The Metropolitan Community Church – Quezon City (MCCQC) organized a gathering, dubbed Affirming Party, slated on April 8 for GLBTQIA activists who were at (and driven away from) the fourth regional conference of the Asia chapter of the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex Association (ILGA) in Indonesia.
Earlier, on March 26 in Surabaya, Indonesia, an estimated 50 to 60 members of hardline Indonesian Islamic groups staked out not just the hotel where the participants were staying at, but also the conference venue (Mercure Hotel) to force the participants to leave their accommodation and, thereby, cancel the event. To what is shameful for Indonesia, conservative intolerance triumphed over respect for diversity – ILGA’s gathering was cancelled, and not without drama, with the participants literally chased out of the country.
The April 8 gathering was, in MCCQC’s Rev. Ceejay Agbayani’s words, an “affirmation of our fellow GLBTQIA Filipino activists on their quest for equality and justice.”
To drum up participation, for MCCQC, aside from word-of-mouth, a main mode of information dissemination was through the Internet. Even sans the availability of disposable budget, “the Internet (allows) us to tap (as wide a market as possible),” Agbayani says. The effort boosted by “coordination through SMS messages” made the gathering a “success, exceeding our expectations (as over 60 people attended – in Facebook, only 50 people confirmed attendance).”
That, then, stresses the power of New Media.
And so the GLBTQIA advocacy gets an upgrade.
Outrage Magazine, as the only Web-based publication catering to GLBTQIAs in the Philippines, may well be an ideal study on the utilization of New Media – dominated by the Internet – in reaching target (in this case, i.e. GLBTQIA) markets. According to publisher cum “editor on the loose” Michael David C. Tan, getting an A4-sized magazine of from 60 or more pages printed could easily cost well over P100,000 just for a thousand or so copies – and this does not yet include the money to be allocated for the salary of people involved in the publication (e.g. editors, writer, graphics, administrative staff, et cetera), costs to run the office (e.g. space rental, allotments for utilities, et cetera), and other costs associated with the production of traditional media.
Going online made the move realistic, Tan says – something he stresses is “great because, in the Philippines, GLBTQIAs remain under-represented, (and) we only actually make the (mainstream) news when something (bad) can be said about the group, e.g. when gays are found dead, supposedly killed by sex workers who were not paid properly; when there are raids of cinemas, supposedly because of the ‘immoral’ acts of its gay patrons; et cetera.”
Tan adds: “Outrage Magazine in this sense is a media by and for GLBTQIAs,” he said, adding that “other markets on top of these are, of course, just as welcome.”
It helps, too, that this representation is immediate.
On this, the experience of Sass Rogando Sasot of the Society of Transsexual Women of the Philippines (STRAP) on May 24, 2008 is worth a mention. Visiting Ice Vodka Bar in Greenbelt 3 in Ayala Center, Makati City, she (with other members of STRAP) was refused entry because – put succinctly – she’s a transgender (TGs are often described as “dressed inappropriately”).
In a letter that went viral virtually starting 6.04 A.M. of the next day, May 25, Sasot made the world knew what happened to her – she wrote: “This may not be the proper forum to raise this concern. But is there any reliable legal forum to address this issue? Reality check: There is no antidiscrimination law in this country. And if you’re discriminated, there seems to be a notion that you’re supposed to blame yourself for bringing such an unfortunate event to yourself. So, I’d just stand up through this open letter.”
With other advocates picking up the story, the responses soon followed – first, from Ice Vodka Bar itself, which apologized to Sasot; from Dennis Galimba, operations engineer of Ayala Property Management Corporation, who raised the issue to the Ayala Group of Companies; et cetera.
What the Constitution states (equality for all) but the law enforcers fail to implement, the Internet (somehow) helped to (at least) stress, thereby press for actions to be taken. IMMEDIATELY.
In the US, according to queerty.com in The Gay Revolution Will Be Twittered, while social networks site “Twitter was originally designed to allow people to give short status update, essentially answering the question: ‘What are you doing now?’, in practice, the service has become much more, especially when it comes to news. The immediacy of Twitter, coupled with its ability to deliver messages to a phone or Web-client, means that breaking news is even more, to coin a Colbert-ism, ‘breakier.’”
That people now actively participate in breaking the news adds to the empowerment, as Sasot shows.
For GLBTQIAs, nonetheless, with Twitter (and the Net, as a whole) becoming integrated into daily lives, or at least the lives of the hyper-wired, such social networks have become “not only a source of news, but a way for communities to connect,” states queerty.com. And this way, too – this “community aspect” – has special significance for GLBTQIAs.
During the Holy Week of 2010 – nowadays often seen as a season for decadent holidaying, NOT necessarily church-going – Jethro Cuenca Patalinghug organized the Take the Test, a campaign that wanted to trigger MSMs in Puerto Galera (a popular venue frequented by MSMs from Metro Manila, among others) to get themselves tested for STIs, including HIV and/or AIDS.
It was a “very personal endeavor (for me),” Patalinghug says, considering that “I have lived with HIV positive individuals for years and I saw the kind of emotional struggle that they had to face on a day-to-day basis – I have friends who have either died or are still alive, and yet are suffering from the stigma of HIV and AIDS.”
Due to “our promotion in the Net, there were a lot who expressed (their intent) to partake of the activity/test – in fact, we were able to educate around 200 participants during our activity, 30% of (that number taking) the test.”
