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PhilHealth clarifies OHAT coverage

Different treatment hubs give PLHIVs different services, even if they pay the same amount to PhilHealth. But while the earlier PhilHealth circular that mentioned the services to be provided to PLHIVs in the Philippines did not specify all the services that PLHIVs may need, PhilHealth’s Dr. Mary Antoinette Remonte said that for “any laboratory tests related to ART treatment, they can use the OHAT Package for it.”

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As the Red Ribbon Project eyes to help the country get to zero (i.e. zero new HIV infection, zero AIDS-related death, and zero HIV-related discrimination), its beauty queens - Binibining ARV-Universe, Bb. ARV-World and Bb. ARV-International; joined by Miss ARG 2012 - gives the "beauty with a purpose" tagline flesh, this time by reaching out to Filipino PLHIVs in RITM. "That there's still something to live for," is the goal of the outreach, said Pozzie Pinoy, who helms Red Ribbon Project - seconded by Bb. ARV-Universe, who said in the vernacular that "if we can - even for a while - shed some hope, that's good and well."

As the Red Ribbon Project eyes to help the country get to zero (i.e. zero new HIV infection, zero AIDS-related death, and zero HIV-related discrimination), its beauty queens – Binibining ARV-Universe, Bb. ARV-World and Bb. ARV-International; joined by Miss ARG 2012 – gives the “beauty with a purpose” tagline flesh, this time by reaching out to Filipino PLHIVs in RITM.
“That there’s still something to live for,” is the goal of the outreach, said Pozzie Pinoy, who helms Red Ribbon Project – seconded by Bb. ARV-Universe, who said in the vernacular that “if we can – even for a while – shed some hope, that’s good and well.”

This is a continuing story on the disparities in the services received by PLHIVs in different hubs in the Philippines, even if they are required to pay the same amount by PhilHealth.

In the Philippines, the treatment, care and support received by most people living with HIV (PLHIVs) are covered by the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation’s (PhilHealth) Outpatient HIV/AIDS Treatment (OHAT) Package. Specifically, to those who are enrolled in PhilHealth, P30,000 is allocated per PLHIV per year, or P7,500 every quarter.

But – as stated in a previous report by Outrage Magazine – PLHIVs from different treatment hubs in the country experience different and at times confusing disparities in the services that they receive, even if they pay the same PhilHealth premium/amount of approximately P2,400 per year.

READING THROUGH

After the release of PhilHealth’s OHAT Package circular in 2010, DOH published Administrative Order No. 2010-0036 – The Aquino Health Agenda: Achieving Universal Health Care for All Filipinos – in December 2010, signed by then Health Secretary Enrique Ona.

It stated that “the Aquino Health Agenda (AHA) is a focused approach to health reform implementation in the context of HSRA (Health Sector Reform Agenda) and F1 (FOURmula One), that all Filipinos especially the poor receive the benefits of health reform.”

ARV is part of the "free" TCS services received by PLHIVs in the Philippines

ARV is part of the “free” TCS services received by PLHIVs in the Philippines

Under that guideline is the attainment of health-related Millennium Development Goals (MDG), which include the reduction of HIV/AIDS prevalence.

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The administrative order also mentioned that the “DOH shall develop guidelines and protocols to organize the community health team and service delivery network, implement a functional referral system, deliver health service packages, contract with private providers, implement clinical practice guidelines, generate, retain, and use hospital revenues, and establish hospital pricing system to maximize benefits from PhilHealth.”

In the 2010 OHAT Package circular, it stated that the “package shall be based on Department of Health (DOH) guidelines on anti-retroviral therapy among adults and adolescents with human immunodeficiency virus infection. All treatment hubs in accredited facilities are required to follow the guidelines set by the DOH.”

Meanwhile, the Guidelines on Antiretroviral Therapy (ART) among Adults and Adolescents with Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) Infection – DOH Administrative Order No. 2009-0006 – released in January 2009 stated that as part of monitoring the response to ART treatment, “for patients with good compliance to ART, clinical response is recommended to be used together with CD4 count and viral load determination (whenever feasible) to detect treatment failure.”

