIV and AIDS. I wanted to inspire. But that idea was misplaced, as such was rigidly fastened to an absurd driving thought that I am… special. Then I took it down in the last week of July. “Voice of Positivism” succumbed into a permanent state of oblivion.

I haven’t written anything about that fateful day. The day when I decided to: burn; terminate; and forget about what I considered as my haven of truth for several months. I was not restrained from having flaws as to what I write in my personal blog. I didn’t need to filter the facts being stated. I was not at all regulated by anyone. Thus, the term haven of truth. What people were reading are the raw thoughts I had in mind as a PLHIV. However, I forgot the very essence of freedom in writing, as all other kinds of freedom we enjoy, it is… limited.

On 25 July 2015, I have written an open letter addressed to one individual affiliated in the medical profession. It escalated so quickly until it blew out of proportion. I wrote out of anger and disgust. I judged the character of a person I barely know. This prompted me to take down my blog.

The moment I was writing the letter addressed to that person, I forgot individuals who mattered, to wit: (a) Dr. Leonel John B. Ruiz of Klinika Bernardo, (b) Dr. Kate Leyritana of Sustained Health Initiative of the Philippines (SHIP), and (c) Nurses who patiently assisted me from day one. Tactlessness of one person overpowered the goodness of persons in the medical profession who treats us well in handling our condition. World is filled with vast incivility that I myself declined to refuse that very moment I wrote the letter. I am not saying, however, that what was written are erroneous; it is still a proper subject of debate, in the absence of a case decided by the court with completely the same facts.

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I returned online just recently as I went into an indefinite hiatus. Social media detox, as other would call it. Surprisingly, this time, it wasn’t because of an open letter with my name on it.

Browsing and reading tweets or status really entertains me at times when all I have to do is to stare at the ceiling 24/7. Who wouldn’t be entertained with witty tweets? Of course there would be days you get irritated with what people are tweeting, after all social media is a single nation called diversity.

Again, it’s the first week of August 2017, yes, two years after. I made it through that day. I made it – two years after. About two nights ago, Ed Busim (Manong Ed) sent me a direct message regarding one individual in the medical profession being insensitive with his remarks to PLHIV.

Two years ago, I would have done the same thing. Today, I am making a difference. No, I am not writing an open letter but still I wouldn’t let it breezily pass with my eyes closed and mouth shut. Skills are easily learned but wisdom is hardly earned.

Before, I wanted to inspire because I thought I was special; I was absolutely at a wrong mindset. I shouldn’t be inspiring; instead, I should take part in educating individuals about our condition to cure a fatal disease called IGNORANCE.

I am not special; PLHIVs are not special – apart from others. Our condition is delicate but nothing in it makes us special. We’re merely individuals with a condition that demands understanding from those who are capable of intellectual discernment. If people couldn’t understand, I couldn’t help people figure what they’re not capable of doing.

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I am no different from individuals with a different status because I can do the same things that they could. I could be more than what they can be. It is just a matter of choice.

Our status does not determine who, what, where, and how can we be as a persons. Our status is merely an accessory to our character just like the degree or position we hold. The determinant of our individuality is the character we display in public. We can either be the antagonist or the protagonist depending on how we present ourselves to the society.

Here’s a better picture:
(a) Senator – Lawyers being sent to prison,
(b) Justices being impeached,
(c) Doctors being stripped of their license, and
(d) Priest having sexual relations despite their vow of celibacy.

Regardless of status, degree, position, or all other divisive mechanisms present, it does not make us superior more than anyone, neither does it define us individually. We are our own protagonists as those against us will always be our antagonists. Talk about perspective…

What make our lives better is the choices that we make. Anyone can elect a choice of their own regardless the status; thus, all our lives can be better relying upon our willingness to make it happen. Not because you get a diagnosis for HIV or AIDS, as the case may be, it does not necessarily mean you cease from making the right choices. The diagnosis should be utilized in making better decisions, more exceptional than those that we’ve made prior to diagnosis.

I was asked, “If given a chance to become HIV negative, will you grab the opportunity?” I stand firm and I answer the same, NO! I’d rather remain HIV positive for the rest of my life rather than go back to my old lifestyle. This is my simple antithesis to the statement “It is still best to be negative.”

