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Op-Ed

Pride – The politics of politeness

Robert Flores notes that LGBT politeness may at times be understandable, but he believes that “the time of being polite is now over. I am saying exactly what every gay person who is involved in any way in the fight for equal rights is thinking, but who may be too polite to say out loud. Is that statement rude? Absolutely. Is it inflammatory? It better be.”

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There is nothing more difficult, or frustrating than trying to help someone who clearly doesn’t want to be helped.

We have heard this popular saying hundreds, if not thousands, of times before, and nowhere is it more apparent than in the gay community in the Philippines. There. I’ve said it.

The time of being polite is now over. I am saying exactly what every gay person who is involved in any way in the fight for equal rights is thinking, but who may be too polite to say out loud. Is that statement rude? Absolutely. Is it inflammatory? It better be.

The Philippines lives in a unique little bubble where the LGBT community enjoy certain liberties other individuals who identify as LGBT in other countries might not. But at the same time, the Philippine LGBT community is, as of this time; the biggest underrepresented group in Philippine politics. We have gained a lot in terms of personal and professional freedoms over the years, and are now poised to take everything that is due us as citizens of this country: marriage, the right to adopt, rights of succession, protection against discrimination. But why are we not moving forward?

In the last two elections, the group Ang Ladlad failed to get even a single seat in Congress. Political pundits had a field day. After successfully reversing the decision of the Commission on Elections, disqualifying Ang Ladlad from participating in the 2010 polls on blatantly moral grounds, and making history as the first party-list organization that seeks to finally represent the LGBT in Congress, Ang Ladlad went on to lose by a wide margin in the election, not even coming close to securing a seat. Ang Ladlad tried again in 2013, and again failed to reach the minimum number of votes to get a seat in the lower house. Working during both elections as first an intern, then as a coordinator for an NGO that monitored the conduct of the campaign and campaign spending, it was a truly exciting time to see history unfold… Well, almost. Excitement gave way to disappointment as it became more and more apparent, as election returns came in, that Ang Ladlad will have to wait three more years before trying yet again.

READ:  What Pride means

Disappointment not at Ang Ladlad, despite the shortcomings of the campaign as observed by some, they are not to blame. They held themselves; the whole party, not just the nominees, out there, and the rest of the country just stood there, and simply did not vote for the party. We seem to have a very shallow depth of field when it comes to elections in this country: the point of elections is that ultimately, those who vote are the ones responsible for the acts of those voted into office, both the good and the bad. There’s a reason why people get offended when one says “Why are you complaining, you voted for him!” people don’t like it when they are made to look at their mistakes directly. And those who choose to speak the unadorned truth about how the whole gay community in the Philippines failed Ang Ladlad and themselves; are called rude by pointing it out. The time for being polite as a community should end now.

It is understandable, our decision to be polite: Not all gay people are out of the closet, in both the personal, and professional context, though it eludes me why one chooses to stay there since it should be a non-issue for individuals beyond the boundaries two adults who mutually consent to a relationship. But granted that they’re there and they choose to stay there, it is their life, and their right to be left alone. For people, not just those inside closets, politeness is the default setting hardwired into our consciousness as a minority: What one can and cannot say in polite society. What one can and cannot discuss in social circles. What one can and cannot incorporate into the curriculum. It is a form of emotional surrender, when one chooses politeness over dialogue. It chips away at you; every time you defer to your desire to lie low, to stay “under the radar”, to seem “polite”, rather than say what you really think. It slices off parts of your resolve, and unknowingly, you weaken us, the whole LGBT community as a political force. On a personal level, we don’t want to stand out, we don’t want to call attention to ourselves; simply because of the perceived inadequacy society has forced upon us. We are not inadequate, we are citizens, full-blooded citizens of this country, and in exchange for our loyalty and fidelity to the words that made this country materialize out of thin air, it owes us our rights that have long been denied. Being polite is easy: it is infinitely more tempting to be polite instead of being correct.

