Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Get to know Mga Batang Poz

By Ross Manicad

The miniseries about four young men living with HIV is now streaming on iWant. Warning: this article contains spoilers

The media regularly shares data about HIV incidence in the country. However, they seldom share the faces and stories behind the numbers. This is exactly why Mga Batang Poz, a digital advocacy series on iWant, is a welcome narrative in mainstream media that offers fresh yet relatable storylines among the youth. The show is directed by Chris Martinez adapted from a young adult novel written by Segundo Matias Jr. 

Mga Batang Poz centers around four guys who met after chatting in an online group. Three of them - Gab (Mark Neumann), Enzo (Paolo Gumabao), and Luis (Fino Herrera) are discreet gays while Chuchay (Awra Briguela) is the proudly effeminate character. Within hours, they started exchanging stories and their struggles while on a two-day road trip up north. Despite their differences, they share a common truth: they are People Living with HIV (PLHIV).

Why is Mga Batang Poz relevant now? We need not look beyond the show’s title itself. “Mga” (many) as the Department of Health reported in May that 36 new HIV infections are recorded daily. “Batang” (youth) since most of these cases belong to 15 to 24 age bracket and are mostly men who have sex with men (MSM). Finally, “Poz” (a catchy term for “positive”) to imply the risk involved with sexual contact which remains as the predominant mode of HIV transmission.

It’s also noteworthy that this groundbreaking series casts a new lens on a wave of young PLHIVs who maintain a good social life. Their resilience in rising above prejudice and emotional trauma is inspiring for people of their same age and situation.

The creators of Mga Batang Poz. From left: author Segundo Matias Jr., Paolo Gumabao, Mark Neumann, Awra Briguela, Fino Herrera, and director Chris Martinez
Establishing the show’s relevance are the protagonists:

  • Luis, the promising son of a traditional Chinese family, born and raised with a proverbial golden spoon. Among the few things expected of him is to fall in love with Hazel--something that he can’t force himself to do. Eventually, Luis fell into casual unprotected sex from strangers he met in a dating app;
  • Enzo, resentful son and brother who struggles from an inferiority complex. He found affection and fame in the alter universe, concealing his identity behind sex videos with a couple. Unfortunately, his emotions got in the way and he fell for one of them;
  • Gab, son of a town mayor who is one-half of local loveteam “GabVi,” with Via, the daughter of another local politician. He develops an intimate and secret affair with his best friend Kenneth which sadly escalated into an abusive and depressing series of confrontations; and finally
  • Chuchay, the queer breadwinner of a homeless family who has to make ends meet by accepting money for sex from his employer’s pedophiliac husband. Although the most vulnerable because of economic status, ‘she’ is the comic jester and light of the party.

The four episodes between the pilot and finale are dedicated in telling each of their lives before and after being infected with the virus. Viewers are treated to a roller coaster of emotions as they join the foursome’s road trip equivalent to more than three hours of binge time.

Safe Space as a concept, reality

“I guess normal naman sa gays na magtago para hindi makilala,” (“I guess it’s normal for gays to conceal their identity”) says supporting character RJ (Mark Rivera).

The rest of the cast confronts this thought in the finale, as if they’re leaving viewers something to think about after watching. What is a safe space? Where is it? Who gives or protects it? How can one make their own? 

The show provides some answers by showing how the characters created and found their safe spaces. While difficult, all of them were able to reveal their HIV status to their circles. As a standout of the show, Chuchay’s cisgender best friend Ginalyn left viewers with an emotional moment when she reaffirmed her love for her, albeit desperately fighiting tears. In a flashback scene, Luis’ big brother also assured him that “no one should be sorry for being gay.” The show invites viewers to be like Ginalyn and Luis who made a conscious decision to love, without buts or maybes.

All together in their Baguio inn, Chuchay assured the group that “God is not judgemental” and followed it by an in-your-face question, “Hindi ba pwedeng magmahalan na lang tayo?” (“Can’t we just love one another?”). These are just some of the heart-tugging moments and shareable quotes to give the viewers emotional breaks in between episodes.

Mga Batang Poz presents that a safe space is not necessarily a physical structure. Family can be them; an online chat group can do the same. Testing centers and hospitals can provide them, so as strangers and past lovers. Creating a safe space is a conscious decision to surround oneself with people, experiences, and moments that are uplifting, warm, understanding, and tolerant. It’s not always easy to look for one but there are plenty of them. 