And that “treatment hubs through its HIV AIDS Core Team (HACT) shall provide treatment and clinical monitoring of patients under ART.”

ACTUAL COVERAGE

In an interview with 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.”

The 2010 circular only specifically stated that “covered items under this benefit are drugs and medicines, laboratory examinations including Cluster Difference 4 (CD4) level determination test and test for monitoring of anti-retroviral drugs (ARV) toxicity and professional fees of providers.” As such, Remonte said that “some treatment hubs take what was written in the circular literally.”

Remonte, however, said that 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.”

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The revised OHAT Package released last June already clearly states that “covered items under this benefit are 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.”

PhilHealth also monitors the disparities among the services offered by treatment hubs, particularly on whether they are putting into effect what were stated in the circulars that were released.

“We are currently reviewing the OHAT Package, the implementation of it in treatment hubs, and the current rates; and if they have questions, we can discuss it with them,” Remonte said.

PLHIVs, meanwhile, are encouraged to contact PhilHealth if they have concerns regarding their PhilHealth membership and coverage.

PROPER MANAGEMENT

According to Dr. Rosanna Ditangco, research chief atThe Research Institute for Tropical-AIDS Research Group (RITM-ARG), a treatment hub located in Alabang, management issues also come to play in the delivery of TCS services to PLHIVs.

For instance, while “the OHAT Package does not cover baseline tests yet”, at RITM-ARG, PLHIVs are able to receive free baseline laboratory tests, such as CBC, chest x-ray, PPD and blood chemistry (i.e. lipid profile, BUN, Creatinine, FBS), and CD4 count.

“Due to good financial management, we can provide these free baseline services to new patients; and once they start treatment, they would be eligible for the OHAT Package and RITM would be able to regain the initial investment,” said Ditangco.

Older PLHIVs, meanwhile, can already use their PhilHealth membership when availing different services and laboratory tests that are needed and related to their antiretroviral therapy (ART) treatment.

There are minimun number of tests that DOH mandates for treatment hubs to give to PLHIVs, so that hubs now offer different services aside from those mandated - and even if the amount they pay to PhilHealth remain the same

There are minimum number of tests that DOH mandates for treatment hubs to give to PLHIVs, so that hubs now offer different services aside from those mandated – and even if the amount they pay to PhilHealth remain the same

“Every six months, we provide free CD4 and CBC tests. And yearly, during their anniversary, we provide free CD4, CBC, blood chemistry – depending on what ARV they are taking, and viral load tests. If the doctor suspects treatment failure, a free viral load test will be done anytime, plus HIV drug resistance testing,” Ditangco said.

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Ditangco added that “all of these are covered by OHAT. And this has been our system ever since PhilHealth released their first circular.”

RITM-ARG also receives “additional support” from the DOH, which the facility also uses when providing TCS services to PLHIVs.

“Our funding is mostly from our OHAT reimbursement, but every now and then, we receive funding from DOH and we use this to provide free viral load, CD4 or HIV drug resistance testing for other treatment hubs,” Ditangco said.

WAY FORWARD

Interviewed by Outrage Magazine in Davao City during the 1st HIV Summit in southern Philippines, DOH Usec. Vicente Y. Belizario Jr. said that the DOH mandates the “minimum package (to be provided by hubs to PLHIV).” However, “(health care) is decentralized to local government units, (and) there are LGUs that are more innovative.”

“The challenge is to ensure harmonization,” Belizario said, adding that this is what the DOH “will continue to push.”

For Dr. Jose Narciso Sescon of the AIDS Society of the Philippines, “one bright move towards ensuring standardization is that these are being discussed and taken on. This is a healthy step towards a more robust HIV package of services offered to clienteles… if and only if we are all open (government and private service providers) to take on to discuss and accept the real challenges faced by our program.”

“I believe all major government treatment hubs must agree on a standardized treatment package offered to their patients that can be availed under the PhilHealth OHAT Package. Having a national standard on HIV treatment services offered to Filipino PLHIVs will help avoid confusion and unnecessary inconvenience for patients,” said Kevin Kane Li of The AIDS Treatment Action Group (TATAG) Philippines.