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The LGBT community in the Philippines has to wake up: The rights that should be granted to all citizens under the law, regardless of the gender they identify with, are not going to be handed to the LGBT community on a silver platter. We have waited for years, and no such voluntary recognition of our rights are forthcoming from the politicians and policy-makers in the Palace. The LGBT community must be represented in Congress where all the issues which we seek to address may be properly codified in law, that is binding and carries the weight of enforcement. But without any representative willing to take up the cudgels for the LGBT, there is no way that any form of LGBT-friendly legislation will ever see itself as an actual law. And gay people, up and down this country, will continue to be deprived of the power to fully live as citizens. The failure of Ladlad, twice, is indicative of a deeper problem, a general apathy in the LGBT community that must be addressed. We are a community divided, but with common concerns, and if we will be able to get our heads out of our asses, we might be able to accomplish something utterly extraordinary.

The straight community has long been aware of the presence of the LGBT community, despite their best efforts in looking the other way and pretending we don’t exist: because frankly, if something doesn’t exist, it can’t be a problem. And for years we have long deferred to the straight establishment, saying to ourselves, “Well, they’re the majority… So I’ll just do my own thing…” Not anymore. The time has come for the LGBT community to ask the questions we should have been asking a long time ago. The time for politeness is at an end. We need to confront our leaders and demand the rights that are rightfully ours. It is time to get involved, while we have time to prepare for the next showdown at the polls in 2016. Don’t be embarrassed to correct straight and ignorant colleagues or family regarding notions about homosexuality, don’t be afraid to not laugh at jokes made with poking fun at “the fags” at its core, don’t be scared to ask the questions that have been sorely needing answers for decades. Don’t give a f*ck if you are labeled rude, controversial, or a troublemaker: they will never wake up to face reality if you tread lightly around them. Find a way to help the effort, and to wear your colors proudly. Show them that we are here, and we are not going away.

READ:  Indonesia to include homosexuality in medical guide of mental disorders

There will be opposition. There will be adversity. There will be casualties. But ultimately, we will prevail.

It is all up to you.

Ryan Robert Flores is a self-identified Bear. He has a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration, majoring in Marketing Management, and is currently working on a graduate degree, which he hopes would someday pay for TBRU, Lazy Bear Weekend, Provincetown Bear Week, Mad.Bear, and a leather sex sling that can support his weight (for, uh… research). A freelance graphic designer and photographer, he has worked with leading companies in different fields, but mostly in food (where else would a fat guy go?) by creating corporate branding and image development. A fastidious Grammar Nazi; a sure-fire way of driving him up the walls would be to say “For a while” (For a while, WHAT?), and other grammatical nightmares, without any proper context. He doesn’t like chocolate, despite being happily married to one who peddles it for a living for the past eleven years.

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Worsening #ARVshortage in the Phl?

On Jan. 9, the Philippines gained a new HIV and AIDS law that is supposed to better the lives of Filipinos living with HIV. But many in the HIV community mark this day with distress, largely because of the worsening ARV shortage.

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In September 2018, Xander (not his real name; anonymity requested), a Filipino living with HIV, claimed that he was told by the person working in the pharmacy of his hub to “consume already-expired medicines (the three-in-one tablet of Lamivudine/Tenofovir/Efavirenz)”, and that “it is “still good for three months after the expiration date.”

Since dealing with ARV-related issue is not new to him (it happened to him in the last quarter of 2013), he complained and was given newer meds. Noticeably, “those who didn’t complain – like I did – ended up using the expired meds,” he said.

Xander can only recall how he earlier lamented – again in 2013 – that the ARV shortage will happen again, particularly considering the continuing denial of the Department of Health (DOH) about this issue.

TAINTED ‘SUCCESS’

The 9th of January is supposed to be a happy day particularly for Filipinos living with HIV and their advocates. On that day, the newly-signed Republic Act 11166 or the Philippine HIV and AIDS Policy Act was released after it was signed into law by Pres. Rodrigo Roa Duterte. By replacing the 20-year-old Republic Act 8504 or the Philippine National AIDS and Control Act of 1998, this new law is supposed to boost the government’s response to HIV and AIDS by making health services for HIV and AIDS more accessible to Filipinos.

