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There but not there (A closer look at forced LGBT invisibility)

Roxas City in the Province of Capiz as a study of forced LGBT invisibility in the Philippines.

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ROXAS CITY, PROVINCE OF CAPIZ – Sometime in 2016, 19-year-old Roxas local Kyla* started “walking” the streets of the city and sell herself as a way to make a living. It wasn’t that hard of a decision, she said with a wide smile, summing up her decision with “nasasarapan na ako, kumikita pa ako; reklamo pa ba ako (I’m already having fun, and I earn from it; what’s there to complain about)?”

But behind the smile-shrouded somewhat simplistic justification are layers after layers of LGBT-related issues touching on each other.

WORKING THE STREETS

Kyla was already in college when she stopped going to school. “Walang pera (No money),” she stated in a matter-of-fact way. At that time, she said she looked for a job to make a living, and then she came across the other sex workers who ply themselves in the plaza in Roxas City.

Kinaibigan ko sila (I befriended them),” she said, adding that while no one specifically told her to enter the sex industry, she was told “kayang-kaya mo ito (this will be an easy job for you).”

The rest – as the cliché goes – is history.

It wasn’t that hard of a decision to do sex work, Kyla said with a wide smile, summing up her decision with “nasasarapan na ako, kumikita pa ako; reklamo pa ba ako (I’m already having fun, and I earn from it; what’s there to complain about)?”

Nowadays, Kyla works almost every day, servicing up to three to four clients a day. It’s needed, she said, if she wants to earn “an okay living.” She charges P150 for oral sex; P300 for anal sex. And no, she insisted, she will not “top” (play the insertive role when having sex) “kasi babaeng babae ako (because I play the stereotypical role of a woman).”

The expanse of the city’s plaza – from the narrow street in front of Land Bank of the Philippines to the front of the city hall/church of the Immaculate Concepcion to the front of the provincial capitol – is sort of divided according to the SOGIE of the sex workers, with transwomen, women and men plying the areas, respectively. At times, though, the workers congregate, such as when dealing with common threats.

There are perils that come with the job, obviously.

Mga pulis, nanghuhuli (Policemen detain us),” she said. “Lahat ng dahilan ibibigay nila – bagansiya daw, menor daw kami, at kung ano-ano pa (They give various reasons when they arrest us – from the anti-vagrancy law (already legally rescinded, though obviously not known by many), to us being minors, or whatever).”

It is not uncommon seeing “some of us scamper,” she said.

And then there are the verbal abuses hurled at them, at times escalating to risks of getting physically abused “usually ng mga lasing na pumupunta sa plaza para maghanap ng aliw (by drunk men who come to the plaza to look for fun),” she said. Again, the scampering happens.

Of course, “naiisip din naming parati na ma-Jennifer Laude (the thought of experiencing what slain transwoman Jennifer Laude experienced also enter our minds),” she said. One time, she recalled a client who wanted to tie her up, and cut her arms with a blade. “Trips na nakakatakot (Fetishes that can be scary).”

Kyla knows of the necessity of using condoms to prevent getting sexually transmitted infections (STIs). When asked where she gets her supplies of condoms and lubes, she said “binibili ko ang condoms, pero… ano’ng lube (I buy my condoms; but… what’s lube)?”

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At 19, Kyla, by the way, isn’t the youngest among these sex workers.

A regularly cited plaza “character” is 16-year-old Ronnie*, also a freelance sex worker who is said to similarly work the streets of Roxas City. As narrated, similar to Kyla’s case, Ronnie’s life exemplifies forked concerns.

This Ronnie is said to be the eldest of 10 kids. His father, at 49, is a mang-uuling (coal-maker) in one of the barangays some five to six kilometers away from downtown Roxas City. His 39-year-old mom stays at home to look after all the other kids. He was 13 years old when he stopped going to school to start working for a construction company. Usually, he’s tasked to mix concrete, carry stuff from one area to another, or – generally – just do as the foreman would tell him. For this, Ronnie supposedly takes home around P2,500 per week. As a minor, Ronnie isn’t legally employed; and as such, his pay is under-the-table. Everything he earns, he sends back to his mom.

Now, as shared, since Ronnie’s less-than-P2,500-per-week earning is not enough to feed his nine siblings and his parents (his dad only earns from P500 per week for making coals), he was said to have been “forced” to look for another way to earn. And so – only last year – when a close friend told him to “kadto sa plaza kung way kuwarta (go to the plaza if you’re broke),” Ronnie was said to be introduced to the sex industry.

And there, in the plaza, regulars talk about how the 16-year-old approached a transwoman, allegedly asking her if she wanted “nga muduwa (to play).” She supposedly agreed to pay him P200 to “play”. He supposedly “topped” her sans protection.

Information like this bring to the fore how the issues of the likes of Kyla and Ronnie aren’t as clear-cut as they seem.

There’s sex work, long considered as the “oldest profession in the world”, though – perhaps particularly in contexts like the Philippines – it continues not to be given proper attention; or if at all, always in maligned ways. That there’s propensity to dismiss this as just “due to poverty”, there’s more to the issue than meet the eyes.

Republic Act No. 10364 (Expanded Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2012), which amended the earlier RA 9208, declares unlawful “prostitution”, here defined to refer to “any act, transaction, scheme or design involving the use of a person by another, for sexual intercourse or lascivious conduct in exchange for money, profit or any other consideration.”

Kyla may have been “forced” into her line of work by her circumstance, but she’s first to say “dili ko prosti (I’m not a prostitute); I’m a sex worker.” That distinction, at least as far as the country’s law is concerned, is non-existent, so that Kyla and people like her are involuntarily forcibly obscured.

A SIDE NOTE: Not surprisingly, when RA 10175 (Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012) was passed as a law, among the sectors whose silence was notable was the LGBT community, even if some of its provisions may be deemed anti-LGBT or at least not informed by realities in the lives of LGBT people. For instance, Chapter II (Punishable Acts) of RA 10175 considered as an offense “cybersex”, which was defined as “the willful engagement, maintenance, control, or operation, directly or indirectly, of any lascivious exhibition of sexual organs or sexual activity, with the aid of a computer system, for favor or consideration.” Again, sex work – not just prostitution – happens online (also involving LGBT people), which the law fails to even consider.

