Thursday, January 19, 2017

LoveYourself Stages Play Highlighting the HIV/AIDS Crisis and Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs)

By Kris Tangco

Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) are one of the groups vulnerable to the HIV/AIDS crisis the Philippines is facing. Addressing the plight of OFWs by highlighting and bringing awareness to their struggles, HIV awareness and advocacy group LoveYourself, in partnership with the Philippine Educational Theater Association (PETA) will be staging Care Divas, a play about the lives of five transgender OFWs.

Background on OFWs

The Filipino diaspora has brought an estimated total of 10.4 million ethnic Filipinos to seek opportunities abroad, roughly 2.3 million of which are OFWs[1]. As of 2015, OFW remittances sent home by Filipinos abroad amounted to almost 30 billion US Dollars[2], representing around more than 10% of the national economy. The Philippines is one of the world’s largest suppliers of human labor - in fact, the country is a pioneer in organized labor migration[3].

Deployment of Filipinos abroad started during the Martial Law years when legislation formally adopted a recruitment and placement program for sending Filipino workers for overseas work with the goal of “protecting the good name of the Philippines abroad[4].” The number of OFWs has steadily increased over the years, and now, the country trails behind giants, India and China, in the number of workers deployed overseas.


Migration enables Filipinos having difficulties finding sustainable local employment to find better opportunities and uplift their families’ economic conditions. However, along with the economic advantages that migration brings are various issues, including human rights issues and conditions that make migrant workers vulnerable to diseases, including HIV/AIDS.

As of October 2016, the number of OFWs who are people living with HIV (PLHIV) has reached 4,535, representing 12% of the total number of recorded HIV cases in the country. Males comprised majority of cases at 85%, 57% of which were MSMs.

The vulnerability of OFWs to HIV/AIDS is seen to largely follow the correlation between the spread of the virus and mobility[5]. At the same time, the issue of HIV/AIDS among OFWs is a contentious one, as they comprise the sector who undergo mandatory HIV/AIDS testing as a health requirement for employment. The problem of HIV/AIDS among OFWs is therefore twofold - workers become vulnerable to infection due to situations they may face from working overseas, and pre-employment HIV/AIDS testing is ethically questionable and can be used as a tool for discrimination[6].

Reasons for Vulnerability

Action for Health Initiatives, Inc. (ACHIEVE) , a non-stock, non-profit organization engaged in the development and implementation of programs addressing issues related to migration, health, gender, reproductive health, and HIV/AIDS, released a study assessing the vulnerability of OFWs to HIV/AIDS[7]. A number of predisposing factors were identified, including a problematic level of knowledge on HIV/AIDS. Most respondents have heard of what HIV/AIDS is but misconceptions abound on how it is transmitted, including the notion that it is curable and only affects certain sectors of the population such as foreigners and LGBTs. This notion gives a lot of OFWs an attitude of invincibility - they develop the presumption that it is highly unlikely that they will acquire the infection as only certain sectors can be affected by the disease[8].

Low condom use is also a problem, with only 20% of male respondents using condoms. Feelings of loneliness, homesickness and social isolation[9] brought about by being in a foreign country, away from their families and friends, intensifies the need for belongingness, increasing the propensity among migrant workers to pursue romantic relationships or engaging in paid or unpaid sex. Furthermore, mandatory testing, more than ethically wrong, also contributes to vulnerabilities of migrant workers by misleading them to feel invincible if they test negative. This is especially true for those who have been tested repeatedly in the course of their overseas work[10].

Further adding to complications, some countries discriminatorily deport migrant workers who test positive for HIV/AIDS. This may lead workers to avoid getting tested, making it more difficult for them to access information and services. Migrants end up not knowing what their HIV status is, and as a result, may unknowingly transmit the infection to others. Access to health care may also not be universally provided to migrant workers in some countries. Undocumented migrant workers may also avoid using medical facilities for fear of being detected and arrested. The lack of access to health care also contributes to their vulnerabilities to HIV/AIDS[11].

LoveYourself and Care Divas

Written by award-winning playwright Liza Magtoto, the play is a humorous and heartbreaking drama about five transgender OFWs in Israel who work as caregivers in the morning and morph into drag queen performers at night. While struggling to make ends meet overseas, the characters also struggle to search for freedom, acceptance, and love[12].