But many in the HIV community mark this day with distress, largely because of the worsening ARV shortage, which is not helped by the denial of the issue by various heads of offices – including government officials, as well as those helming treatment hubs/facilities and even select non-government organizations (NGOs).

In an unsigned statement (as if so that no one can be “chased” to be held accountable for the same statement), the DOH seemed to belittle the issue by outright claiming that there’s an ‘alleged’ shortage of ARVs; even as it also stated that they take the issue of HIV infection in the country seriously. Part of this is to take “great steps to ensure that access for HIV treatments are available for those who are diagnosed with HIV.”

The DOH statement added:
“As of October 2018, we have enrolled 32,224 persons living with HIV for treatment with ARV such as Nevirapine, Lamivudine/Tenofovir. The DOH has been providing free ARV to Filipinos living with HIV through our HIV treatment hubs.
“Based on our records, there are 3,200 registered PLHIV who are on Nevirapine and 1,791 PLHIV on Lamivudine/Tenofovir, as of December last year.

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That just about half of the total PLHIVs in the Philippines use ARVs is worth noting, even if it’s another issue altogether.

But the mention of these two meds/cocktails is important because the complaints reaching – among others – Outrage Magazine, Bahaghari Center for SOGIE Research, Education and Advocacy, Inc. (Bahaghari Center) other and HIV-related community-based organizations/non-government organizations particularly currently mention these.

In Quezon City, for instance, at least eight PLHIVs alleged that they have been given incomplete medications – i.e. they were supplied with either Lamivudine/Tenofovir or Lamivudine/Zidovudine, but they have not been receiving Nevirapine because this is not available. These people are, therefore, taking incomplete meds.

Pinoy Plus’s hotline, PRC, has received similar allegations of non-delivery of Nevirapine.

In Cavite (Imus, Bacoor and Dasmariñas), at least three clients surfaced to allege about the same issue. PLHIVs are now “borrowing” each others’ Nevirapine supply just so they don’t miss their required dosage because their hub does not have supplies from the DOH.

There are similar allegations in Cagayan de Oro City, Davao City and Zamboanga City.

And in Alabang, the pharmacy of a treatment hub even posted on January 8, 2019 an announcement that “due to the shortage and delay of the deliveries at DOH, only one bottle will be dispensed of the following medicines: Nevirapine (200mg tablet); Lamivudine (150mg)/Zidovudine (300mg tablet); and Lamivudine (300mg)/Tenofovir (300mg tablet).” The same hub is telling its clients to “wait for further announcement on stock availability.”

Note that the RITM-AIDS Research Group’s pharmacy is putting the blame on the DOH.

DOH’s CLAIM

The same DOH statement stressed that “the latest data, as of January 4, confirms that Nevirapine has already been delivered to the 16 treatment hubs to meet the requirements for February-April 2019. For Lamivudine/Tenofovir, a month’s supply has also been delivered to Regions X, VI and I. The rest of the regions will expect deliveries within this week.”

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Noticeably, the DOH statement responds to issues only this January, even if this concern has been circulating in the PLHIV community since 2018, and only peaked now.

There are fewer ARV refills now. If, in the past, the usual practice is for hubs to give PLHIVs three bottles of ARV to last them for three months, a growing number are now complaining about the supply being cut to one month in numerous hubs – e.g. there’s that post in RITM’s pharmacy. Some allege that they are even supplied ARVs just for a week or even just for three days.

Due to the ARV shortage that the DOH is not outright confronting, expired medicines are allegedly being given to PLHIVs – as in the case of Xander.

Also due to the ARV shortage, the medication of a number of PLHIVs are allegedly being changed not because it’s medically sound, but because their usual medicines are not readily available. In Mandaluyong City, there are PLHIVs who claimed to have been told to use Lamivudine/Tenofovir/Efavirenz because it’s the only available ARV. If they refuse to do so, then they will have to stop taking their usual medications until such time when the delivery of supplies are normalized again.

To allow the DOH to respond to these claims, Outrage Magazine repeatedly reached out to the government body. Upon calling the media relations unit (at +63 2 651-7800 loc. 1126), we were turned over to the office of Dr. Gerard Belimac (+63 2 651-7800 locs. 2355, 2352, 2354). Five attempts were made to speak with Belimac or any other authority in his office, but he has been unavailable at those five times; and even after leaving requests for a statement from him on the ARV shortage, as of press time, the publication has not heard back.