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The case of Ronnie is even trickier, obviously, because he’s a minor.

Speaking to Outrage Magazine, local (and grassroots) LGBT leaders Charmel Catalan and Simplicio Vito Jr. claimed familiarity with “hate crimes sa (in) Roxas City.” Among commonly (and frequently) shared such stories include: the bashing of a trans woman na napag-tripan (because some people just felt like it); sex work-related ill-treatment; and killings.

A related issue is HIV.

It is worth noting that the HIV/ AIDS & ART Registry of the Philippines (HARP), for one, only started to include those who engage in transactional sex (or those who report that they pay for sex, regularly accept payment for sex, or do both) in 2012, as if it’s a completely new development. But even with the delayed inclusion, a total of 3,941 HIV cases were already reported in HARP from December 2012 to May 2017. Ninety-six percent (3,769) were male and 4% (172) were female. For May 2017, in particular, of the 105 reported cases of HIV infections engaged in transactional sex, most (92%) were male whose ages ranged from 16 to 60 years (median: 28 years).

Suffice to say – or, for those who’d argue, even if it’s just insinuated – that the young: already actively engage in sexual relations, and put themselves at risk (for instance, HIV infection) with their behavior/s. Kyla and Ronnie may well be good examples here.

Particularly because there are community-reported cases like minor Ronnie, Outrage Magazine reached out to the City Social Welfare Development (CSWD) while in Roxas City to specifically ask about local efforts pertaining trafficking of minors here, but no one wanted to speak on an official capacity AS OF PRESS TIME. Instead, the non-official statement given was to “look at the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003 (RA 9208)”, which the CSWD supposedly follows; and to “only interview us when the proper authorities already agreed for this interview to take place because we’re always busy”.

Still, in the first quarter of 2016 alone, the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) reported 2,147 cases of child abuse, with more than one–fourth of these cases said to be sexual nature. This number was nearly half of the total 4,374 child abuse cases reported in the entire year of 2015.

Surprisingly, a local Roxas City government official (who only gave an answer on this issue on the condition of anonymity) alleged that “walang sex workers sa Roxas City (there are no sex workers in Roxas City).” Officially, she purported, the stance is that “these sex workers came from places like Iloilo City. They take the last trip to Roxas City, work here, then take the first trip out of Roxas City to return home after the night is over.”

This, obviously, belies the very existence of the likes of Kyla and Ronnie.

AGAINST LGBT PERSONHOOD

Beyond the streets of Roxas City, however, are other LGBT-related stories that fail to gain mainstream traction.

Speaking to Outrage Magazine, local (and grassroots) LGBT leaders Charmel Catalan and Simplicio Vito Jr. claimed familiarity with “hate crimes sa (in) Roxas City.” Among commonly (and frequently) shared such stories include: the bashing of a trans woman na napag-tripan (because some people just felt like it); sex work-related ill-treatment; and even killings.

When validated, particularly the killings, no SOGIE of the people involved were mentioned to the police, so that these were not treated as crimes committed particularly against LGBT people. As such – and instead – “kami-kami lang nakaka-alam (it’s only us who know),” Vito said.

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From the local LGBT community, “siguro (perhaps) two to three cases of LGBT-related hate crimes happen every year,” Vito said.

That this creates fear in the local LGBT community is a given, Catalan said. “But after a week or two, balik normal (things go back to how they were),” she said. “May magagawa ka ba (It’s not like there’s anything we can do about this)!?”

BEING LEFT BEHIND

Ma. Fe S. Salgado, Health Education & Promotions Officer III of Roxas City, lamented the different – not just slow – responses related to HIV in Roxas City, and even the Province of Capiz.

In April 2017, the Province of Capiz already had 107 accumulated cases of HIV infection. “The number has been rising,” Salgado said to Outrage Magazine, “so we’ve been alarmed.”

It is this that drove the local government unit (LGU) to establish its own (satellite) treatment hub so that they can start “at least giving antiretroviral medicines (ARVs), provide counseling and treat common opportunistic infections (OIs).”

But there remain numerous challenges in their HIV-related efforts that also highlight forced invisibility if not of LGBT people, then at least of LGBT issues.

For one, when giving lectures about HIV in local educational institutions, “we’ve been forced to amend the key messages,” Salgado said. The ABC of safer sex, for instance, now no longer reflects A=Abstinence, B=Be mutually faithful, and C=Correct and consistent condom use. Instead, there have been instances when “C” was made to refer to “Close relationship to God.” This approach, Salgado said, “negates the fact that young people –including men who have sex with men – are already exposed to sex even at a young age. (Sans provision of knowledge,) they are not recognized and therefore not served.”

There’s also the issue of not being updated re current HIV-related approaches. People living with HIV in these parts of the country are referred to Iloilo City, where the treatment hub accredited by the Department of Health (DOH) is located. But there, there are practices that remain backward – e.g. allegedly not giving ARVs to PLHIVs unless they reach the AIDS stage, and even if the (inter)national policy is to start treatment as soon possible (not only when someone gets sick); and alleged withholding of giving life-saving services due to the continued delays in releasing confirmatory results from Metro Manila.

Metro Manila’s HIV practices may already be deemed backward in various aspects when compared to Western practices (e.g. availability of newer ARVs, PrEP, U=U). But outside Metro Manila, “mas malala yata (it may be worse),” Salgado said.

Sadder still, these issues do not enter mainstream discourses; and that non-inclusion highlights the invisibility.

Roxas City may be said to be developing; but are LGBT people being left behind?

