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    KEEPING DRY. Improvised foot bridges made people navigate the flooded evacuation center in Barangay Pagatin, Shariff Saydona Mustapha in Maguindanao. Photo from Oxfam in the Philippines

    MANILA, Philippines – Families seeking refuge from armed conflict in at least two evacuation centers in Maguindanao faced a new struggle after their temporary homes got submerged in floodwater following heavy rains.

    An evacuation site with 70 families in Barangay Pagatin in Shariff Saydona Mustapha, Maguindanao, has been flooded due to heavy rains since Sunday, July 28.

    Oxfam's Philippine office said that  internally displaced persons (IDPs) displaced by armed conflict are also exposed to risks like flooding.

    To walk around the flooded property, families built makeshift wooden bridges. Some also opted to wade through the ankle-deep floodwater, while others use a kuliglig, a hand tractor attached with a trailer.

    KULIGLIG. The kuliglig, a hand tractor attached with a small trailer,  help people get around the flooded evacuation site in Barangay Pagatin. Photo from Oxfam in the Philippines

    WADING THROUGH THE FLOOD. Some IDPs wade through the ankle-deep floodwater in an evacuation center in Barangay Pagatin, Shariff Saydona Mustapha in Maguindanao. Photo from Oxfam in the Philippines

    RESILIENCE. A woman tends to her baby  in a flooded evacuation center in Barangay Pagatin. Photo from Oxfam in the Philippines

    PLAYTIME. A child walks on a makeshift bridge while playing in their flooded evacuation site in Barangay Pagatin. Photo from Oxfam in the Philippines

    Internally displaced persons (IDPs) at the Kitango Elementary School in Datu Saudi Ampatuan faced a similar struggle, as the school had been flooded since Saturday, July 27. The school is located about minutes away from Barangay Pagatin.

    Based on data from Oxfam in Philippines’ project partner Community Organizers Multiversity, 89 families were evacuated to the Kitango Elementary School earlier this year as part of a mass evacuation from armed conflict in the area in March.

    Five families from Pikeg in Shariff Saydona Mustapha town stayed the Kitango Elementary School because they had no means yet to rebuild their homes that were destroyed because of military operations.

    “They are staying there because they have nowhere to go. Their houses in Pikeg were already destroyed and there is an ongoing military operation in the area,” said April Abello Bulanadi, a media officer at Oxfam in the Philippines.

    “Based on our interviews with the people in the community, their situation in the evacuation sites have worsened further because of the flooding. But they have learned to live with it because they had no choice,” she added.

    Meanwhile, other families displaced by armed conflict in the province have built makeshift shelters outside the school’s vicinity and other evacuation sites in the community. (READ: 'Host families': A home for IDPs in Maguindanao)

    FLOODED. The Kitango Elementary School in Datu Saudi Ampatuan, Maguindanao, surrounded by ankle-deep flood. Photo from Oxfam in the Philippines

    MAKING DO. Children play in the flood at the Kitango Elementary School in Datu Saudi Ampatuan in Maguindanao. Photo from Oxfam in the Philippines

    The IDPs preferred to stay in the flooded evcuation sites. Military operations against armed groups, and clan wars have created a climate of fear in Maguindanao and continued to displace families in conflict areas.

    According to a report from the provincial office of the Ministry of Social Services in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao,  7,395 families (approximately 36,975 individuals) have been displaced in 7 municipalities of Maguindanao as of April 4, 2019.  (READ: [OPINION] Maguindanao is a forgotten crisis)

    Aside from armed conflict and disasters, IDPs also struggle with the lack of decent shelter, food, water, sanitation, and hygiene, among other necessities.

    To help improve their situation, Oxfam in the Philippines along with their partners have provided the IDPs with food, cash, hygiene kits, water kits, hand pumps, shelter materials, sleeping kits, toilets, solar lamps, and solar lighted posts in communal areas. – Rappler.com


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    FLOODS. Motorists and vehicles wade through floods brought by heavy rain at UN Avenue, Manila, on Friday morning, August 2, 2019. Photo by Lito Borras/Rappler

    MANILA, Philippines– Several areas in Metro Manila were quickly flooded following a downpour brought by the southwest monsoon on Friday, August 2.

    The southwest monsoon, which had been bringing heavy rain in the western part of Luzon, was further enhanced by a tropical storm located outside the Philippine Area of Responsibility.

    In Metro Manila, the downpour caused floods, triggering traffic, making commuting difficult, and leaving some passengers stranded.

    At 3 pm Friday, Malacañang suspended work in government offices, as well as classes in public and private schools in all levels across Metro Manila.

    Manila Mayor Isko Moreno did a Facebook Live broadcast to show the public what streets were flooded in Manila. At around 11 am, while on the road, he told his followers to avoid Taft Avenue, España Boulevard, Quezon Boulevard, Estrada Street, Santa Mesa, among other areas because of the heavy flooding.

    He also shared other possible routes to take for those going to Pasay City, and urged people to stay home if possible. 

    At around 4pm, Moreno announced on his official Facebook page that España Boulevard was no longer flooded.

    Meanwhile, Quezon City Mayor Joy Belmonte continued clearing operations at Muñoz Market and kept a close eye on Balintawak to maintain cleanliness and order of the said road.

    As of 5 pm, there were 5 areas that had yellow rainfall warning, which means heavy rain would persist in these areas for the next 3 hours, and flooding in low-lying areas was possible. 

    These areas are Metro Manila, Zambales, Bataan, Cavite, and Batangas.

    Below are some photos and videos of the flooding in Metro Manila:

    UNITED Nations Avenue, Manila City. Photo by Lito Borras/Rappler

    SAN Marcelino Street in Manila. Photo by Lito Borras/Rappler

    SAN Marcelino Street in Manila. Photo by Lito Borras/Rappler

    SAN Marcelino Street in Manila. Photo by Lito Borras/Rappler

    COMMONWEALTH Avenue, Quezon City. Photo by Darren Langit/Rappler

    RIZAL Avenue, Sta. Cruz, Manila. Photo by Twitter user @MMPFajardo

    FLORENTINO Street in Sta. Cruz, Manila. Photo by Twitter user @travelferdie

    ESPAÑA Boulevard in Manila. Photo by Twitter user @PieIncha

    QUEZON Boulevard in Manila. Photo by Inoue Jaena/Rappler QUEZON Boulevard in Manila.

    QUEZON Boulevard in Manila. Photo by Inoue Jaena/Rappler

    A house in Barangay UP Campus was destroyed by an uprooted tree, killing a female resident. 

    WRECKAGE. Residents of Brgy. UP Campus sift through the wreckage of a house that
was destroyed by an uprooted tree. Photo by Darren Langit/Rappler

    WRECKAGE. Residents of Brgy. UP Campus sift through the wreckage of a house that
was destroyed by an uprooted tree. Photo by Darren Langit/Rappler

    Rappler.com


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    American writer Mark Twain once wrote, “Dance like no one is watching, sing like no one is listening, love like you’ve never been hurt and live like it’s Heaven on Earth.”

    This free-spirited, cast-your-care attitude hardly describes Singapore, but for just one day of the year it actually does – at the National Day Parade (NDP).

    Singapore loves to show the world we can host events on a global scale, but we save the best for ourselves. The NDP is the biggest party by Singaporeans for Singaporeans, and the organizers make sure we know it. My ex-classmate was one of the 25,000 spectators who knows this and even towed his new Canadian wife to the parade so he could show Singapore off.

    But there are many who don’t attend or watch the NDP. Fear of crowds? Unimpressed by the same old, same old but enhanced story line? Or have they simply stopped believing? Nonetheless, there’s no denying the NDP hype lives on, so much so that many ballot for tickets just to watch the previews. So, all this got me thinking: "Is the NDP hype a form of patriotism we are embarrassed to admit, or is it just one big party of an excuse for family time?"

    I think the answer is all of the above, but also in the unspoken. 

    I am a media consultant and counsellor, which gives me ringside seats to the thinking behind strategic messaging but also its impact. I can’t think of any other event or occasion in Singapore than the NDP which elicits such unadulterated joy. Just listen to the lyrics of the most popular NDP theme song "Home," written by Dick Lee, which captures some of this joy:

    Whenever I am feeling low 
    I look around me and I know
    There's a place that will stay within me

    Can you see how the opening line already makes this song a winner? Singer Kit Chan tells us it’s perfectly alright to feel down. It’s okay to feel you are not enough because you are not alone and can always count on Singapore.

    The NDP is that one evening of the year when we can truly celebrate our achievements, but also feel accepted and belonged, because Singapore is home truly and it’s where I know I must be. "Home" and the NDP celebrates our vulnerability and the courage to be imperfect.

    All this is accompanied by a deep, warm voice describing our rise to economic success, set against the backdrop of military might, multimedia wizardry, and rousing songs on nation building. Then, it climaxes with fireworks exploding in the night sky, followed by gasps of awe. The NDP is the birthplace of belonging and acceptance, and transforms Singapore into heaven on earth.

     POMP AND CIRCUMSTANCE. Singaporeans watch helicopters holding up the national flag on Singapore National Day.

    But where is the sense of belonging and acceptance the rest of the year? Are there remnants of this joy or variants of it after the music dies, the fireworks fizzle out, and the realities of living in Singapore kick in? What emotions are evoked when the chips are down?

    On complaints made against our unreliable national rail, we are told there is still a need to raise transport fares because it has financially burdened the operators and the government. On fears of the expiring 99-year lease on Housing Development Board (HBD) flats, we are reminded how HDB and upgrading is already heavily subsidized. On frustrations of the rising costs of living, we are told there is still a need to raise the Goods and Services Tax (GST) because there is a gap despite our reserves doubling, and we should just use public Wi-fi. And when we actually do well, we are reminded not to get complacent but to strive even harder. 

