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Op-Ed

Salamat Ondoy!

The devastating visit to the Philippines of bagyong Ondoy was an eye-opening experience, writes Ron de Vera.

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We all have a story to tell about Ondoy and how he changed our lives. This is my story.

I am Ron de Vera. I work for a call center and hold a considerably high position. Until Ondoy, I had aspirations of one day being promoted again so that I can buy another car and finally own a condo unit in the affluent areas of Metro Manila. My worries included managing the balances of my credit cards and choosing which of my three laptops to save a file in. Every now and then I would gripe about what to do with the old car tire in my trunk and how slow my insurance agency took to replace my shattered rear windshield. On the plus side, my friends and family thought highly of me because of my apparent financial success. After all, in the first four years of my career, I was promoted every single year.

Of course, like most other people, I worried about my future and suffered some philosophical woes. What should I consider important? What was my place in society? What was my role? What ideologies should I stand for? I love animals. Should I be an animal advocate? I play volleyball and I swim. Should I be an athlete? I love writing. Should I be a writer? For each dream, I would lay out a master plan that always made sense. But somehow, something would always be off. Something was always missing.

The afternoon that Ondoy ravaged Manila, I was sleeping in my comfy air-conditioned room. Being on the night shift, I had to be asleep during the day. Besides, I was saving my energy for a weekly volleyball game. When I woke up, there was a power outage. The condo’s generator only powered the common areas so I was forced to socialize with my neighbors. At this point, we had no idea that people were drowning or trying their best not to drown. Don’t blame us, we had no access to the news. I was actually quite pissed because I was looking forward to the volleyball game and the bar-hopping date I had arranged with some friends. I was also annoyed by the fact that there was some rain water that got into my bedroom. It was such a mess, I thought. It was at about midnight when they restored electricity. “Oh, thank God!” I remember shouting. But I was still pissed that we had to cancel the volleyball game and the bar-hopping in Malate. I felt like I was the unluckiest person in the world so I just turned up the AC, put a blanket on, and went to sleep.

The morning after was a real wake up call. As I watched the news, a feeling of guilt and sadness crept up my spine. But it wasn’t what I saw and heard on the news that struck a chord. My ex got news that their house in Vista Verde had been submerged; their life’s investment, gone in one day. It was getting closer to me. A friend who lived in De Castro couldn’t go home and get to his mother because the streets were impassable. This was not on the news, this was happening to people around me. Each time I saw an update online about people I actually knew, it just got scarier because it got more real. Finally, when I found out that the brother of a former officemate had died in the flash floods, I broke down in tears. I slept with a heavy heart that night. I donated a large sum of money to Red Cross through SMS but it wasn’t enough to rid my heart of the guilt and knowledge that people were out there suffering while I was in my room complaining about some rain water. I resolved to get up and do something the next day.

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As if on a personal quest, I gathered some friends and set for flood-stricken areas. The intent was to check on people who couldn’t be reached on their mobile phones. In two days and on foot, we found ourselves in Vista Verde, Kingsville, Greenpark, and Bartville. With concerted effort we were able to check on six people and leave food for those who needed it. We also dropped off donations in UP and Ateneo. Through Facebook, I found groups that organized relief efforts. I felt compelled to help. For the entire week, I did volunteer work during the day and went to work at night. But it was not enough, I thought.

My first real experience came when I joined a relief operation in Pandacan. I offered my car because they had volunteers who couldn’t fit in the truck full of relief goods. What I was about to go through was something I never thought would happen to me in my lifetime. I was told that we were going to give out 350 bags but other than that, I had no idea what to expect.

The relief operation was supposed to start with a program to thank donors before actually giving away the bags. But lo and behold, there were definitely more than 350 of them. It was such a large group that it took a lot of time and effort just to get them to settle and to line up. We decided to forego the program. I didn’t count but the fact that there were still people lining up without bags well after we had run out was enough proof that there were more than 350. There were children who had no way of claiming because they had no parents and thus, were not considered residents. There were more than a couple of mothers who had just given birth but couldn’t afford health care so they just gave birth in the shanties that they called home, all of which were gone by the time Ondoy left.