AND LIFE GOES ON…

Kyla thinks she’ll continue working the streets “hanggang may ma-save ako; mag-aaral siguro ulit (until I save enough; perhaps I’d go back to school),” she said. But at 19, “tingan natin. Hindi pa siguro agad-agad (we’ll see; it may not happen immediately).”

She said she knows the risks; “kahit na di pinag-uusapan o ayaw pag-usapan (even if no one talks about them or no one wants to talk about these issues).”

From the city hall, stories swirled about an attempt to tackle at least one of the LGBT-related issues. A councilor – Dr. Cesar Yap – is said to have expressed interest in filing a local ordinance to provide restrooms for LGBT people. Outrage Magazine went to the city hall, including in the office of Dr. Yap and the office of the secretary of the Sangguniang Panglungsod; but not a single person knows of the existence of such an ordinance.

At night along Roxas St., Kyla said “you’d see us. Andito lang kami. Pero kung makikita niyo lang kami (We’re just here. But only if you really see us).”

*NAMES CHANGED TO PROTECT THE PRIVACY OF THE INTERVIEWEES

The founder of Outrage Magazine, Michael David dela Cruz Tan is a graduate of Bachelor of Arts (Communication Studies) of the University of Newcastle in New South Wales, Australia. Though he grew up in Mindanao (particularly Kidapawan and Cotabato City in Maguindanao), even attending Roman Catholic schools there, he "really, really came out in Sydney," he says, so that "I sort of know what it's like to be gay in a developing and a developed world". Mick can: photograph, do artworks with mixed media, write (DUH!), shoot flicks, community organize, facilitate, lecture, research (with pioneering studies under his belt)... this one's a multi-tasker, who is even conversant in Filipino Sign Language (FSL). Among others, Mick received the Catholic Mass Media Awards (CMMA) in 2006 for Best Investigative Journalism. Cross his path is the dare (read: It won't be boring).

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5 Ways to #ResistTogether after #Pride

Be constantly reminded that #Pride is never (just) about partying. It’s about the ongoing struggle for the human rights of LGBTQIA people (no mater what sector they may be part of).

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ALL PHOTOS TAKEN DURING METRO MANILA PRIDE PARADE 2019

A few days into July, after the June Pride month, I was chatting with someone from Grindr; he boasted that he was at the “essence of pride: the Pride parade” (his words, not mine). The chat revolved around shaming, particularly of other LGBTQIA people; that now that the one-day celebration is over, things (including his way of “booking”) are “just back to normal.”

See… right after the “very proud” placement of the #ResistTogether hashtag in his pick-up account (particularly while he was in Marikina City), it has been refreshed, reverting back to claiming “NO chubs; NO oldies; NO femmes. Don’t dare me, I have unliblock.”

This got me thinking about this “brand” of exclusivist #Pride; and how we should instead be making (and continuing to make) it inclusive…

And so – off my head – here are five ways to #ResistTogether after the #Pride parade…

1. Stop the shaming from within the LGBTQIA community.

Change should start from within our community; and this can happen if our community members become more aware that – frequently – hatred starts from within.

Stop shaming the “oldies”; we’d all grow old.

Stop shaming the “chubs”; ALL bodies are beautiful.

Stop hating on the femmes; every gender expression is VALID.

Stop discriminating against sex workers; there is no shame in trying to make a living.

Our community is minority, as it is. Stop creating more minorities from within our community with your biases.

2. Donate… not just because you want merchs.

I get this concept of “what’s in it for me?”. This is the “driver” of so many of our actions – e.g. if companies give money to “support” Pride, they expect to get media mileage from it; and if we give money to “make Pride happen”, we may as well have that sticker (or whatever) to prove that… yes, we gave money.

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But helping should be done not because of any return; it should be done because it’s the right thing to do.

And so if/when someone asked you to donate (however small the amount may be) to help establish an actual home for senior LGBTQIA Filipinos, give.

If someone asked you to chip in (no matter how small the amount you can give) to help pay for the PhilHealth of a person living with HIV, give.

And if someone asked you to donate (whatever amount) to help finance the picket line of LGBTQIA workers who were illegally dismissed from their jobs after they (rightfully) asked to be made regular employees, give.

LGBTQIA-related issues happen EVERY DAY of the year, not just in June. So if you’re willing to cough up cash to look glamorous/fab ONLY in June, you should also be willing to do so the rest of the year…

3. Be the voice of other minorities.

This shouldn’t be a divisive issue, but it is becoming that – i.e. the supposed “hijacking of commies of Pride month” by highlighting other issues that those who complain say have nothing to do with the LGBTQIA community.

These issues include: contractualization, wage hike, extra-judicial killings, war on drugs, and so on.

Here’s the BASIC thing though: LGBTQIA people do not live in a vacuum. Some of us are contractual workers (e.g. LGBTQIA people working for – say – Zagu, or Jollibbee, or the baggers in department stores). Many of us LGBTQIA people do not get the wages we deserve (e.g. LGBTQIA people who are also nurses and teachers). There are LGBTQIA people also killed because they were allegedly involved in the drug trade; and this is even if the claim may be true or not.

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We say that LGBTQIA people are EVERYWHERE. Well, WE ARE; including among other minority sectors.

So that we can’t separate THEIR issues from OUR issues.

4. Be seen the rest of the year.

You, like many others, helped create the noise for LGBTQIA issues during Pride month. That’s all good (and thank you, truly, for this). But please, please don’t disappear after June (or worse, don’t be the source of discrimination after June – as noted in #1).

If you can’t be bothered leaving your desk, that’s your call; but continue making noise for the LGBTQIA community.

But if/when you are able to/you are keen to, join the ongoing struggle for our total liberation – e.g. join the call for rally for the anti-discrimination bill, attend gatherings pushing for marriage equality, attend events of LGBTQIA-related NGOs (including HIV-related events), physically support LGBTQIA-related shows/productions/et cetera.

Just BE SEEN BEYOND JUNE; it matters a lot.