    In the recent case of Singaporean Suriia, whose wife is suffering from late-stage cancer, desperate pleas for the Central Provident Fund (CPF) board to allow him to transfer his savings to save his wife were turned down because they are under 55.

    The general motivation suggests prudence and pragmatism, but it also shames. Shame specialist Dr Brene Brown from the University of Texas defines shame as the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing we are flawed and therefore unworthy of belonging and acceptance. Brown says it’s hard for us to even talk about shame as there is no language for it, but it’s probably even harder in the Asian context of Singapore, where the pursuit of social class and keeping up with appearances are rampant.

    The closest term to describe shame here is “kiasu-ism” or the fear to lose. Brown says that when we experience shame, we are steeped in the fear of being ridiculed, diminished, or seen as flawed. Could "kiasu-ism" really be the fear of being ridiculed and shamed?

    I found out later that my ex-classmate had another motive for attending the NDP. He was planning to sing his own song at the NDP – a swan song to be precise. He chose the NDP to capture his final Kodak moments of Singapore before packing up to Vancouver for good.

    I think the NDP sparks joy, no questions asked, no strings attached, and everyone wants a piece of it.

    This year’s NDP theme is “Our Singapore,” and it celebrates the collective ownership of the country. Its theme song is “Our Singapore,” also written by Dick Lee. I think it’s going to be another hit. As in "Home," you can find themes of vulnerability and acceptance in the opening line too:

    It isn't easy building something out of nothing
    Especially when the road ahead's a rocky one
    But if we gather all our courage and conviction
    And hold our dream up high
    The challenge will be won

    Filipino Claire Miranda and family are some of the many foreigners who once called Singapore home. She spent 13 years here and counted those days as one of the happiest seasons of her life before giving up her Permanent Resident status in 2013 to care for her ailing in-laws back in Manila. She explains, “I felt belonged and found sanctuary in Singapore’s infrastructure, but I now realize the work of making home is a partnership, and I wonder whether governments could inject some empathy in their nation-building efforts.” 

    Despite the disconnect, the NDP will continue to endear. This song could surpass "Home," and the fireworks could outshine last year’s, driving even more to the NDP.  How could it not when all we want is to feel belonged and accepted – even if it’s for just one evening of the year? Many will wish for Singapore to stay strong and united, but my wish is simply for the NDP to show some of that love, belonging, and acceptance the rest of the year too.

    Happy 54th Birthday, Singapore! – Rappler.com

    Singaporean James Leong is a media consultant for the social service sector, as well as a counsellor who runs his own practice Listen Without Prejudice to address fear and anxiety in the Lion City.

     


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    LIGHT. The forum at the University of the Philippines Asian Center ends with a candle-lighting ceremony remembering the victims of the killings in Negros Island on Thursday, August 1. Photo by Patricia Angela Echano/Rappler

    MANILA, Philippines – After a spate of killings in Negros Island, advocates and various groups echoed on Thursday, August 1, the call to put an end to the senseless bloodshed.  

    Defend Negros #StopTheAttacks Network led the discussion on the current situation in Negros Island in a forum at the University of the Philippines Asian Center. 

    In Negros Oriental, at least 21 people have been killed from July 18 to 27, including a lawyer, a barangay captain, a city councilor, a former mayor, and a one-year-old child. Rights groups say at least 87 people have been killed in the two Negros provinces since 2017.

    The spate of killings has led Malacañang to consider declaring martial law in Negros Island. (READ: Monitoring Negros: What rulings say about NPA and martial law)

    “The ultimate objectives of this forum are for us to be educated on the true state of Negros [Island], and after knowing the situation, if we can have final decisions on what kind of actions we can take to help the families in any small ways and to stop the impending martial law in Negros [Island],” said Gretchen Velarde, one of the organizers of the forum. 

    Oplan Sauron

    Angie Ipong of the Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA) tackled Oplan Sauron or the Synchronized Enhanced Management of Police Operations (SEMPO). The joint operation between Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police is part of the government’s efforts against illegal drugs and loose firearms in Central Visayas. 

    Ipong mentioned that this highly coordinated military and police operation is against human rights as it “targeted and employed illegal and brutal acts against unarmed civilians belonging to legitimate peasant groups, farmers’ associations, and village level government units.” 

    DEFEND NEGROS. Angie Ipong of the Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura discusses the situation of Negros Island under Oplan Sauron and urges the public to help in the quest for justice for the victims of the killings on Thursday, August 1. Photo by Patricia Angela Echano/Rappler

    A string of deaths in Negros Island has been making headlines in 2019. On March 30, 14 farmers were killed during simultaneous police operations in three municipalities across Negros Oriental. Just recently, 15 people were shot dead in a span of one week in the province. (READ: Death comes unprovoked upon Negros Island)

    Putting the blame on the New People's Army, President Rodrigo Duterte warned that he will use all powers of the presidency under the Constitution to quell "lawless violence" in Negros Island. The Central Visayas police chief, however, has already appealed to the public to refrain from linking all killings to the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines.

    In a statement, Makabayan's Neri Colmenares pointed out the weak foundation of Duterte's plan to use his emergency powers in Negros.

    "Out of the many killings in Negros the police have no clear conclusion as to the perpetrators, except to point at the usual suspects – the NPA – even without evidence, in order to derail public attention from the AFP and the PNP.  And yet they are planning on imposing martial law when they have not even gathered evidence on the identity of the suspects," he said.

    In the forum, Ipong listed several ways that ordinary citizens can do to help end the killings in Negros Island.

    “What can we do to help? We must push for an independent investigation regarding human rights violations committed in the course of Oplan Sauron, issue statements to express solidarity, and organize activities to help victims and survivors psychosocially, morally and financially,” said Ipong.

    Ipong also urged the public to fight disinformation by spreading awareness and helping create healthy and critical discourse on human rights violations not just in Negros but also elsewhere in the country. 

    Tolling of bells

    Fr Christopher Ablon from the National Council of Churches in the Philippines stressed the need to help people be more aware about what’s happening in the two provinces, and encouraged churches to toll their bells as a symbol of protest against the rising killings in Negros Island. 

    Mahalaga na ipagpatuloy natin ang pag-toll ng bells hanggang ang mga bells ng lahat ng simbahan sa buong Pilipinas ay makisabay sa protesta, panawagan at pakikisimpatya sa mga biktima ng patayan sa Negros [Island],” said Fr Ablon. 

    (It is important that we continue to toll the bells until the bells of all the churches in the Philippines join to protest and sympathize with the victims of killings in Negros Island.)

    Four Catholic bishops in Negros Island have condemned the killings and called on parishes to toll their bells every 8 pm until the murders stop.

    Unity and action

    Bayan Muna Representative Eufemia Cullamat, also a member of the Makabayan bloc, mourned with the families of the victims and urged fellow Filipinos to unite and take action in expressing condemnation of the killings in Negros Island. 

    "Bilang kinatawan sa Kongreso, limitado lang ang magagawa natin doon. Ang ating hinahangad na pagbabago ay wala sa Kongreso, kung hindi nasa ating mga kamay. Ipagpatuloy natin ang ating pagkilos at pagkakaisa para makamit ang tunay na demokrasya sa ating bayan," said Cullamat.  

    (As a representative in Congress, what we can do there is limited. The change we want to see is not in Congress but rather in our hands. We should continue to take action and unite for us to achieve true democracy for our country.)

    Naneth Castillo, a mother of a victim of Oplan Tokhang, echoed the call to seek justice for the victims of extrajudicial killings in the Duterte regime.

    "Ang pagdamay po sa kapwa natin ay gawin nating instrumento upang mamulat tayo at ‘yung iba pa. Tumindig tayo, ‘yun ang panawagan ko. Hustisya ang kailangan natin, hindi po patayan," said Castillo.

    (We must use our sympathy to our fellow men as an instrument for us to be aware. My call is to stand in solidarity. What we need is justice, not killings.)

    Aside from sharing of sentiments from human rights advocates and various groups, artist groups Alay Sining UP Diliman, The UP Repertory Company and Philippine Educational Theater Association also showcased performances tackling farmers’ rights and the call to seek justice for the victims of the killings in Negros Island. – Rappler.com

    Patricia Angela Echano is a Rappler Intern and an incoming senior student taking BA Communication Arts at the University of the Philippines Los Baños.


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    MANILA, Philippines – Were you stuck in traffic today? You're not alone, as Filipinos took to social media to slam the attempts of the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) to ease Manila's traffic congestion.

    On Wednesday, August 7, netizen Karl Mercado posted a photo on his Facebook account, showing the traffic situation along EDSA due to MMDA’s yellow lane policy, which allows buses to use only the two outermost lanes in EDSA. The policy has resulted in traffic gridlocks, affecting mostly city buses.

    Mercado’s photo, which circulated soon after it was uploaded, showed the city bus gridlock, barely moving, and extending to an end hardly in sight – in stark contrast to the lane for private vehicles, which was almost empty, except for a traffic enforcer’s motorcycle parked comfortably in the middle. 

    The traffic situation also coincided with the dry run of MMDA's controversial provincial bus ban along EDSA, which pushed through despite a Quezon City court's preliminary injunction against the policy last week. 

    Pointing out how MMDA's solutions to the traffic only seemed to worsen it, netizens expressed their outrage over MMDA's overt lack of consideration to Filipinos who take public transport on a daily basis.

    For many netizens, one need not take a hard look at the photo to see what the policy really is about and who the policy is for: the line drawn between the rich and the poor has never been so apparent.

    Noting the clear disparity between the lanes for buses and private cars, netizens lamented how the "anti-poor" policy doesn't prioritize the needs of commuters. 

    This is not the first time the MMDA has been labeled as “anti-poor” for its policies. The provincial bus ban, especially, inconveniences the commuters from the provinces more than anyone else.