Meanwhile, for Pozzie Pinoy of The Project Red Ribbon, “if your hubs are charging you for your laboratory tests in succeeding tests, you should start asking.”

Pozzie Pinoy likens the PhilHealth to having an insurance package, wherein “if you have an HMO, you have packages, and you must know what’s being spent on you.”  In the case of PhilHealth, “ask your hub what in your P30,000 is being spent. You paid for it, so it should be used for you. Learn to ask. Don’t turn a blind eye just to save face. This can be solved by asking.” – WITH INTERVIEWS BY MDCTAN

PhilHealth may be reached at (+63 2) 441 7444 or (+63 2) 441 7442, or email actioncenter@philhealth.gov.ph.

Outrage Magazine is one with the PLHIV community in demanding for a uniform implementation of TCS services, particularly as mandated by PhilHealth. 

Living life a day at a time – and writing about it, is what Patrick King believes in. A media man, he does not only write (for print) and produce (for a credible show of a local giant network), but – on occasion – goes behind the camera for pride-worthy shots (hey, he helped make Bahaghari Center’s "I dare to care about equality" campaign happen!). He is the senior associate editor of OutrageMag, with his column, "Suspension of Disbelief", covering anything and everything. Whoever said business and pleasure couldn’t mix (that is, partying and working) has yet to meet Patrick King, that’s for sure! Patrick.King.Pascual@outragemag.com

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Gay under COVID-19 monitoring

Stephen Christian Quilacio from Cagayan de Oro City is a gay person under COVID-19 monitoring. This means that sans testing, he had to isolate for 21 days. He is still anxious, but he says: “You just have to cooperate and follow protocols.”

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Last Monday, after a 15-day quarantine from his travel from Cebu City, Stephen Christian Quilacio from Cagayan de Oro City “noticed I have most of the COVID-19 symptoms,” he said. He has on-off fever from the night of Monday until the next day, shortness of breath but no cough, and muscle pain. And so on Tuesday, “I decided to go to the hospital.”

During the triage/screening process, he recalled being asked questions; and eventually, “most of the symptoms for COVID-19 were found on me.”

And so, sans COVID-19 testing because of continuing issues for the same (e.g. procurement issues of the Department of Health/DOH, and – basically – not prioritizing mass testing right now even if VIP testing has been repeatedly reported), the doctor informed Stephen “that I am considered PUM: person under monitoring. I have to (isolate myself) for 21 days.”

Looking back, even if this happened only a few days ago, “when I had fever, I got scared,” Stephen said.

While under quarantine, Stephen spends his days… admittedly lazily. Her reads, connects with friends on social media, sleep and eat (“My parents and my cousins just deliver food”).

If he needs to go out at all (e.g. shower), the family members go inside their separate rooms.

“We also make sure that we sanitize everything,” Stephen said.

Looking back, even if this happened only a few days ago, “when I had fever, I got scared,” Stephen said. “I panicked because I have a history of asthma and tuberculosis, and I’m also immunocompromised. I really have to be very careful (in heeding) what the doctor is telling me.”

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COVID-19 still has no cure. Stephen is taking, among others, antibiotics (for seven days).

“After the medication, I will be staying in isolation until the end of the quarantine period,” he said.

Even now, “no one told me yet what I need to do after the quarantine,” Stephen said. But he hopes that the enhanced community quarantine, as a whole, will soon end; and when it does, that “everything will be okay.”

While under quarantine, Stephen spends his days… admittedly lazily. Her reads, connects with friends on social media, sleep and eat (“My parents and my cousins just deliver food”).

Now, “my advise to people is: If you think you have the symptoms for COVID-19, you really have to get yourself checked,” Stephen said.

The contact details of the appropriate health facilities vary per locality, obviously; but these should be “on social media or you can ask your family members,” Stephen said.

And when visiting health professionals, “you have to be very honest, especially if you have travel history. That’s very important because you don’t know if you’ve been exposed while at the airport or while traveling.”

As an additional tip, Stephen said people should “be vigilant with what’s happening in your barangay.” In his case, “our barangay is in the top three places with COVID-19 cases here. This is also why I got scared.”