As this is a continuing story, coordination will continue to – eventually hopefully – extensively hear from the DOH on this issue.

WHAT NOW?

The DOH statement also stated that it is “working closely with our suppliers to ensure that there are no gaps in our supply chain. In fact, we are waiting for deliveries of an additional 12,375 bottles of Nevirapine good for another three months and 7,024 bottles of Lamivudine/Tenofovir good for another two months.”

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The DOH also claimed that it is continuing to explore “for more partners in providing excellent support for Filipinos living with HIV-AIDS and in ending the deadly disease.”

As if wanting to pacify the complaining PLHIVs, the DOH statement transferred to responsibility to “HIV doctors to explore possible options”, or visit Facebook page (PLHIV Response Center) or email dohnaspcphiv@gmail.com. Note the use of a gmail account for a body with millions in budget.

No investigations on where the errors in the supply chain is happening so that these can be fixed is forthcoming. No one being held accountable here.

THE NEED TO GO BEYOND LIP SERVICE

Incidentally, Article V, Sec. 33 of the newly signed HIV law states: “The DOH shall establish a program that will provide free and accessible ART and medication for opportunistic infections to all PLHIVs who are enrolled in the program… A manual of procedures for management of PLHIV shall be developed by the DOH.”

The IRR is not even there yet, but this mandate to provide life-saving meds is now already cast in doubt.

Xander – who only had a refill of his ARVs – said that many like him who posted about this issue online were told to stop doing so “because we are supposedly creating panic among PLHIVs.”

He now says that people who cover up this issue are “as worse as those paid to work on this issue. Because if you go to the HIV community, we’ve long lived with worrying that our meds may not be given us at any moment. If some people think complaining about this is wrong, then they shouldn’t be in HIV advocacy, but work as PR people of those failing to do their jobs.”

In the end, “this needs to be resolved fast. Enough with discussing semantics on what we’re having is a shortage or a stockout; the fact remains that there are PLHIVs not getting their supplies. Lives are at stake. So supply the ARVs; now.”

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Op-Ed

Work doesn’t stop for the rainbow warriors

The Rainbow Collective launched a daily journal called “I Want the World to Know”, which aims to educate LGBTQIA persons and the general public about issues facing the community, and what they can do to promote acceptance.

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By Sandy Miguel

More pressure should fall on the Senate to expedite the passage of the SOGIE (Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity or Expression) Equality Bill, but even sans this (or perhaps exactly because this is not getting traction), new LGBTQIA-centered organizations are coming to the forefront to clamor for more visibility and acceptance for the community.

One of these new organizations, The Rainbow Collective (TRC), launched a daily journal called I Want the World to Know, which aims to educate LGBTQIA persons and the general public about issues facing the community, and what they can do to promote acceptance.  

“There’s (still) this mindset that you’re a lesser person just because you are LGBT,” TRC founder Lady Allyson Dulnuan said. “It may be a long road to acceptance, but it is possible by properly educating people and correcting their misconceptions and biases about the community.”

Acceptance, obviously, continues to be an elusive concept in society for LGBTQIA individuals.

The Philippines was hailed as one the most “tolerant” in Asia-Pacific region towards the LGBTQIA community based on a 2013 Pew Research Center report that found over 70% of Filipinos believe that homosexuality “should be accepted by society,” the Huffington Post reported in 2015.

But this preceded by the brutal murder of transwoman Jennifer Laude in her Olongapo hometown by a US marine. Just as sadly, two more deaths believed to also be LGBTQIA-related hate crimes followed just weeks after Laude was killed.

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These hate crimes bring attention to the reality that LGBTQIA discrimination is still an epidemic in the country.

Elsewhere in the Philippines, discrimination happens to LGBTQIA individuals on a day-to-day basis; from extreme bullying to hearing “light-hearted,” passive-aggressive jokes, LGBTQ persons experience some form of prejudice daily at their place of work, in public or even at home. Lesbians, for instance, can most likely cite an incidence when they were teased to get themselves a man to “correct” their gender identity. Many, if not all, of these incidences of gender biases go unreported.