    Many reiterated that most of those who take the buses are workers who cannot afford the convenience of private cars and are left with not much choice other than public transport. 

    Netizens lamented how MMDA's policies seem to prioritize the comfort of the rich at the expense of the poor.

    Some also suggested regulating private vehicles as well, instead of burdening only the commuters.

    5-minute travel time? Sure, if you got a car

    In March and June this year, President Rodrigo Duterte promised to reduce the Cubao-Makati drive to 5 minutes. (READ: DPWH claims 5-minute Cubao to Makati drive 'possible' by December)

    The Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) and Duterte are not entirely wrong, though. Judging from EDSA’s holiday-like situation for private vehicles, netizens think that the 5-minute drive does seem probable…if you have a car.

    Commuters, however, might take a longer time, with some netizens pointing out how the travel might take as long as 5 hours due to the intense traffic. 

    At the expense of the poor

    Meanwhile, some who got caught in the gridlock shared their horrendous commute experience, with others being stuck in traffic for more than 3 hours.

    The Duterte administration has long promised to ease the metro traffic. But with policies that harm the less privileged, which comprises a good fraction of the urban population, the people beg the question: will the administration prioritize the welfare of the masses? – Rappler.com


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    PREPARED. The Abuyog Community College in Leyte participates in the 3rd quarter nationwide simultaneous earthquake drill headed by the Abuyog MDRRMO at the ACC ground on Thursday, August 8. Photo by Jessica Alvero/ Rappler

    MANILA, Philippines – Kicking off a series of simulation exercises across the Philippines, Ormoc City in Leyte led the 3rd quarter nationwide simultaneous earthquake drill (NSED) for 2019 on Thursday, August 8.

    The 3rd quarter NSED in Ormoc City simulated the impact of a magnitude 7.2 earthquake with the epicenter along the Leyte segment of the Philippine Fault Line, somewhere between Albuera and Burauen areas, in its sports complex.

    In July 2017, a magnitude 6.5 earthquake rocked Leyte, affecting 4,130 families, injuring 493 persons, and resulting in 3 deaths due to its impact. It also incurred more than P220 million worth of damage in Leyte, according to a situational report by the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC).

    Leyte was also the hardest hit when Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) struck in November 2013, bringing torrential rains and storm surges. Yolanda left 6,300 people dead and 1,062 others missing. (READ: IN NUMBERS: 3 years after Super Typhoon Yolanda)

    According to Supervising Science Research Specialist Jeffrey Perez, the NSED earthquake simulation in Ormoc City is an effort to prepare Leyte for an earthquake of the same magnitude which is set to happen sometime in the future.

    Mas malakas pa siya kaysa noong 2017 (This is stronger than the one in 2017). This exercise is a good practice for us not only in Ormoc City but for the whole region 8,” Perez said.

    Ormoc City Mayor Richard Gomez added how the timely conduct of the NSED in Ormoc City helps Leyte assess the capability of its disaster risk reduction and management offices when faced with the looming earthquake.

    This is very good not just for us but also to show the whole Philippines na kailangan at importante itong mga earthquake drills na ganito. Napakalaking tulong nito sa atin because we will never know when this earthquake is going to hit us,” added Ormoc City Mayor Richard Gomez.

    (This is very good not just for us but also to show the whole Philippines that earthquake drills like these are needed and important. It’s a big help to us because we will never know when this earthquake is going to hit us.)

    The NSED is a quarterly drill that seeks to improve local communities’ preparedness for disaster management and promote disaster awareness. It’s also done to evaluate the effectiveness of the local governments' contingency plans and protocols in relation to earthquake scenarios and other similar events. 

    So far, the nationwide simultaneous earthquake drills done in 2019 have been kicked off in Iloilo City and Agusan del Sur.

    As part of the 3rd nationwide simultaneous earthquake drill, government employees, students, teachers, and police officers from various city and municipal stations held their own simulation exercises to better prepare their communities. 

    Below are some scenes of the earthquake drills done across the Philippines:

    Ormoc City, Leyte

    ACLC College of Ormoc. Photo from ACLC College of Ormoc's Facebook page

    ACLC College of Ormoc. Photo from ACLC College of Ormoc's Facebook page

     

    ACLC College of Ormoc. Photo from ACLC College of Ormoc's Facebook page

    Abuyog, Leyte

    Abuyog Community College. Photo by Jessica Alvero/Rappler

    Abuyog Community College. Photo by Jessica Alvero/Rappler

    Abuyog Community College. Photo by Jessica Alvero/Rappler

    Ditale, Aurora

    Ditale, Dipaculao, Aurora. Photo by Jeffrey Pedroza

    Ditale, Dipaculao, Aurora. Photo by Jeffrey Pedroza

    Ditale, Dipaculao, Aurora. Photo by Jeffrey Pedroza

    Ditale, Dipaculao, Aurora. Photo by Jeffrey Pedroza

    Boliney, Abra

    Ditale, Dipaculao, Aurora. Photo by Jeffrey Pedroza

    Ditale, Dipaculao, Aurora. Photo by Jeffrey Pedroza

    Cagayan Valley

    RJDAMA Christian Academy Inc. in Centro Sta Ana, Cagayan Valley. Photo by Bebz Gadot

    Lucban, Quezon

    Barangay 7 in Lucban, Quezon. Photo by Kath Omlas

    Barangay 7 in Lucban, Quezon. Photo by Kath Omlas

    Barangay 7 in Lucban, Quezon. Photo by Kath Omlas

    Barangay 7 in Lucban, Quezon. Photo by Kath Omlas

    Iligan

    Mindanao State University-Iligan Institute of Technology. Photo from Red Cross Youth MSU-IIT Council

    Mindanao State University-Iligan Institute of Technology. Photo from Red Cross Youth MSU-IIT Council

    Mindanao State University-Iligan Institute of Technology. Photo from Red Cross Youth MSU-IIT Council

    Nueva Ecija

    Nueva Ecija University of Science and Technology- Sumacab Campus. Photo from NEUST University Student Government

    Tagaytay City

    Days Hotel in Tagaytay City. Photo by Sixto Caisip Jr.

    Days Hotel in Tagaytay City. Photo by Sixto Caisip Jr.

    Days Hotel in Tagaytay City. Photo by Sixto Caisip Jr.

    Days Hotel in Tagaytay City. Photo by Sixto Caisip Jr.

    – Rappler.com


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    Dear Mom,

    You don’t know, and it breaks my heart that I can’t allow you yet to love me more because I might scare you. Do you remember one time I got terribly sick, quivering with cold sweats? You woke up and whispered, “Stop doing that. You are scaring me.” You are so brave.

    One Saturday morning I went to an HIV hub and got myself tested out of curiosity. That the rapid increase of Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) cases among males here made me anxious, but knowledge is more empowering, I thought.  

    I was confused when the counselor told me I got a reactive status. I hadn’t shown any terrible symptoms we saw on some sensationalist dramas. My awareness on HIV and Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) is thorough. Most of all, I have never remembered a recent unprotected sexual encounter, except for my ex-boyfriend who is HIV-negative, and a very few guys 10 years ago.

    I couldn’t help but ask, “Sir J, when shall I die? Can I join you for lunch?”

    Sir J sighed and said my imagination on HIV being a death sentence is far from what’s really happening.

    The 3 of us ate at the nearest eatery. With their low voices, they told me to think of my next phase as a form of self-care, not as a survival mechanism. When we’re done, Sir J offered to pay the bill for us.

    My dark, self-deprecating humor set in, so I said, “You won’t let me pay my meal and my fare because I will die soon.” They didn’t laugh.

    Mom, that day was overwhelming for me that I went back to the hub and joked to them about how my life was a wreck: that I might be fired from my job; that my ex-boyfriend whom I still love might stop talking to me once I disclose this to him; that my virus will sever my dreams of going abroad, my wish to be a triathlete, and my quest to find someone who will love me.

    Sir J and Ma’am A reassured me that people living with HIV now are leading healthier lives, and my overthinking isn’t helping me. Besides, even if the test is very accurate, the confirmatory result from the laboratory can only declare my being HIV-positive.

    Sir J stalked my Facebook account and came across your picture with dad. You took me back to childhood, Mom, and suddenly I wailed and hyperventilated, my face buried on Sir J’s shirt.

    He embraced me, told me it’s okay, and said, “Do you want to know a secret? I have the virus too. But now I’m undetectable.” He showed to me the bottle of antiretroviral (ARV) pills inside his bag.

    I held his hand and thanked him for letting me know I am not alone, but he needed to leave me to attend to some clients. I just needed to cry it all out and compose myself so you wouldn’t see a trace of pain as I arrived home.

    My ex-boyfriend once visited our house, but you knew him as my friend. We lasted for many years, in spite of me being away from him and being a cheat. You sometimes ask where he works now, because of all my friends who had dropped by my house, he hadn’t come back. I assure you he is by far the kindest, most tender, most fragrant person I know. And I will not replace him as my best friend.

    Against my peer counselors’ advice (they told me it’s safer that I would only tell this to one person, and that’s you), I told him everything. I joined him in the hub where I was tested, because the one nearest to him was reported to have rumor-mongering counselors.

    He tested negative, Mom. He had moved on with someone else too.

    We hadn’t talked since and I felt pushed away, but to be seen by him was my greatest privilege.

    One Sunday morning, I saw Sir L, one of the peer counselors in the hub. He said he only had two hours of sleep because of his schedule. He paused and said, “By the way, the laboratory sent us your confirmatory results already.”

    “So HIV-positive, huh?” I expected for the worst, but wished for him to say another.

    He nodded.

    “Can I see the paper tomorrow?” I had no plans on knowing my body was in shambles. I just wanted to sound unaffected.

    “Sure.” He offered me water and bread, but I refused and walked home.

    The new reality was something I can’t handle, so I went home not meeting your eyes. I sulked in my room the entire day, both lightheaded and wanting to vomit.

