IMG_9085

Philippines marriage equality fight draws first-timers to pride parade

Text By: Buena Bernal || Photos By: Dante Diosina, Jr.

MARIKINA CITY, PHILIPPINES — D* and M* have been in same-sex relationships for almost a decade now, but this is both their first time participating in a gay pride parade here in the Philippines.

D and M (Opening)

They say they flocked to the 2018 Metro Manila Pride March on June 30 with friends in part due to the visibility of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ) issues in Philippine media in recent days. There’s been more attention after the Philippines High Court heard arguments on a historic petition seeking marriage equality.

“Because of what happened recently, my resolve became stronger — that the community needs to be united,” M* explained in a mix of English and Filipino.

Over two decades have passed since the first organized gay pride march in the Philippines, said to be the first in the region.

IMG_9396

But levels of tolerance are not necessarily translating to equality; that is, to LGBTQ people having the same set of demandable rights as heterosexuals.

A local survey released June 30 by nonprofit Social Weather Stations showed only 22% of Filipinos support same-sex marriage in the Philippines.

Same-sex marriage petitioner Jesus Falcis admits he has at times doubted himself, given the barrage of criticisms about how he supposedly failed to consolidate the views of the LGBT community in the Philippines before he filed his historic petition that is expected to set legal precedent on the definition of marriage in the country.

“Sometimes it makes me question if I’m doing the right thing. If I’m going to be the cause for the LGBT movement to suffer setbacks,” petitioner Falcis shared in an interview.

But to partners and pride parade first-timers D* and M*, the rallying call for marriage equality in the Philippines made them feel that they now have a larger stake in the movement.

Concerns on society’s readiness were also raised by critics of Falcis’ court plea challenging the constitutionality of select provisions of the Family Code, which limited marriage to opposite-sex partners.

IMG_9342

Philippines Supreme Court Justice Marvic Leonen even went as far as to imply in his interpellation of same-sex petitioner Jesus Falcis that society or at least the court justices first needed to learn queer theory concepts of gender identity, gender expression and the likes before a reasoned debate about same-sex marriage can commence. This unusually high bar of understanding such theoretical abstractions as a prerequisite to granting a right enjoyed by all shows how disadvantaged the sector is.

Falcis has maintained that society’s readiness is out of the debate. The question, he said in a separate television interview, is not whether heterosexuals are ready for same-sex marriage but whether the LGBTQ community is ready. They are the ones to benefit from the right after all.

M* said marriage would be part of their plan if only it was accessible to people like them. D* and M*, now both mid-career young professionals, have been together for the past 6 months.

For 3 years, M* had always noticed D* at work but never made the first move to avoid workplace complications. In December last year, having thought M* had no interest, D* reached out by messaging M* via social media. The interest, it turned out, was mutual.

Self-proclaimed foreign missionary John Hannula believes people like D* and M* hate God.

John Hannula

Hannula wielded a Bible at the Metro Manila Pride March, as he stood at the venue entrance shouting that “gays, homosexuals, transgenders would all go to hell.”

“I’m here because I’m a missionary,” Hannula, who came from the United States but has been in the Philippines for over two years now, said in an interview. “I’m here not to judge the people,” he said.

“You hate God!” bewailed Hannula each time he pointed his finger at an LGBT supporter who passed by.

Hannula said people have been listening to him here at the pride parade — a claim belied by the loud music blaring through the speakers, the absence of an audience focused on him, and the murmurs of those entering the venue questioning why his small group of “haters” couldn’t just let them celebrate with friends without reproach in the space allotted to them for the duration of the pride march.

“Most of them have said: What’s the point? There’s no God,” Hannula said, insisting he has engaged in productive dialogue with people at the march.

“IT’S NOT OK to be GAY!” read the signage held by one of his companions.

IMG_9125

Critics of marriage equality, however, are not confined to those who think of homosexuality as inherently evil. There is division within the movement itself.

Falcis said critics surfaced the same year he filed the same-sex marriage petition before the country’s top court.

The Philippines government through Solicitor-General Jose Calida argued before the Supreme Court that the Constitution defines marriage as strictly between a man and a woman. While the actual text of the Philippines Charter does not explicitly say this, Mr. Calida said that was the intent of the framers of the Philippines Constitution as shown in a transcript of them voting on the matter.

Justice Marvic Leonen aptly pointed out that the Constitution’s power is derived from the Filipino people, who had ratified by plebiscite the 1987 Constitution. He explained that Filipinos involved in the plebiscite ratified the Charter based on its actual text and not the debates behind its framing. He also pointed out that the outcome of these debates in the framing of the Charter is not necessarily a strict legal prescription but can have persuasive effect on the Constitution’s present interpretation.