Incidences also occur because of the lack of anti-discriminatory policies in various jurisdictions. In 2018, for instance, comedian Jervi Li, also known as Kaladkaren Davila, was barred from entering H&J Sports Bar in Makati. The club bouncer said they don’t let gay people in, and that it was a policy created by the management. The interaction was recorded in a video, which Li posted on her Facebook page.

TRC’s planner, I Want the World to Know, contains resources on sexual and gender differences, LGBTQIA adoption and family life, as well as facts on homophobia and how they would benefit from having the SOGIE Equality Bill passed. It also arms individuals with information on how to identify LGBT issues and how they can effectively cope up in the society. The planner similarly has works and art from a handful of artists and writers who support the LGBTQIA community.

But work doesn’t stop – not for TRC, nor should it for everyone.

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TRC is now in front of the planning board for its next project, Project Halipan, which zeroes in on domestic abuse and rehabilitating abusers in an LGBTQIA relationships.

The Rainbow Collective’s LGBT Planner 2019 is still available at https://bit.ly/TRC2019LGBTPlanner for P699.00. Message TRC’s Facebook page to order. Proceeds from the planner’s sales will go to Project Halipan.

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Op-Ed

Hear ye, hear ye! Pageant ‘pundits’ against trans people

Your gay identity or your “I love my LGBT friends” proclamation mean absolutely nothing to the struggles of trans folks when you follow it with transphobic statements.

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Way back when I came out to my mom, I remember assuring her that I would not be dating boyish, manly, butch girls. In my ignorant mind at that time, I regarded non-feminine lesbians as a “disgrace” to the lesbian identity. I did not want to be associated with that image of a woman.

WhenI started dating, I had my concerns about being in a relationship with a bisexual woman. My unfounded fears involved thoughts like, “What if she cheats on me with a guy? That would look pretty bad on me as a lesbian.”, “What if we break up and her next relationship would be with a guy? Would people think that she grew sick of me just because I’m not?”, “If she wants kids, then I might not be the most viable partner for her.” or “Would she ever miss dick or having sex with a guy in the long-run?”. I’ve never actually heard of a research or an actual experience that a bisexual woman would always choose a guy over a girl eventually. I also did not receive any warnings about the added emotional and future risks of dating a bisexual. But due to this ever-heteronormative society-and I’m sure a lot of lesbians bear the same feelings- I just felt like the chance that a bisexual would end up with a straight relationship is much higher since it has widespread acceptance, thus, less struggles. The thought of being one-upped by heteronormativity, again, can be an unappetizing thought.

Fortunately, after learning more about the human spectrum that is SOGIE, I’ve done away with those insecurities and misconceptions. In light of recent altercations among viewers about Ms. Spain’s participation in the Miss Universe pageant, it is obvious that a lot of people are also in need of much enlightenment.

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But, alas, I am not about to educate people on SOGIE. I believe if they are truly open to understanding the complexity that is gender and sexuality, they would go find information on their own. But there is one thing that terribly needs to be pointed out. I’ve been seeing a lot of opinions thrown about regarding theUniverse pageantry’s welcoming of Ms. Spain; and I would just like to clarify that below opening remarks do not give credence to anti-trans statements:

  1. I am gay…
  2. I am part of the LGBTQ community…
  3. I love / respect the LGBT community…
  4. I have gay friends…

Your gay identity or your “I love my LGBT friends” proclamation mean absolutely nothing to the struggles of trans folks when you follow it with transphobic statements. Please, before identifying yourself as a member of the LGBTQ community or claiming that you respect said community, make sure that you’ve thoroughly educated yourself what that community stands for, as well as what each of those letters is actually fighting for.

Otherwise, you’re just a gay person concerned only about your own gay rights, as opposed to wholeheartedly being part of the LGBTQ community. As for those “I-respect-the-LGBT-but..”people, I hope one day you’ll get off your privileged high horse and see how the status quo stymies the human dignity and rights of the community you supposedly respect.

