09 May 2014

Crowne Plaza Hotel

Quezon City, Philippines


A Welcome Remarks delivered by Akbayan Rep. Ibarra “Barry” Gutierrez III during the International Forum on Sexuality, Poverty and Law hosted by GALANG Philippines.

Before I proceed with welcoming each one of you, I have to admit that I was surprised when I was asked to give the welcome remarks for this important occasion, with the primary reason that although I have heard a great deal about GALANG and its advocacy, and, in fact, we often find each other on the same side of several contentious issues, we never had the chance to work alongside each other. With today, however, that has obviously changed. So I would like first to express my gratitude to Galang, its officers and staff and to its Founding Director, Ms. Anne Lim, in particular. Thank you for this opportunity and I hope this gestures a closer partnership in the advancement of our common goals.


And in behalf of GALANG, I also wish to acknowledge and welcome to the Philippines our distinguished guests: Stephen Wood and Kate Hawkins from the Institute of Development Studies of UK and Vanina Serra from Mama Cash of The Netherlands whose invaluable support and contributions have made this event possible.


We also acknowledge and welcome to the Philippines our distinguished panelists whose research will provide us today a glimpse of the discourses of social justice in other countries: their struggles and advancement towards inclusive development and how these may be harnessed to enhance our own. To Ms. Tanya Charles from Sonke Gender Justice of South Africa, Li Zhen from Pink Space Sexuality Resource Center of China, Ilana Mountian from the Institute of Psychology of Universidad de Sao Paulo-Brazil and Shruti Arora from Nirantar Center for Gender & Education of India.


Esteemed colleagues in Congress, friends, ladies and gentlemen, in behalf of GALANG Philippines Incorporated, I am honored and pleased to welcome each of you today to this International Forum on Sexuality, Poverty and Law,  in concurrence with the launching of the Philippine policy audit on the sexuality sensitivity content of the country’s social protection policies and how they impact the lesbians, bisexual women and trans men, or the LBT community, who are living in the urban slums.


After decades in which marginalized sexualities didn’t always get the consideration and attention in the discourse of poverty reduction , we mark today a historic occasion as we strive to put the fight against poverty and the issue of sexuality in a common light, signalling a new development in our perspective of poverty. I call this transition, and this transition will be reflected in each groundbreaking country policy audit that will be reported by each of our respected international panelists here.


The issue of inclusive development is one that is not easily ignored in a country where more than 20 million of its population are poor, living under a dollar a day and with none or little access to basic food and shelter and social protection policies. While there are undeniable efforts, even successes, in the government’s anti-poverty programs, we cannot forsake the fact that the number of people being lift out of poverty remains low and slow.


It is our conviction that inclusive development involves not only the strength of a country’s economy, but also a broad-based, and indiscriminate growth that actually reaches people from all walks of life, lifts them out of poverty and develops the whole of our nation. It is, therefore, important to put inclusiveness at the center of every policy debate on growth and development by gleaning insights from the different policy audit reports today and building on them to create better policies and strategies to make inclusive growth a reality for our country.


Of course, we remain cognizant of the possible trade-offs and synergies between  economic growth and inclusive sectoral policies and the proclivity of cities and urban settings to become either a driver of growth or political instability. We also recognize the possibility that other people may consider the issue of marginalized sexuality as overly stretched, even distorted. And, of course, we can’t blame them. With the likes of Ellen De Generes, Vice Ganda, Boy Abunda and Joel Cruz dominating the media, it is easy to generalize that LBTs have things easy. But with this forum, hopefully, we could successfully depict the other face of our LBT communities, those who are poor, living in the urban slums and continuously deprived of full access to social protection policies.


The change in approach in our consideration of sexuality vis-a-vis human rights, education and access to social protection laws is still a long way, though. In the Philippines, we are yet to enact an Anti-Discrimination law, which will fully protect our LGBT community from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI). I already co-authored one of the several House bills, although I also intend to file a comprehensive anti-discrimination bill that will expand the protection of the rights of people against discriminations, regardless of age, race, class, disability, disease and gender. On HIV-AIDS, a consolidated bill that seeks to prevent the spread of the disease, protect the victims from discrimination and ensure that all HIV-AIDS patients are given social protection and medical treatments, regardless of class and gender. It is now pending for approval at the Committee on Health.


With this forum, we hope it could lay a foundation for identifying, designing, and implementing policies and public initiatives that foster strong yet more equitable growth. We hope the results of the workshop will eventually translate into strategic policies that work and are easily implementable.


Again, in behalf of GALANG, we welcome all of you. We thank you, and may you have a very good day!###


Proposed mandatory HIV testing opposed, lawmaker tags it ‘ineffective and a breach against human rights’


May 8, 2014


Rep. Ibarra “Barry” Gutierrez III

Akbayan Rep. Barry Gutierrez today expressed opposition to the proposed plan of the Department of Health (DoH) to make HIV testing mandatory, disputing the effectiveness of the method while underscoring its serious implications to human rights.