    The walls of my room separated your oblivion from my depression, Mom. It’s a dark place in here. It’s embarrassing to admit I had often thought of ending myself. I had known abandonment too well, and I had known debilitating isolation too.

    With all the precarities I had grown, I never claimed to dare greatly at this. But it sometimes surprises me to not betray myself by choosing courage.

    You would’ve been proud if you knew my first essay on HIV had saved lives and forged strong bonds among HIV-positives, and even HIV-negatives who have nonetheless suffered almost the same sadness as mine. We both could have drowned in the anonymous display of love and prayers my new friends had offered.

    The world has its way of surprising me too. I see how nourishing the world is when I wake up without discomfort from flu. I see beauty on the sidewalk when a blind street musician continues playing with a friend assisting him. I see hope with every news on HIV research. I see self-worth as I share my insights to my friends, bright-eyed and nodding.

    I can’t wait to be ready to tell everything to you, Mom. I’m excited to tell you what I have read on one AIDS survivor with only one CD4 count but is now healthy because of effective treatment. I’d be clear on explaining to you what it means to be undetectable, and I'm leaning towards that.

    I didn't wait for a year to be an HIV activist, because in one way or another, I had advanced the cause through writing. I would like you to visit the hub and get to know the people who have helped me cope with the disease.

    Despite all these favors, I can’t promise to get any better. There are still times I shrink and hurt myself. But I believe I am enough, Mom, and that’s enough.

    Sincerely,

    Your son

    The author’s email address is fearlesslypositive2019@gmail.com. He is 25 years old, takes his antiretroviral drug daily, and champions for public health. The author has requested that his identity not be revealed.


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    After declaring the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and the New People’s Army (NPA) as terrorist organizations last year, the Philippine government is now going after youth organizations. They are brandishing terror to families and their children, taking the spotlight in “reuniting families” when they are the ones destroying it.

    On August 7, Senator Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa vowed to “clamp down” on all leftist groups recruiting minors to be part of their activities and as members and fighters. They narrowed this down to Anakbayan, League of Filipino Students and Kabataan Party list.

    Dela Rosa now chairs the Senate Committee on Public Order and Dangerous Drugs. It is not only ironic but is also utterly disgusting and downright preposterous.

    In his words, minors joining so-called leftist groups are worse than drug addicts.  Dela Rosa  says that drug addicts can be rehabilitated. Is he just a complete idiot or do the Filipino people need to remind him that he is the architect behind the death of more than 30,000 lives?

    Dela Rosa says that he wants “to know the real score in order to ferret out the truth.” Well here’s the truth: the tyrannical and murderous regime is the one creating its enemies. The real score is in the blood on your hands.

    The military and the police preyed upon problems faced between youth activists and their families. While these are serious concerns, they ensured that this will prosper and develop following President Rodrigo Duterte’s Executive Order No. 70 in 2018 establishing a whole of nation approach in ending the local communist armed conflict through a national task force.

     We will never forget the names Karen Empeno and Sherlyn Cadapan, and their mothers Concepcion and Erlinda, who fought for their daughters until the end. Army officials were found guilty of kidnapping and serious illegal detention over the two students' enforced disappearance. Karen and Sherlyn were also accused as members of the CPP. This government tore their families and they didn’t even have an ounce of regret.

    We also need to retell the story of Mark Welson Chua’s murder by his fellow cadet officers which sprung from the mercenary traditions of the Philippine military taught under the Reserve Officers’ Training Program. 

    From these instances, it is clear that the police and the military are not interested in reuniting Filipino families. It is clear that they are the ones destroying it. They are digging deep for their reputation that can never be found. They were tasked to control the insurgencies but hasn’t won a single war against the NPA and foreign nations posing external threats like China.

     Of course, Dela Rosa will support intensified visits of the Philippine National Police (PNP)  and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) in schools and universities. Regular monitoring and military and police presence in schools and universities will lead to heightened attacks against the democratic rights of students. This is a no-brainer. For him, protecting them means outright suppression to stifle the ever-strengthening patriotic movement of the youth. 

    In October 2018, the military through AFP assistant Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations Brigadier General Antonio Parlade released a list of universities where the CPP-NPA allegedly recruits students. They paraded their imbecility by including the non-existent Caloocan City College and failing to provide evidence. 

    Just this July, two youth volunteers from Katipunan ng Samahang Magbubukid ng Timog Katagalugan and National Network of Agrarian Reform Advocates Youth were abducted by elements of the 76th Infantry Battalion.

    Nadaline Fabon and Ray Malaborbor were charged with illegal possession of firearms and explosives and are currently detained at Sta. Cruz Police Station in Laguna. Fabon and Malaborbor were helping peasants in Occidental Mindoro as a state of calamity was declared in the area because of drought.

    What needs to be addressed is why thousands and thousands of youth find the path of activism justified. But the military, the police, and the government will never address this because they are the purveyor of the economic and human rights crisis in the country. 

    They waged war against the poor and claimed thousands of innocent lives, they reformed the tax law and put the burden to millions of low earning families. They cry for nationalism but do not have the courage to defend our patrimony and sovereignty. They are the ones stealing hectares of land from farmers and indigenous people, selling it to foreign corporations.

    This is why the youth’s patriotism will never be quelled for we continue to embrace the struggle of workers, peasants and other sectors of the society. Outside learning institutions, we have learned to relate our struggle to the struggle of the exploited masses, especially the workers and peasants.

    And through time we have made the streets, factories, farmlands, and organizations devoted to a patriotic and democratic cause our sanctuary and a place for learning. This is something that Dela Rosa and this fascist government can never take away from the youth.

    The Duterte regime needs incessant reminding that rebellion and resistance are in the Filipino people’s DNA. It is not the critical mass that encourages rebellion, it is this government and its inability to solve basic problems like hunger and employment that pushes people to tread the armed revolution—a reality demonized by those in power perpetuating a corrupt, murderous and poverty-plagued society. – Rappler.com

    Daryl Angelo Baybado is a graduate of Journalism from the University of Santo Tomas (UST). He was a former Associate Editor of The Varsitarian, UST's official student publication. He is currently the National President of the College Editors Guild of the Philippines, the broadest and oldest alliance of student publications in South East Asia. 


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    MANILA, Philippines – What the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) initially thought was a solution to ease traffic congestion, the Filipino commuters have experienced otherwise. 

    On Wednesday, August 7, MMDA’s yellow lane policy, which allowed buses to use only the two outermost lanes in EDSA has gained traction online as the policy only resulted in traffic gridlocks, affecting mostly city buses.  (READ: Class divide: Filipinos slam MMDA for ‘anti-poor’ EDSA policy

    Pointing out this policy implemented by MMDA was merely a ‘trial and error’, netizen Diomedes Racelis cited the need for a scientific data that would serve as a basis in enforcing policies and use of computer models to determine optimum traffic schemes. 

    Facebook user Benj Ligot also insisted that those whose expertise were anchored on the scientific approach for traffic management should be offered the job. 

    Limit private cars 

    MMDA also wanted to implement the controversial provincial bus ban to which netizens previously considered “anti-poor and anti-commuter.” In fact, the dry run of the said ban along EDSA, which pushed through despite a Quezon City court's preliminary injunction also added to the commuters' struggle. 

    Netizens also emphasized that the problem was not on the number of buses but the volume of private cars. 

    “Bakit di nila subukan ang ‘Odd/Even scheme’ sa private cars only sa Edsa? (Why not try the odd/ even scheme for private cars in EDSA)” said Facebook user Jimmy Nueca.  

    Banning private cars in EDSA on a designated time, cleaning up alternate routes or side streets so private cars can use it instead were among the suggestions made by other netizens. This is to give way for buses to take more lanes especially during rush hour. 

    Proper implementation

    Another Facebook user also pointed out that “enforcement of proper loading & unloading area should be observed by educating the people and the traffic engineers as well.”  

    Moreover, netizen Cocoi Base also noted other suggestions that could solve the traffic woes in Metro Manila such as the implementation of rapid bus transit systems.

    “We can just add more trains so each MRT and LRT station can just have a 2-5-minute intervals between rides to avoid long queue and crowded stations; we can also explore on utilizing our waterways for alternative transportation - as some basic achievable part of the solution,” Base stressed. 

    He also mentioned that for a long-term solution, it would also be a good idea to “consult urban planners and designers in making our cities more livable - from decongesting, rethinking of zoning, to pedestrian-friendly planning, etc.” 

    Here are other suggestions from netizens:

     

     

     

     

     – Rappler.com 


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    I grew up Christian

    Unlike a lot of students who "lose" their faith and become skeptical of organized religion as they step foot in University of the Philippines-Diliman, it was in UP that I fully committed to converting to Islam.

    Actually, "converting" is not the proper word for embracing Islam as a previous adherent of another religion. We Muslims believe that everyone, regardless of race or nationality, is born a Muslim, but that we come to adopt any religion or faith that is predominant in the society or community to which we are born. So Christianity was a religion that was, for all intents and purposes, forced upon me. That's why "reverting" to Islam as a faith and a way of life was something that I chose for myself. I started reading about it long before my decision, but it was only about 5 years ago that I felt the freedom to choose a religion that was going to lead my way moving forward.

    Since I am not Muslim by birth, and I only proclaimed my "shahada" in 2014, I have been taking slow, tentative baby steps in learning my new faith little by little. For some weird metaphysical reason or another, it just appealed to my curiosity, and I was fascinated with the finer points of the religious traditions and habits that a Muslim should follow. Needless to say, have embraced the Pillars of the Faith, including prayers and keeping other religious obligations such as abstaining from food and drink that is considered "haram."