But Leonen also tagged Falcis’ petition as “dangerous” for even bringing up the issue. Now, he said, the Court will be forced to rule on what the Constitutional definition of marriage is.

The hope of the movement, of course, is for the Court to rule in favor of marriage equality.

IMG_9433

Falcis, who was also present at the pride march, said the initial debate within the Philippine LGBT movement was between prioritizing fighting for an anti-discrimination bill in Congress and fighting for marriage equality. This debate opened up as early as 2015 when he filed his petition.

“Initially, since 2015, I was getting disheartened because of flak from the movement due to disagreement as to strategy and priorities” he explained.

“But now in 2018, more people as in more people have told me they support the cause and are happy that someone is pushing for it,” he added.

John Baluyot, a global product manager at a business firm who is currently in a long-term same-sex relationship with his partner Mark, says he feels bad over lost opportunity more than anything else.

“I live a great life with Mark now, without the [marriage] certificate. But we can live it a lot better especially if that marriage will make it easier for us to adopt kids that we can both parent,” he said in an interview.

“I know we will make great parents and there is so much love in both our families. The kids that we will have, I have a good feeling, will be outstanding citizens, if not more,” he added.

IMG_9387

Supreme Court Justice Samuel Martires raised a flurry of questions that drove the point of equality during his interpellation of the government’s main defender, Philippines Solicitor-General Jose Calida: “Why do we have to discriminate against same-sex marriage?” “Are not gay people, the lesbians capable of loving like heterosexuals?” “Why are we allowing marriages between criminals and yet will not recognize marriage between a man and a man and a woman and a woman?” “Why is the state so indifferent to the happiness of these people?” “Are we not just affected by our religious beliefs?”

Eighty percent of the Philippines’ population of 100 million are followers of Roman Catholicism, which frowns upon homosexuality.

This drives many to hide their gender identities and suppress expressing these identities when at the company of people they fear would not accept them.

IMG_9376

Despite the tight-knit culture their industry is known for, D* and M* started out not being open about their relationship at work.

Workmates eventually learned about their same-sex relationship through social media, and M* has since been relieved he no longer needed to repress his gender identity at least at work.

“The relief was overwhelming. It was as if the entire time I was walking with only one foot, and when I came out, I could finally walk on both feet,” M* explained in Filipino.

He hopes that one day he can do the same before his parents.

But while he’s not there yet and Philippines society has yet to view marriage equality in a positive light, he’s here out and proud in what he feels is a safe space with a community he finally got to publicly celebrate his identity with.

“I feel proud. Finally, I got to experience that feeling that I’m not alone,” M* said about his first gay pride march. (END)

IMG_9080

*Interview subjects preferred not to reveal their identities


 

mediapwid-23

Empathy nurtured in workplaces with people with intellectual disabilities

Text By: Buena Bernal || Photos By: Dante Diosina, Jr. 

CARMONA, CAVITE, Philippines – To understand another takes some imagining.

Imagine what it would be like to be him and not you. Internalize another person’s lived experience. Consider that there is a reality different from yours.

mediapwid-6

Jomarie A. Espinosa‘s weekly routine is that of a typical government worker.

He arrives everyday at the Carmona Municipal Hall at 7:41 am, with or without a flag ceremony.

mediapwid-3

On Mondays when the flag is raised and they each fall in line at the town plaza, he counts – often accurately – who is and isn’t in line.

Wala sa flag ceremony. Late ka (Not in the flag ceremony. You’re late),” he would later tell the tardy state worker matter-of-factly.

Jomarie, 24, serves as an administrative aide at the town’s treasury office.

He arranges in neatly stacked piles stickers for registered vehicles, bundles them together using a rubber band, and places them inside a wooden box he opens and closes in a repetitive motion.

As he opens the box, his head slightly tilts towards it and he extends his neck to the box’s opening seemingly smelling the government stickers as if they are releasing a sweet aroma.

He does this for a time before he proceeds to explaining the rest of his work with the excitement of a man on the first day of his dream job.

In a rushed tone, he enumerates his tasks while pointing to the varied paraphernalia on his table.

“LTFRB,” he points to the car stickers. “Nagfa-filing kasi ako (I file documents),” he says, as he turns each page of the receipt bundle organized based on their series numbers. “Cedula (Community Tax Certificate),” he shows the paper that citizens need to fill out. “Gugupitin ko (I will cut this),” he adds. “Pag naubos, nagbibigay Kuya Ruel. Sasama ka sa bodega (When the paper runs out, Kuya Ruel gives me a new batch. Are you going with me to the warehouse)?” he says all these, almost without once breathing.

mediapwid-5

Jomarie actually enjoys these tasks and is proud of the work he does.