Performance is scheduled on February 5, Sunday, 3:00 p.m. at the PETA Theater Center along Eymard Drive in New Manila, Quezon City. Tickets are now available. Please send in your inquiries to or check out the Facebook event page.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

JOB OPENING: Audio & Video Consultant, Scriptwriter, Photographer, and Shoot Coordinator for Regional City Based HIV Testing Campaign: TestXXX

APCOM has been engaged in responding to the urgent needs of MSM in Asia and the Pacific at both a policy and programmatic level. At a multi-stakeholder consultation on “Ending AIDS in Asia- Re-strategizing the MSM response” held 21-22 January 2013 in Bangkok, Thailand, UNAIDS RST-AP was tasked to coordinate a regional ‘Call to Action’. As a result, UNAIDS, UNDP and APCOM collaborated on a special MSM feature in the HIV in Asia Pacific: UNAIDS Report 2013 calling on partners to better “focus, invest, empower and mobilize” to provide innovative, tailored programming and effective responses to at- risk communities.

To ensure sustained action in response to the ‘Call to Action’, In 2013 APCOM received seed funding from UNAIDS and further assistance for Population Services International (PSI) Thailand to implement a pilot project for Regional City-Based HIV Testing Campaign: TestXXX, called TestBKK. APCOM would also like to roll this out to other cities in the region such as Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam, Jakarta in Indonesia and Manila in the Philippines.

LoveYourself Inc. partnership with APCOM, is looking for (1) Audio & Video Consultant, (1) Scriptwriter, (1) Photographer, and (1) Shoot Coordinator who will developed/produced Information, Education and Communication (IEC) materials on HIV screening awareness, and prevention for Regional City Based HIV Testing Campaign: Test MNL.

Audio & Video Consultant

  • Post and/or Undergraduate degree of Communication, Journalism, Film, Theater or any similar discipline.
  • At least 2 years proven track record on developing and implementing effective video ad campaigns.
  • Must have an extensive experience in film production and creative industry, especially in filming, directing, location scouting, costume design and actors coaching.
  • Has extensive experience in developing Information, Education and Communication (IEC) materials for LGBT and HIV awareness.
  • Has the appropriate production equipment or can source out the needed video production equipment and materials to ensure production of quality videos.
  • Has the ability to develop a costing plan for visual ad campaign production.
  • Has enough qualified manpower to be involved in producing and finalizing the visual ad campaign materials.
  • Preferably based in Metro Manila.

Ad Campaign Scriptwriter

  • Must have an extensive experience in creative writing in film, television, and/or advertisement.
  • Post and/or Undergraduate degree of Communication, Journalism, Film, Theater, Creative Writing or any similar discipline.
  • At least 2 (two) years of proven track record of developing and designing effective script for video ad campaigns.
  • Has extensive experience in developing Information, Education and Communication (IEC) materials for LGBT and HIV awareness.
  • Key skills includes creativity and the the ability to communicate a story to an audience, determination, persistence and self-motivation.
  • Preferably based in Metro Manila.


  • Must have a Bachelor’s degree in any field.
  • Must have an extensive experience in photography, has an excellent portfolio of projects done for different campaigns.
  • At least 2 years of proven track record of developing and implementing effective photo ad campaign.
  • Key skills includes the artistic ability to create photographs that conveys the messages of the campaign, attention to detail, interpersonal skills, photo-editing skills, and photography shooting equipment.
  • Has the appropriate production equipment or can source out the needed photo shoot production equipment and materials to ensure production of quality visual ad campaign materials.
  • Preferably based in Metro Manila.

Shoot Coordinator

  • Must have a Bachelor’s degree in any field.
  • At least 2 years of proven track record of developing and implementing effective photo ad campaign.
  • Must have an extensive experience in commercial or editorial photography.
  • Understanding of photo production and photo studio workflows.
  • Experience and flexibility in accommodating frequently changing schedules.
  • Superior organizational skills and are very attentive to detail.
  • Strong inter-personal and customer service skills.
  • Ability to work both independently and collaboratively.
  • Preferably based in Metro Manila.


LoveYourself Inc. is an equal opportunity employer and highly encourages applicants from the gay, bisexual, and transgender community who have experience in non-profit and community development work.


Interested applicants should submit an expression of interest (EOI) letter for the position they desired together with the applicant’s CV/resume, via e-mail to and cc: and on or before January 22, 2017 (Sunday), 5:00 pm (PH time), addressed to Mr. Ronivin G. Pagtakhan Executive Director of LoveYourself Inc. technical review of documents will be done and the most qualified applicant will be contracted by LoveYourself Inc.

Monday, January 16, 2017

CARE DIVAS Makes a Comeback: A Fundraising Show for LoveYourself

By Carlos Diego A. Rozul and Christian Watson Vergara

LoveYourself Inc., in partnership with the Philippine Educational Theater Association (PETA), will host the 3:00 p.m. show of the 2011 hit comedy musical Care Divas on February 5, 2017, Sunday, at the PETA Theater Center in New Manila, Quezon City to raise funds for LoveYourself’s continued services and projects.