    My first years as a new Muslim were definitely tough. I was previously unaware of how difficult life was as a Muslim, because it was a struggle that I could not relate to as a Christian. However, upon converting, I was confronted by many issues such as the lack of public prayer spaces. Often, mushallahs or prayer rooms in public establishments are hidden in embarrassing, dark corners or moth-eaten nooks, such as a dead end in a shopping mall hallway or a quiet corner at the end of a row of cell phone repair stalls. Keeping with the commandment to pray at prescribed times was definitely a struggle, and I often found myself in cramped department store dressing rooms because I initially tried to pray and stick to the ever-changing schedule of the 5 daily prayers. I just gave up in the end, and consolidated my prayers at home every evening. This is in great contrast to the ubiquity of prayer rooms and mosques in other countries. Speaking of mosques, the only mosques in the city are dilapidated and run-down; again, a great contrast to the beautiful and well-maintained churches that are located all over Metro Manila.

    Another aspect of Muslim life that is made difficult by the lack of provisions is sticking to the halal diet. Actually, unless you buy in select butchers and meat sellers in specialty halal stores, most Muslims in Manila are resigned to buying supermarket meats that are not completely halal. Most Muslims prefer to eat meats that were slaughtered with the halal method, but because of the lack of readily available halal meat options, most of us would just shrug and say, "Well, as long as it's not pork. Similarly, there are limited dining options for those who are strict on halal restrictions, as deeply devout Muslims would not dare venture into restaurants that also serve pork, fearing cross contamination through vessels, utensils, and serveware that also come into contact with food that is prepared with non-halal ingredients.

    To other Filipinos, these concerns are not even a blip on their radar and most of our countrymen are blatantly unaware of these struggles. That is mostly why most Muslims like to keep together in tight-knit communities, where they could access halal food and prayer facilities, among many others logistical concerns.

    It has become my advocacy to spread more awareness about these issues. One of the biggest reasons why Filipino Muslims are so disenfranchised and so disregarded in the Philippines is primarily because a lot of people don’t even know some of the basic principles of Islam. There’s a lot of bigotry, hatred, and biases that have permeated our people’s culture, breeding animosity towards a minority that has been fraught with violence, outright war, and displacement. As a Muslim convert, part of my advocacy is to bridge this gap and provide even just the most fundamental knowledge about how our Filipino Muslim brothers and sisters live amongst us: In plain sight but hidden under a veil of mystery and misunderstanding. 

    As a Muslim convert, one of the ways in which I immersed in the culture was by discovering Quiapo and imbibing in its culture. It was an educational experience for me, getting to know my new brethren in the faith, and it is my hope that the same process will be instrumental in bringing about more awareness and appreciation for the faith. In line with my work as a tour guide in Manila, I organized a tour that alllowed people to acquaint themselves with Islam and its fundamental teachings. I discuss the struggles of Muslim Filipinos with the goal of spreading more awareness, and with the hope of influencing change. – Rappler.com

    Nonito Cabrera is a guide for walking tours in Quiapo and Intramuros. He will soon be joining the Department of Foreign Affairs as a Foreign Service Officer, having recently passed the FSO exam.

     


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    If you were to ask a Muslim to share his or her experience living in a predominantly non-Muslim community, you would often hear stories of difficulty assimilating to the local culture or experiences of constantly explaining the norms and practices common to the Muslim population. Mine is a bit far from that. 

    Born and raised in Metro Manila to a Muslim father and a Muslim-convert mother, I was given early on the opportunity to be surrounded by relatives who have diverse sets of belief. Growing up, I did not feel the need to adapt to certain cultural norms because being different from the majority seemed normal and being unique is valued.

    My parents who are active participants of interfaith dialogues would often let me and my siblings tag along to their engagements. That allowed us to have playmates who were Christian, Hare Krishna, Buddhist, Hindu, among other faiths. The constant exposure to diversity helped us appreciate the uniqueness of every individual – and that what matters in any human interaction is the mutual respect we can offer to one another.

    All along I had no problems expressing and practicing my faith as the basic teachings of Islam were deeply inculcated in us. That was until news broke out in 2005 that some members of the terror group Abu Sayyaf (ASG) were trying to escape Camp Bagong Diwa.

    Our school being near the camp, classes were cut short. The day after everything was settled, one of my classmates looked at me as if I did something wrong and that I owed him an explanation. He then repeatedly called me "terrorist." To my surprise, the only response I came up with were tears that would not seem to stop. I could not believe that a girl roughly 13 years of age would be considered a threat.

    I know I am not guilty of harming anyone, but the motivation to change people's tendency to paint a group of people with the same brush grew on me. From then on, I promised myself to try my best to never misrepresent my religion in ways that would result in this stereotyping.  

    In college, I stayed in a dormitory occupied by people from across the country. Each of us there had our own distinct religious conviction, but that didn’t stop us from observing our spiritual obligations. In fact, praying my evening prayer became a go-signal for my dormmates to perform their novena. During the month of Ramadan, they also wouldn’t eat dinner unless it was time for me to eat. For them, it was simply dinner but for me, it was actually iftar or the breaking of the fast. This chapter in my life restored my faith that humanity can co-exist amid our differences.

    Now, I’m a community worker who often goes to different places to implement programs and activities that benefit the less privileged members of the community. There are moments when non-Muslim beneficiaries would come to me and say, “Ikaw ang unang Muslim na nakilala ko” (You're the first Muslim I've ever met) or “Mababait din pala ang mga Muslim.” (I realize Muslims are actually kind.) 

    I know some people do not intend to stereotype; rather, they were conditioned to think of people who do not belong to their group only in a certain way. On the other hand, the Muslims from the community would sigh in relief, saying, “Pwede rin palang tayo ang nagbibigay." (It's actually possible for us to be the donors this time.) These expressions of disbelief and relief made me think that a change in mindset would mean a lot to us who are continually shown in a negative light.

    As an archipelago of more than 7000 islands with more than 170 languages and diverse sets of belief systems, I am positive that we can become a nation that can rise beyond the idea that we should all be similar, and that we need to change those who do not fit our standards. Rather, we should recognize, appreciate, and respect the innate diversity within our borders and use that to our advantage to live harmoniously, because it is possible.– Rappler.com

    Jannah Basman is a Muslim community development worker who traces her roots back to Pangasinan and Marawi City. She has been speaking in various interfaith dialogues here and abroad to share her experience as a Muslim living in a heterogeneous society.

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    MANILA, Philippines – In a twist of irony, transgender woman Gretchen Custodio Diez was discriminated from using a woman's restroom in a city that passed an ordinance preventing incidents exactly like this

    This was pointed out by various groups and non-governmental organizations that condemned the harassment against Diez in a Cubao mall on Tuesday, August 13. 

    Her arrest has triggered public outcry and calls for change not only from politicians but also from businesses alike. (READ: Trans woman Geraldine Diez: I didn't think I'd be treated like a criminal)

    In a statement, Philippine LGBT Chamber of Commerce urged Philippine companies to create safe spaces for the lesbians, gays, bisexual, transgender and queer community (LGBTQ+).  

    "As many businesses worldwide are now realizing, promoting diversity and inclusion is not only (and fundamentally) an act of compassion and empathy, but also good business practice," the group said.

    'Enforce the ordinance'

    But beyond creating safe spaces for LGBTQ+ in businesses, Diez said that "it's about time that ordinances that we want to implement are not just on paper or just on social media, but felt."

    Quezon City is known to have one of the most progressive anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination ordinance, tracing its approval way back to 2003. Since then, several local government units have followed Quezon City's lead and passed their own local versions of the ordinance. 

    The incident, however, raised doubts over the proper enforcement of the ordinance. 

    "We call on the Quezon City government to enforce its Anti-Discrimination Ordinance to its full power to safeguard the right of everyone against any and every form of discrimination, including those on the bases of one's  SOGIESC (sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, and sex characteristics)," the Philippie Anti-Discrimination Alliance of Youth Leaders (PANTAY) said in a statement posted on Facebook.   

    "This is an apparent violation of the local Anti-Discrimination Ordinance of Quezon City, stating that it is illegal for business establishments to discriminate people based on their SOGIE," PNU Katolonon, a student organization based at the Philippine Normal University, echoed in another statement. 

    According to Open Table Metropolitan Community Church (Open Table MCC), a group that identifies itself as a progressive and ecumenical Christian Church, what Diez "experienced was one of many and daily forms of harassment and discrimination that many transgender persons experience in the Philippines."

    Responding to the incident and these calls, Quezon City Mayor Joy Belmonte already condemned the discrimination incident and said that the Farmer's Market mall in Cubao, Quezon City violated the city's ordinance. 

    Belmonte assured that the Quezon City Business Permit and Licensing Department (BPLD) will check all establishments' compliance with the ordinance.

    "We assure the members of the LGBT+ community that Quezon City will always protect their rights and be a home for their sexual orientation, gender identity, and expression. We do not support any kind of violence and discrimination in our city," Belmonte added.

    'Pass the bill'

    Beyond strengthening the enforcement of the local ordinance, the groups also agreed that the incident proved the need to pass the SOGIE Equality Law. 

    The Philippines is known to be one of the more tolerant countries in the world to the LGBTQ+ community, but it has yet to pass a bill prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity or expression

    "We call the attention of our legislators to recognize the urgency of passing the SOGIE Equality Bill. We will not be silenced while various cases of discrimination continue to happen all over the country," PANTAY said. 

    Geraldine Roman, the first transgender woman elected to the House of Representatives, vowed that there would be a probe into the discrimination incident. On the other hand, Senator Risa Hontiveros, who sent one of her lawyers to assist Diez, also renewed her call to pass the SOGIE equality bill 

    "For those who say that we donot need a SOGIE Equality Law because LGBTQ+ people are accepted in the Philippines.... LGBTQ+ persons face harassment and discrimination every day. This must stop!" Hontiveros said in a mix of English and Filipino across her accounts. 