Patalinghug believes that “the Net should play a primary role in pushing for GLBTQIA issues. It is the medium that people choose to rely on because participation can be personal and easy; (and) information dissemination is clearly fastest on the Net and I think GLBTQIAs (can do so much with) these potentials. We should definitely exhaust it (the Net).”
Again in the US, Ruth Schneider, writing How Social media is Changing Gay Activism for 365.com, tells the story of Greg Porter, who, as a reaction to one Ricky Joaquin, who tweeted “because we don’t want your fag blood,” wrote in a blog his stance on the “circle of bigotry.” That blog entry was, subsequently, re-tweeted, so that Porter himself has lost count the number of times his views have been accessed and, yes, shared by (generally) like-minded people, people within the GLBTQIA community.
“Between blogs, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, activists are using the power of social media to increase the reach of their advocacy messages,” Schneider states, adding, this time quoting Sree Sreenivasan, a dean at Columbia University’s School of Journalism, that “social media has had a tremendous impact on all advocacy, for better or worse.”
Outrage Magazine’s Tan agrees. “We knew – and subsequently interviewed – Jude Bacalso of Cebu City because of (our social network) connections, giving the GLBTQIA community in the Queen City of the South some voice somehow. Through trails found online, we have been able to develop stories, therefore give information on existing GLBTQIA groups in the Philippines (e.g. Batangas-based Beavers, photography enthusiast KonZepto Productions) – a veritable guide for GLBTQIA Filipinos looking for groups to belong to. Our establishing of contacts, too, is helping existing networks get in touch with each other (to, hopefully, build) a stronger presence (as a unified entity),” Tan says. “The world has, indeed, become smaller.”
Hired by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force in the US, Sarah Kennedy, as the interactive media coordinator, is responsible for exchanging tweets daily (with the more than 3,000 followers of the task force’s Twitter account), as well as upload content on the group’s Facebook account (with more than 8,000 Facebook friends). “I believe that is the number one key to social media. That it is social,” she was quoted as saying by queerty.com. After all, if, in the past, “organizations have sent out newsletters to inform them about their work, now there are tweets, posts, blogs and videos to spread the message. And before GLBTQIA groups had social media, there wasn’t always that level of information.”
Tan, though, is first to acknowledge that “we have yet to fully tapped the benefits of New Media – in fact, we have barely scratched the surface, as the cliché goes,” he says.
On January 12, Haiti was ravaged by a 7.0 Mw earthquake on January 12 – and it took relief organizations only five days to collect $11 million through SMS-sent donations (the donations grew further, so that since then, the American Red Cross alone had collected more than $25 million through $10 text donations). And while “the Philippines may have been dubbed as the ‘Texting Capital of the World,’ texting has, thus far, been largely limited to the personal in the country,” Tan says.
Tan believes that, outside of text votes that cost texters from P2.50 per text in support of wannabe celebrities in popularity competitions, “if we could instead raise the money for worthy causes – noting that there are an estimated 400 million text messages sent in the country per day – we can change this country’s direction.”
At least Patalinghug has already somehow tapped this potential.
It took Patalinghug, who also spearheaded the I AM NOT IMMORAL video campaign in response to the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) branding GLBTQIAs as immoral (its ground for non-inclusion of GLBTQIA group Ang Ladlad in the partylist system), “less than a month to organize everything,” he says. “We had to gather all the resources and information needed to conduct a (proper) HIV rapid screening, equipped with all the necessary pre- and post test counseling (as required by the law). In other words we had to tap government institutions, such as the National Epidemiology Center or NEC from Department of Health (DOH), Social Hygiene Clinic Manila, Positive Action Foundation Philippines Inc. (PAFPI), and the Global Fund (in a short period of time).”
While the DOH provided some funding, “we had to turn to our friends in the Net, specifically Facebook, and we were able to gather enough funds that covered our (expenses) in Puerto Galera.”
Everything is, obviously, getting integrated – Google Chrome, as an example, attempts to unify all the applications needed online, from email to chatlines to Facebook-like functionalities to YouTube-like tasks. Technology is far from perfect – yet – but “perfectly functional or not, it can already be used for advocacies in ways never done before,” Tan says.
But whether it’s through high-tech strategies or low-tech tools, Sreenivasan is (for now) somewhat cautious. “It’s all about having a plan about new technology rather than jumping down rabbit holes,” he says. “You have to do everything you did before. This is something you need to add into the mix.”
MCCQC’s April 8 Affirming Party was not the first – nor will it be the last – event that the group will mainly promote through New Media. Says Agbayani: “We have been using the Internet even before Facebook,” citing, specifically, the now defunct Guys4Men.com, a social networking site geared towards MSMs, which allowed the group to “pagpapalaganap ng (widely spread) information and invitations (of our events).”
Agbayani, nonetheless, believes that any of the New Media follows much of the same “given” of old practices. “First, (dapat) maganda ang event mo. Malaking add-on ‘yan (First, you should have a worthy event. That’s a big plus),” he says.
“Pangalawa, dapat matiyaga ka talagang mag-promote sa iyong event – mag-message sa inbox nila, mag-personal message sa lahat na nag-confirm, et cetera (Secondly, you should be persistent in promoting your event – send messages to everyone, follow-up those who confirmed, et cetera).”