Where were they during the typhoon? Some were on rooftops and some floated around on old car tires. There was no worry about shattered windshields here only worry for their own lives. The little boy I talked to hadn’t eaten for days. But his mind was still full of the cries for help he heard that night. He was crouched on the ledge of the Pandacan multi-purpose gymnasium where he took refuge during the flood. No, he was not there to play volleyball, he was holding on for dear life because he couldn’t swim. He said he heard mothers shouting names of their children in an effort to locate them in the dark. Some were praying aloud and some were just moaning due to hunger. It was haunting to even imagine it. But to my surprise, he told me he was lucky. I couldn’t understand so I asked him to explain. He said “Masuwerte ako. Buti nga wala akong magulang para walang mag-aalala tungkol sa’kin.” I forced a smile, slipped him a packet of biscuits and turned away. I had to because I was holding back my tears.

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That day I got a better understanding of the word poverty. In the days that followed, I was able to define synonyms of the same word. I joined NGO’s in Kasiglahan, Montalban and Sucol, Laguna. In Kasiglahan, we went from house to house to drop off relief goods rather than having them line up. The village had 2 landlines, no electricity, and a lot of mud on the streets. It was like a scene from an old Pinoy movie portraying life in the slums, only this time, it was real. In Sucol, we were invited inside the house of one of the organizers. By this time, I already had a conversation starter. “Mang Domeng, hanggang saan po yung pinakamataas na inabot nung baha?” He then proceeded to gesture towards the highest group of snail eggs on the wall. On his wall were pictures of his children. “Ilan ba ang anak niyo?” I said. “Walo” was his response. “Walo sila tapos kayo pang mag-asawa, kasiya kayo lahat dito?” – “ Oo, may dalawa pa nga kaming aso eh.”

He had no credit cards and probably had never used a laptop but he was a leader to his people. And to their eyes, he was accomplished. My tita explained more as we were walking away. “Lider siya ng unyon kaya hindi na siya makahanap ng trabaho.” Oo, Mahirap lang siya at malamang ay hindi na siya makakahanap pa ng trabaho o mapo-promote pa. May mga bagay sa pagkatao niya na hindi na niya mababago pa. Pero siya, alam niya kung sino siya at kung ano ang pinaglalaban niya. Eh ako, sino nga ba ako? Ano sa pagkatao ko ang hindi ko na mababago pa? Napaisip tuloy ako at napilitang mag balik-tanaw.

NPA ang nanay ko. New People’s Army ang ibig sabihin niyan. Ang hukbo ng mga progresibong mamamayan na ang layunin ay pigilin ang mapang-api at mapang-aliping gubyerno. Dati pa siyang NPA. Nahuli nga siya nung panahon ni Marcos. Human rights victim siya. Kinulong, tinortyur, linapastangan, ginahasa. Oo, ginahasa. Wag kang maawa sa kaniya dahil hindi siya kaawa-awa. Malakas siya at matalino. Maraming kababaihan ang namulat dahil sa mga ginawa niya para sa karapatang pangkababaihan at karapatang pantao. Naging inspirasiyon siya ng marami. Kaya wag kang maawa.

Ang tatay ko naman ay desaparecido. Hindi alam kung patay na o buhay pa. Basta nawawala lang siya. Dinukot siya ng mga militar dahil NPA din siya. Oo, NPA. Wag kang matakot sabihin. Ako nga bata pa ako nung puntahan ko siyang mag-isa sa apartment niya. Hindi siya dumating dahil dinukot na pala siya. Umalis ako sa apartment na mag-isa lang din kahit madilim na. Alam kong may nangyari nang masama sa kaniya. Pero hindi ako natakot. Pagtapos nun ay hindi naging madali ang buhay ko bilang bata. Pinadala pa ako ng nanay ko sa Children’s Rehabilitation Center kung saan namulat ako sa mga karapatang pambata. Mahirap, pero hindi ako natakot. Kaya wag ka ring matakot.

