“Our group started as an informal organization with members who are call boys (The local term used to refer to male sex workers – Ed), petty thieves, gang members and drug addicts in Brgy. Veterans Village in Iloilo (the Tondo of Iloilo),” said John Piermont Montilla.
That group, the Kabataang Gabay sa Positibong Pamumuhay (KGPP) Inc., was formed in May 17, 1998 after John finally settled in Iloilo City after working at a local coastwise shipping company (from 1996 to 1997).
“We had eight founding members who were regularly in contact/conflict with the law since the original group members frequented the jails for many reasons (e.g. theft, vagrancy, gang-related conflicts, drug-related issues, violence in transactional sexual engagement),” John said.
John facilitated starting the group because of the common problems they encountered everyday, and the need for a support group to talk about it among them.
“The driving force was my own experience as a prostitute and a drug courier when I was still with my family in Bacolod City and until I (escaped) for good (due to violence within the family). There, I found a family on the street and most of my street-based peers were regularly engaged in criminal activities and being victims of sex trade and drug trade and organized crime, and almost all unable to get out that clandestine environment,” John said.
In 1999, John began traveling to Boracay, Mindoro and Laguna for sex work and cooking at resorts. The latter was because John graduated culinary arts in 1995 after his aunt offered him support.
“My group regularly encountered confrontations and physical violence with the police, customers, and other peer groups during sex work. So then I started seeking government help to look for ways to leave prostitution. I wanted to finish my studies. I wanted to prove to my family I can survive and achieve my aspirations without them,” John said.
The DSWD in Region VI offered an educational assistance in exchange of doing outreach to John’s peers who are also affected by drugs, prostitution and gang violence. In 2000, John formed a Pag-asa Youth Association of the Philippines (formerly Pag-asa Youth Movement – PYM) Chapter in Veterans Village with his peer group of 16 members as founding members.
“I was sent to Manila for the HIV/AIDS Youth Advocacy Package TOT by UNAIDS and DSWD. I enrolled at the West Visayas State University where I studied BS Biological Sciences as a working student and also received the Feed the Hungry Scholarship from the Commission on Filipinos Overseas (CFO),” John said.
KGPP has faced numerous issues over the years, and one of them was conflict with law enforcement.
“Every time a crime happens (e.g. murder in hotels, customers being robbed, gang violence), our members are always being tagged as suspects. Our office has been subject to search by the CIDG to obtain info of members which are confidential, and this is worrisome for our credibility to our constituents and the public,” John said.
KGPP members also experience violence in transactional sex.
“Our members and beneficiaries often encounter violence with their transactional sexual partners. Mostly for not being paid right, sexual transactions involving drugs, and a number experiencing being forced to do a sexual act that they do not like to do or compelled to do, like sex with friends, recorded sex, et cetera,” John said.
Trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation, illicit drug trade and organized crime are also among those experienced by KGPP members.
“Ninety percent of our members are regularly exposed to one or more of these exploitative behaviors and they are considered offenders rather than victims. For our members who are below 18 years old, the sexual exploitation and gender based violence they experience are not recognized and they are not given the same legal and psychosocial intervention as girls,” John said.
Access to appropriate health services is also a challenge for them.
“HIV, AIDS, and STIs are constant risks. Most of our members are straight-identified, having sexual engagements with both sexes, and therefore have different needs. But (they are) marginalized and excluded in health services that are women and LGBT-centeric. If included, they are lumped under MSM, and services received are not customized to their needs. They also regularly experience stigma, insensitivity, and discrimination by service providers,” John said.
KGPP drives its own programming rather than being dependent from donor funds and other NGOs. Their strategic framework is community/survivor/victim engagement where key populations who are claim holders directly engage with their duty bearers and as a matter of policy and mandate.
“We avoid having NGOs doing business in behalf of our members to access government services. However, we also work with NGOs for advocacy issues, such as SOGIE, SRHR and gender-based violence,” John said.
KGPP “also does not use sexual orientation as a basis for our members’ identities. We are unified by our sense of community and belonging in terms of common marginalization and exclusion due to the stigma around the social condition of our members, which are sexual exploitation, sex work, drugs, gang violence, trafficking, gender-based violence,” John added.
KGPP’s programs were developed “out of experiences”, and the national core group implements small community projects conducted in places where drugs, crime and prostitution is prevalent. From the gains of these programs over the years, they further developed them into tools that help improve the programming, outreach and advocacy, and crystallized into one unified behavior change platform known as the River of Life Initiatives (ROLi) program. The ROLi serves as the tool to measuring behavior change performance, understanding the learning processes and styles of various peer groups, and keeping track of individual and peer groups’ progress toward their own behavior change goals and their life aspirations.
“We have so many achievements,” John said. For instance, ROLi was selected as one of the case studies of good practices around the world by the World Health Organization for key populations of young men who use drugs and who sell sex in the Philippines.
KGPP intends to eventually form a partylist of men.
“We already started a formative LALAKE partylist (Lalake Laban sa Krimen at Exploytasyon) that will provide men who are victims of violence, crime and exploitation an avenue to have a voice in Congress. We need to register it in the COMELEC by 2020,” John said.
KGPP also plans to form a national network of male survivors of violence
“In 2010, we organized a support group of men who survived violence known as (Peers Enabling Each other’s Recovery Support (PEERS) Network. In 2012 we extended the membership to women survivors” John said.
KGPP is open for membership to any male aged 8-39 who survived sexual violence, currently in prostitution, a recovering drug addict, or involved in criminal activities to eke out a living.