5. Go back to the streets… and not just to party.

So you had fun attending the parade; perhaps even more so when you attended the after-parade party/ies. That’s all good. Not one to miss out on fun, I am one with you here…

BUT be reminded that #Pride is never (just) about partying. It’s about the ongoing struggle for the human rights of LGBTQIA people (no mater what sector they may be part of).

After almost 20 (THAT’S 20!) years, the anti-discrimination bill is still languishing in Congress.
Over 80% of the new HIV cases in the Philippines affect members of the LGBTQIA community (particularly gay, bi and trans people).

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Schools (including State-owned/run) still discriminate against LGBTQIA students; a handful of them barring LGBTQIA students from enroling/attending classes because of some bloody haircut or because of what they are wearing.

Because of their HIV status, people living with HIV (many of them LGBTQIA) are: still fired from work; kicked out of their homes; or not given access to life-saving HIV medicines.

LGBTQIA informal settlers – along with hetero-identifying informal settlers – are kicked out of their homes.

LGBTQIA contractual workers are still not regularized.

So – let’s state this – IF THERE IS A CALL TO RALLY FOR OUR RIGHTS, not just a call to parade and party, TAKE HEED. If 70,000+++ people can gather to parade and party, surely the same number (if not more) should also be able to gather when a call is made for us to rise again together to push for equality.

Yes, we have taken progressive steps (corporations are even considering how to profit off us now); but so much still needs to be done. And – to stress- we need to always show our force; to always take to the streets to highlight our issues.

So party on, yes; but never stop fighting as one. This is how we continue to truly #ResistTogether.

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Haircut battleground

FACT: A number of trans students fail to complete schooling because of strict implementation of uniform policies that affect their gender identity and expression. School officials claim they’re simply implementing (discriminatory) policies; while activists claim human rights violation. And while the discussions happen, the students are caught in the middle, who – in the end – really just want to finish schooling while being true to oneself.

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Photo by Mohamed Nohassi from Unsplash.com

In July 2018, Jenny* (not her real name), a transgender Senior High School (SHS) student from the Polytechnic University of the Philippines (PUP) was allegedly told to report to the principal’s office for the first time.

Pinatawag ako nung principal, tapos she told me that ano… kapag hindi ako nagpagupit until tomorrow morning, ganon, papalabasin niya ako ng PUP (I was told to report to the principal’s office, and there, she told me to get a haircut the next day, or risk getting asked to leave PUP),” she recalled to Outrage Magazine.

Jenny got a haircut this January. This had to be done as a prerequisite when she applied for graduation. But she said that she was promised that “after that, (I) won’t have to cut my hair again when I process my papers in the future.”

Jenny said that the experience affected her psychologically; because of this, she wasn’t able to go to school for two days. And with the eventual haircut, Jenny’s gender expression was also dictated by another, affecting her sense of self.

But in an interview with Dr. Minna L. Comuyog, PUP-SHS principal, she denied that she threatened any student, and that neither her office nor PUP-SHS’s registrar’s office denied any student of transaction or that their documents will be held if they won’t cut their hair.

Comuyog said that, in fact, PUP-SHS has a “No Discrimination Policy”, which is implemented in the entire PUP system (which includes SHS).

Hindi namin ina-identify ‘yung mga estudyante namin na bading ‘to, tomboy ‘to. Basta when they come here, estudyante namin sila (We don’t separately identify students as ‘He’s gay, she’s a lesbian’. For us, when they come here, they’re all students),” she said.

Comuyog added: “As a teacher, ang aking training ay students sila (They are students). They have their unique personalit(ies) and we adjust our lessons to their needs. So kahit anong mga bata ang dumating sa amin (So no matter what kind of student they are), we accept them for who they are.”

But notwithstanding the “No Discrimination Policy”, Comuyog believes that the haircut policy should be implemented and be observed by all students (in this case, particularly those under her care; i.e. PUP-SHS).

Comuyog claimed that she is unaware of the existence of transgender students in PUP-SHS; thus of transgender students being forced to cut their hair due to the school’s haircut policy. “It’s something na (that is) not known to me,” she said.

But Comuyog added that she looks at the students using the gender binary dictated by the assigned sex at birth – i.e. “I look at them as male, female, ganon ang classification nila (that’s how I classify them).” And so she believes that even if a student is a transgender woman, this student will still be mandated to get a haircut befitting those assigned male at birth (that is, she still won’t be allowed to have long hair, which is deemed socially acceptable only for those assigned female at birth).

On the handling of students who are transgender women (or those assigned male at birth) and with long hair, Comuyog said that she “normally asks” these students “what they needed to change or do.” As part of her training as a teacher, she lets the students think. And in this case, it is the students who often end up saying that it is their hair that they should change.

NON-DISCRIMINATION AS A POLICY

The Department of Education (DepEd) actually has pro-LGBTQIA policies, which – in December 2018 – it reiterated via a statement reminding “all public and private Kindergarten, elementary, and secondary schools of the necessity and importance of adopting and enforcing anti-bullying policies in their respective institutions.”

Various (specific) policies particularly touch on non-discrimination (including of LGBTQIA students).

DepEd Order No. 40, series 2012, or the “DepEd Child Protection Policy,” institutionalized zero tolerance against any form of violence against the child and provided for the establishment of a Child Protection Committee (CPC) in all public and private schools.

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DepEd Order No. 55, series 2013 (DO 55 s. 2013), or the “Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) of Republic Act No. 10627 (R.A. 10627) Otherwise Known as the Anti-Bullying Act of 2013,” requires all public and private schools to submit a copy of their child protection or anti-bullying policy to the Division Office.

Meanwhile, Rule IV of DO 55 s. 2013 underscores that “the bullying prevention program in schools shall be comprehensive and multifaceted, and shall involve all education stakeholders and personnel. Schools shall develop intervention strategies like counseling, life skills training, education and other activities that will enhance the psychological, emotional and psychosocial well-being of victims, bullies, and other parties who may be affected by the bullying incident.”