The HIV does not directly cause what happens post diagnosis, as the proximate cause of what may occur thereafter is the choices that we make. Yes, scientifically, diseases are predominant in PLHIV, but this too could happen in individuals without HIV. But I’ll have to leave this matter for the professionals to discuss.

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Stupid as it may seem, to those who don’t understand as they lack the capacity to intellectually discern, but yes, I’d rather be HIV positive for the rest of my life, as it is in this phase of my life that I found the core of my existence. It would be fallacious to say that my argument is anchored on the premise that we all become HIV positive. I’m just trying to emphasize and debunk an unbefitting statement made by a person whom I thought would know better. A statement warranted in full force by both weird and illogical concept.

“BEST” is such a relative and objective term. Arguing on philosophy, consequentialism ethically right choices are those that produce the most happiness. There’s nothing wrong with being HIV positive, philosophically because at this very moment I feel extreme joy for whatever it is that I have accomplished so far post-diagnosis. Thus, applying this paradigm, it is best that I am HIV positive. Hedonism is subgenus of consequentialism, it dictates us that pleasure is the most important pursuit of mankind. Today, I find pleasure in being HIV positive because I am able to help in educating the uneducated. Ergo, It is best that I am HIV positive.

Indeed, the world has been filled with filthy wisdom caused by ignorance and arrogance. I will not, however, forget that in a basket there will only be one or two rotten tomatoes that need to be ostracized. I’ll never forget the goodness of the doctors who empathize and truly understand our condition. We may never be given what we ought to hear, a genuine apology for the isolated cases of conduct unbecoming from individuals in the medical profession; but this will continuously be a hurdle and driving force of the community to incessantly decry stigma caused by ignorance leading to our prejudice.

I am Posit Bo, and I say: It’s best that I am HIV positive.

Posit Bo was "reborn" on the 9th of February 2015, when - after he was diagnosed to be HIV-positive - he said that "a new life and a new persona was created." But Posit Bo remains positive (pun intended) about his condition, which he now employs in his advocacy to educate, inspire, and motivate persons regardless of their status. "I am here to share not the virus but my story and wisdom about my condition," Posit Bo says. "I am HIV-positive, but I am still loved, hence, I won't quit but will continue living the life I want."

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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Op-Ed

Looking beyond the ‘banyo’

With Gretchen Diez – after only a few days in the limelight – now claiming to be the “face of the LGBT movement”, Posit Bo says her narrative needs to be revisited. Particularly since, while there were procedural lapses, verbal abuse and negligence, he asks: Was there really discrimination if we try to look into the facts?

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Photo by @curology from Unsplash.com

In Toledo v. Hydenu (652 PHIL 70), the court stated that: He who comes into equity must come with a clean hands.

You have heard the word “discrimination” this week more than you may usually have heard it, at least in the previous months; that is, if  you fortunately haven’t experienced being discriminated. But what do  you know about discrimination?

The term is not exclusive to a particular: race, gender, religion, nor age. It is all encompassing. Discrimination does not discriminate. This is the very reason that necessitates the legislation of a more specific Anti-Discrimination Policy. A policy that should look and go beyond how it is being highlighted today, an issue of restroom usage.

When one person is rejected for employment by reason of SOGIE, that is discrimination in the workplace. When one is barred from enjoying a service by reason of SOGIE, that is discrimination in providing goods or rendering services. When one is prohibited from learning in a nonsectarian academic institution, that is discrimination in education. But when one is barred by reason of SOGIE in entering the female restroom, that is a multifaceted discussion.

While, every single public hearings and consultations can be attributed to the banyo incident, the debates have been constrained in the hallowed halls of Farmers Plaza restroom. There are more pressing issues related to SOGIE Equality Bill that is negligently missed amidst this discussion.

In using a specific individual as the face of SOGIE Equality Bill, the discussion hasn’t been substantiated by the pivotal provisions of the proposed law. The ‘star’ has been branded as your “Banyo Queen” since day one; but that’s on her, as she herself failed to elevate the discourse by repetitively echoing inequality in bathroom usage.