And thirdly, “make sure sa event, hindi gutom ang tao – may laps dapat lagi [make sure participants do not go hungry – there should always be food (to ensure you look after your guests)].”
All the same, the game, in a manner of speaking, has changed. “Malaki ang role ng New Media (in pushing advocacies to the fore) – maramihan kasi ang naabot niya; lahat na kasi yata ng tao ay involved sa New Media (The role of New Media in pushing advocacies to the fore is substantial – it has wider reach; just about everyone is in it),” Agbayani says.
And with this understanding, MCCQC, among others, enters a braver new world.
The future has truly started.
Behind the bars on LGBTQIA life in prison
In the Philippines, it remains hard to monitor wrongful accusations (and eventual wrongful convictions); much more on how badly this affects members of the LGBTQIA community. Outrage Magazine interviews a gay man who experienced this, and what he went through as a minor behind bars.
It was a tiring day for then-16-year-old Harry (not his real name). He just got home from two consecutive weddings, and so – right after arriving at their house in San Jose City in Nueva Ecija – he asked his mother if he could skip school to just rest.
Harry’s mother indulged him; but she also asked Harry to look after a younger sibling as she had to do some errands. On her way out, Harry saw his mother speak to the nine-year-old son of their neighbor outside their house; he said he was just wandering to catch a dragonfly.
With his mother gone, and before getting some sleep, Harry decided to harvest some mangoes from the tree beside their house. And while atop the tree, he noticed that the nine-year-old boy was no longer in the street. After getting down from the tree, he went inside their house, locked the door, and then slept.
It seemed that only a few minutes passed, but Harry was woken by knocking on their front door. He got up to open the door; it was the nine-year-old boy’s mother, asking about the clothes Harry wore to one of the weddings that day. When Harry moved to go inside the room to get the pants he wore, the nine-year-old boy surfaced from inside the room.
“Anong ginagawa mo diyan (What are you doing there)?” the mother asked her son, flabbergasted.
He said “tinitingnan ko lang ‘yung kapatid ni Harry (I was just looking at the younger brother of Harry).”
Harry joined the conversation, saying he didn’t know that the boy was even inside.
The boy’s family went straight to the police station, accusing Harry of child molestation. Harry was eventually taken into custody.
Though he was only 16 then, Harry was detained at the lock-up facility of the Philippine National Police (PNP). This is – by itself – a violation of Republic Act 9344 or the Juvenile Justice Law of 2006, which sets the minimum age of criminal liability at 15 years old. This means that those between 15 to 18 years old (and Harry was 16 when the alleged rape happened) may be detained in youth centers and go through rehabilitation programs, while those under 15 years old are exempted from criminal liability and undergo intervention.
After a month with the PNP, Harry was transferred to the custody of the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP), an agency of the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), mandated to direct, supervise and control the administration and operation of all jails in the Philippines.
Here’s a sobering fact: the incarceration rate of lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) people is up to three times than that of the general population. Sexual minorities (or people who self-identify as LGB and people who do not identify as LGB but reported a same-sex sexual experience) comprise: 9.3% of men in prison, 6.2% of men in jail, 42.1% of women in prison, and 35.7% of women in jail.
Note: As is often used, “jails” are facilities that hold inmates awaiting trial or serving short sentences, while “prisons” are facilities for those serving their (often longer) sentences.
Now this is worth stressing: Even if this has already been (partly) studied overseas, this continues to be largely ignored in the Philippine context.
One study – “Incarceration Rates and Traits of Sexual Minorities in the United States: National Inmate Survey, 2011–2012″, co-authored by Ilan H. Meyer, PhD, Andrew R. Flores, PhD, Lara Stemple, JD, Adam P. Romero, JD, Bianca D.M. Wilson, PhD, and Jody L. Herman, PhD and published in the American Journal of Public Health – found that sexual minorities are not only incarcerated at disproportionately high rates, but that once incarcerated, they are more likely to experience mistreatment, harsh punishment and sexual victimization.
A LIFE IN FEAR
“Nung first time kong pumasok sa loob ng selda, binuhusan ako ng isang pulis ng tubig habang natutulog pa ako (The first day I got detained, a police officer splashed water on me while I was sleeping),” Harry recalled. Dazed and confused, and not knowing who the person was (because she was not wearing uniform), “tinanong ko siya kung naka-detain din ba siya; hindi ko alam na pulis siya. Nalaman ko lang nung bigla niyang pinakuha yung batuta niya (I asked if she was also a detainee; I had no idea she was a police officer. The moment she asked for her club/cudgel, everything just came to me).”
There was a time when Harry was almost transferred to Boystown (a facility for offending minors), but his mother pleaded for this not to be done since he would then be too far from home and she would be unable to visit him regularly. And because he did not entirely understand what was being discussed, all Harry said he could do was cry, “too scared of everything.”
Bullying/getting maltreated was a “norm” particularly for those who just enter prison.
In Harry’s case, he was beaten – an act, he was told, was “a way to welcome new inmates.”
“Ano yung ginagawa ng mga jail officers? Wala lang din. Wala silang ginagawa kasi minsan parang sila na din yung nagsasabi o nagbibigay ng memo na i-welcome yung mga bagong inmates (The jail officers are not acknowledging this issue. They are not doing anything about it because there are times when they, themselves, are the ones who give orders to welcome new inmates in that way),” Harry said.