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LIFESTYLE & CULTURE

Moments when hashtag activism really worked

Every now and then, a new cause encourages users to send in a flurry of social media posts, all backed by a common tag used to grab the users’ attention to the issue. While some campaigns have backfired, some have really, really worked creating defining moments.

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It’s been more than 10 years to the use of this so small and unprepossessing symbol – #. Little did its users know that it would contribute to changing the world. It’s emerged as the prelude to every important online conversation.

While some campaigns have backfired, some have really, really worked creating defining moments.
Image by irfanahmad from Pixabay.com

The phenomenon of using this symbol is popularly referred to as hashtag activism. Every now and then, a new cause encourages users to send in a flurry of social media posts, all backed by a common tag used to grab the users’ attention to the issue. While some campaigns have backfired, some have really, really worked creating defining moments. Let’s take a look at some of them:

1. #DressLikeAWoman

When President Trump was alleged for asking his staff to dress like women, the internet was flooded with suggestions and opinions. Gendered clothing is available everywhere but unlike hashtags, their purpose is to only divide. Some women voiced their preference to dress their best for work while some pointed out how black is the new black. The campaign received extensive female support for obvious reasons.

2. #StopFundingHate

This UK-based campaign aimed at taking action against the anti-migrant position of several British newspapers. It started somewhere around 2016 and has repeatedly gone viral several times. It has also made some great victories in the process. For instance, Lego ended its agreement with The Daily Mail and now does not offer any promotional giveaways with the newspaper.

READ:  For us, by us

Every now and then, a new cause encourages users to send in a flurry of social media posts, all backed by a common tag used to grab the users’ attention to the issue.
Photo by KoalaParkLaundromat from Pixabay.com

3. #YouAintNoMuslimBruv

The British respond to tragedy with both class and honesty. In fact, the Londoners like hashtag activism because it always keeps to the left. The #YouAintNoMuslimBruv campaign was the reaction to an incident that took place a few weeks before Christmas 2015. A man suffering from paranoid schizophrenia cut the throat of a passenger at a London tube station. The judge denounced the act to be motivated by Islamic extremism and sentenced him to life imprisonment at a high-security psychiatric institution.

 

However, before the papers went all gaga over Islamophobia, a young man gave the perfect reply to this religious criticism since the culprit was arrested by a Muslim policeman.

4. #HeForShe

Gender equality has been talked about for generations. It affects everyone. The HeForShe campaign is just about that. The UN Women Campaign, supported by Emma Watson and Justin Trudeau, encouraged men and boys to support the women in their lives and actively involve themselves in the struggle that had previously been regarded as a ‘woman’s thing.’

Several countries participated in the campaign with their pledges and commitments to support the cause. Some of the leading countries worth mentioning are Rwanda, the UK, the US, Mexico, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The hashtag has emerged as a prelude to every important online conversation.
Photo by Lum3n.com from Pexels.com

5. #WomensMarch

The Women’s March in 2017 was a powerful campaign as women across the world united to fight for their status-quo and optimistically change the future. It focused on demanding an equal footing in society. The uniting power of the hashtag proved that women are not alone and can create a euphoric moment that will change history.

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Op-Ed

Death by inaction and misaction

If the people supposed to serve us are failing to do so, even if they know they can do something if they really, really want to, then I can’t help but be sad… and angry… and speak out.

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Photo by Cristian Newman from Unsplash.com

By Stephen Christian Quilacio

In March 2015 – just over three years ago – playwright, author and longtime gay rights and AIDS activist Larry Kramer gave a blistering speech. Dubbed “Cure!”, he likened HIV to a “genocide inflicted upon gay people.”

To wit, and I quote part of his speech:

“Thirty-four years. HIV/AIDS has been our plague for 34 years. We should have known more about this plague by now. 34 years is a very long time to let people die.
I think more and more about evil. I believe in evil. I believe evil is an act, intentional or not, of inflicting undeserved harm on others. Genocide is such an act. I believe genocide is being inflicted upon gay people.
Genocide is the deliberate and systematic extermination of a national, racial, political, or ethnic group. Such as gay people. Such as people of color. To date, around the world, an estimated 78 million people have become infected, 39 million of whom have died. When we first became acquainted with HIV there were 41 cases.”