    For so long, the LGBTQ+ community in the Philippines has lobbied for the passing of an anti-discrimination bill. The legislation can be traced back to 1995 when congressman Rey Calalay filed a bill proposing to recognize the "third sex" as a sector. – Rappler.com 


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    MANILA, Philippines – Filipinos online called for the passage of the anti-discrimination bill following the the arrest of transgender woman Gretchen Custodio Diez, who was prevented from using the women's restroom in a Cubao mall in Quezon City on Tuesday, August 13. 

    The hashtag #SOGIEEqualityNow was among Twitter's Philippine trending topics early morning Wednesday, August 14, as netizens urged lawmakers to push for the sexual orientation and gender identity and expression (SOGIE) equality bill. 

    The SOGIE bill seeks to protect the members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ+) community from discriminatory acts.

    For some Twitter users, what happened to Diez is not an isolated case. They stressed that this will continue to happen without a law protecting the LGBTQ+ community. Others believe that what happened to Diez all the more intensifies the need for the immediate passage of the SOGIE bill. 

     

    LGBTQ+ advocates have been lobbying for the enactment of the anti-discrimination bill for more than two decades already. It was debated over for 3 years by the 17th Congress only to go back to square one when the same Congress failed to pass it. 

    Fighting for gender equality 

    Diez eventually walked free after the janitress who prevented her from entering the restroom decided to drop her complaint. The janitress, in a written letter to Diez, apologized and said she was "willing to learn LGBT rights." 

    Other netizens said that the passage of the SOGIE bill isn't enough, that there is also a need to focus on educating people about gender equality. 

     

    Marketing strategy? 

    Netizens also slammed the management of Araneta Center, where the mall is located, for not teaching their employees the right way to treat the LGBTQ+. The mall issued a public apology to Diez. 

    "We would like to apologize to Ms. Diez for the treatment she has received from a member of the cleaning crew. We also would like to extend the apology not just to the LGBTQ+ community but to the public in general for the actions of said crew member," Morriel Abogado, the property general manager of Farmers Plaza mall, said in a statement.

     

    Netizens also posted a throwback photo of Araneta Center's rainbow pedestrian lane and other rainbow structures painted in honor of Pride Month last June. They pointed out that Araneta's support for the LGBTQ+ community was only a marketing strategy, done for clout. 

     

    Here's what other netizens had to say: 

    Do you think the SOGIE bill will be passed anytime soon?  Rappler.com 


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    MANILA, Philippines – Paminta? Kingkong Barbie? Butch? Femme? Queer?

    In part 1 of our two-part explainer video, we discussed the elements of SOGIE by way of the Genderbread Person. (WATCH: What you need to know about SOGIE)

    So why do most people still get confused?

    While a person cannot help but be born with the sex organs he or she was born with, a person's gender does not exactly depend on that. Gender can be influenced by upbringing, cultural influences, social norms, and life choices. (READ: Sex, gender and SOGIE)

    In this video, we show you how SOGIE can be mixed and matched in so many ways. So the next time you look at someone, don't make assumptions right away. (READ: Gender and Sexuality 101: Learn before you discriminate)

    On August 13, for instance, a transgender woman who was prevented from using a woman's restroom in a Cubao mall in Quezon City was arrested. This caused an uproar among LGBTQ+ advocates, and while mall management has apologized, the incident was a clear indication that many Filipinos still grapple with the many layers of gender and sexuality. 

    The LGBTQ+ community in the Philippines has lobbied for the enactment of an anti-discrimination bill, but progress has yet to be made. Fortunately, officials such as Senator Risa Hontiveros foresees positive change with regards to this. 

    In a statement sent to media, Hontiveros said: "We have gained new allies, we have gathered momentum, we are inspired more than ever to fight and hope. There is a rainbow wave coming."

    Hopefully, this video can help equip you with the knowledge to join this wave and fight for gender rights. Remember: There is a genderbread person inside every one of us. – Rappler.com  


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    SOGIE. LGBTQ+ Partylist calls for the passage of the SOGIE equality bill after the arrest of trans woman Gretchen Custodio Diez in a protest on Wednesday, August 14. Photo by Samantha Bagayas/Rappler

    MANILA, Philippines – Should the janitress of the mall who stopped transgender woman Gretchen Custodio Diez from entering the women’s bathroom in a Quezon City mall be fired after the incident?

    LGBTQ+ Partylist slammed the notion, pointing out how the incident only showed a need to improve training and education about sexual orientation, gender identity, and expression (SOGIE) in the Philippines during a protest outside Farmers Plaza on Wednesday, August 14.

    They added that Araneta Center should be held accountable for the incident and emphasized its role in making public spaces free from discrimination and harassment against LGBTQ+ by providing adequate SOGIE trainings to its employees.

    Hindi natin kinokondena si Ate Janitress, kinokondena at gusto natin panagutin ang Araneta management dahil una nga po, nakakagalit po ang pag aresto kay Gretchen Custodio...Lapastangan ito sa karapatang pantao ng ating mga LGBTQ+,” Danmer John de Guzman, the spokesperson of LGBTQ+ Partylist, said.

    (We are not condemning the janitress; we’re condemning and holding the Araneta management accountable because firstly, the arrest of Gretchen Custodio is infuriating... This is trampling on the rights of the LGBTQ+.)

    The day prior, the janitress of the mall stopped Diez from entering the women’s bathroom, insisting she use the men’s restroom instead. Diez tried to document the harassment. This angered the janitress enough to have Diez arrested.

    Farmers Plaza has distanced its mall from the janitress at the center of the issue, Chayra Ganal, who has since then personally apologized for her action.

    Ang panawagan natin sa Araneta management: Huwag po natin tanggalin si Ate Janitress. Kung hindi, bigyan ng malawak na pag-unawa at seminar sa isyu ng sexual orientation and gender expression,” De Guzman added.

    (Our call to the Araneta management: Don’t fire the janitress. Instead, provide a wider understanding and hold a seminar on the issue of sexual orientation and gender expression.)

    LGBTQ+ Partylist chairperson Bing Concepcion stressed that Diez’ arrest in Quezon City, an area which has had a Gender Fair Ordinance since 2014, shows that the ordinance needs to be implemented better to improve SOGIE awareness both in the area and in the Philippines. Businesses and workplaces especially have a role in making their employees more aware about SOGIE.

    You are in a hospitality and service business. Dahil kayo, negosyo niyo 'yan, you have to provide proper education and training sa mga tauhan ninyo...2014 pa 'yung ordinansa na ito naipasa, 2019 na po. Lahat tayo kailangan maging aware sa mga pagbabago nangyayari sa ating mga batas,” she said.

    (You are in a hospitality and service business. Because it’s your business, you have to provide proper education and training for your employees...the ordinance was passed in 2014, it’s already 2019. We all need to be aware about the changes in our laws.)

    Taking off from the incident, LGBTQ+ Partylist echoed calls for the passage of the SOGIE equality bill, which aims to protect people from discriminatory acts.

    In the 17th Congress, the House of Representatives passed the SOGIE equality bill on the third and final reading. Its counterpart measure languished in the Senate and did not even make it past the second reading.

    They also called on Quezon City Mayor Joy Belmonte to enforce a stricter implementation of its Gender Fair Ordinance.

    Belmonte has since ordered the Quezon City Business Permit and Licensing Department (BPLD) to check the city's establishments' compliance with the ordinance.

    Nanawagan na din tayo sa mga kongresista at senador na panahon na ngayon na ipasa ang mas matibay at may pangil na batas. Ito po ang ating panawagan kay Mayor Joy Belmonte, isabatas po lagyan ng pangil ang implementation rules and regulations ng ating gender equality ordinance sa Quezon City,” said De Guzman.

    (We remind our congressmen and senators that it’s time to pass a stronger and more effective law. This is our call to Mayor Joy Belmonte, to enforce and give more teeth to the implementation of the rules and regulations of our gender equality ordinance in Quezon City.)

    Annie Alejo, the public relations manager of Araneta Center, said that their management conducts trainings for employees on how to treat customers, though they’re not specifically focused on SOGIE.

    Hindi pa specific on that pero usually how to treat customers and papasok din kasi doon yun, pati PWDs (persons with disabilities) and the elderly. 'Yung training po namin although hindi specifically sa mga sitwasyon na ganyan, but we do train them to treat people the way we want to be treated...I guess narealize din namin that we still really need to step up,” she said.

    (It’s not specifically on that but it’s usually about how to treat customers and PWDs and the elderly also fall under this [training]. Although it’s not specifically for situations like that, we do train them to treat people the way we want to be treated... I guess we realized that we still really need to step up.)

    In its statement, the management vowed to “improve” the training of their personnel. – Rappler.com


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    PROTEST. Various youth organizations stage a protest outside Gate 2.5 of ADMU to condemn human rights violations occurring nationwide. Photos by Casey Mateo/Rappler

    MANILA, Philippines – Undeterred by allegations thrown at activists, various youth groups from different universities in Metro Manila took to the streets to condemn red-tagging allegations and attacks against young Filipinos on Wednesday, August 14.

    Through simultaneous protests at select universities such as University of the Philippines (UP), and Polytechnic University of the Philippines, among others, students slammed the government’s efforts to oppress the youth.

    Attacks against the youth

    Among these are the proposed revival of the mandatory Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC), falsification of kidnapping cases due to involvement with progressive groups, and the proposal to increase police and military presence in schools.

    Just recently, Interior Secretary Eduardo Año and Senator Ronald dela Rosa proposed to increase military presence in schools to curb recruitment and alleged kidnapping of students by leftist groups. 

    On the morning of the protest, Anakbayan youth activist Alicia Lucena publicly denied that she was kidnapped, stating that she does not want to be used to justify the military agenda to put police in schools. Kidnapping charges were placed by the Philippine National Police against Anakbayan when Lucena‘s mother reported her leaving home shortly after joining the militant group. 