“Treasury Office. Administrative aide,” he says slowly as he traces with his fingers the letters to these words written below his name on a paper with his photo plastered to the wall above his table.

Ang boss ko si ‘Tres’ (My boss is ‘Tres’),” he says, referring to the municipal treasurer.

He shows a sample tax certificate he helps seal, and says he brings this first to Ate Norma and then to his boss “Tres” (shortened form of the word treasurer). “Papirma po (Please sign),” he tells the boss.

During mornings when the cashiers are not yet around but there are already clients arriving, he tells the applicant-clients with a toddler’s grin: “Ma’am, Sir, upo po kayo (Ma’am, Sir, please sit down)!”

He enters the treasury office noticing who is gone.

Si Kuya Dondi absent. Absent si Kuya Dondi (Kuya Dondi is absent. He is absent),” he makes the announcement to the office staff.

In truth, Dondi is not absent but is out on a state-sponsored training for government workers. Jomarie has been told this. He just hasn’t remembered.

“Leave?” he asks his supervisor, after he was lovingly corrected. “Ah,” he adds, like an attendance compliance officer.

People with autism like Jomarie are routinely employed in the town of Carmona.

mediapwid-1

This is Jomarie’s second try at the treasury office. He was first deployed to the revenue collection unit, but he experienced a bout after feeling too much pressure with too little workload. He prefers to be working 8 am to 5 pm nonstop except during scheduled breaks. He likes it when there are jokes passed around and smiles exchanged.

Jomarie walks to a nearby table. “Kuya RJ. Working!” he exclaims to the man in front of a desktop computer, as he gives RJ a high five.

He now works for the licensing unit, which releases business permits for investors in Carmona. He says he is looking forward to the month of January, when the one-stop shop is set up in town for business permit applications. He knows his work is important. He says he will make sure he will be in the January fair.

Under a government circular, these applications need to be processed within 30 minutes. Jomarie is up for the challenge.

On days the applications are scarce, his direct supervisor Teresa P. Laurora assigns him to assist in other units.

mediapwid-2

Gusto niya laging may trabaho, laging may ginagawa (He wants to be constantly working, constantly on the move),” says Teresa.

A few seconds later, Teresa sheds tears. “Masaya lang po (I’m just happy),” the 20-year government service worker says.

Jomarie remains oblivious of the scene, as if a crying supervisor is a normal occurrence in the workplace.

He walks around, passes documents to other staff members.

mediapwid-4

“Ballpens, rubber band, stapler,” he notes verbally the supplies he is tasked to get from the warehouse.

On the days he goes to the warehouse, Jomarie is sweat-soaked. But he doesn’t mind. All tasks are equal to him, the way his co-workers are all likeable in his eyes.

“… Kuya RJ, Kuya Aries, Kuya Raffy, Kuya Tutuy,” he makes a list of his favorite co-workers, actually mentioning everyone in the team.

Jomarie’s reality and way of perceiving the world differs from how the world is perceived by many.

What is noisy chatter that needs to be tuned out for many to continue with their tasks may be intolerable ringing to some people with intellectual disabilities. What is simple human touch that to many may signal connection may be an incomprehensible violation of personal space.

Speech pathologist Kenneth R. Dizon says disability exists in all shapes and sizes.

“Some of these ‘hidden’ disabilities include individuals on the Autism spectrum. Individuals on the spectrum experience the world with heightened sensitivity,” Dizon explains in an interview.

“This means that their sense of hearing, feeling, seeing, tasting and smelling is amplified. High frequency sounds, flickering lights, pungent odors will be painful and hard for them to manage, which will therefore result to uncontrollable tantrums, spacing out or whining,” he explains further.

mediapwid-21

In workplaces with people with intellectual disabilities (PWIDs), there has to be a level of accommodation for the special needs of PWIDs. The employer first extends accommodation by hiring PWIDs, but co-workers definitely need to accommodate and attend to these needs to ensure continuity of such a pro-PWID program.

And it is a worthy accommodation.

After Jomarie’s first attempt as an aide at the treasury office, he underwent rehabilitation. There was too much noise, too much jokes, too little tasks at the revenue collection unit. There were also co-workers who took offense from Jomarie’s straightforward comments on attendance and tardiness.

Today, most of them understand him better.

Dizon says there are PWIDs who perceive their environment literally, a trait that PWIDs’ co-workers need to empathize with.