For instance, all LoveYourself community centers are safe spaces for anyone who wants to get tested for free or access treatment for HIV and other sexually transmitted infections. Just visit loveyourself.ph of check its Facebook page for the clinics’ schedules and one can visit without fear of being exposed or labeled.

LoveYourself volunteer Paul Junio shares his insights during Poz Talk
“Poz Talk”

The series generously provides a special 30-minute “Poz Talk” hosted by Karen Davila to shed light on the issue, prevalence, and stigma surrounding HIV. Davila talks to the author, cast, PLHIVs, and advocates for a well informed and relatable discussion.

Speaking on behalf of LoveYourself, communications volunteer Paul Junio echoes that the show “is a good opportunity for families to have healthy discussions inside their homes about HIV.”

And that closes the loop to the show’s after-credits, that Mga Batang Poz “is an advocacy series to celebrate life amidst all the pain. For there is love from family and friends.” The characters showed us that there is life after HIV. It’s now our turn to help, accept, and love the Luis, Gab, Enzo, and Chuchay of the real world. 

Mga Batang Poz was recently screened at Cinemalaya and Cinespectra Film Festival to educate and inform more people about the issues of some PLHIVs, and continue the discussion on safe spaces, tolerance, and the importance of treatment. It is still streaming on www.iWant.ph or you can download and register in the app for free. You can also buy the novel in major bookstores nationwide, online at nationalbookstore.com/mga-batang-poz, or contact its publisher www.lamparabooks.com.ph.
Ross is a full-time communicator. On his days off, he serves as a volunteer for HIV advocacy, and activities related to arts and culture. He joined LoveYourself to help normalize conversations surrounding the epidemic.

Saturday, September 07, 2019

LoveYourself Cebu Welcomes Batch Dasig Volunteers

By Shiela Ursabia

LoveYourself Cebu conducted its orientation for the fourth and biggest batch of volunteers on August 18, 2019 Sunday at Qualfon Building, Skyrise 3, IT Park, Cebu City.

More than 70 volunteers out of the total 144 volunteers in LoveYourself White House attended the said orientation bearing the name Batch Dasig. It is a Cebuano term which means "Encourage", as LoveYourself Cebu continues to strengthen their presence in the local Cebuano scene and encourage people to have themselves tested for HIV.

“Life-changing,” as one volunteer, Jude Nitcha, coined it, the orientation was full of informative and insightful ideas spearheaded by LoveYourself Recruitment Team, and facilitated by Jan Vincent Estrada, Head of LoveYourself Cebu.

The fourth batch's logo symbolizes the phoenix representing the sun or warmth that they will bring to the group. Batch Dasig aims to motivate people to fight the stigma and rebuild their life to be better than before.

Bringing with them enthusiasm and fresh ideas, Batch Dasig warmly welcomes exciting ventures as they join the organization and sustain the energy of the first three Batches — Amuma, Bitoon and Kalayo in achieving its goal.

LoveYourself White House in Cebu offers free and confidential HIV testing, counselling, and treatment to all no matter the age, race, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression. It is located at 40 Don J. Llorente Street, Capitol Site, Cebu City. To be part of the organization, you can sign-up at go.loveyourself.ph/cebuvolunteer or contact  +63 927-873-7575

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Triangle of Self Care: Chronicles of Correct and Consistent Condom Use

By Jacob

The wet season has finally come and as it pours isn’t it nice to stay indoors, relax with the person we’re comfortable with and just Netflix and chill?. But it’s important to keep in mind that sex is not just about pleasure, but also health. That’s why practicing a healthy sexual lifestyle  is in your best interest as it keeps you and your partner safe.

LoveYourself created a healthy sexual lifestyle guide called the “Triangle of Self-Care” or TSC. It’s comprised of three easy steps: (1) Timely testing and treatment, (2) Safe and satisfying sex, and (3) Correct and consistent use of condoms. It’s simple, effective, and will take you a long way in your sexual conquest.

For most it’s not easy to get themselves tested for HIV  because of the stigma attached to it. But we need to know our status so we can do what we need to move on. We can get tested again after the window period and continue safer sex options if negative, or pursue treatment and aim to be undetectable if positive.

Photo by Jacob
David's Change of Heart

“Stealthing” is a trick used by some men where they remove the condom during intercourse to engage in unprotected sex without the knowledge or consent of his partner. David (Not his real name), a 27-year-old salesman used to stealth all the time with the men he meets on dating apps 

He preffered bareback sex back then because he says that the “friction” feels much better. Plus the added excitement of doing it secretly was like the cherry on the top for him. 