And due to the much-criticized response of the DOH, Stephen said people are really not left with a lot of choice but “to cooperate; and just follow protocols.”

Now, “my advise to people is: If you think you have the symptoms for COVID-19, you really have to get yourself checked,” Stephen said.

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LGBTQIA people may designate partners as beneficiaries in insurance plans – Insurance Commission

The partners of LGBTQIA people may be designated as the beneficiaries of insurance plans, according to the Insurance Commission.

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The partners of LGBTQIA people may be designated as the beneficiaries of insurance plans, according to the Insurance Commission (IC).

As first reported by PhilStar.com, IC stated that it “affirms (the) position that the insured who secures a life insurance policy on his or her own life may designate any individual as beneficiary.”

IC’s clarification/position came after Prof. E. (Leo) Battad, program director of the UP College of Law Gender Law and Policy Program, sought guidelines from the IC on the right of the insured to designate a beneficiary, particularly the rights of members of the LGBTQIA community to designate their domestic partners as beneficiaries of their life insurance.

In the legal opinion issued to the University of the Philippines College of Law, Gender Law and Policy Program, IC commissioner Dennis Funa said that “an individual who has secured a life insurance policy on his or her own life may designate any person as beneficiary provided that such designation does not fall under the enumerations provided by Article 739 of the Civil Code, without prejudice to the application of Section 12 of the Amended Insurance Code.”

Exceptions contained in Article 2012 in relation to Article 739 of the Civil Code apply.

In Article 739, the following donations shall be void:

  • Those made between persons who were guilty of adultery or concubinage at the time of donation;
  • Those made between persons found guilty of the same criminal offense
  • Those made to a public officer or his wife, descendants and ascendants, by reason of his office.
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Funa was also quoted as saying that members of the LGBTQIA community “may present the legal opinion “if an insurance agent would have an adverse view.”

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Inter-Agency Committee on Diversity and Inclusion created via executive order

An executive order intends to create an inter-agency committee on diversity and inclusion, as well as establish the Diversity and Inclusion Program (DIP) that will consolidate efforts and implement laws “towards the identification and adoption of best practices in the promotion of diversity and inclusion.”

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Photo by daniel james from Unsplash.com

President Rodrigo Roa Duterte is flexing his supposed anti-discrimination cred with the signing of Executive Order (EO) 100, which focuses on minority sectors, including members of the LGBTQIA community, Indigenous Peoples, youth and persons with disability (PWDs).

The EO – titled “Institutionalizing the diversity and inclusion program, creating an inter-agency committee on diversity and inclusion (IACDI), and for other purposes – intends to create the aforementioned IACDI, as well as establish the Diversity and Inclusion Program (DIP) that will consolidate efforts and implement laws “towards the identification and adoption of best practices in the promotion of diversity and inclusion.”

The order was signed on December 17, prior to Duterte meeting with a politicized organization composed of LGBTQIA Filipinos that eye to win seat in Congress in the next elections via the country’s partylist system; but was only released to the media on December 19.

The to-be-established IACDI will be composed of: Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG), Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), Department of Budget Management (DBM), Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), Department of Justice (DOJ), Department of Education (DepEd), Department of Health (DOH), Philippine Commission on Women (PCW), Commission on Higher Education (CHED), Presidential Commission for the Urban Poor (PCUP), National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP), National Council on Disability Affairs (NCDA), and National Youth Commission (NYC).

Worth noting: No LGBTQIA representation is specifically mentioned/included in the committee.

The committee is expected to work with “relevant stakeholders, advocacy groups and NGOs” to develop a DIP; dictate the direction of the DIP; “encourage” local government units to issue ordinances promoting diversity and inclusion; and recommend possible legislation to address gaps in existing laws.

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Meanwhile, the to-be-established DIP is supposed to “consolidate efforts and implement existing laws, rules and issuances against the discrimination of persons on the basis of age, disability, national or ethnic origin, language, religious affiliation or belief, political affiliation or belief, health status, physical features, or sexual orientation and gender identity and expression, towards the identification and adoption of best practices in the promotion of diversity and inclusion.”