“While individuals with social difficulties may seem conversant at face value, these kids will have difficulties understanding ‘abstractions’ or words that doesn’t have a physical association. These includes understanding jokes, knowing what honesty mean and social rules such as personal space. Crocodile tears may be interpreted as a reptile crying in vain than describing someone who is insincere,” he explains.

There is no denying that people with intellectual disabilities who are willing to sweat for a living should be given a shot in the labor force.

mediapwid-13

Such a space was also given to PWIDs by Quezon City-based Puzzle Gourmet Store and Café, an establishment that hires people with autism and down syndrome who will work alongside trained kitchen staff.

In Carmona, there is also 20-year-old Raichan Mark O. Dearoz, a shy and quiet young man in the Information Technology department.

mediapwid-7

Raichan speaks in a hushed tone with his mouth barely opening, like there is a secret to be told.

He was first deployed at the Carmona human resources department, until his supervisor discovered his love for computers.

mediapwid-10

He not only tinkers with softwares but can actually assemble the computer’s processing unit.

mediapwid-8

Unlike Jomarie, however, Raichan speaks fluently. Raichan simply lacks the social skills Jomarie is known for.

mediapwid-11

Early detection of intellectual disabilities helps in tailor-fitting special needs programs in schools.

SIDEBAR: NEWBORN SCREENINGS (NBS)

(Note: NBS cannot detect autism but other intellectual disabilities including down syndrome)

“The causes are varied,” says Dr. Melanie Santillan, head of PhilHealth’s Product Team for Special Benefits, for “limitations on intellectual functioning and adaptive behavior.”

But Dr. Melanie Alcausin, current director of the Newborn Screening Reference Center, explains that preventing intellectual disabilities is one of the main goals of newborn screenings.

“If timely screening is done and if diagnosis is confirmed and management is started early, babies with these metabolic conditions may lead normal and productive lives. Judicious long-term management and strict compliance to medication and treatment are important in achieving this goal,” says Dr. Alcausin.

Photo by Faye Sales
Photo by Faye Sales

“At present, there are two kinds of newborn screening being offered, the basic six-disorder screening and the expanded newborn screening, which screens for 28 disorders. The six disorders are Congenital Hypothyroidism (CH), Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia, Phenylketonuria (PKU), Maple syrup Urine disease (MSUD) Glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase deficiency, and Galactosemia. CH, PKU and MSUD may lead to intellectual disabilities if not detected and managed early,” she explains further.

Dr. Mary Antonette Y. Remonte, MDG Team Leader of PhilHealth, also explains that newborn screenings “can be availed of in rural areas… These facilities are located all over the country – rural or urban.”

Each PhilHealth-accredited birthing facility is required to have NBS services.

“As of December 2015 there are 2981 accredited birthing homes,” she says, based on PhilHealth statistics.

There are, however, some areas where birthing facilities are inaccessible to community members.

Not all local public schools have special education centers or programs, despite children from low-income families relying on government institutions for early learning and development.

People with intellectual disabilities battle social stigma, unemployment during working age, as well as exclusion resulting from misinformed biases.

But early detection and subsequent intervention as well as accessibility of special needs programs will hone their abilities and special talents at a much earlier age.

“One of the most important factors to determine success in therapy is early intervention. Once a kid is identified with difficulties in speech, parents need to take an active role in seeking necessary services for the child,” Dizon explains.

In geographically isolated areas, families can rarely afford therapy for their children with intellectual disabilities.

andoy-mediapwid
Photo by Faye Sales

In the village of Gais-Guipe in Northern Philippines, the family of 7-year-old Rolando ‘Andoy’ Mercado who was born with down syndrome relies solely on the special education program of the local government for his transition needs. His mother Edna says there are even days Andoy is unable to attend school due to the travel cost and allowance needed. His father Joselito’s earnings as a farmer do not always suffice for him and his siblings.

Dr. Melanie Santillan, head of PhilHealth’s Product Team for Special Benefits, says the state health insurance firm “recently approved the benefits for children with disabilities that shall cover assistive devices and sessions of rehabilitation for development disabilities.”

“The details of operationalization are still being drafted and shall undergo series of stakeholder consultations prior to publication of the circular,” she explains.

In many instances, a simple mention of the name of a person with disability or observations in their behaviour elicits laughter and ridicule.

15133938_10211691053818691_1824649776_o
Photo by Faye Sales

Among his peers, Andoy is called many derogatory names that shame him and relegate him as an anomaly. He is the first to laugh when he is called such things; no tinge of hurt seen in his eyes.

But a simple understanding of PWIDs’ needs can also change this.

mediapwid-20

Workplaces like that of Carmona and Puzzle have become perfect spaces to expand this understanding.