The multi-awarded musical tells the tale of five transgender Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) in Israel who work as caregivers by day and fierce drag performers by night. The story goes beyond the struggles of our fellow Filipinos abroad as it tackles the search for acceptance in a faraway country.

Care Divas bagged seven trophies from the 2011 Gawad Buhay! Awards, including Outstanding Musical Production, Outstanding Ensemble Performance, Outstanding Male Lead in a Musical, Outstanding Musical Direction, Outstanding Original Libretto, Outstanding Stage Direction, and Outstanding Choreography for a Play or Musical.

This comeback retains all the elements that made Care Divas great, like the candid and witty lines written by the award-winning playwright Liza Magtoto, and the catchy musical scores of Vincent de Jesus. However, this is not the same show from six years ago. For PETA’s 50th anniversary, Care Divas is now brought to you by an all-new cast, which includes PETA’s tenacious theater artists: Melvin Lee, Vince De Jesus, Ron Alfonso, Dudz TeraƱa, Eko Baquial, Jason Barcial, Buddy Caramat, Gio Gahol, Joan Bugcat, Eric Dela Cruz, Joseph Madriaga, and Gold Villar, and guest artists Ophir Burton, Ricci Chan, Red Concepcion, Jef Flores, Paul Holme, Sherry Lara, Thou Reyes, Leo Rialp, and Myke Salomon.

“This partnership with PETA is also a great way of tapping the arts as a means to educate the public not just with the plight of OFWs but with the struggles of the LGBT community including the stigma on HIV and social limitations,” LoveYourself Executive Director Ronivinn G. Pagtakhan said.

Latest statistics from the Department of Health revealed that from January 1984 to November 2016, a total of 4,586 OFWs were reported to have contracted HIV, with a high incidence rate reported in males. “It’s very crucial that regular timely testing and treatment should be part of the wellness routine of every person despite of gender not just in the Philippines, but also those working abroad,” Pagtakhan emphasized.

While the hit-musical will run from February 3 to  March 19, only the 3:00 p.m. show on February 5 is dedicated to LoveYourself, a community of volunteers that aims to spread awareness and education with regards to HIV, self-worth, volunteerism, and everything in between. Initially a testing facility for HIV geared toward the young MSM community, LoveYourself has expanded its reach to all sexual orientations, gender identities, and expressions.

Pagtakhan relayed that “all proceeds of the show will support the organization’s clinic operations and activities as it pushes for HIV awareness and caters to the needs of people living with HIV.”

Recently, LoveYourself Inc. launched the Victoria Health and Wellness Center (VHWC) at Taft Avenue, the first transgender health clinic and testing center in the country, which will also benefit from the fundraising show.

If the compelling narrative, actors, production, and cause aren’t enough to convince you to watch the Care Divas February 5, 3:00 pm show, then maybe it being part of PETA’s 50th anniversary will. A brilliant MA thesis by Cecile Guidote-Alvarez in 1967 envisioned a National Theater Movement in the Philippines. Now, 50 years later, PETA is celebrating its golden anniversary. PETA offers everyone a chance to be part of this huge milestone by kicking off their golden year with one of their most highly acclaimed musicals. This is an invitation to witness an amazing and meaningful show for a cause.

For the February 5, 3:00 p.m. show ticket reservations, you may contact the show coordinators through this email address: or these mobile numbers: 0917-840-0943, 0917-795-3398, 0915-127-5931 and 0977-386-178.  Tickets are at P1,800 (VIP), P1,500 (Orchestra Center), P1,200 (Orchestra Sides), P1,500 (Balcony Center), and P800 (Balcony Sides).

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

HIVisions: Getting the Story Out

By Jean Natividad
The HIV crisis has gone on for four decades, and for four decades the world has struggled against it. Doctors, scientists, educators, policy makers, writers, artists – people of all walks and all colors have, in their own ways, sought to make sense of this crisis and its relationship with society. From citizens to states, from medicine to prayer, from cures to cries for reform, people’s visions of how to respond to the crisis are as diverse as the people who bear its scars. The goal of this series is to give you a glimpse of these visions: the roles people of different passions and disciplines have played in this crisis that, as of March 2016 as recorded by the Department of Health’s Epidemiology Bureau, is infecting 25 Filipinos daily.