For trans activist Naomi Fontanos, who helms GANDA Filipinas, there are provisions in the EO that are problematic.

“(It) looks good on paper but has problematic provisions,” Fontanos said.

For example, “the composition of the IACDI excludes key government agencies like the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) and Civil Service Commission (CSC). Instead they have consultative status. This is surprising since based on RA No. 9710 or the Magna Carta of Women (MCW), the CHR is the Gender and Development (GAD) Ombud.”

Fontanos noted that with “funding for the implementation of EO No. 100, s. 2019 will either be from sources identified by the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) or through Gender and Development (GAD) funds, why then does the GAD Ombud only have consultative status?”

Also excluded from the IACDI is the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos, “which is unfortunate since the EO seeks to prohibit discrimination based on religious affiliation or belief,” Fontanos said.

Fontanos similarly questioned the chairmanship of the IACDI by the DILG.

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“The DILG’s main function is to ensure peace and order, public safety, and building the capacity of local governments for basic services delivery. Implementing a nationwide DIP better fits the mandate of the DSWD, which is to empower disadvantaged sectors in our country. The DSWD is only the committee’s Vice Chair.”

For Fontanos, “also most telling is that the committee is tasked to consult relevant stakeholders and NGOs to develop the DIP. Given that EO No. 100, s. 2019 was signed during the oath-taking of officers of LGBT Pilipinas Party-List at Malacañang Palace, will they be the default ‘stakeholder’ to be consulted on LGBT issues? If they are running for a congressional seat in 2022, won’t that give them undue advantage given that they will be working with LGUs through the chairmanship of the DILG?”

Following the release of the EO, future steps to be taken have yet to be announced.

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Province of Capiz holds first Pride parade

The city of Roxas in the Province of Capiz held its first LGBTQIA Pride parade, a “historic event that was organized for and by the LGBTQIA people of Capiz.”

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All photos courtesy of Charmel Delfin Ignacio Catalan

Pride in Capiz.

The city of Roxas in the Province of Capiz held its first LGBTQIA Pride parade, a “historic event that was organized for and by the LGBTQIA people of Capiz,” said Charmel Delfin Ignacio Catalan, who helmed the organizing of the event via Queens of all Queens and LGBT Community Capiz.

The local LGBTQIA community is not exactly completely “invisible”, admitted Catalan, having participated in the city’s/province’s past gatherings – e.g. last August 12, 2019, when a contingent joined the parade for the International Youth Day. But this Pride is “important – particularly as it is being held as the world observes World AIDS Day – because it highlights what’s solely relevant to our community.”

As is common with non-commercialized Pride events, “the main problem (we encountered) was financial,” Catalan said. This is because “we only relied on donations of generous individuals (to be able to hold this event).” But since “it had the backing of the community… we were able to push through.”

With Catalan in organizing the Pride parade were Atty. Felizardo Demayuga Jr. and Sandro Borce.

For Catalan: “I believe we still need Pride in this day and age to celebrate the unique individuality of the members of the LGBTQIA Community, and – of course – to continue the advocacy of equal rights and mutual respect and the causes that we are fighting for.”

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Roxas City, in particular, still records LGBTQIA-related hate crimes. In a 2015 interview with Outrage Magazine, Catalan recalled the bashing of a trans woman na napag-tripan (because some people just felt like it); sex work-related ill-treatment; and even killings.

This is why Catalan said she hopes for (particularly local) LGBTQIA people to attend the gathering as a show of strength that “we’re in this together.”

Catalan, nonetheless, recognizes that many non-LGBTQIA people still detest/discriminate LGBTQIA people. And so to them she said: “To all our bashers/haters, please take note that we have no ill feelings towards you; we love you and you are always in our prayers. Please take note that sticks and stones may break our bones but you won’t see us fall.”

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‘We need inclusive responses to HIV’ – Bahaghari Center

For Ms Disney Aguila, board member of Bahaghari Center, “it needs to be emphasized that HIV can only truly be dealt with if everyone is on board.”

