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From the Editor

‘Let communities lead’… and with proper compensation

Enough of the pakulo (gimmick); it’s time to start being blunt on this. Because here’s the thing that has to be emphasized in the fight against HIV: Money stays at the top, and only trickles to the infected/affected communities.

May bagong pakulo sa (There’s a new gimmick in) HIV advocacy, this “Let communities lead”. This is based on a report released by the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) in time for World AIDS Day 2023, supposedly to stress that AIDS can only be ended as a public health threat by 2030 “if communities on the frontlines get the full support they need from governments and donors”.

But enough of the pakulo (gimmick); it’s time to start being blunt on this. Because here’s the thing that has to be emphasized in the fight against HIV: Money stays at the top, and only trickles to the infected/affected communities.

Here’s how funding currently flows:

  • Donors/funders have the power of the purse, and thus the direction of all the HIV-related efforts (e.g. Years ago, I heard of some women who alleged/claimed that they were refused HIV screening because the priority of funders at that time were men who have sex with men);
  • These donors/funders “partner” with well-established “non-profit” organizations that have the “proper” systems that supposedly make them “accountable” (and this is even if these organizations do not know shit about HIV, they just happen to be well-organized);
  • These “partners” then “hire” smaller organizations, some of them community-based, to do the ACTUAL HARD WORK (e.g. You see those people who do community-based HIV screening, fulfilling “quotas” before they can get barya/coins as compensation?);
  • Those who do the hard labor report to their bosses, the “partners”, who then collate what happened at the grassroots to come up with report/s befitting the requirements of the donors/funders;
  • And so, satisfied, the donors/funders repeat the cycle when the next funding is released.  

Note a few things here:

  • Those working in donor/funding agencies get BIG money;
  • The people in the “partner” organizations also get a big cut of the budget not for doing the actual work, but simply as part of these big organizations, as the middlemen;
  • Serving as “gatekeepers”, these people (the middlemen) tend to ONLY partner with (and thus fund) those “close” to them (e.g. This is why you’d notice that many “networks” in the Philippines are “by invite” only, allowing them to keep the money among themselves);
  • If you open your eyes, really open your eyes, you’d start noticing that funds to fight HIV tend to go to very, VERY few organizations (this has been happening for years now, if you closely look);
  • There’s this “fear” of being punished if you “offend” the middlemen (e.g. A transgender grassroots worker I spoke with said that since they are “our principal funder for operational costs and logistics”, then they can’t complain about even the fact that transgender-specific HIV efforts are not led by transgender people).

There’s a lot of money involved here… at the top, of course. And it is this that needs to be buwagin (dismantled).

If there really is an intent to “Let communities lead”, and not use this as just another catchy slogan, give the money straight to the infected/affected communities.

This may mean cutting the salary of those paper-pushing in donor agencies (yeah, I know, this is an extremely long shot!).

This means getting rid of the middlemen (if the issue is about accounting, et cetera, then train communities about financial management, DUH!).

This means including those not belonging to the “inner circles” of those gatekeeping funds and efforts related to HIV.

You want to fund efforts related to transgender women? DIRECTLY give the money to transgender women’s organizations. You don’t think they can manage the finances? Allocate some of the money to train them on how to handle finances. Or allocate funds for them to hire someone who will. But at least give the money straight to them… instead of coursing it through Metro Manila-based NGOs that do not know shit about transgender women, aside from what’s told them by those in the transgender women’s organizations.

You want to reach sex workers? GIVE them the money to come up with solutions affecting those in the sex industry. Stop giving the money to middlemen who do not know shit about the sex industry, and – GASP! – even look down at sex workers.

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And so on…

Because the truth is, there is money in the fight against HIV (e.g. Just check the money spent on marketing and advertising!). It just isn’t going where it’s supposed to go.

The founder of Outrage Magazine, Michael David dela Cruz Tan completed BA Communication Studies from University of Newcastle in NSW, Australia; and Master of Development Communication from the University of the Philippines-Open University. He grew up in Mindanao (particularly Kidapawan and Cotabato City), but he "really came out in Sydney" so that "I sort of know what it's like to be gay in a developing, and a developed world". Conversant in Filipino Sign Language, Mick can: photograph, do artworks with mixed media, write (DUH!), shoot flicks, community organize, facilitate, lecture, and research (with pioneering studies under his belt). He authored "Being LGBT in Asia: Philippines Country Report", and "Red Lives" that creatively retells stories from the local HIV community. Among others, Mick received the Catholic Mass Media Awards in 2006 for Best Investigative Journalism, and Art that Matters - Literature from Amnesty Int'l Philippines in 2020. Cross his path is the dare (guarantee: It won't be boring).

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