Napakalaki ang naitulong ng trabaho ko dito sa Puzzle. Dati nakikita ko lang sa publiko ‘yung mga taong may autism at may down syndrome pero hindi ko alam kung bakit at ano ang mga ugali nila (Working in Puzzle is such a big help for me. I only ever see people with intellectual disabilities in public before, but I did not know about their traits),” says 38-year-old kitchen worker Rhodora ‘Dhoray’ Bolina, who now knows better than to laugh at people with similar conditions.

mediapwid-12

Rhodora says she has learned to help pacify the fears of her PWID-co-workers.

Iyong may ibang pagkakataon kasi… ‘pag nagkamali sila kinakabahan din sila (There are times when they have bouts, like that, not that they are making a scene, it’s just that when they commit a mistake, they start getting scared),” she said.

Kailangan lang din na kausapin sila ng mahinahon na hindi mali ang ginagawa nila at okay lang magkamali (You just need to calmly talk to them that they are doing things right and that it is okay to make mistakes),” she added.

mediapwid-18

Another Puzzle worker, Edward Caesar C. Lagustan, says his PWID-co-workers are like younger siblings to him having worked at the store for two years.

mediapwid-19

Parang napalapit na rin po ‘yung loob ko sa kanila kasi hindi po sila iba… at matuturi ko po silang pamilya (I have become closer to them because to me they are not different… I treat them as family),” says Edward.

mediapwid-14

Kasi po dati, una, parang iba po sila. Pero ngayon noong nakasama ko sila sa mahabang panahon, mas lalo ko naintindian kung bakit sila ganoon (Before, I saw them as different. Now that I’ve interacted with them for a long period, I understand them better),” he explains.

Edward says there are times his PWID-co-workers suddenly stay silent or turn red and cry. He says some of them used to fear cooking oil but now can cook their own snacks, like potato fries and fried chicken.

mediapwid-16

Carmona revenue collection clerk Nael M. Doblada, Jomarie’s former supervisor, says her work with Jomarie has made her a better parent to her two teenagers whose needs now differ from when they were still pre-adolescents.

Parang siya naging baby namin rito. Para kasing meron kang dapat intindihin… Unawain mo ‘yung sarili niyang diskarte (Jomarie has become like our son here. It’s like there is someone you need to understand better… Empathize with his own strategies),” she explains in tears.

img_20161114_135933
Photo by Buena Bernal

Wilfredo F. Concho, senior administrative assistant and Raychan’s co-worker at the Carmona IT unit, says he learned about “iyong bang sistema ng diplomasya (a system of diplomacy)” that needs to be utilized when dealing with PWIDs.

Jomarie, for his part, adores his office which to him is a space where play and income generation intertwines.

He said of his first salary: “Chicheck ng pera. Bawal mawala. Nilagay ko lang sa bag. Bigay lola ko, tita ko, magulang. Thank you. (I checked the money. It can’t be lost. I placed it in my bag. Gave some to my grandmother, my aunt, my parents. Thank you.)”

May ID yata dito (There is an identification card here)!” he exclaimed when asked why he loves the Carmona town hall’s treasury office.

Luma na ID ko. Pero wala pang bonus (My ID is already old. I have no bonus yet),” he adds immediately, like a balancing act.

Jomarie’s reasons for loving his workplace or at least what he can communicate as his reasons may differ from what binds many to their jobs, certainly not merely their work identification cards.

But co-workers of people with intellectual disabilities like Jomarie say the presence of PWIDs makes a lot of difference.

img_20161114_135040
Photo by Buena Bernal

Iyong aura, panay laging masaya (The aura here is always joyful),” says revenue clerk Nael.

Lagi siyang pinaalalahanan kami (He always reminds us of the rules),” says licensing officer Teresa.

People with disabilities who are employed are transforming workplaces. Beyond that, they’re transforming people.

Understanding people with intellectual disabilities can only happen when they are included in the spaces we navigate on a daily basis, including and especially the workplace.

What they take home as co-workers of people with intellectual disabilities is the acknowledgement that each person has his or her own separate reality which needs some level of understanding, providing them an impetus to imagine what the world is from another person’s lens.

The world of work is a wonderful opportunity to bring out the tenderness in people. (END)

 

Powered By:

probemediafoundation_logo ulf_logo   inc_logo

“This story was produced under the ‘Media & PWID: Covering Stories on Capabilities and Contributions Media Training and Fellowship Program’ by Probe Media Foundation and Unilab Foundation. The grant-giving bodies have no editorial control over content and information-gathering.”