Particularly pertaining the uniform policy (which touches on the haircut policy), DepEd released in 2008 DepEd Order No. 46, s. 2008, guidelines on “proper school attire”. It stated that “while the general policy is that the wearing of a school uniform shall not be required in public schools (as embodied in DepEd Order No. 45 s. 2008), it is necessary to provide guidance on what constitutes proper school attire.”

The following principles are offered as a guide:

  1. A student’s basic right to go to school, study and learn is of paramount importance and should be respected and promoted at all times.
  2. A student’s attire should reflect respect for the school as an institution for learning.
  3. A student’s attire should not become a cause for discrimination particularly for students belonging to a lower socio-economic status.
  4. Promoting physical hygiene and proper school decorum is part of the teaching- learning process in schools, thus a student’s attire and physical appearance should manifest learnings from this process.

Nowhere in the DepEd Order No. 46, s. 2008 was “proper” haircut discussed.

According to PUP Kasarianlan’s Watson Vergara, the haircut policy implemented in schools is a form of oppression. “Not only the right of the student to express oneself was trampled, but the student’s right to education was put on line.”
Photo by Cassidy Kelley from Unsplash.com

Having policies and actually implementing them are – however, and also – two different things.

In 2015, for instance, a United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) report observed that only 38% of schools submitted child protection or anti-bullying policies in 2013, and the “low rate of submission has been attributed to a low level of awareness of requirements of the Act and weak monitoring of compliance.”

Releasing a report in 2017, the Human Rights Watch (HRW) also touched on the uniform policies (including forcing particularly transgender women to get haircuts) and stated that “students who are transgender or do not identify as their sex assigned at birth face especially pervasive discrimination as a result of uniform and hair-length policies and other gendered restrictions.” This is made more apparent because “right to free expression of students is violated when schools limit displays of same-sex affection or gender expression solely for LGBTQIA youth” – meaning, the policies are used differently for them to make them tow some lines.

Also, according to Watson Vergara, who heads PUP Kasarianlan, the official student organization for people with diverse SOGIE in PUP, even anti-discriminatory policies (such as DepEd’s) fail to take into consideration the power dynamics within educational institutions.

Vergara said that they know of students who asked for help from PUP Kasarianlan, claiming that they feel threatened that if they won’t cut their hair, then their names will be taken out of the list of graduating students. Non-compliance may also be seen as insubordination, which means that these students won’t be given a good moral certificate (which is needed when enrolling in college/university), or will even be kicked out of PUP.

PUP Kasarianlan also documented other cases like Jenny’s – e.g. in one case, a student claimed that she was kept in an office, prohibited to go out unless she signs a statement stipulating her to cut her hair.

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Syempre (Of course), the kid, crying, shaking and afraid, signed the paper. Kasi wala siyang (Because she did not have a) choice, she wants to go out,” Vergara said.

Vergara is aware that there are people who may see this as a non-issue – i.e. it’s “just hair.”

But PUP Kasarianlan also received stories of transgender students who refused to have their graduation photos taken, and of one transgender student who “can’t do homework or even eat properly because of this (traumatizing experience).”

For Vergara, this is a form of oppression. “Not only the right of the student to express oneself was trampled, but the student’s right to education was put on line.”

For Kate Montecarlo Cordova, if uniform is really needed, then schools should implement gender neutral school uniforms (e.g. gender neutral or unisex design and cut of school uniforms, and no prescribed length of hair for those assigned male at birth). Or, simply, “let the students wear uniforms based on their sense of being,”
Photo by Chen Feng from Unsplash.com

DETRACTING FROM SENSE OF SELF

According to Kate Montecarlo Cordova, founder of the Association of Transgender People in the Philippines (ATP), “One of the identified positive benefits of school uniform is to promote a “sense of community” (which actually refers to classification or clustering). But this can be detrimental to transgender students if not properly managed/implemented for this can deprive their self-expression, their sense of identity, their authenticity.”

Cordova added that “the imposition of school uniform with strict observance to the heteronormative gender binary can be an utter threat to transgender students while serving a meaningless purpose to learning.”

There are somewhat practical efforts that can be done.

For one, Cordova suggested that if uniform is really needed, then schools should implement gender neutral school uniforms (e.g. gender neutral or unisex design and cut of school uniforms, and no prescribed length of hair for those assigned male at birth). Or, simply, “let the students wear uniforms based on their sense of being,” Cordova said.

Secondly, Cordova said that it is important for any educational institution to “undergo extensive trainings, workshops and lectures not just about gender sensitivity but also, specifically, about transgender issues to understand the complexities of transgender human rights and health needs.”

And thirdly, Cordova suggests for transgender students to “rightfully assert and claim their rights to exist and learn by standing up to what is just and righteous to their authentic self by: 1. Being knowledgeable of their rights, 2. Being vocal about their identity, and 3. Being brave to socially present their sense of self.”

STARTING THE DISCUSSIONS

Back in PUP-SHS, the school principal Comuyog thinks that high school students are “confused” because they can see some transgender college students grow their hair, and they may also want to do the same. While she acknowledges how some of the SHS students want to “emulate” the college students, she also said that this isn’t necessarily possible because of “certain policies”.

Particularly, Comuyog noted PUP-SHS’s Code of Conduct that highlights (in Section 3) that “every student shall dress up according to the conventions of decency and proper grooming… dyan nakapaloob ang haircut for male and hairstyle for female.”

Section 3 of the Code of Conduct specifically states: “Every PUP student shall dress up according to the conventions of decency and proper grooming.

Also, to wit:

3.1 – Every PUP Senior High student is expected to demonstrate personal grooming standards of cleanliness and to wear the prescribed uniform while inside the school premises, during educational exposures or work immersion, and during official off-campus events.

3.2 – Students must observe the following provisions when wearing the prescribed school uniform:

3.2.1 – Uniforms should be kept buttoned and properly worn;
3.2.2 – School ID must be worn at all times within the school premises;
3.2.3 – The hairstyle for female should be simple and well kept, while the acceptable haircut for male must be off the eyebrows and above the collar line (EMPHASIS OURS);
3.2.4 – Moustache and side beards are not allowed;
3.2.5 – Hair color may be allowed provided that it is not vulgar.