 “Mandatory HIV testing is an ineffective tool to end the increasing number of new HIV-AIDS cases and a breach against human rights,” the lawmaker said.

“While we stand with the DoH that, indeed, there is a need for drastic responses to the rising HIV-AIDS situation in the country, we do not support this method that forces the patients to take a test, which, in effect, robs them of their freedom to choose and their rights to privacy,” he added.

Gutierrez, who authored a House bill that seeks to amend the AIDS Law, is also an advocate for HIV-AIDS prevention, continuously calling for zero discrimination against the victims of the disease.

“Every HIV testing should have an informed choice because it is only when a patient is willing to know his/her status that any successful attempt of controlling the disease, administering treatments and preventing future infections will become successful,” he said.

“In a society where stigma and discrimination remain against HIV patients, forcing more people to take HIV tests will only turn away potential patients from medical institutions and testing centers,” Gutierrez said.

The lawmaker, thus, underscored the need to explore other methods to encourage testing that does not require force, or the sacrifice of a person’s individual rights, that may prove inimical to the efforts of the government in the future.

“One method that has been proven effective in encouraging more people to take voluntary HIV tests is community-led testing, employed by organizations such as Love Yourself Project and Take the Test. I think we should explore this and other similar effective methods, instead of muscling people to submission,” Gutierrez said.

“Even among members of the Technical Working Group (TWG) of the Committee on Health who deliberated on the House bills seeking to amend the AIDS Law of 1998, there was an overwhelming agreement on the framework of voluntary testing, precisely because it is consistent with the human rights-based approach and it remains the most effective method to promote testing.”

“If we choose to run after them with a stick, it may only end up counterproductive for both the patients and the society-at-large, in the long run,” Gutierrez emphasized.

The consolidated HIV-AIDS bill is now pending for approval at the House Committee on Health.

The DoH plan for mandatory HIV testing was revealed earlier this week by Health Undersecretary Eric Tayag who felt the need for drastic measures to contain the increasing number of HIV cases in the country.

“[Health] Secretary [Enrique] Ona would want to shift from voluntary testing to something that’s compulsory. We’re working out the details, how this is possible. We want health providers to screen adults who may have risk for HIV so they can be properly counseled on what to do next,” he said in an interview on ANC’s Headstart.

The National Epidemiology Center (NEC) earlier said 498 individuals have been confirmed to be HIV positive in March, the highest recorded new HIV cases in a month. This bring this year’s total of new cases to 1,432. ###

House passes Balanced Housing Bill to clear housing backlog

May 6, 2014


Balanced housing

A snapshot of the final version of the House Balanced Housing bill, also known as HB 4116.

The House voted on Monday to approve the Balanced Housing Bill that aims to tighten compliance among developers to allot a portion of socialized housing from each of their housing projects, in an effort to expedite the elimination of the 3.9 million housing backlog within the country.

The legislation was crafted by Akbayan Representatives Barry Gutierrez and Walden Bello in response to the high number of unresolved housing backlogs that continues to increase each year. It was filed on August 27, 2013.

Under the final version of the House bill, called the Balanced Housing Bill, developers are mandated to comply with the existing rule under RA 7279 (Urban Development and Housing Act of 1992 – UDHA) that every new private subdivision development should allocate 15% of its total project cost or land area for socialized housing. It also expands the coverage of the UDHA to include condominium projects and to limit compliance to actual construction of socialized housing units, mandating thereby private condominium developers to allocate at least 5% of its total condominium area or project cost for socialized housing.

The legislation also seeks to eliminate the other compliance methods used by developers that do not contribute directly to the building of housing units.

Under the proposed legislation, other forms of compliance are now limited to: development of socialized housing in a new settlement, joint venture projects, and development of educational facilities in socialized housing areas.

Gutierrez said the House measure ensures that the income tax holiday grants given by the government to mass housing developers will translate into actual benefits to end-users.

“This legislation strikes the right balance between the government’s fiscal incentive grants, the developers’ socialized housing responsibility and their shared goal to end the housing backlogs through a give-and-take relationship,” the lawmaker added.

Senate urged to pass their Balanced Housing Bill version

Gutierrez also urged the members of the Senate to pass their version of the Balanced Housing Bill, which will ensure that the proposed legislation will turn into a law.

“We hope the members of the Senate will match our efforts by passing their version of the bill, swiftly and immediately. This will increase the chance of this bill to finally turn into a law,” Gutierrez said.

“We are strongly encouraged by how this bill has turned out in the House, and we are hopeful that this bill will reach the finish line at the soonest possible time,” the lawmaker concluded.###