Then – to stress his point – he (aptly) added:

“I no longer have any doubt that… government is content, via sins of omission or commission, to allow the extermination of my homosexual population to continue unabated.”

I am bringing this up now, though this time to highlight what it’s like to be HIV-positive in the Philippines.

See… I am a Filipino living with HIV. I’ve been HIV-positive since 2013. And though hailing from Northern Mindanao, I have since moved to Metro Manila; and I am now based in Taguig City.

My life as a Filipino with HIV – from the start until now – continues to be extremely challenging. And in many instances, this is due to the inaction and misaction of service providers, including (if not particularly) the government.

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Take for instance the continuous running out of supply of antiretroviral (ARV) meds in the country.

This has been an ongoing issue, first loudly raised in 2013 and then “denied” by the Department of Health (DOH) in 2014.

At that time, Dr. Rossana Ditangco, research chief at the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine-AIDS Research Group (RITM-ARG), one of the treatment hubs in the country, said that the limited ARV supply was “because of the delay in the delivery of (ARVs) to the Department of Health (DOH).”

This was belied by Dr. Jose Gerard Belimac, head of DOH’s National AIDS/STI Prevention and Control Program, who claimed then that there is no delay in the procurement of ARVs, just as there is no “official pronouncement from the DOH to the treatment hubs to control (the distribution of ARVs) because of a delay in the procurement (of ARVs),” he said in an exclusive interview by Outrage Magazine. Belimac stressed then that “for now, all the ARVs that we promised to provide to the patients are available.”

The ‘missing’ ARVs of the Philippines

The denial makes one angry though, because – while still in Cagayan de Oro City at that time – we who were accessing meds were not getting our steady ARV supply. We had to “borrow” meds from other PLHIVs just so none of us would skip our dosage; though ending missing meds all together when the supplies didn’t arrive.

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It was as if we were being told we were lying (by claiming there’s a shortage) by the very body that is covering up its erroneous system/s.

And then just a few weeks ago, I was informed by my doctor (this time in Metro Manila) that my meds may have to be changed because there is no supply of Nevirapine (what I have been taking). Apparently, I ain’t the first (and perhaps not the last) whose meds may be changed NOT because it’s necessary but because… the DOH’s supply system is problematic.

“I write this piece not because I want to, but because I need to. Because people continue to suffer and even die, and your efforts continue to be wanting.”
Photo by Elijah O’Donnell from Unsplash.com

Looking back, I also remember not even knowing of viral load (VL) for years while in Mindanao. The hub I used to go to only offered CD4 count (not VL); and – come to think of it – this wasn’t even regularly done because the CD4 machine may not have been working or there was no reagent or… other such reasons were given to us.

To date, many PLHIVs from outside Metro Manila (and even those here) do not know their VL or CD4 count.

And this is even if the amount we paid PhilHealth was the same as everybody else; and the services we were supposed to be getting (based in the OHAT package) was supposed to include this.

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I am not sure if there is reconsideration of DOH accreditation being done… but non-offering of paid-for services is, for many of us, an “accepted norm.” We actually pay for services that we don’t use.

Last July, 30 people died from AIDS-related complications in the country. And since January 1984 (when the first case was documented in the Philippines) to July 2018, a total of 2,735 deaths were already reported in the country. Ninety percent (2,462) were male.

Since we already have 57,134 reported cases (as of July 2018), the number of deaths seem… small. But – of course – this is ONLY those that were reported; I am certain that many more were unreported.

But note that even now, approximately only half of the number of Filipinos with HIV have access to life-saving meds. And – as repeatedly stressed – access isn’t even regular because of problems with the supply.

There comes a point when we have to say enough’s enough.

I write this piece not because I want to, but because I need to.

Because people continue to suffer and even die, and your efforts continue to be wanting.

Part of Kramer’s closure for his lament reads:

“Allowing people to die is evil and genocidal. Yes, I believe in evil. 78 million people have become infected, 39 million have died…”

I may sound melodramatic, so call me “drama queen” if you want.