The Code of Conduct does not discuss SOGIE (and implications to the uniform policy), but enforce these requirements based on assigned sex at birth.

READ:  And art speaks the truth…

Comuyog quipped that it is only now that the said (haircut) policy is becoming an issue. And here, she also holds accountable some educators.

Yun namang teacher nila, napapabayaan sila kaya if there is a person na mas liable, itong mga teacher kasi ina-allow nila. Kasi may teacher din tayong mahaba ang buhok, may teacher tayong nakatali ang buhok. ‘Yun ang nakikita nitong mga bata (There are teachers who just let their students be, so if there’s someone liable, it’s the teacher who allows this. This may also be because some teachers assigned male at birth grow their hair long. And this is what these students see),” Comuyog said.

But – again – since there aren’t any students who talked to her and said that she is a transgender person, Comuyog said that she remains “unaware of this.” And that “just in case that she will be aware” of this, then she will have to consider the individual student’s situation.

For Professor Earl Guzman, SHS and college professor, and an open member of the LGBTQIA community, forcing the students to cut their hair, especially if they identify as gay or transgender, is abuse. “Kasi itong mga taong ‘to, itong mga kabataang ito, yung buhok nila (These kids’ hair) and how they present themselves are part of their gender identity,” he said.

Guzman added that teaching the students how to be gender sensitive yet confining them in the same heteronormative stereotypes, same heteronormative ways of expressing themselves, “kind of defeats its purpose.”

Tayo as PUPians (Products of PUP), we’re so proud of being at the frontier of fighting for sexual equality. Eh eto nga, ginigipit natin ngayon (And now we’re pressuring these students to conform). It all makes us look like hypocrites,” Guzman said.

For Guzman, the principal should listen to the students as well because what is happening most of the time is that teachers become just enforcers of rules or policies, and teachers owe it to the students to listen to them.

Anong klaseng lesson kasi ‘yung tinuturo natin sa students kapag ganon (What kind of lesson are we teaching the students), when we refuse to hear them out? Are we telling them that we know better than them? May mga pagkakataon na (There are times when) we know better than them pero kasi (but also) we’re not the ones living their lives right now, it’s them,” he said. “Maybe we should take their experiences into account; maybe we should listen to what they have to say. Kasi hindi puwedeng ano (Because the case shouldn’t be)… in our desire to enforce obedience, ang nangyayari ay (what happens is we create) blind obedience.”

For his part, PUP Kasarianlan head Vergara said that this kind of discrimination against members of the LGBTQIA community also happens in other schools – i.e. this goes beyond PUP-SHS.

In “Being LGBT in Asia: The Philippines Country Report” – written by Michael David C. Tan for USAID and UNDP – it was reported that forcing transgender women to get haircuts before allowing them to access education is one of the common anti-LGBTQIA policies still common in the Philippines, along with: the conduct of “masculinity tests” (where effeminate students had to “prove” they were “man enough” to be allowed to enroll, or stay in school) conducted by some schools, and instances when LGBTQIA students were made to sign “contracts” to ensure they did not express their sexual orientation or gender identity while going to school.

But Watson also acknowledges that – sadly – they can only do what little help they can.

In 2017, the Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported that “students who are transgender or do not identify as their sex assigned at birth face experience especially pervasive discrimination as a result of uniform and hair-length policies and other gendered restrictions.”
Photo by Ryan Tauss from Unsplash.com

In the end, Guzman hopes that this will be settled, with all parties involved discussing this. “Let’s be civilized. Let’s add something positive to the discourse. ‘Wag nating gawing (Let’s not turn the issue into an) excuse para siraan ‘yung mga bagay, tao, o policy na hindi naman natin dapat siraan (to destroy people or policies that need not be destroyed). And then, let’s come to an agreement. I think we should all try to understand where everyone is coming from,” Guzman said.

And while the discussions happen, the likes of Jenny are caught in the middle, who – in the end – really just want to finish schooling while being true to oneself.

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Lesbian Lumad

What is it like to be a lesbian and also a part of an indigenous group? For Teng Calimpang, the Tagbawa ethnic group of people at the foot of Mt. Apo accepted her, so she hopes other lesbian Lumads live good lives both as LGBTQIA community members and as Lumads.

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This is part of #KaraniwangLGBT, which Outrage Magazine officially launched on July 26, 2015 to offer vignettes of LGBT people/living, particularly in the Philippines, to give so-called “everyday people” – in this case, the common LGBT people – that chance to share their stories.
As Outrage Magazine editor Michael David C. Tan says: “All our stories are valid – not just the stories of the ‘big shots’. And it’s high time we start telling all our stories.”

Dili lisod mag-lesbian ka diri kay tanan diri murag paryente lang nako, mga pinsan lang (It isn’t hard to be a lesbian here because everyone here is just like a relative, just like my cousins),” Teng Calimpang, who is from Meohao at the foot of Mt. Apo, said. “Tanan pud mga tawo nakabalo kung kinsa ko ug unsa ko (People here also know who I am and what I am).”

Teng’s family is from the Tagbawa Manobo ethic group of people. Originally from Bansalan, her mother met her father in Meohao, where they decided to eventually settle. Also because of being based here, Teng is fluent in Bagobo Diangan, spoken by another ethnic group of people particularly at the foot of Mt. Apo.

At least in her experience, being a lesbian is a non-issue for her people (Tagbawa Manobo), as well as for her “adopted” Bagobo Diangan family.

Teng was 10 when she recognized her “otherness”; she did not like wearing girls’ clothes, and she preferred doing things that boys do. At 15, “diha na nako napansin nga… na-feel na nako nga dili gyud nako ma-love ang boy (I noticed that I was not attracted to members of the opposite sex).” Teng said that “babae ang mugawas sa akoang heart ba (I was attracted also to women).”