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In early 2019, Jay (not his real name), a Deaf gay man who lives outside Metro Manila, was encouraged by his friends who knew community-based HIV screening (CBS) to get himself tested. It was, he recalled, “the first time someone offered me this service; so I caved in.”

Jay was reactive; and “my world crumbled,” he said.

Though his friends tried to comfort him, telling him that knowing his status is good, “since at least now I can take steps to get treatment and live a normal, healthy life,” Jay wasn’t assuaged. His friends had to eventually go back to Metro Manila, and he worried that he would be left on his own to “find ways to access treatment.” And the same issue that did not make testing accessible for him – i.e. him being Deaf – is now the same issue he believed would hinder him from getting treatment, care and support (TCS).

Jay’s case, said Ms Disney Aguila, board member of the Bahaghari Center for SOGIE Research, Education and Advocacy Inc. (Bahaghari Center), highlights how “numerous sectors continue to be ignored in HIV-related responses.”

Aguila, the concurrent head of the Pinoy Deaf Rainbow, the pioneering organization for Deaf LGBTQIA Filipinos, added that “it needs to be emphasized – particularly today as #WAD2019 – that HIV can only truly be dealt with if everyone is on board.”

WORSENING HIV SITUATION

As reported by the HIV/AIDS & ART Registry of the Philippines (HARP) of the Department of Health (DOH), the Philippines has 35 new HIV cases every day. The figure has been consistently growing – from only one case every day in 2008, seven cases per day in 2011, 16 cases per day in 2014, and 32 cases per day in 2018.

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In July, when HARP released its (delayed) latest figures, there were 1,111 newly confirmed HIV-positive individuals; this was 29% higher compared with the diagnosed cases (859) in the same period last year.

Perhaps what is worth noting, said Aguila, is the “absence in current responses of minority sectors” – e.g. when even data does not segregate people from minority sectors, thus the forced invisibility that used to also affect transgender people who were once lumped under the MSM (men who have sex with men) umbrella term.

For Aguila, this is “detrimental to the overall response re HIV because specific needs are not answered.”

DEAF IN FOCUS

In 2012, Bahaghari Center conducted “Talk to the Hand”, the first-of-its-kind study that looked at the knowledge, attitudes and related practices (KAP) of Deaf LGBT Filipinos on HIV and AIDS. The study had numerous disturbing findings.

To start, majority of the respondents (33 or 54.1%) were within the 19-24 age range at the time of the study, followed by those who are over 25 (21 or 34.3%). Most of them (53 of 61 Deaf respondents) had sex before they reached 18. Many (36.1%) of them also had numerous sexual partners, with some respondents having as many as 20 sex partners in a month.
Only 21 (34.4%) use condoms, and – worryingly – even among those who used condoms, 12 (19.7%) had condom breakage during sex because of improper use.

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Perhaps the unsafe sexual practice should not be surprising, considering that not even half (29, 47.5%) of the respondents heard of HIV and AIDS, with even less that number (23, 37.7%) knowing someone who died of HIV or AIDS-related complications. And with not even half of the total respondents (29) familiar with HIV and AIDS, not surprisingly, only 19 (31.1%) considered HIV and AIDS as serious, with more of them considering HIV and AIDS as not serious (20, 32.8%) or maybe serious (22, 36.1%).

The study also noted that the level of general knowledge about HIV and AIDS is low, with 40 (65.6%) of them falling in this category. Only about 1/5 of them (12, 19.7%) had high level of knowledge about HIV and AIDS. Even fewer (9, 14.8%) may be classified as having moderate knowledge level.

For the Deaf community, at least, accessing testing and – if one tested HIV positive – the TCS is challenging because “we’d need Filipino Sign Language (FSL) interpreters who can help make sure we’re getting the right information/treatment/et cetera, Aguila said. And in the Philippines, the numbers of service providers who know FSL remain very limited.

Already there are Deaf Filipinos trained to conduct CBS particularly for other Deaf Filipinos – here in “Stop HIV Together“, a photo campaign stressing the need for inclusion.

INCLUDING OTHER MINORITIES

Aguila stressed that forced invisibility, obviously, does not only affect the minority Deaf community as far as HIV-related responses are concerned – e.g. “other persons with disability continue not to have HIV-related interventions,” she said.