In his 1963 book, The Press and Foreign Policy[1], American political scientist Bernard C. Cohen likened journalists to cartographers: they influence, with the “maps” they draw, how the public comes to see the world. "The press may not be successful much of the time in telling people what to think,” Cohen writes, “but it is stunningly successful in telling its readers what to think about.”[2]  Maxwell McCombs and Donald Shaw, in a 1972 issue of Public Opinion Quarterly[3], found a real-world example. Studying the 1968 presidential campaign in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, they came to what is now an obvious conclusion: that mass media shapes voter beliefs about what are important issues. They were not the first to say this, of course. The idea surfaced as early as 1922 by newspaper columnist Walter Lippman[4] and others.

No debate here: the media can set the agenda[5]. Frequent reporting of select issues, prominent story placement, additional inches on a newspaper column, extended airtime -- the media’s strategies are subtle and many. But as much as this power can direct the public, it can also alienate them.
HIV: An underreported issue
Independent journalist and sexual health advocate Ana P. Santos works with the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting[6], an institution that supports journalists working on underreported issues. A two-time grantee, she has reported on migrant mothers as well as HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) in the Philippines. Her stories have been published in various international titles, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, IRIN News, and The Guardian.
Santos believes interest in HIV has not waned, but she admits there are challenges, even for independent journalists like her, to getting these kinds of stories published. "I'm an independent journalist, so I have to focus on issues that are important to me and balance them out with issues that my editors from overseas want me to focus on,” she explains. “And the editors overseas, they all want a story about the president.” True enough, local newsrooms haven't had a slow day since the presidential campaigns. Since President Rodrigo Duterte’s election, more and more political stories have been produced, from the president's war on drugs to his controversial pronouncements, the state visits, Senate hearings, the Marcos burial -- the list goes on. "There's been a lot of unprecedented moments in this new administration,” Santos tells us. “It is a real challenge in terms of getting your stories out there and also getting people to pay attention." Internationally, it is the same challenge. Other issues, such as the refugee crisis, the rise of violent extremism, and the looming shadow of climate change, simply have more traction than HIV/AIDS.
But Santos has found a way to write about HIV despite these editorial interests. In "Philippines' war on drugs affecting fight against HIV"[7], her September 2016 report for the German publication Deutsche Welle (DW), she angled the story to satisfy both her editors’ requirement to deliver news on the president and her personal advocacy. The result is a riveting investigative piece that delved deep into the rising number of HIV infections among people who inject drugs (PWID) in Cebu, and how the government's criminal approach[8,9,10] to its anti-drug campaign has crippled HIV intervention programs. "First, it was the drug war, and then it has now become a geopolitical issue. These are increasingly important. Yes, they're important, but so is HIV." Santos mentioned geopolitics because the president’s often controversial statements concerning international relations[11,12] are top news for editors too, and these also tend to overshadow other issues like the HIV epidemic.
Humanizing the epidemic
Anna Santos talking to a patient at the Halfway House run by Cebu Plus