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Teng told her family about “ang tinuod (the truth).” And “okay lang sa ilaha. Tanggap gyud ko nila (it’s fine with them. They accepted me as a lesbian).”

Now 48, Teng works for Dole Phils. (Stanfilco Division). After work, she is also a local healer, giving “hilot (traditional massage)” to those who seek her out for the same.

Teng credits her “lolo (grandfather)” for her gift to heal.

She was 15 when she was “taught” how to “help people”; she dreamt her then-deceased grandfather show her how to do so, serving as a passing-of-the-torch to heal others.

Teng said that there are two kinds of people who help – one who expects to be grandly paid for the effort, and one who doesn’t. “Donation, okay lang sa ako-a (I’m okay with just receiving donations),” she said, adding that it already makes her happy that “nakatabang ko sa ilahang kinahanglan sa lawas (at least I’ve helped people with their needs).”

Teng had a heterosexual-identifying GF in the past; but that relationship didn’t last. She noted that there are some women who just want to be financially supported; they leave their partners when they have gotten what they wanted, or if their partner can’t offer them what they really want (i.e. wealth). “Pait kaayo ba (This makes being lesbian hard).”

Now single, Teng has other lesbian friends, and not all of them from Lumad communities. But her friends are now based overseas, where they work. She admitted that it can be lonely at times, but that technology (e.g. social networking sites) help alleviate the loneliness since she can at least chat with them even if they’re apart.

READ:  Paolo, naked

Teng also has an adopted child, given to her when the child was only a month old. She is now 18.

Lisud gyud (sa sinugdanan) kay syempre ang acting nimo is as a boy, so nalisdan ko pagpa-dako niya (It was hard for me to raise her at first because I am masculine/not stereotypically motherly),” Teng said. “But I gradually learned how to properly raise her.”

To other lesbians who may also belong to Lumad communities, Teng said: “Kung unsa gyud sila sa ilang panginabuhi, ipadayun na nila (Continue living your true selves in living a good life).”

And in the end, “learn from me as I say that you can be good people as lesbians.”

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All hail the beauty queen

A glimpse into the life of a trans woman beauty pageant enthusiast, Ms Mandy Madrigal of Transpinay of Antipolo Organization.

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This is part of #KaraniwangLGBT, which Outrage Magazine officially launched on July 26, 2015 to offer vignettes of LGBT people/living, particularly in the Philippines, to give so-called “everyday people” – in this case, the common LGBT people – that chance to share their stories.
As Outrage Magazine editor Michael David C. Tan says: “All our stories are valid – not just the stories of the ‘big shots’. And it’s high time we start telling all our stories.”

“I feel accepted.”

That, said Mandy Madrigal, is the main appeal of joining beauty pageants.

“I feel so loved when I join pageants. Especially when people clap for us, cheer for us. And when you win… it (just) feels different.”

FINDING ACCEPTANCE

Assigned male at birth, Mandy was in primary school when her father asked her if “I was a boy or a girl”. That question scared her, she admitted, because – as the only boy among six kids – she thought she did not really have “any choice”. “So I answered my father, ‘I am a boy’.”

But Mandy’s father asked her the same question again; and this time, “I said, yes, I am gay.”

No, Mandy is NOT gay; she is a transpinay, and a straight one at that. But the misconceptions about the binary remains – i.e. in this case, she is associated with being gay mainly because she did not identify with the sex assigned her at birth.

In a way, Mandy said she’s lucky because “I believe he (my father) accepted (me) with his whole heart.”

The rest of her family did, too.

Though – speaking realistically – Mandy said this may be abetted by her “contributions” to the family. “Hindi naman aka basta naging bakla lang (I’m not a ’typical’ gay person),” she said, “na naglalandi lang o sumasali lang ng pageant (who just flirts, or just joins beauty pageants). Instead, Mandy provides financial support to her family by – among others – selling RTW clothes and beauty products. In fact, some of her winnings also go to the family’s coffers. By helping provide them with what they need, “it’s easy for them to accept me as a transgender woman.”

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Growing up, Mandy realized that while “makakapagsinungaling ka sa ibang tao, pero sarili mo, hindi mo maloloko. Kaya mas magandang tanggapin mo ang sarili mo para matanggap ka ng ibang tao (you may be able to lie to others about who you really are, but you can’t lie to yourself. So it’s better to accept your true self so that others will be able to accept you too).”

Mandy was “introduced” to beauty pageants when she was 13 or 14. At that time, a friend asked her to join a pageant; and “I won first runner up.” She never looked backed since, even – at one time – earning as much as P20,000 after winning a title. Like many regular beauconeras (beauty pageant participants), she also heads to distant provinces to compete, largely because – according to her – prizes in provincial competitions tend to be higher. The prize money earned helps one buy more paraphernalia for the next pageants, and – in Mandy’s case – also helps support her family.

Generally speaking, Mandy Madrigal said that “ang tunay na queen ay may malaking puso (a real queen has a big heart).”

FORMING A FAMILY

Beauty pageants are competitions, yes; but for Mandy, pageants also allow the candidates to form bonds as they get close to each other. Pageants, she said, can be a way “na maging close kami, magkaroon ng magagandang bonding… at magkakilala kami (for us to be close, to bond and get to know the others better).”

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Pageants can be costly, Mandy admitted – for instance, “you have to invest,” she said, adding that a candidate needs to be able to provide for herself (instead of just always renting) costumes, swimsuits, casual wear, gowns, and so on.

In a way, therefore, having people who believe in you helps. In Mandy’s case, for instance, a lot of people helped (by providing necessities she needs) because “naniniwala sila na I am a queen inside and out,” she smiled.

But this support can also rack the nerves, particularly when people expect one to win (particularly because of the support given).