Be that as it may, let us thoroughly consider the facts of the matter, whether or not the banyo incident can be “the face of the LGBTQIA+ movement”.

You may see that this is a clear case of discrimination based on SOGIE in consideration of the given narrative by the complainant. Yes, there was a violation of the Gender Fair Ordinance of Quezon City as admitted by Farmers Plaza Management. The violation being their failure to provide a gender neutral restroom as required by the City Ordinance.

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But was there a discrimination based on SOGIE by verbal, nonverbal ridicule, and vilification or in rendering services?

First, the janitress is employed by an independent contractor and not by Farmers Plaza. There exist no relationship between the janitress and Farmers Plaza. Thus, the janitress is personally accountable for her actions;

Second, the janitress acted upon an aggression which was made and documented by the complainant herself but later deleted to better fit her narrative of an outright discrimination by the janitress. In the now deleted first Facebook live video, the complainant was nicely asked by the janitress to do two things, namely: (a) to use the male restroom instead of the female restroom acting upon an alleged complaint of female customers of Farmers Plaza, and (2)  to cease from the unauthorized recording of the janitress in doing her job in assisting mall clients on queue towards the restroom;

Third, the Facebook live videos while taken in plain sight of the public, it was still taken inside a privately owned vicinity which could be well regulated by policies of the owner and management e.g. video recording private individuals in the performance of their private employment; and

Fourth; in the deleted first Facebook live, the complainant voluntarily heeded by saying “ahh hmmm okay” in going to the security office with the janitress upon prior warning that she’ll be brought in the office for refusal to cease from the unauthorized documentation.

The complainant was brought into the security office not by reason of her SOGIE. She was escorted to the security office for failure to cease from her unauthorized recording. The verbal abuse as seen on the viral Facebook live was a retaliatory attack by the janitress after the complainant pried into the privacy of the former. Yes, the attack made by the janitress is inexcusable, but this wasn’t said and done on the basis of the complainant’s SOGIE.

If there wasn’t anything to hide, why was there a first Facebook live video deliberately deleted by the complainant? Why did the complainant only retain two videos that would fit her narrative of SOGIE-related discrimination? Why, Miss Complainant?

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The apprehension of the complainant by police officers from QCPD station 7 was an arrest made based on their knowledge of a crime which has been committed by the complainant. The complaint charged and that was latter dropped was unjust vexation against the janitress. Again, the arrest was not by reason of the complainant’s SOGIE but by her actions after she was reprimanded by the janitress outside the CR. This does not, however, excuse the police officers from their failure to take the complainant’s statements immediately after her apprehension.

When the community came to rescue Miss Complainant from being locked behind bars, the charges for unjust vexation against her were dropped by the janitress; because at that time, she had an instantaneous realization that her actions were inexcusable. A settlement was made, that was what they said. But three days later, on the day Miss Complainant filed her case against Farmers Plaza, she mentioned about the possible filing of appropriate charges against the janitress. Apparently, the settlement was onerous for the janitress rather than being reciprocal for both parties. This scenario speak volumes of the status quo of our human rights in the Philippines.

Certainly, there were procedural lapses, verbal abuse, and negligence; but there wasn’t any form of discrimination, only if we try to look into the matter of facts. The complainant, janitress, and QCPD Station 7 are all accountable for their action or inaction. This is a story which must be appreciated fully by examining all the possible sides without favoring one over another because of our personal biases. This must be a learning experience for all the parties that are involved. But must not be used to advance one interest at the expense of another.

Posit Bo: “The LGBTQIA+ community does not need a face that epitomizes lack of knowledge and understanding of the cause. The community does not need to represented by an individual who anchors her cause in magnifying her story alone; because this movement is more than one story, that transcends from one generation to another.”

After the incident, you have seen traditional politicians rallying behind the complainant, as she declares, LGBTQIA+ rights as human rights. The public had to unconsciously endure the pain of seeing supporters of a human rights violator rally behind Miss Complainant. LGBTQIA+ rights and human rights are not mutually exclusive. While supporting LGBTQIA+ rights as human rights, these politicians should know that they must concede in supporting the call against the lowering of criminal liability and the re-imposition of death penalty; because, these two issues are also human rights-related.