Inside the jail, minors are supposed to be separated from the adult inmates. But this policy is also amendable, depending on the whims of the warden. In their case, an inmate who was also a minor tried to escape because he wanted to celebrate his birthday outside the prison, but “after that incident, the (minors were already treated as adult inmates), included with the adult prisoners.”
Men and women have separate sections; but transgender women are mixed with men.
“Wala silang sariling lugar doon sa kulungan. Isinasama sila sa mga lalaki kasi para sa mga tao doon, lalaki pa din sila (There’s no designated place for them. The jail officers still see/treat them as men),” Harry said.
Also as big as a risk for new inmates like Harry was getting raped.
“Meron talagang rape na nangyayari sa loob. Lalo na sa mga bagong pasok. Yun din minsan ang parang pinaka-welcome ng mga inmates na lalaki sa mga inmates na bakla. Kahit ayaw mo, talagang pipilitin at pipilitin ka (It is undeniable that rape occurs inside the jail. They specially do it to the newcomers. This is how straight inmates would welcome gay people in their cell. Even if you don’t want to, you will be forced)” Harry recalled.
Harry was not exempted from this experience because, “sabihin ko man na ayaw ko, hindi pa din sila pumapayag na huwag kong gawin. Pag sinabi ng isang inmate na gawin namin, wala na lang din akong magawa kundi sumunod na lang (Even though I didn’t want to, I would never have a choice. If a straight inmate asked for it, you just have to obey them),” Harry said. “Na-experience ko yun as a welcome sa akin nung pagpunta ko don (I experienced it as a welcome greeting when I first got there).”
At 16, Harry was raped in jail by a 23-year-old.
“Pag na-gustuhan ka nila, may mga grupo don tapos lalapitan ka nila. Papapasukin ka nila sa lugar nila tapos gagalawin ka nila. Mapapasunod ka na lang kesa masaktan ka (If you caught their interest, groups of boys would approach you and ask you to join them in their cell to rape you. You won’t have any other choice because if you refuse, they will hurt you),” he said.
This maltreatment, by the way, is not exclusive to members of the LGBT community in jail/prison, since “there, no matter what your gender is, they will hurt you if they wanted to.”
Though these may – no doubt – be known to those running the country’s jails/prisons, Harry said that they didn’t have access to any contraceptives and/or protection while inside the jail/prison.
“Hindi sila nakakapag-provide ng ganun. Kahit minsan nasusubukan namin magkaroon ng sakit, hindi din kami nabibigyan ng kahit anong gamot. Itinatawag lang namin sa mga magulang namin yung mga ganun (They can’t provide things like that. Even at times when we were sick, no medicines were made available to us. We still rely on our relatives outside),” he said, adding: “Saka pa lang nagkakaroon ng aksyon pag parang mamamatay na yung tao (They only really act when someone is already really close to dying.)”
There was a point in time when Harry said he almost gave up. But he kept telling himself that “hindi yun ang panahon na dapat akong mawalan ng pag-asa dahil naniniwala ako noon na darating at darating yung oras na malalaman talaga kung ano yung totoo (That was not the time for me to just give up. I had faith that the truth will come out),” Harry said.
Much has already been said about prison management in the Philippines.
To start, and as noted by the Human Rights Watch (HRW), critical and chronic overcrowding has long been a perennial topic when discussing the country’s jail facilities. BJMP runs 415 detention facilities in 17 regions, and on average, its jailhouses report 380% overcapacity. In Metro Manila alone, the BJMP’s total cell area of 22,318 square meters, designed for 4,749 detainees; but it currently holds 21,868 detainees (a congestion rate of 361%).
The surprising – and somewhat senseless – thing worth noting here is that between 85% and 90% of the more than 94,000 inmates in the custody of BJMP are awaiting or undergoing trial.
“This makes the Philippines the Southeast Asian country with the highest number of pretrial and remand detainees and the second highest in all of Asia. Prolonged detention without charge or trial violates international human rights instruments, including Article 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which the Philippines ratified in 1986. Moreover, it ‘shall not be the general rule that persons awaiting trial shall be detained in custody,’ but rather released with guarantees of appearing for trial,” HRW stated.
HRW also noted that “the injustice of lengthy detention is compounded by the horrific conditions of the jail facilities (with) many detention centers in the Philippines failing to meet the minimum United Nations standards for such facilities, including inadequate amounts of food, poor nutrition, and unsanitary conditions.”
And yes, “torture and other forms of ill-treatment are also common,” HRW similarly noted.
Inside jail, fighting for oneself was never really an option, Harry said, because the inmates could just – eventually – get back to you for fighting back. Giving in to just go with the flow was the attitude being in jail teaches inmates.
Though one time, Harry said he tried to fight for his basic human right of… simply existing and being treated more humanely.
One time, he recalled, a lady jail officer started pushing his chest with her fist and kept asking him if it hurts. It reached a point where the officer was already pointing a knife at him.
“Sabi ko sa kanya, hindi rin ako papayag na gaganunin niya ako. Bilang isang inmate, itrato din naman sana kami na parang tao dahil hindi naman kami iba sa kanila. Kasi sabi ko wala naman kaming ginagawang masama sa kanila. Tapos sabi ko pwede ko silang ireklamo sa ginagawa nilang ‘yun (I told her that I won’t let her do that to me. I may be an inmate, but I am also a person just like her. I told her that I did not do anything wrong to deserve the way she is treating me. I also told her that I could file a complaint on how she is treating me),” he said.