But all this change during December last year when he first got tested after two years of engaging in non consensual unprotected sex. He says that while he was in the waiting room he panicking deep inside. 

“It took a lot of courage to get myself tested. And it really scared me at that moment because I thought of all the possible times where I could’ve been exposed. Not to mention how I tricked my partners. I just realized just how much risk I exposed myself into for pleasure!” David said. 

He then go on to say that he realized that all the pleasure that he got from his unprotected sex was not worth the paranoia. 

When he got his result he couldn’t breathe and cried out of happiness because he was non-reactive. Since then David did not only promised to regularly get tested but also to change his ways for his safety and that of his partner. 

“That experience (getting tested for the first time) was like a slap to my face because it made me realized so much and it really did change me” David said. 

For most people, practicing a healthy sexual life is brought about realizing it’s importance ourselves. David’s own experience led him to finally get tested and learned the importance of doing it regularly. He realized the high risk he was putting himself and his partners, so he chose to walk a different path that would still satisfy his cravings and put his mental and physical health on guard - with condoms.

Photo from https://www.thematlethbridge.com/sexual-health--wellness-blog/image-safe-sex-is-for-everybody
Putting It All Together

All these people went through their own journey that made them realize their own reasons to take care of themselves more than they used to. Safe Spaces is a project of LoveYourself with partner establishments to provide free condoms to anyone who needs them. Launched in 2017, the app-based program aims to make safer sex more accessible in judgement-free spaces. Download the Safe Spaces PH app is available on Google Play store and App Store for download. For more information, one may also visit the Safe Spaces PH website.
Jacob is a front lines kind of man. In my advocacy and passion I've always been vocal and one to take action. As an openly gay man who is also a marvel fanatic I live by the words "Mutant and proud".

Monday, August 26, 2019

CineSpectra 2019 Short Film Festival Rolls Out This Week!

By Carlos Diego A. Rozul

Witness the CineSpectra 2019 Short Film Festival's ten finalists! Themed as Your Judgement, Their Life, the collection of short films feature stories of people living with HIV (PLHIV) made by budding local film directors mentored by the Directors Guild of the Philippines Inc. You can catch this free film viewing on August 26 2019 - 5:00pm and August 27, 2019 at 12:00nn and 6:30pm at Ayala Malls Trinoma Cinema 6, Quezon City, and from August 28-30, 2019 at the Cinematheque Centre Manila, Iloilo, and Davao.

Among the 97 entry submissions, the following were chosen to develop and produce the 5-minute short films showcased in the festival:
  • “A” by Roylan Modina (Manila City)
  • “Alex & Aki” by Dexter Paul De Jesus (Quezon City)
  • “Ang Gasgas Na Plaka Ni Lolo Bert” by Janina Gacosta (Mandaluyong City)
  • “Doon Sa Isang Sulok” by Alfredo Tapang, Jr. (Quezon City)
  • “Guhit” by Kyle Jumayne Francisco (Pampanga)
  • “Ikaw Din?!” by John Aaron Alsol (Bulacan)
  • “Panihapon” by Christopher Hubahib (Cebu)
  • “Quieter is Louder” by Kathleen Gonzales (Bacoor)
  • “Taym Pers, Pers Taym” by Ma. Ceazara Vidallo (Quezon City)
Having diverse representation of HIV in media is a large step toward normalizing the conversation surrounding HIV testing, prevention, and PLHIV wellness. Spearheaded by the EON Foundation, Film Development Council of the Philippines, and LoveYourself Inc. the film makers were oriented on the basics of sexual orientation, gender identity and expression (SOGIE)  to ensure tasteful conceptualization of the films.

CineSpectra 2019 will also hold a special free film screening of the iWant series Mga Batang Poz written by Segundo Matias Jr. and directed by Chris Martinez which follows the story of four adolescents living with HIV on August 27, 2019 4:00pm at the Ayala Malls Trinoma Cinema 6. The Cannes Film Festival 2017 Award Winning film Beats Per Minute will also be shown during the festival on August 26, 2019 1:00pm, and August 27, 2019 1:30pm at the Ayala Malls Trinoma Cinema 6.

Friday, August 23, 2019

Beat The Bugs: Outsmarting Sexually Transmitted Infections

By Francis Dimaano and Raymond Manahan

clipart clipĂ‚ art illustration free picture
Illustration of Baceria Retrieved from: https://www.needpix.com/photo/1553464/clipart-clipart-illustration-graphic-cartoon-germs-bacteria-bacterial-virus
Take self-care to the next level.