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Ang kuya ko, nakalabas na ng kulungan. Dating siyang preso. Oo, preso. Nabilanggo. Ex-convict. Pero hindi siya NPA. Bata pa siya nun. Nasa states siya. Gang-related ang krimen. Hindi naman siya miyembro nung gang pero kasama siya nung naganap ang krimen. Nasa pangangalaga siya ng umampon sa kaniya. Oo, ampon siya. Inampon siya ng tita ko. Oo, tita ko. Kaya sa mata ng batas, mag-pinsan kami, hindi magkapatid. Magkaiba nga ang apelyido namin eh. Nakakalito ba? Wag ka malito, hindi importante kung anong sinasabi ng batas. Hindi importante kung anong apelyido namin. Ang importante, kuya ang turing ko sa kaniya at nakababatang kapatid ang turing niya sakin dahil iisang babae ang nagpanganak samin. Simple lang yun. Kaya wag ka malito.

Ako naman, bakla. Nasa sayo na kung ang gagamitin mo ay bi, gay, silahis, parlorista, wala akong pakialam. Basta bakla ako. Oo, bakla. Wag kang mahiyang sabihin. Mga salita lang ‘yan. Wag kang mahiya sa’kin dahil hindi importante sa’kin kung aling salita ang piliin mo. Ang importante ay alam mong ganito ako. Ang importante ay malaman mo na walang iisang anyo ang mga bakla. Hindi lahat kami ay kilos babae. Hindi lahat ay parlorista. At lalong hindi lahat kami, kinakahiya ang pagiging bakla. Kaya wag kang mahiya.

Ako si Ronald de Vera. Onald o kaya’y Nald sa iba. Ito ako. Ito ang mga bagay sa pagkatao ko na hindi ko kayang baguhin. Ang napakalaking bahagi nito ay dala ng kung sino ang nanay, tatay, at kuya ko at kung anong pinaglalaban nila. Ngayong may sarili na akong pag-iisip, may sarili na rin akong mga ipaglalaban. Masiyado siguro akong nakatutok sa hinaharap at nakalimutan ko na ang aking nakaraan. Dahil kay Ondoy at sa mga taong tinulungan ko, nahanap ko kung sino ako. Hindi ibig sabihin ay magiging NPA na rin ako. Hindi ibig sabihin ay ipaglalaban ko na ang karapatan ng kababaihan o ng mga bakla. Ang ibig sabihin lang ay alam ko na kung ano ang importante sa buhay ko. Alam ko na kung anong lugar ko sa lipunang ito. Alam ko na kung anong papel ang gagampanan ko sa bawat ideyolohiyang ipaglalaban ko.
Nang dumating si Ondoy, hindi ako nawalan ng mahal sa buhay o nasiraan ng bahay. Nabigyan pa nga ‘ko ng pagkakataong makatulong sa kapwa. Bukod sa lahat, marami akong natutunan tungkol sa buhay at tungkol sa sarili ko.

‘Yan ang dahilan kung bakit pinamagatan ko itong “Salamat Ondoy.”

Lahat tayo may kuwento tungkol kay Ondoy at pano niya binago ang buhay natin. Ito ang kuwento ko.

Ron de Vera left the corporate world sometime in 2010, opting to work for Amnesty International in the Philippines. “I’ve always been interested in fighting for causes close to my heart, so when I helped revive the LGBT group of Amnesty International Philippines, I knew it was just a matter of time before I would be immersed in LGBT activism,” he said. He is now helping organize the LGBT community into a movement. “We need a manifesto. We need united leaders. We need to channel these efforts and turn this activism into a nationwide LGBT movement,” he said. Ron contributes for the mag, writing The Straight Jacket. Ron.deVera@outragemag.com

Op-Ed

Being LGBTQ+ means nothing

Being unaware of and deviant from what that community is intentionally fighting for clearly does not make us a part of it. We have to realize that our identity does not really matter as much as what we actually say, do or stand for.

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Photo by Sharon McCutcheon from Unsplash.com

We’ve heard it all before — a woman who still espouses misogyny, Filipinos who can be insulting towards their own skin color, a devout Christian who has little knowledge about the Bible and the history of Christianity, a gay person who is against the rights of other LGBTQ+ folks. These seemingly self-contradictories show that our identity is nothing but superficiality.

Our identity does not hold the substance of what we’re all about.

Having a certain identity does not follow that we know all there is to understand about it.

More importantly, it does not immediately give us the authority or credibility to speak on behalf of a larger group we supposedly belong to. Otherwise, we only cause much harm and misinformation.