That – fortunately for Harry – silenced and prevented her from doing more harm.
It was while in jail that Harry finished high school under the Alternative Learning System (ALS) program offered there.
ALS is a practical option for learning in the Philippines, offering education to those who could not usually attend and access the formal type of schooling.
It was also while in jail when Harry first found love.
Harry met another minor, and “we became BFs.”
Prisoners who are in relationships and want to have sex may ask for permission from the jail officers who then give them space to do so. “Pwedeng-pwede lalo na pag LGBT ka; pero pag babae at lalaki, medyo mahirap kasi inmate na lalaki at inmate na babae, bawal ‘yun (ipagsama) (The officers are very open to that matter specially if you are a part of the LGBT community. But if the sexual intercourse is going to be between a man and a woman, they don’t allow it).”
Their relationship lasted for a year and three months.
THE WRONGLY ACCUSED
While in jail, Harry was repeatedly told that he would be transferred to “The Mansion” (how inmates called New Bilibid Prison, located in Muntinlupa as the main insular penitentiary designed to house the prison population of the Philippines). He was scared; and he was feeling bad, though not just for himself but also his mother who – even if she just gave birth – continued to regularly visit him.
And then one day, his lawyer – while on a visit – just handed him his already-signed release paper.
“Bigla po akong na-congratulate ng attorney ko dahil nai-panalo ko daw yung kaso ko (My lawyer congratulated me because we won the case),” Harry said.
Relieved, he said he just wanted to have a life outside.
It is worth noting that Harry’s case is not exactly rare. And the warning bells have long been ringing.
In 2004, Free Legal Assistance Group (an NGO that provides legal assistance mainly for human rights cases) conducted a survey of death convicts in the Philippines, and it found “significant figures that could indicate a high judicial error rate”. The survey showed that 73.9% of the convicts were arrested without a warrant, 78.3% were not informed of their constitutional rights at the time of arrest, and – get this! – 90% were not assisted by counsel during police investigation and interrogation.
Perhaps it is also worth noting that 52.2% of the convicts belong to the lowest socioeconomic class.
In 2014, Innocence Project (a litigation and public policy organization composed of human rights advocates in Ateneo, UP Law School and De La Salle University College of Law, headed by Jose Manuel “Chel” Diokno) revealed that some 400 prisoners were wrongfully convicted by the court; most are charged with rape.
And in 2017, the Philippine Daily Inquirer reported of the Supreme Court’s admission that seven in 10 death penalty convictions in 1993-2004 by the lower courts, submitted for automatic review, were wrongly judged. Also, during trials, 59% of the suspects were represented by lawyers from the Public Attorney’s Office, but 54.1% did not have regular consultations with their trial lawyers, and 10.2% never even had a consultation.
So in 2017, during the 17th Congress, former Sultan Kudarat Rep. Horacio Suansing Jr. and Nueva Ecija Rep. Estrellita Suansing filed House Bill 5582 to create a commission mandated to review all cases in which an innocent person was convicted; identify the causes of wrongful convictions; and identify current laws, rules and procedures implicated in each identified cause of wrongful convictions. This is because, the politicians noted, “at present, there is no government entity in our country charged with conducting the independent expert review of wrongful convictions necessary to identify the primary and potential causes of wrongful convictions.”
The same bill was actually originally filed by the late Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago during the 14th Congress and refiled during the 16th Congress. It failed to pass the 17th Congress.
Suffice it to say, in a country like the Philippines, it remains extremely hard to monitor wrongful accusations (as in the case of Harry) and eventual wrongful convictions; much more on how badly this affects members of the LGBTQIA community. And then – yes – add to this the extra layer of hardships experienced by members of the LGBTQIA community if/when they are sent to jail/prison, some of them experienced by Harry, solely because of their sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression.
THE WORLD OUTSIDE
Upon his release from jail, Harry’s first stop was his brother’s house, where they accused him of escaping. “They only believed me when I showed them the release paper,” he recalled.
Not surprisingly, the complainants weren’t too happy that Harry was released. And this was even if other stories emerged – e.g. that the family of the complainant just paid the medical exam to release a report that stated that the boy was raped; that when the nine- year-old boy was interviewed, he actually denied that he was raped; and that the complainant demanded P30,000 from his family in exchange for his freedom.
Harry was also told that if he wants to turn the tables on them and file a case against his complainants, it would be a very strong lawsuit.
But not that Harry even cared at that point in time. “Pinabayaan ko na lang. Hindi ko inisip na maghiganti pa sa kanila (I moved on. Revenge is not what I wanted),” Harry said.
Harry’s relationship with his fellow minor inmate also did not prosper.
The BF is also already out of jail, Harry said, and he’s already married (to a woman). “Wala naman akong magawa kundi maging masaya na lang para sa kaniya. Pero magkaibigan kami ngayon (There’s nothing I can do but be happy for him. We’re still friends though),” Harry said.
As a freed man since 2016, Harry eventually found a job working for a local government official.
