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Too much focus on the glitzy fibs, less emphasis on the grimy truth

Michael David dela Cruz Tan writes about a persisting problem in advocacies – i.e. how it doesn’t help at all when the money available keeps going to finance glitzy fibs, instead of actually reaching the grimy truths.

This article was supposed to be written a long time ago. I was warned – I should say repeatedly – of how “bitchy” it may sound, with some even saying it’d sound “bitter” and that “you’d burn bridges”; as if those would cover the “stench” (for lack of better word) of these erroneous practices…

But – over the warnings – it was difficult for me to write the piece because:

  1. I know so many in the advocacy (many of them, I’d say, are even my friends), so “burning the bridge/s” was real to me;
  2. This one touching on me as a journalist: While many complained about their experiences, none would do so on the record for fear of “retaliation” (e.g. be ostracized by the communities they are part of, be denied funding, et cetera); and
  3. The need to give the other parties involved (i.e. those who fund/disburse the funds) a chance to speak about these allegations, and which something they continue to refuse to do even if it’s a friend/“friend” who asked them.

But then – a few days ago – an AP report came out claiming that the World Health Organization (WHO) actually spends more on travel costs than on fighting (GET THIS) AIDS, hepatitis, malaria and tuberculosis COMBINED. AP reported that the UN health agency spends around $200 million a year on travel costs, while last year, it only spent around $71 million on AIDS and hepatitis, $61 million on malaria, and $59 million on tuberculosis. Since 2013, WHO has paid approximately $803 million for travel.

Being saddened was my immediate reaction.
And angry.

Not just because of the amount of money being spent NOT on fighting what we’re all supposed to be fighting, but on pretexts of fighting them. But also because practices like this are actually accepted as “normal” in various advocacies, and how (stressing point No. 2 above) many refuse to speak up because of fear, so that these practices just continue.

Anecdotes have been making the rounds (some of them for years now; and that’s even if nothing seems to be done about them still).

In 2014, for instance, while in New York, I was told – off-the-record as usual, so the source (if not the issue raised) remains unnamed – of an international LGBT organization that held high-end parties supposedly to raise funds for LGBT activists fighting for human rights in various parts of Africa. What the source stressed was that “more money was spent on partying in New York than actually being sent to Africa”. The source (as mentioned) refused to OFFICIALLY complain; and the organization alleged to profit from the cause refused to OFFICIALLY respond unless they were told who the source was.

But I don’t have to go far (that is, overseas) to find similar examples.

A few years back, an HIV-related NGO “complained” (again, because the head doesn’t want to go on record, and would rather not be named, else lose the chance for his NGO to be funded in the future) of how his proposal to give psychosocial support via counseling (among others) to people living with HIV (PLHIVs) was refused. He was allegedly told by the funder that the funding is only given to “more glamorous endeavors”. Money was, instead, given to a photo exhibit, with people from the funding body among those who modeled.

I have attended press conferences of HIV-related efforts, where more money was spent on: models/so-called “ambassadors”, photographers, videographers, events organizers, booze and party venues than the actual HIV testing. It’s to promote HIV testing, I was told, which is – I suppose – fair enough. But when asked how many people actually got tested because of these efforts, the answer usually given was: “That’s not part of the indicators of success/failure of the project/s.” The main indicator, apparently, was just how glitzy the events were/how much noise it gained from social networking sites and/or the media.

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More recently, another HIV-related NGO was given funding to continue a project that it has been implementing for approximately five years now, with less than 800 Filipinos benefiting from it. Interestingly, a similar project that already benefited almost 10,000 Filipinos (even if this project was implemented in less amount of time, and more comprehensively) was refused financial support by the same funder (and even if this NGO only asked for a small amount). Lamenting this, the head of the latter organization could only sardonically allege that “we’re not in the ‘in’ crowd kasi.”

And then – similar to WHO’s issue – there’s the travel. I have friends and, yes, “friends” who have traveled the world in a effort to “find ways to stop HIV and AIDS”; and yet when asked if they have visited a treatment hub (to see the ACTUAL situation of PLHIVs on the ground, to be physically present where the people they claim to serve are), I have been told “that’s not my thing” or “that’s not part of my mandate” or something similar to this…

Again while in New York, I once asked an international funder how they evaluate the success of the projects they fund (particularly if they’re in a distant place like, say, Philippines), and I was flat-out told: “We rely on the reports given us.” Pressed if they send people on the ground now and then to check the veracity of the reports, to see if what they got were not some fibs, I was again flat-out told: “That’s not part of our mandate.”

And so this problem continues/will just persist.

The Philippines currently already reports 30+ new HIV infections EVERY DAY. We all seem to be doing a lot, particularly if you base it on the “noise” made by the ostentatious project implementers on social networking sites; but – please, please enough of the sugarcoating – we don’t seem to be making even a dent (meaning we’re not doing enough!).

And – again, enough of the B.S. – it doesn’t help at all when the money available keeps going to finance glitzy fibs, instead of actually reaching the grimy truths, so that then, we’re fucked/will continue to be fucked.

The founder of Outrage Magazine, Michael David dela Cruz Tan completed BA Communication Studies from University of Newcastle in NSW, Australia; and Master of Development Communication from the University of the Philippines-Open University. Conversant in Filipino Sign Language, Mick can: photograph, do artworks with mixed media, write (DUH!), shoot flicks, community organize, facilitate, lecture, and research (with pioneering studies under his belt). He authored "Being LGBT in Asia: Philippines Country Report", and "Red Lives" that creatively retells stories from the local HIV community. Among others, Mick received the Catholic Mass Media Awards in 2006 for Best Investigative Journalism, and Art that Matters - Literature from Amnesty Int'l Philippines in 2020. Cross his path is the dare (guarantee: It won't be boring).


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