    “If you're from Anakbayan or Akbayan, who are in opposition with the government, [you] can literally be given these false cases of kidnapping. It's like a catch-all: if you infringe on the rights of student activists, the youth will be punished as well,” warned Hen Namoca of One Big Fight for Human Rights and Democracy (OBFHRD) during the protest outside Ateneo de Manila University.

    UP student councils reiterated in their unity statement that military presence in schools will endanger students’ right to organize and protest, especially in universities where “academic freedom and collective decisiveness shall continuously thrive.”

    “The intrusion of these state forces inside the university will result to massive surveillance and monitoring on the students, especially leaders and vocal critics, in their attempt to pacify the ever growing resistance among our ranks,” they said.

    Anakbayan also pointed out in its statement that the government’s attacks against the youth is not new, remembering the Red October plot that tagged universities where students are allegedly being recruited to help in Duterte’s ouster. Schools had fired back at the Armed Forces of the Philippines for “red-tagging” their students.

    Not just the youth

    Aside from the youth, groups pointed out other sectors were also under threat. Among the nation's pervasive issues are the rise of killings in Negros Island as part of Oplan Sauron and innocent victims of EJKs as part of Oplan Tokhang. These are campaigns by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) against communist rebels and the Philippine National Police (PNP) against illegal drug pushers, respectively.

    Youth groups stressed attacks against marginalized sectors, especially the youth, show signs of a failing democracy. They highlighted the need for the Filipino people to speak up against injustice, pointing out how the oppression of student rights may later lead to the oppression of the citizens.

    “We see that our rights are being stepped on, and that's happening to the EJKs, the Negros farmers... these issues aren't separated, they're not isolated cases. It's not just about the attacks against students; it's about the attacks against the farmers, the women, the people. They're all connected. They’re all signs of a crumbling democracy,” Namoca added.

    As the sole youth representative in Congress, Kabataan Partylist urged Dela Rosa to stop using his power to malign youth groups for expressing their right to dissent.

    “We call for Senator Dela Rosa along with the PNP and AFP to end such defamatory activities that discredit the legitimate advocacies and demands of the youth, and furthermore put the youth's lives in danger,” they said

    Panday Sining-College of Saint Benilde echoed the call, pointing out how the combined efforts of AFP and PNP have “left thousands of families without parents and ripped countless children from their families’ embrace.”

    To assert students’ rights to academic freedom and organization, the Student Regent of the University of the Philippines has declared August 20 as the UP Day of Walkout and Action for all UP campuses in the country. – Rappler.com

    Dorothy Andrada is a Rappler mover in Quezon City. She is currently a college freshman at Ateneo de Manila University.


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    RANDOM. Students of the Polytechnic University of the Philippines (PUP), various youth groups protest the mandatory random drug test during a rally on Thursday, August 15. Photo from The Catalyst's Facebook page

    MANILA, Philippines – In simultaneous protests on Thursday, August 15, students of the Polytechnic University of the Philippines (PUP), youth, and activist groups criticized the mandatory random drug testing of students from the 15 colleges of the university.

    On the same day the drug tests were held, students from different groups such as the League of Filipino Student (LFS)-PUP, the College of Communication Student Council, and PUP SPEAK marched from the PUP main building in Manila to streets surrounding the university.

    PUP’s College of Architecture and Fine Arts Student Council (CAFASC) said the university conducted the drug tests without orienting the students.

    The council added that since the student handbook revision 2019 is yet to be finalized by the Board of Regents, the highest policy-making body of the university, the mandatory random drug testing should not have been implemented.

    “CAFASC believes that the mechanisms and guidelines of the mandatory random drug testing are still vague to the majority of the students, therefore consultation and orientation shall be provided to the students of the College for them to fully understand the exact parameters of the said matter,” the statement read. 

    University officials however said that they conducted a seminar among students and that the activity was mandated by the Commission on Higher Education (CHED). One of them added that what happened on Thursday was merely a dry run.

    PUP: Seminar was held

    In a report by The Catalyst, PUP President Emanuel de Guzman was quoted as saying that they held a drug awareness seminar before the drug testing. 

    "The University conducted anti-drug awareness seminar to students, faculty members and employees last July 30 and 31, 2019 to explain the procedures of the random drug testing," PUP Communication Management Office also said in a press statement released Friday, August 16. 

    CAFASC urged the administration to discuss the various issues related to these drug tests to its students. 

    Parents' consent

    The PUP College of Political Science and Public Administration (CSPA), on the other hand, said it’s not clear where the directive came from.  

    At higit sa lahat, walang malinaw na pamantayan ang nasabing Mandatory Random Drug Testing na maaring maging mag-resulta sa kapahamakan ng Iskolar ng Bayan sa kadahilanang biglaan ang pagpapatawag at pagsasagawa nito,” the group said.

    (And most of all, there is no clear standard of the said Mandatory Random Drug Testing, which may put the students at risk.)

    The CSPA Student Council pointed out that the students were only given a limited period of time to get their parents' consent as posted on the Student Information System (SIS). The university also didn’t mention the consequences if parents refuse to give their consent. 

    "Ang CHED memorandum no. 18 ay pagsikil sa karapatan ng Iskolar ng Bayan at malaking kasalanan sa bahagi ng administrasyon ng PUP ang pagpapatupad nito sa kabila ng ng isyu na wala itong malinaw na pamantayan at nang napakalakas na protesta ng Iskolar ng Bayan dahil sa maaring maging kapahamakan sa mga estudyante sa loob ng pamantasan," CSPA added in its statement. 

    (The CHED memorandum no. 18 suppresses the right of the Iskolar ng Bayan, and it's a big mistake for for the PUP administration to implement this in the absence of clear standards and in the face of strong protests by the students.) 

     

    PUP clarified that the drug testing was in accordance with the CHED's Memorandum Order 18  to ensure that universities are drug-free communities. 

    As of writing, a total of 120 of the 800 students from the 15 colleges of the main campus were randomly selected for drug testing, the school said. This will continue in the next few days.

    Dry run 

    In an interview done by The Engineering Spectrum, PUP Vice President for Student Affairs and Services Zenaida Sarmiento said that list of those tested is confidential. She also stressed that only a sample population of students will be tested while the university officials, Executive Committee, security guards, and other staffs are required. 

    "With regards sa consent, it's just an information, not a waiver to parents na kung papayagan ba o hindi kasi ito ay mandatory ng CHED to State Universities and Colleges (With regard to the consent, it's just an information, not a waiver to parents if they will allow or not because it is a mandate of CHED to SUCs)," Sarmiento clarified.

    Sarmiento added that the testing that happened on Thursday was only a dry run, and even the university officials are not informed about the exact date of the next drug testing.

    Rappler has yet to receive a response from PUP on the status of proposed student handbook revision that includes changing the dress code, raising the maintaining general weighted average, and pushing for mandatory drug testing. 

    PUP said students who test positive would not be dismissed but would undergo appropriate intervention or rehabilitation, based on to the PUP Student Handbook. It also guaranteed confidentiality of results. 

    “Confirmed positive results shall not be a basis for disciplinary action unless the student concerned is held liable for violations of other University rules and regulations."

    Youth and progressive groups also protested the presence of policemen inside the PUP main campus on Thursday.

    In a report by The Catalyst, university officials said the policemen are students of the Open University. 

    Senator Ronald dela Rosa, at a recent hearing of the Senate committee on public order and dangerous drugs which he chairs, said he wanted increased police patrols at the PUP to deter communist recruitment in the state school. – Rappler.com 


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    EQUAL RIGHTS. Gretchen Diez speaks about her experience of discrimination during a Rappler Talk interview on Thursday, August 16. Rappler screenshot

    MANILA, Philippines – For every member of the LGBTQ+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and queer) community, there is always one ever-present topic in ice breakers: coming out.

    When? Where? How? Who did you first come out to?

    For many LGBTQ+ members who have done it, it’s a transformation from hiding to going out into the open, from a sense of guilt to pride. For others, it remains a burden given how acceptance is never certain, even by their loved ones.

    Transgender woman Gretchen Diez weighed in on coming out, particularly on the pressure to do it as soon as possible.

    “There should never be a standard of when a person should come out. Whenever you feel that you’re ready, then that’s the perfect time for them to come out. If they feel like there is no time for them to come out, then they can keep it to themselves, as long as they're comfortable about it,” Diez said in a Rappler Talk interview on Thursday, August 15.

    Diez said that she had the privilege of growing up in a “loving and accepting family.” Her parents immediately accepted her when she told them that she had always felt she was a girl even when she was much younger.

    She recognized that not everyone in the queer community can be as lucky, even in a country ranked as among the most gay-friendly nations in Asia.

    “I grew up in a society where my gender is a big issue. For lack of a better term, being a transgender is a disgrace,” Diez said.

    Ultimately, Diez said, it all boiled down to one's personal choice.

    “Think of what will make you happy, what will make you feel better as a person, what will make you more successful. Is it me coming out or I’’m okay with me keeping my gender to myself? It's always your choice. You always have a choice,” she said.

    For those who have come out to family and friends and want to be more public with his or her gender, Diez believed that consulting with these people would be the best. (EXPLAINER: What you need to know about SOGIE)

    “Consult those people whom you can trust. If you can consult your family, if you trust your family more, then go with your family. If you feel that you trust your friends more, then go with your friends,” Diez said. – Rappler.com


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    HAVEN. Envisioned as a place of leisure for Ilonggos and as a potential tourist spot, the Iloilo River Esplanade may soon be reopened to bikers. Photo courtesy of Paulo Alcazaren

    ILOILO CITY, Philippines – The city’s famed Iloilo River Esplanade may soon be reopened to cyclists as Iloilo City Councilor Jose Efraim “Jay” Treñas III eyed to pass an ordinance that will lay down rules to foster a safe shared space for both pedestrians and cyclists.  