One will not always win, of course; and this doesn’t always give one good feelings. In 2017, for instance, Mandy joined Queen of Antipolo, and – after failing to win a crown – she said many people told her she should have won the title, or at least placed among the runners-up. “naguluhan ang utak ko (That confused me),” she said. “‘Bakit ako ang gusto ninyong manalo?’ But that’s when I realized na marami ako na-i-inspire na tao dahil marami nagtitiwala sa akin (I ask, ‘Why do you want me to win?’ But that’s when I realized that I inspire a lot of people, which is why they count on me).”

This gives her confidence; enough to deal with the nervousness that will also allow her to just enjoy any pageant she joins.

A TIME TO SHINE

Mandy believes pageants can help LGBTQI people by providing them a platform to showcase to non-LGBTQI people why “hindi tayo dapat husgahan (we should not be judged).”

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Generally speaking, Mandy said that “ang tunay na queen ay may malaking puso (a real queen has a big heart).”

And she knows that not every pageant is good for every contestant. There will be pageants where you will be crowned the queen, she said, just as there will be pageants where you will lose. But over and above the winning and losing, note “what’s most important: that there’s a lot of people who supported you in a (certain) pageant.”

At the end of the day, “sa lahat ng patimpalak, pagkatandaan natin na merong nananalo at may natatalo. Depende na lang yan sa araw mo. Kung ikaw ay nakatadhanang manalo ay mananalo ka; kung nakatadhanang matalo ay matatalo ka talaga. Yun lang yun. Isipin mo na lang na meron pang araw na darating na mas maganda para sa iyo (in all competitions, remember that there will always be a winner and a loser. It all depends on your luck for the day. If you are fated to win, you will win; if you are fated to lose, you will lose. That’s that. But still remember – even when you lose – that there will always come a day that will be great for you).”

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Paolo, naked

Paolo Dumlao, a pansexual Filipino performance artist, uses his naked body as a canvas, believing that art can help the people – both the artist and those who see the artworks. “It makes people think, ask… and feel,” he said, all relevant because “we’re not robots; we’re humans.”

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This is part of #KaraniwangLGBT, which Outrage Magazine officially launched on July 26, 2015 to offer vignettes of LGBT people/living, particularly in the Philippines, to give so-called “everyday people” – in this case, the common LGBT people – that chance to share their stories.
As Outrage Magazine editor Michael David C. Tan says: “All our stories are valid – not just the stories of the ‘big shots’. And it’s high time we start telling all our stories.”

Four years ago, Paolo Dumlao, a pansexual Filipino, did his first performance art “as mema lang (out of whim),” he said. At that time, he just wanted to “tick off something from my bucket list.” But he fell in love with the form, and so stayed with it.

Here’s the thing: In his performances, Paolo is always without clothes since he is a nude artist.

There is reason behind this, he said. “It’s not because it’s something different, or because it’s something new since it’s been done before… but because for me, the feeling (when one is nude) is very vulnerable, and I think it’s my most vulnerable form, and I want to be in that state when I perform so I can emphasize with people.”

To be clear, Paolo is not a performing artist; instead, he is a performance artist.

Performance art is different from performing arts. With the latter, “you are portraying a character that is not you. So you’re using your body as a canvas to create another character. When it comes to performance art, you yourself are the character, and the message you relay is different outside of the text,” he said. “At least that’s what I am doing.”

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Paolo noted that there are people who see performances of nude artists as sexual, and he said that this is not necessarily true.

On the one hand, just because one is naked doesn’t mean the piece is sexual, as “it could be pure, it could be wholesome (even if the performer is not clothed). And I am able to show these (through my performances), and that (things aren’t) just black and white.”

And so, it is worth stressing, “it is not pornography; I am not selling my body, I am just using my body as canvas for my art.”

Paolo said that malice needs to be removed when viewing particularly his performances – i.e. “We don’t give malice when seeing a naked child, so why give malice when seeing a naked adult?” This is particularly true when “they’re not doing anything malicious or anything sexual.”

On the other hand, Paolo said with emphasis, even if the piece is also sexual, it’s not like there’s something wrong with that. “We’re all different; sensuality is different for everyone, just as sexuality is different for everyone. You can be modest and that empowers you, and that’s fine. You could be very, very promiscuous and very sexual, and that empowers you, and that’s fine, too. As long as you’re responsible with yourself, you’re responsible when dealing with other people, and you know for a fact you’re not stepping on other people’s toes.”

Though Paolo has been inspired by various artists, his main inspiration are the people he deals with while performing. “My interaction creates an experience for me, and from that experience, I get inspired to make more art,” he said.

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Paolo said he gets two reactions when he performs. For one, there are people who get “the vulnerability,” he said. And, secondly, “there are times when (people) get intimidated.” But with performance art, “your art is effective when you get a reaction, once it creates discourse.” And so for Paolo, the piece still works “even if only one person gets it.”

There are members of his family who disapprove of what he does, though Paolo said this is largely due to security/safety issues – e.g. he could get harassed, or he could be accused of harassing and could get in trouble for this. But Paolo said that he is actually cautious when planning performances, making sure that – yes – he does so in a safe space where he won’t be harassed, and only in contexts where he won’t knowingly end up harassing people.

For those who oversimplify what he’s doing as “just getting naked”, Paolo said performing is actually very draining, not just mentally but also physically. Which is why “I look after my body,” he said, “because I use my body as my canvas and I need to take care of it. I always make sure I am ready for it; it’s strenuous.”

If there’s one lesson his performances taught him, it’s that “we share similar stories,” Paolo said. “We share similar pain, we share similar happiness or success… The levels may be different on how we deal with these, but they’re similar.”

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And after his performances, if there is one thing he wants those who see him to take away from seeing him, it’s the ability to “ask questions,” Paolo said. “Never be afraid to ask questions. It’s a start of being curious, of interacting with other people. So if possible, ask all the questions you can ask. It’s a way to grow as a person.”

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Worsening #ARVshortage in the Phl?

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

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

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

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

TAINTED ‘SUCCESS’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DOH’s CLAIM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WHAT NOW?

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

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

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

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

THE NEED TO GO BEYOND LIP SERVICE

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

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

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

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

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

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