But if the people supposed to serve us are failing to do so, even if they know they can do something if they really, really want to, then I can’t help but be sad… and angry… and speak out.

Because at this point, I see where Kramer is coming from.

And to his point, let me add: I know what he’s talking about.

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Op-Ed

How to organize a ‘community dialogue’ when you don’t want the community to go…

After the Department of Health (DOH) was criticized for holding a beauty pageant even though it supposedly has limited budget, a rushed “community dialogue” is scheduled, which won’t be surprising if the target community does not participate.

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Photo by Mathew Schwartz from Unsplash.com

Yesterday, I was speaking to a close HIV-positive friend whose Nevirapene supply is already running out. “Giatay (I’ll be damned),” he said, adding that he was told that like a friend of his who is taking the same meds as him, he may have to be shifted to LTE already because THERE IS NO SUPPLY OF NEVIRAPENE.

This is yet another issue that the Department of Health (DOH) should be focusing on, instead of its recently-concluded beauty pageant.

So it should have come as a “pleasant” development that a “community dialogue” is being held with the DOH.

To be honest, I almost feel sad for the Department of Health (DOH). ALMOST.

First, it was criticized for holding that beauty pageant even as it laments that its budget is getting cut. Walang pera, supposedly; but may pang-pageant (There isn’t any money, supposedly; but there’s funding for a beauty pageant)…

On beauty pageants and messed up priorities in dealing with HIV in Phl…

And then now, to respond to the criticisms hurled its way, this “open dialogue” is supposed to happen so that “PLHIVs and other advocates (can) gain better understanding of the plans and programs of the government relating to the HIV situation in the country”.

If you are interested – or, perhaps even more importantly, if you are in the area – this “dialogue” is happening at the 3rd floor of DOH Bldg. 14 in Tayuman in the City of Manila on October 3 (Wednesday) from 3.ooPM to 4.ooPM.

READ:  For us, by us

But while this seems like a “good” effort to appease the critics, let’s be extremely blunt here: This seems like a thanks-but-no-thanks “effort”.

Why so?

Info about this “dialogue” was only posted online 15 hours ago (by 10.10AM of the very day of the gathering).

The info was (solely) shared on Facebook; and so – if you don’t know anyone who saw this post – you won’t even become aware of this gathering.

Even if you forget the rushed organization of this “dialogue”, the people behind this are forgetting that:

  1. Not all PLHIVs or HIV advocates who may want to attend are near the area – e.g. there are those in the Visayas and Mindanao;
  2. Many of those who are adversely affected by existing policies/practices re HIV are NOT even from Metro Manila – e.g. no CD4 count and VL machines in many DOH-accredited hubs in Visayas and Mindanao; and
  3. Even Metro Manila-based PLHIVs have work (or other things to do), and they can’t just drop everything in such short notice.

This really is a no-win situation for the DOH for now. And by extension, a no-win situation for the HIV community in the Philippines.

If the intent is true, it may be best to (among others):

  1. Release a financial statement on the pageant that just happened;
  2. Release DOH’s plan/s re HIV in the Philippines, particularly concerning numerous issues I am sure they already know/repeatedly hear about;
  3. and THEN call for a REAL (and non-rushed) dialogue.
READ:  Recognizing the spiritual needs and gifts of LGBTI people

The life-or-death issues – as already repeatedly stated – are numerous.

ARV shortage/stockout.

DOH-accredited hubs that collect the PhilHealth money even if they do not render the services required of them anyway.

Access to pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) and post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP).

Absence of Filipino Sign Language interpreters who can assist Deaf Filipinos to get tested for HIV; and – if they test HIV-positive – access treatment, care and support.

Exclusion of life-saving meds in the OHAT package (e.g. Cytomegalovirus retinitis/CMV retinitis).

And – as already stated over and over and over again – I can go on and on and on…

That close friend who is, himself, experiencing the running out of ARV is NOT in Metro Manila right now, and he laments this fact. And for him, “kneejerk reactions are fucking up HIV-related responses.”

Earl Monroe once said: “Don’t rush. Be quick, but don’t hurry.”

Now this sure isn’t that…

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