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There are other mechanisms that will advance and promote the discussion of SOGIE in the country without the need of being used by different organizations and political parties. This is a nonpolitical issue that needs to be dealt through an appropriate social legislation rather than by politicking. Using the LGBTQIA+ community in politicizing our own cause must, at all cost, end now! This community is more than your number of votes that you use at your convenience. The LGBTQIA+ community should refuse being treated as dispensables, simply because we are not!

The LGBTQIA+ community does not need a face that epitomizes lack of knowledge and understanding of the cause. The community does not need to represented by an individual who anchors her cause in magnifying her story alone; because this movement is more than one story, that transcends from one generation to another.

The true face of the LGBTQIA+ community is more than one individual; because, you are not alone. No, not one individual and organization can take credit of the cause. After-all, this is the LGBTQIA+ COMMUNITY, no one should be left behind neither should anyone be one step ahead of everyone. There may be several groups with different perspective; but bound by a single community sharing a communal interest that is the SOGIE Equality Bill.

People should start learning how to dissociate their self-vested interest from the advocacy. While one voice can be used to uproar the passing of SOGIE Equality Bill, the voice must also be admonished if it doesn’t reflect the majority of the community. The voice must be silenced when it still continues to purvey false advocacy. If this is not done, the noble cause will be tainted. SOGIE Equality Bill must not in anyway be used to place one person on the spotlight for all the wrong reasons; let us not tolerate.

While the discussion has been fueled by the banyo incident, this urgently needs to get out of the banyo before it even stinks and splatters at the expense of the LGBTQIA+ advocacy. It is time that we hear the genuine and unheard stories of SOGIE-based discrimination.

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Op-Ed

Your discomfort over our human rights?

Naomi Fontanos tackles the othering of members of the LGBTQIA community, often justified with making prejudiced/bigoted people more “comfortable”.

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Photo by Cody Chan from Unsplash.com

By Naomi Fontanos

Ang ipilit na ang di pagiging komportable ng mga kababaihan (o kalalakihan man) sa presensya ng mga trans woman sa loob ng pampublikong palikuran para sa babae ang kailangang manaig sa usapin na ito ay isang uri ng diskriminasyon.

Lahat ng uri ng diskriminasyon ay nag-uugat sa ganitong pag-iisip: di-komportable ang mga puti sa mga itim o kayumanggi ang balat, kaya’t ang karapatan ay para lamang sa mga puti; di-komportable ang mga walang kapansanan sa mga may kapansanan, kaya’t ang karapatan ay para lamang sa mga walang kapansanan; di-komportable ang mga mayayaman sa mahihirap, kaya’t ang karapatan ay para lamang sa mga mayayaman; di-komportable ang mga kristiyano sa mga di-kristiyano, kaya’t ang karapatan ay para lamang sa mga kristiyano, at noong sinaunang panahaon, di-komportable ang mga lalaki sa mga babae, kaya’t ang mga karapatan ay para lamang sa mga lalaki.

Nguni’t nagbabago ang lipunan kasama ng pag-uunawa ng tao na hindi wasto na sabihing di tayo komportable kaya’t tama lang na walang karapatan ang mga di puti ang balat, mga may kapansanan, mahihirap, di-kristiyano at kababaihan.

Sa gitna ng usaping ito ay ang prehudisyo/prehuwisyo o ang di-makatwirang paniniwala tungkol sa mga taong LGBTIQ+ na nag-dudulot ng sistematiko at istruktural na pang-iiba at pang-mamata at di-pantay na pagtrato sa atin.

Ang akusahan ang mga trans woman na manyak, namboboso, nambabastos, at gagawa ng karahasang sekswal laban sa mga kababaihan sa loob ng palikuran ay manipestasyon ng prehuwisyong ito.

At ito ang dapat nating tutulan at i-wasto bilang basehan ng pampublikong patakaran o ng pakikitungo natin sa isa’t isa bilang tao.

Naomi Fontanos heads Gender and Development Advocates (GANDA) FIlipinas, a human rights organization that promotes the dignity and equality of transgender people in the Philippines and beyond.

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