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For Aguila: “To truly stop HIV and AIDS, we need to be inclusive.”

Back in the city south of Metro Manila, Jay was forwarded to a counselor who knows FSL so that he can be supported in accessing TCS. Even that was “problematic,” said Jay, because “I was ‘forced’ to come out to someone I didn’t necessarily want to disclose my status only because I had no choice.”

For him, this highlights “how we just have to make do with what’s there; and there really isn’t much that’s there to begin with.”

He feels “lighter” now, however, having started his antiretroviral treatment (ART). But he knows he’s one of the “lucky people with contacts”; and that “not every one has access to the same support I had… and that’s something we need to deal with.”

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‘Ang laban ng LGBT ay laban ng mamamayan’

As Baguio City holds its 13th #Pride March, there is emphasis on the de-commercialization of Pride to ficus on issues affecting all minority sectors including the #LGBT community. As stressed by Nico Ponce of Bahaghari-UP Baguio, hopefully other sectors join the fight for human rights for all because “ang laban ng LGBT ay laban ng buong mamamayan.”

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All photos by Michael David dela Cruz Tan

The struggle of the LGBTQIA community is the struggle of the people/nation.

So said Nico Ponce, chairperson of the UP-Baguio University Student Council and of Bahaghari-UP Baguio, which helmed Amianan Pride Council (APC), the organizer of the 13th Pride March in Baguio City.

This is why, Ponce added, at least particularly for Pride in Baguio City, there was an intent to veer away from commercializing Pride, to instead focus on the issues of all LGBTQIA people no matter the sector they belong to. There was also an emphasis on intersectionality – i.e. that other minority sectors have a stake in the fight for equal treatment of LGBTQIA people, also a minority sector.

“We are against the commercialization of Pride,” Ponce said, “since naniniwala tayo na ang historic roots of Pride ay… sang protest (we believe in the historic roots of Pride as a protest).” And so, to maintain the militant nature of Pride, we “make calls that… are comprehensive; and that affect not just LGBTQIA people but all Filipinos.”

The position, of course, is relevant considering the seeming (if not eventual) move towards commercialization of Pride events – e.g. cash-dependent Metro Manila’s Pride parade was able to gather over 50,000 participants in this year’s party/gathering; though the same number won’t surface to push for the anti-discrimination bill (ADB) that has been pending in Congress for 19 years now.

“There is still no equity,” said transgender activist Ms Santy Layno, which makes hosting Pride still relevant.

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“We still march,” added Rev. Pastor Myke Sotero of MCC-MB, “because even if people say that LGBTQIA people are already tolerated in the Philippines, we continue to suffer discrimination… with our transgender siblings still killed/murdered. We still need to march for Pride… as a form of protest.”

‘We (still) need Pride because of the apparent need of the LGBTQIA community (for acceptance) in all sectors of society,” Ponce added.

Baguio City already has an anti-discrimination ordinance, passed in April 2017, that wants to ensure that “every person… be given equal access to opportunities in all fields of human endeavor and to equitable sharing of social and economic benefits for them to freely exercise the rights to which they are rightfully entitled, free from any prejudice and discrimination.”

But the city also has anti-LGBTQIA history. For instance, in 2011, eight pairs of LGBTQIA people had commitment ceremony there, under MCC-MB. Oppositions were raised by the Catholic Church and a group of pastors from Baguio and Benguet. Bishop Carlito Cenzon of the Baguio-Benguet Vicariate of the Roman Catholic Church, for one, stated that “these unions are an anomaly.”

In the end, said Sotero, Pride is a way to inform society “that we’re here, we’re not going anywhere, so society should accept LGBTQIA people.”

“To people who ridicule/mock us, we’re open to discussions,” said Ponce. “Hindi sila kaaway… kaya sana makiisa kayo dahil ang laban ng LGBTQIA ay laban ng buong mamamayan (We are not enemies… so we hope you join the struggle because the fight for equality of LGBTQIA people is similar to the fight for social justice of the entire nation).” – WITH ALBERT TAN MAGALLANES, JR.

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