“Sa totoo lang, mahirap talaga ang buhay sa loob ng kulungan kapag kayo ay papasok so kailangan talaga na mag-ingat kayo na wag gumawa ng kasalanan (My advice to the LGBT people is for them to watch their actions because it is very hard to live behind the bars),” Harry said.
And to the incarcerated: “Sana mag-ingat na lang din sila kasi kailangan din nilang maipagtanggol yung sarili nila sa lahat ng maling gawain doon sa loob (To those who are inside, they should take care and learn to fight for themselves from every wrong thing that is happening inside).”
Civil partnership bill refiled in 18th Congress
Under House Bill 2264, all benefits and protections granted to spouses in marriage under existing laws, administrative orders, court rulings, or those derived as a matter of public policy would also be enjoyed by civil partnership couples.
Separate but equal.
A bill proposing to allow couples to enter into a civil partnership, whether they are of the opposite or of the same sex, has been filed by former Speaker and Davao del Norte 1st District Rep. Pantaleon Alvarez in the 18th Congress.
Under House Bill 2264, all benefits and protections granted to spouses in marriage under existing laws, administrative orders, court rulings, or those derived as a matter of public policy would also be enjoyed by civil partnership couples.
At the same time, laws on marital relations, including donations by reason of marriage, legal separation, adoption, child custody and support, property division and maintenance, and spousal support, will also apply to civil partnership couples.
In refiling the civil partnership bill, Alvarez stressed the right of all Filipinos to equal protection under the law and to freely associate themselves with others.
“This bill… hereby proposes to allow couples to enter into a civil partnership, whether they are of the opposite or of the same sex,” he said. “It aims to be a landmark effort to provide civil rights, benefits, and responsibilities to couples, previously unable to marry, by giving them due recognition and protection from the State.”
Alvarez filed the same bill in the 17th Congress, where it failed to get pass the deliberations of its mother committee.
But at that time, Atty. Clara Rita Padilla, executive director of EnGendeRights Inc., a human rights organization that fights against discrimination of women and LGBTQI people, said that Philippine law should uphold the basic human rights of everyone regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, and expression (SOGIE).
“LGBTQI people enjoy the same rights to equality and non-discrimination as all Filipino citizens, thus, our laws should afford LGBTQI people the same rights as heterosexuals. The right to marry is a basic human right that everyone should enjoy – heterosexuals and LGBTQI people alike. It is guaranteed by our constitutional rights to equality, equal protection of the law, privacy, religion and belief,” Padilla said.
Presently, LGBTQI couples are denied the benefits enjoyed by heterosexuals, such as the right to jointly adopt children, own conjugal properties, intestate succession, immigration, avail of tax exemption, and avail of benefits related to insurance, social security, medical, hospitalization, next-of-kin, burial, among others. These benefits have long been enjoyed by married heterosexual couples simply because they are heterosexuals.
In a 2018 Social Weather Stations (SWS) survey – done via face-to-face interviews from March 23 to 27, and which asked 1,200 respondents across the country whether or not they agree with the statement “there should be a law that will allow the civil union of two men or two women” – at least 61% of the respondents said they would oppose a bill that would legalize this in the country. Among them, 44% said they strongly disagree, while 17% said they somewhat disagree. Meanwhile, 22% said they would support it, while 16% said they were still “undecided,”
But according to Pres. Rodrigo Duterte’s spokesperson at that time, Harry Roque, the President is said to support civil unions but not same-sex marriage (https://outragemag.com/duterte-backs-civil-unions-not-same-sex-marriage-spox-roque/).
Empowering barangays to empower LGBTQIA Filipinos
Many LGBTQIA people encounter abuse from family and community members, and yet have no one in the community to turn to. But Ging Cristobal of OutRight Action International believes that there are ways to address existing barriers.
Thirty-one year-old Jelay (not her real name), a trans woman from Zamboanga del Norte, southern Philippines, was sexually violated by her uncle when she was still a child. But when she raised this issue to family members, the community and then the law enforcers, she was not taken seriously; her experience oh-so-easily discredited, and this largely stemmed from her gender non-conformity.
According to Ging Cristobal of OutRight Action International – noting the experience of LGBTQIA people like Jelay – “the traumatizing nature of (LGBTQIA) domestic violence prolonged through an absence of culturally competent interventions, judicial recourse, legal aid and psychotherapy supports, points to its key role in underpinning a broader experience of social marginalization and stigmatization for (LGBTQIA) persons.”
This is what led to OutRight Action International and EnGendeRights Inc. to embark – starting March 2016 – on a project, “Enhancing Domestic Violence and Family Violence (DV/FV) Protections for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Intersex (LGBTI) People in the Philippines”. The intent was to address barriers to domestic and family violence protections by service providers by providing sensitive, appropriate and respectful intervention, service and support.
“(We wanted) to help members of the (LGBTQIA) community have access to inclusive, free medical, legal and mental health service from barangays that are considered the first responders when they experience violence, abuse and discrimination,” Cristobal said to Outrage Magazine.
VIOLENCE IN THE HEARTLAND
From 2010-2012, OutRight Action International partnered with organizations in the Philippines, Malaysia, Japan, Pakistan and Sri Lanka to document experiences of violence among lesbian, bisexual and transgender (LBT) people in a five-country LBT Violence in Asia project.