What does a community mean? Fumbling through the dictionary, we would find similar definitions that basically sum up as “a group of people sharing a commonality of interests, attitudes, characteristics, values, goals – even history – and living in a particular location or within a greater area”. Applying this to the so-called LGBTQ+ community, since LGBTQ+ persons obviously do not live in the same quarters or have exactly the same lived experiences (hence the need for the acronym with a plus sign), we need to take only the spirit of the word — that is, a community is a social state of more than skin-deep commonality.

People who label themselves as LGBTQ’s do not see the whole picture if they go against equality and the principle that human rights must be bestowed to all regardless of gender, sexual orientation, race, nationality, physical appearance and so forth. Such people who proclaim they are “part of the LGBTQ+ community but…” are merely disruptive tumors. They are not part of the community but only a part of the problem, which is compounded by ignorance, indifference, hate and discrimination.

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So before we open our mouths and ascribe to some sort of community or identity, let’s be truly certain first that we know what it’s all about. Being unaware of and deviant from what that community is intentionally fighting for clearly does not make us a part of it. We have to realize that our identity does not really matter as much as what we actually say, do or stand for.

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Literary Pieces

Babae. Lesbiyana.

“Babae po ako. Ngunit babae rin ang gusto ko. Pang-lalake man ang kilos at anyo. Sa babae pa rin naman ako nagbabanyo.”

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Photo by Chris Johnson from Unsplash.com

By Chris Salvatierra

Pilit kong iniisip
Kung inisip ko at pinilit
Kung nagbago ba ang ihip
Ng hangin noong ako’y isang paslit

Ang paghanga sa kapwa babae
Ang kilos, lakad at pananalita
Na animo’y lalake
Na nagsimula noong ako’y bata

Tinanong ako kung ako ba’y humanga
Sa mga guwapo at pogi
At ang sagot ko’y oo nga
Pagtangi ay sa babae lagi

Ni minsa’y hindi kinilig
Kahit na noong panahong
Maliit pa ang mga bisig
Suot ay bestida at hindi lontang maong

Matagal na proseso
Matagal na nilihim
Hindi umasenso
Dahil sa sariling paninimdim

Hanggang ako’y namulat
At seryosong nagkagusto
At sinimulang isulat
Nilahad, ipinusta pati pamato

Wala naman kasing nagturo
Naramdaman na lang
Tapos para akong tuliro
Noong ako’y pitong taong gulang

Kaibigan ko siya
Sa ikalawang baitang
Kapag kasama’y masaya
Kapag naka-akbay ay lutang

Marami nang napusuan
Panahon na ang lumipas
Gusto’y babae pa rin naman
Sa pagkatorpe’y walang kupas

Madalas sakin ay tinatanong
Kahit hanggang opisina
Siguro sila’y hilong talilong
Kung Ma’am o Sir ang itatawag twina

Babae po ako
Ngunit babae rin ang gusto ko
Pang-lalake man ang kilos at anyo
Sa babae pa rin naman ako nagbabanyo

Lesbiyana kung ako’y tawagin
Tomboy sa kanto namin
Ate sa kapatid ko
Tita sa mga pamangkin ko

Eto ang aking SOGIE
Lesbiyana – Sexual Orientation
Babae – Gender Identity
Butch/masculine – Gender Expression

Hindi napipilit ang puso
Kusang tumitibok sa ritmo
Hindi ito parang damit na nakiki-uso
Hindi sinisino kahit amo

Masarap sanang maging malaya magmahal
Malaya sa mga matang mapanghusga
Malimit pang nasasabihan ng hangal
Madalas pang tumanggap ng pang-aalipusta

Pantay-pantay na karapatan
Dinggin sana ang aming hiling
Hindi espesyal ang aming panawagan
Sugat ng diskriminasyo’y laging nasasaling

Lungkot ay aking ramdam
Kapag hindi niyo maintidihan
Sana hindi niyo maranasan
Ang araw-araw naming pinagdadaanan

Kapag maganda o guwapo sa paningin
Sayang ang palaging sinasabi sa amin
Pero bakit sayang ang sasabihin?
Ano bang nasayang sa amin?

Isa po akong babae
Mahigit apat na pung taong gulang na
Mukha lang pong lalake
Isa pong lesbiyana

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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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