    Treñas, a biking advocate, bared the plan during the launch of the international Gran Fondo New York (GFNY) Asian Championship biking tournament at the Iloilo Business Park on Thursday, August 15. 

    With more and more Ilonggos taking on biking as a hobby and as an alternative means of transport, it is high time we reopen the Esplanade to [cyclists],” Treñas said. 

    He said the city council is in the process of consulting stakeholders to draft an ordinance that will set the rules and regulations for the reopening of the Esplanade to cyclists. He stressed that the campaign has the full support of Iloilo City Mayor Jerry Treñas.

    “We believe the longest linear park in the country, with the proper rules in place, can become an accessible venue for bike enthusiasts to enjoy the city,” the councilor said.

    Touted as the longest linear park in the Philippines, the scenic Iloilo River Esplanade stretches 8.1 kilometers, tracing the path of its namesake waterway as it runs along major thoroughfares in the city. (READ: People's project: How Ilonggos turned a road into a riverside park

    Designed by celebrated Filipino architect Paulo Alcazaren, the park was recently deemed as a Haligi ng Dangal awardee for best landscape architecture by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts and the National Committee on Architecture and Allied Arts.

    Envisioned as a place of leisure for Ilonggos and as a potential tourist spot, the Iloilo River Esplanade started out as a 1.2-kilometer public park that ran from Diversion Road (officially Senator Benigno Aquino Jr Avenue) to Carpenter Bridge in Molo District. It now features several completed phases that snake around Iloilo City.

    Bikers were allowed to traverse the park when it first opened, but safety concerns brought by the heavy foot traffic of both pedestrians and bikers prompted the city government to ban bikers from the Esplanade.

    "Our problem before was how to manage the foot traffic along the Esplanade, because when its first 1.2-kilometer phase opened there were both pedestrians and bikers who would patronize the park. Cyclists, who move faster, may face the danger of running into joggers, and vice versa," said Treñas.

    "It was a safety concern and the reaction was to close the Esplanade to bikers. But now it's an over 8-kilometer linear park, congestion along it has been cleared, paving the way for an adequate space now to welcome again cyclists. With more and more Ilonggos taking on biking as a hobby and as an alternative means of transport, it is high time we reopen the Esplanade to them," he added.

    Safe sharing

    Currently, Iloilo City has two bike-related ordinances, both sponsored by the younger Treñas: Ordinance 2014-193, which requires government and non-government buildings with existing parking spaces to provide a safe bicycle parking zone; and Ordinance 2016-299 or the Benigno Aquino Avenue bike lane ordinance. (READ: Tour on two wheels: Seeing Iloilo City's historic sights by bike)

    Treñas was previously recognized as a Bayanihan sa Daan awardee for his ordinances and for being the local biking community’s champion in the city council. 

    The city official shared that the city’s Transportation Management and Traffic Regulation Office (TMTRO) has begun studies to get a better understanding of the foot traffic at the  Esplanade and to draft guidelines to ensure the safe and effective sharing of the park between pedestrians and cyclists.

    “This will surely further the thrust of Iloilo as the emerging bike capital of the Philippines. It will also complement the 5-kilometer dedicated bike lanes along Diversion Road," Treñas said. 

    He said to ensure the success of the project, they would reconsolidate the Iloilo Bike Council and the Federation of Ilonggo Cycling Organizations to mobilize local bikers for the cause.

    PhilBike Awards  proclaimed Iloilo City as the most bike-friendly city in the country during the PhilBike Expo in Manila last year.

    “It was an uphill battle in the first couple of years [championing biking in Iloilo City], but now we have a thriving local cycling community that supports and holds up each other. The Iloilo River Esplanade will be a welcome addition to the city’ safe spaces for bikers,” Treñas said.

    Optimism

    Veteran Ilonggo artist and well-known biking advocate Rock Drilon has expressed support for the proposal. The long-time cyclist said biking organizations he is involved with submitted suggestions for potential rules in the reopening of the Esplanade to bikers.

    The recommendations inlclude requiring cyclists to wear proper cycling gear like helmets when in the vicinity of the park, the installation of more bike racks, and requiring bells and nighttime blinkers for bikers so cyclists can signal to pedestrians with ease.

    “I’m sure if this development pushes through, many tourists will go to Iloilo just to bike,” Drilon told Rappler in a mix of Filipino. “I hope even those who don’t know how to pedal yet will be inspired to learn and explore the full potential of Iloilo as the most bike-friendly city in the country.”

    ESPLANADE. Designed by celebrated Filipino architect Paulo Alcazaren, the Esplanade was recently hailed a Haligi ng Dangal awardee for best landscape architecture by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts. Photo courtesy of Paulo Alcazaren

    Cyclist Noma Escalo, 23, shared similar sentiments, as she saw the proposal as a new way for tourists to enjoy the beauty of the Iloilo River.

    “The heart of the city is the Iloilo River. When bikers are finally allowed again on the Esplanade we’ll have another avenue to showcase the attractiveness of our revitalized Iloilo River to tourists and locals alike,” said Escalo, also an apprentice biker tour guide of FitStop Tours and Events.

    “This will contribute a lot to Iloilo’s tourism. I’m also excited to see Ilonggos of all walks of life and ages taking their bikes to the Esplanade for some fun and leisurely rides,” she added. – Rappler.com

    Rhick Lars Vladimer Albay is a Rappler Mover based in Iloilo. He reports mostly on the local cultural community and art scene. 


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    Almost two months ago, I posted an essay on being discriminated as a transgender woman both in my workplace and in school, a part of which was an account of my struggles concerning the women's public toilet. (READ: U.P. trans woman professor talks about workplace discrimination)

    Personally, I know how painful it is to be barred from using the toilet of the gender I identify with, so I can only imagine the horror that Ms Gretchen Diez felt when she was arrested, after being blocked from using the public toilet for women in a mall in Quezon City a few days ago. The physical and verbal abuse, as well as the outright denial of her gender identity, were a clear violation of her humanity.

    Our country has an overwhelming number of transgender women. Hence, it is not uncommon to see trans women in public toilets for women. To be honest, I cannot recall an instance where trans women had harassed, attacked, or assaulted women and children in ladies' public toilets in the Philippines. And while it is a fact that transgender people are way more likely to get assaulted than cisgender people, many people still hold the belief that trans women are a threat to women's public toilets, a belief that is a product of unfounded fears around sexual victimization.

    Trans women are women. They are not men who want access to women's public toilets to sexually assault women. Have we not come to realize yet that men need not pretend to be women to carry out assaults? In this heteropatriarchal society, men will sexually assault women if they want to. They do not need the excuse of pretending to be women because that will only degrade their machismo. Moreover, it is interesting to note that most cases of sexual assault happen in private in lieu of public spaces.

    Sizing it up, it seems a bit of a stretch to think that trans women should be banned from using women's restrooms because they are men who would go as far as wearing dresses, high heels, and makeup only to sexually assault women. I do not know about you, but it sounds petty and illogical to me.

    Now, let me present a few statistics that I gathered about transgender people. The life expectancy of transgender women of color in the US is 35 years old due to high rates of suicide and hate crimes. Transgender people are also 9 times more likely to commit suicide than the rest of the population, and a staggering 40% of transgender people have attempted suicide in their lifetime.

    As for hate crimes, 1 in 4 transgender people are assaulted for simply being transgender. The number of transgender people murdered has also hit record highs in recent years, and is expected to continue. A British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) report shows that crimes against transgender people this year increased by 81% in the UK alone.

    So what is the point of saying this? First, I want you to know the appalling truth and realize how vulnerable transgender people are to suicide and violence simply for living their truths. Second, I want you to acknowledge that we all share the moral responsibility of allowing transgender people to use the public toilet that matches their gender identity, because this is part of protecting them from violence.

    So for those cisgender women who feel uncomfortable by the presence of trans women in women's public toilets, I am sorry to inform you that the safety and security of trans women are more important than your comfort. The TERFs (trans-exclusionary radical feminists) and transphobes might come for me for saying that, but shouldn’t human rights take precedence in this situation?

    A number of people had already expressed their support for the construction of gender-neutral toilets in public spaces to provide a safe haven for transgender and gender nonconforming people. Why build toilets with different categories when our toilets at home are not even categorized according to gender identity? For me, building gender-neutral toilets while maintaining the heteronormative ones is not the best solution to the problem of where we should put transgender and gender nonconforming people in the binary categories of toilet segregation. This segregation should not even exist in the first place, because separating men and women in public spaces is sexism.

    We should abolish this segregration and build instead a single gender-neutral toilet for everyone’s use. This would be a progressive step towards gender equality because this would (1) address the problem of space equity between men and women's toilets, which is the cause of women waiting in longer toilet lines than men; (2) normalize gender as a non-binary concept and affirm that public spaces should not be gendered; and (3) provide the inclusion of people of all SOGIESCs (sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, and sex characteristics). Since this will not happen in the near future, it is only right that transgender people be entitled to use the toilet that matches their gender identity. (READ: EXPLAINER: What you need to know about SOGIE)

    With all that being said, I stand in strong solidarity with Ms Gretchen Diaz! This issue may have divided Filipinos, but at the very least, I hope that we can all agree that the experience of Diez only demonstrated the urgent need for the passage of the SOGIE equality bill in the country. Her experience is a call for the LGBTQIA+ communities and our allies to be vigilant and proactive in advocating for the SOGIE equality bill because we LGBTQIA+ individuals do not need tolerance nor acceptance. We need our civil rights.

    Let us also take this opportunity to educate people about the experience of transgender people and campaign for the protection of transgender people against violence. Human rights are transgender rights and transgender rights are human rights! PASS THE SOGIE EQUALITY BILL NOW! – Rappler.com

    Hermie Monterde is a former Assistant Professor of Mathematics in UP Manila and a PhD Mathematics student in UP Diliman.