“Our findings revealed that domestic violence — including from both family members and intimate partners — is consistently the most common form of violence experienced by lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people in the Philippines,” Cristobal noted.
Many of those interviewed, including Jelay, highlighted the “haunting” nature of the sexual violence experienced… as a result of gender non-conformity.
This underscores the importance of designing strategies to “complement existing and emerging domestic violence intervention efforts,” Cristobal said; and this is where OutRight Action International and EnGendeRights Inc. entered the picture.
EMPOWERING THE GRASSROOTS
From March 2016 to 2018, for the first phase of the project, 187 barangay personnel have been trained from 72 barangays from the six districts of Quezon City (where the project was eventually started). Out of these, 65 trained trainers conducted echo trainings and 1,165 people were reached through the six district level community forums to mainstream LGBT DV/FV issues.
A DV/FV Protocol for LGBT services was also launched and disseminated; this explains procedures for case handling, obligations of barangays under Philippines national law on gender violence, and obligations under Quezon City’s Gender Fair Ordinance.
And because of the project, the first-ever barangay intake form for handling DV/FV complaints/reports was developed at the local level; for the first time, it encourages a complainant to comfortably signify one’s sexual orientation and preferred gender.
AN ONGOING CONCERN
The project already rolled out phase two, where the intention is to “continue to increase the awareness and skills of barangay officials and service providers in SOGIESC-sensitive interventions for domestic and family violence of LGBT people,” Cristobal said.
Other goals include: to continue to strengthen the knowledge and skills around SOGIESC-specific DV/FV of service providers, government officials and community leaders; improve the psychosocial support for trained service providers who are working with LGBTI victim-survivors of DV/FV; assist barangays to improve access of LGBTI people seeking help services related to DV and FV; develop strengthened legal protections and resource allocation for LGBT victims of violence; and eventually replicate the Quezon City LGBTI-inclusive barangay model to Muntinlupa City and other cities in the Philippines.
There remain ongoing/continuing challenges, Cristobal admitted.
For instance, barangays change their Gender and Development (GAD) and Violence Against Women (VAW) desk officers regularly.
But solutions have also been developed – i.e. in the above case, “we drafted the protocol on how to address DV/FV experienced by LGBTI persons so that the new barangay staff will be able to read, learn and apply SOGIE-sensitive intervention.” Now, too, the city GAD council will be the one to ensure that GAD and VAW service providers in barangays are and will always be LGBTI-inclusive.
Yet another issue is politicking, since “some barangay officials who are not supportive of the present mayor makes it hard for LGBTI and barangay staff to join the project.” To deal with this, “and while our project is supported by (current Quezon City Mayor Joy Belmonte), we do not discriminate who should join just as long as the LGBTI person, GAD and VAW desk officer is willing to provide quality service to LGBTI people in their community.”
Because in the end, the goal for service providers to serve all the people… meaning, including LGBTQIA people, too.
For cities and municipalities interested to replicate the LGBTI-inclusive barangay model, contact Ging Cristobal at firstname.lastname@example.org or (+63 9175570405).
Phl votes for LGBTQIA rights at UN Human Rights Council
The UNHRC adopted a resolution to renew the mandate of the Independent Expert focusing on the protection against violence and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
The United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) adopted a resolution to renew the mandate of the Independent Expert focusing on the protection against violence and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI).
The resolution was adopted by a vote of 27 in favor, with 12 voting against and seven abstentions.
Now this is worth highlighting: The Philippines voted in favor of the resolution.
The Philippines’ UN voting history vis-à-vis LGBTQIA people has been inconsistent. In 2016, when the UNHRC adopted the resolution on “protection against violence and discrimination based on SOGI (which created the post for the Independent Expert), the Philippines abstained from voting for the resolution. It was then under the presidency of Benign Aquino III.
Also to date, the country still does not have a national anti-discrimination policy protecting the human rights of LGBTQIA Filipinos, even if various versions of the anti-discrimination bill (ADB) have been filed in the Upper and Lower Houses of Congress for 20 years now. In 2017, during the last – 17th – Congress, it passed the House of Representatives; but its counterpart version in the Senate failed to gain traction.
Created in 2016, the UN Independent Expert on SOGI has been supported by a growing number of States from all over the world. This new resolution to create and renew the mandate was presented by a Core Group of seven Latin American countries – Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Mexico and Uruguay.
The UN Independent Expert on SOGI is tasked with assessing implementation of existing international human rights law, by talking to States, and working collaboratively with other UN and regional mechanisms to address violence and discrimination. Through the work of this mandate since 2016, the impact of criminalization of same-sex relations and lack of legal gender recognition, the importance of data-collection specific to SOGI communities, and examples of good practices to prevent discrimination have been highlighted globally, with visits to Argentina, Georgia, Mozambique and Ukraine.
As a top-to-bottom approach, however, the immediate impact of the UN Independent Expert on SOGI on grassroots LGBTQIA activism remains a sore issue for those critical of its.
The renewal process of the mandate had to overcome 10 hostile amendments, but the core of the resolution in affirming the universal nature of international human rights law stands firm.