The Triangle of Self Care doesn’t only apply to HIV. It’s first point, Timely Testing and Treatment is especially relevant to a vast range of Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs). LoveYourself is now paving the wider road towards a healthier sex life as it offers STI testing, consultation, and treatment services.

STI Testing

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends the use of techniques and procedures that test multiple STIs at once. This makes sure that the treatment to be prescribed completely addresses all possible infections.

Clients who get tested for HIV at LoveYourself Anglo and Uni get tested for Hepatitis B and Syphilis as well. This is because these STIs have the same modes of transmission as HIV, and are also initially asymptomatic.

Hepatitis B is a liver infection which is also commonly transmitted through unprotected sex. Most people with Hepatitis B do not have symptoms and therefore, do not know that they already have it.

Syphilis is a type of STI which early stage is usually characterized by painless sores on or around the genital area, anus, or mouth. Because of its similarity to other STIs, a test is the best way to know if a person has syphilis.

Another type of STI tested at LoveYourself Uni is Gonorrhea.

Gonorrhea or tulo, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), is an STI that infects both males and females. When symptoms are present, it is usually characterized by a white, yellow, or green discharge from the genitalia. Gonorrhea can infect a person’s mouth, genitalia, and anus.

LoveYourself Uni offers free gonorrhea testing for males assigned at birth. People experiencing genital discharge can walk-in and get tested at this community center for free. This service is being done under the supervision of the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) through the Enhanced Gonococcal Antimicrobial Surveillance Program (EGASP).

STI Consultation

Image result for germs
Bacteria illustration retrieved from:
Self care in the context of STIs always involve a conversation with an expert. Getting the right information empowers us to make sound decisions and plans to manage our sexual health.

LoveYourself is committed to providing safe spaces for people to access the necessary information and improve their sexual health. Two of its community centers, LoveYourself Anglo and Victoria by LoveYourself, offer STI assessment services for males assigned at birth for a just and reasonable fee.

When a client tests reactive to Syphilis at LoveYourself Anglo, they are referred to the medical team for a scheduled consultation. This is where a treatment plan is established, and the medication is prescribed.

You can schedule an appointment at LoveYourself Anglo on Thursdays and Fridays, 4:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m. by visiting us at the community center. Six slots are available on each day. The center accepts clients who tested reactive to an STI in other clinics or diagnostic centers, as well as those who suspect they have been exposed to an STI. Consultation for other STIs such as gonorrhea, chlamydia, and herpes simplex virus are also offered here.

Victoria by LoveYourself also offers STI consultation for clients who have been diagnosed with an STI, and those who suspect they have been exposed.

Consultation fee at LoveYourself Anglo and Victoria by LoveYourself starts at PHP 300.
Victoria by LoveYourself accepts walk-in clients from Saturdays to Wednesdays between 12:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m.
Dr. Ryel of LoveYourself Uni consulting on Gonorrhea testing
STIs grow smarter as more people misuse medication. Medical researchers are now on the move to get ahead of the race against drug resistance, but we all have a role in the fight against STIs.
If a person tests positive for an STI, getting professional medical help and taking medications as prescribed not only effectively manages the infection; it also helps prevent STIs from developing resistance against existing medications and treatment.
Along with consultation and testing, treatment packages are also offered in LoveYourself community centers:
LoveYourself Anglo
For those who tested reactive to Syphilis, once medication has been prescribed, the treatment will be administered according to the schedule set during the consultation. Treatment packages are offered at this community center as well.
Treatment for clients with other STIs such as gonorrhea, chlamydia, and herpes simplex virus is also offered, in accordance to the consultation done with the doctor.
Treatment schedules are also available on Thursdays and Fridays, from 4:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m.
Victoria by LoveYourself
According to the management plan established during the consultation, treatment will also be administered. Medication will be obtained by the client from an external source.
Treatment schedules are also from Saturdays to Wednesdays between 12:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m.
LoveYourself Uni
If a client turns out positive for gonorrhea infection, they are prescribed with medication, and treatment is administered once the medication is purchased from a pharmacy.
LoveYourself, through its core values, “Iniingatan, Inaalagaan, at Inaasikaso”, aims to empower people, especially MSMs, in outsmarting STIs by consulting, getting tested, and accessing treatment.
Taking care of yourself should not be too difficult. There are safe spaces you can visit to get basic information about sexually transmitted infections. Take a step in giving yourself the love you deserve. Visit one of our community centers today. Learn more by clicking here.