A published story with all “news values” (such as timeliness, impact, conflict, proximity, and prominence) is good, but it's the storytelling that makes it great. “Treatment trumps topic,” as the American Press Institute puts it.[13] For a reader, storytelling can become more important than the story itself. “The best story is a well-told tale about something the reader feels is relevant or significant.”[14]
For sensitive topics like HIV, well-written human interest features (or people-focused stories told with an emotional angle) fit the mold of a great story. These great stories can resonate with readers because they showcase real people with real struggles and real victories. But even then, journalists face roadblocks. "There's less resistance to HIV stories on children[15] and mothers[16],” Santos explains. “When you talk about HIV in terms of, for example, PWID, sex workers, and people in prison, people think, 'Who cares about these people?' So there's always that challenge." One solution is, somewhat ironically, to make the subject human: "I think the way that journalism can address that is to frame it around people. This isn't a prisoner; this is someone like you and me. This isn't a person who injects drugs; this is a person like you and me."
But journalists aren’t just journalists either: they’re people like you and me, and like most of us aren’t immune to the emotional toll stories like these have[17,18,19]. In Santos’ case, it was meeting children living with HIV that weighed heavy on her: “When we were doing the drug den story in Cebu…we found children who are living with HIV. And that bothered me the most. One 9-year-old girl said that she would, at times, be the one to buy the drugs for her mother. She didn't realize it, and she was sometimes at the shooting galleries.” Santos’ advice is to “detach”, to take a step back and to “detoxify”. This means moving away from the stressful situation and letting the strong emotions pass before continuing the legwork.
There’s a need for journalists reporting on HIV to go beyond the numbers if they want a wider readership. In an article for the Center for Health Journalism[20], Jon Cohen writes: "The best HIV/AIDS coverage delves beyond the latest statistics of how many people are infected, the publication of a new national plan, or the results from a study of a promising new treatment or preventive intervention. It tells the stories of the vulnerable people who took part in that study and offers different perspectives about the results. It airs debates that took place behind closed doors while the new policy was being formed. It explains the complex, confusing forces that drive how an epidemic changes shape over time." In short, quality coverage is comprehensive: it probes for information, provides context, and offers perspective.
In the Philippines, where HIV remains a touchy subject, putting a face on the epidemic can be daunting. People living with HIV (PLHIV) could fear estrangement from their communities because of their condition and refuse to become sources for journalists. And for Santos, the first rule is to do no harm: “the safety and the dignity of PLHIVs should be your paramount concern.” This means protecting sources and reporting their stories with utmost care, getting informed consent, honoring requests for anonymity, getting in touch with the right people (like experts and reputable organizations), disclosing all details about the story (like the angle, and where and when it will be published), and so on. She recalls: “We were in a drug den… My photographer, Veejay [Villafranca], because he had a camera, they [PWID] were asking, ‘What's that?’ Veejay asked, ‘Sir, could we take some pictures? We won't show your faces.’ And then he [Veejay] would show them the photos, so they eased up. But no one wanted to talk to me at first, and I was the only woman in the room. Finally, somebody came up to me and asked, ‘Ate, what do you need?’ I said, ‘No one's talking to me. I just need to get an interview. Is it alright?’ She said, ‘Okay, but let me inject first, okay?’ Will you be able to wait? Are you in a hurry?’ I said, ‘No, no, no. I'll wait for you. Promise, I'll talk to you.’”
Learning the science, getting the support
Part of the job is to stay on top of the beat or the subject. For those reporting on HIV, this means being up-to-date on the latest social and medical advancements. In the Philippines, for example, journalists need to learn how to report on Pre-exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP)[21], a pill that, with correct and consistent use, was demonstrated by clinical research to lower the risk of HIV transmission by up to 92%[22].
According to Santos, a shift from 'awareness' to 'understanding' is necessary. It’s not enough for readers to know there’s an HIV epidemic in the country[23]; readers need to know about the epidemic’s beginnings, its present state, and where it’s headed. "There's a lot of reporting, but let's move beyond awareness already... You need to go beyond creating awareness to now establishing understanding and then creating positive conversations and dialogues." Going beyond awareness also means journalists need to go beyond the figures. While solid research is the foundation of any good report, presentation matters. This means translating medical jargon and complicated statistics into clear stories that are readily accessible to readers unfamiliar to the subject[24,25,26].
"HIV, when you report on it, you need to be sensitive to the realities of the people that you report on,” Santos says. “You also have to be scientifically accurate. That's what I rely on the government for, especially with new things like PrEP. It's technical again. Now, there's something new again to understand. And I think that's where the partnership of journalists and the government should come in because we have to be accurate." One example is the Department of Health (DOH), which releases the HIV/AIDS and ART Registry of the Philippines (HARP)[27] every month. Note however that reporters must be extra critical when dealing with technical data: closer inspection could at times reveal gaps in official reports, which should be addressed[28].
Aside from community sources and government data, journalists can tap other entities for support. For Santos' story on PWIDs in Cebu, she enlisted the help of a known non-government HIV testing and support organization in the province. "In Cebu, we had the support of Cebu Plus[29]. Cebu Plus is one of those organizations that are trusted. We also had the support of the city health department. So we talked to them. We told them what the story's going to be about. We engaged them. We also got a briefing from them about what to expect. And we were granted access. But you never go in there without someone who's known in the community.”
LoveYourself[30] also works with members of the media to help them get HIV stories out. Volunteers have served as resource persons for news and investigative reports, and the organization has connected journalists with other sources for their stories. LoveYourself also regularly shares content through its website[31], the Rappler X page[32], and other social media channels[33,34,35], which can be sources of reliable information for readers and story ideas for reporters. Santos tells us: “I look to you [LoveYourself] for support groups and guidance. If I were to write a transgender story now, for example, and I have to look for an expert on transgender issues, I would ask somebody from LoveYourself.”

With adequate support, the journalist’s job of producing quality reports on HIV is made easier. And while making HIV the headline story of the day remains a big undertaking, journalists can turn to tested strategies to get their stories the attention they deserve. But once the story is out, its value rests solely in the hands of the readers. Because while journalists might be the cartographers, it’s the readers who do the traveling.

Photos by Ana Santos and Veejay Villafranca