RESULTS OF THE VOTE
Voting in favor of the resolution
Argentina, Australia, Austria, Bahamas, Brazil, Bulgaria, Chile, Croatia, Cuba, Czech Republic, Denmark, Fiji, Iceland, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Nepal, Peru, Philippines, Rwanda, Slovakia, South Africa, Spain, Tunisia, Ukraine, UK, Uruguay
Voting against the resolution
Afghanistan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, China, Egypt, Eritrea, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia
Abstaining on the resolution
Angola, Burkina Faso, Democratic Republic of Congo, Hungary, India, Senegal, Togo
SOGIE Equality Bill filed anew in 18th Congress
In the Lower House, Lumad leader-turned-Bayan Muna Rep. Eufemia Cullamat has refiled the SOGIE Equality Bill as House Bill 258. Meanwhile, in the Upper House, Akbayan Sen. Risa Hontiveros refiled the bill as Senate Bill 159, one of her priority measures.
We continue to #ResistTogether.
Versions of the Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Gender Expression (SOGIE) Equality Bill have been re-filed in the Lower and Upper Houses of Congress.
In the Lower House, Lumad leader-turned-Bayan Muna Rep. Eufemia Cullamat has refiled the SOGIE Equality Bill as House Bill 258. Co-authors are Bayan Muna Reps. Karlos Ysagani Zarate and Ferdinand Gaite.
Meanwhile, in the Upper House, Akbayan Sen. Risa Hontiveros refiled the bill as Senate Bill 159, one of her priority measures.
The explanatory note of HB 258 talks about intersectionality, stating that “LGBT (people) often find it difficult to exercise their rights as persons, laborers, professionals, and ordinary citizens.”
For instance, “LGBT students are denied admission or expelled from school due to their sexual orientation or gender identity. Companies block the promotion and stymie the career advancement of gay or lesbian employees due to the deeply embedded notion that homosexuality denotes weakness. Laws such as the current anti-vagrancy law are also abused by the law enforcement agencies to harass gay men.”
Incidentally, the latter – i.e. anti-vagrancy law – was repealed in March 2012 (via Republic Act 10158), but members of the LGBTQIA community (particularly gay and bisexual men) often still fall prey victim to harassment by law enforcers.
“It is therefore imperative to define and penalize practices that discriminate against LGBT (people),” continued the explanatory note of HB 258.
Hontiveros, for her part, said the time has come for the enactment of the SOGIE Bill; even vowing that the incoming Congress will be a “massive victory against hate and discrimination.”
“If the Senate’s 17th Congress was a big win for women and health, the 18th Congress will be a massive victory against hate and discrimination. The SOGIE Equality Bill will pass. It is a measure whose time has come,” Hontiveros said.
In 2017, the House of Representatives actually passed the SOGIE Equality Bill. The Senate’s version, however, did not gain the final approval of the 17th Congress.
Over 50,000 parade for Pride in Metro Manila
The Pride-goers gathered not just to show force and then party, but also to highlight the need to create safe spaces for LGBTQIA Filipinos.
Growing rainbow number.
Over 50,000 people gathered in Marikina City to attend the annual LGBTQIA Pride parade in a largely disorganized event affected by sporadic downpours and marred by event planning/execution issues. The Pride-goers gathered not just to show force and then party, but also to highlight the need to create safe spaces for LGBTQIA Filipinos.
While confusion continued to exist even during Pride day about what revelers were supposed to #ResistTogether – this year’s catchy theme – there was at least a call to recognize the sector (particularly with the number) by passing the anti-discrimination bill (ADB) that has been pending in Congress for two decades now.
And despite the numbers fascination, the total number of attendees is still undetermined even with the mandatory/forced registration of all participants (else not be allowed entry into the premises), with the information desk “told to say it’s 52,000” while a host inconsistently bragged figures reaching 70,000. All the same, this year’s number easily eclipsed last year’s estimated 25,000 revelers.
Notably, this year’s gathering attempted to “return” the format to the older Pride parades in Metro Manila by allowing various groups/organizations to speak onstage, as opposed to only those affiliated with the political party/leaning of the organizing Metro Manila Pride.
According to Regie Pasion, who helms LGBTbus, the Marikina-based LGBTQIA organization that helped in organizing this year’s Pride (and the gatherings in 2017 and 2018), “at it’s core, Pride remains a protest” and “will remain so until LGBTQIA human rights are recognized”.
Locally, for Marikina, while the ADB continues to languish, the city’s mayor Marcy R. Teodoro signed the local anti-discrimination ordinance (ADO), passed ahead of the Pride parade. In signing, Teodoroo said that the ADO will “nagbibigay sa lahat ng pantay at parehong karapatan sa trabaho, edukasyon, tirahan, at mga serbisyo ng pamahalaan (give everyone equal right to access education, work, accommodation and government services).”
The same ADO was passed after Marikina hosted the Pride parade for three years; pushed exclusively by the local LGBTQIA community.
Coming from Lucena City to attend the 2019 Pride parade, Aaron Moises Bonette of QZN Pride and Bahaghari QZN said that the challenge remains “for us to utilize this same number to take the same streets to fight for our actual rights (and not just to parade),” he said.
Last year’s Pride parade, for instance, may have gathered over 20,000 revelers, but when it came to rally for the ADB, the organizers were not able to attract 50 participants.
“Don’t get me wrong: Reaching this big number is admirable. But Pride shouldn’t start and end in June. It should be done every day (hopefully by as many, or even by more) people until we are treated as equals. Otherwise, this thing we call ‘pride’ is but an ideal,” Bonette ended.