Saturday, December 30, 2017

for rent

Some things just need to be out there, literally, like a piece of wood, hanging by the gate, written on it: For Rent.

It’s as if I never understood the aftermath. Or maybe I do, I just wanted not to understand them. The light by his room would sometimes hurt in those few seconds when I would pass by. Sometimes, they charge with hope. But I couldn’t be anywhere stable. How can a faint light stir so much oscillation, waves thrashing me here and there, in those few seconds, few steps, where I’m thrown into, before I turn my head back to the street, and notice that the air has been dropping colder by the night.

At first, I didn’t understand. In my defense, he was not short of spinning strings. And I was the hapless fly who thought they were fairytales, when after all, they were cobwebs. I couldn’t make sense of what happened and what his promises were for. If there was any indication of intention in it. Or illusion. The chill of December air compounds the linger and confusion.

It wasn’t until later when the Universe, I guess too tired of and pissed at my stupidity, blatantly gave me a sign. You know, whether it’s divine intervention or cosmic coincidence, there will always be those things that will hold themselves out there. That need to be just out there. Waiting for you to grasp them. In all their material presence. In all their perceptibility. To strike you the coup de grâce. To prepare you for the bleeding you ever deny yourself, because you twist the tourniquet just a little bit tighter, when you feel your hurt is becoming far stronger than your hope.

The renovated room where we romped for hours is too big for one man. Now the entire house is leased out. I passed by and shuddered for a while when the letters on the plank read, For Rent.

The cold went to chilling. The stars hid behind the midnight rain clouds. The tourniquet gave way.

For Rent. Wasn’t that you to begin with? You never were the owner. Five hours into that Wednesday night. Prostituting your soul to get into his heart. And the price you paid was the imagination that dragged you up Mayon St, left to Roxas St, and down to Iriga. Just to see if the light by the window is lit. If he is gallivanting with others, if he is holding on, or if he is entirely the bug that eats hapless flies. For Rent. You were never his; and he, not yours. Just bodies dancing in bed until the burning dawn cast light on the lies that sate.

Never had two words been so emancipating. After weeks of slugfest and self-denials, there I was, staring point blank at truth. He isn’t love. Just a hand-me-down for the night. The darkest before the dawn. And God how I loved for weeks to fumble in his darkness, until the Universe had it enough of my overreacting stupidity, that His pity descended to hate: Here you go. A prophetic piece of log.

The last time I checked, he was some three to four miles away. I don’t know what he’s up to. Maybe leasing out his space. Without spelling it out. For hapless flies. I hope the Universe doesn’t get tired from saving unfortunate bugs and writing down For Rent on a piece of log.

Friday, October 6, 2017

warning sign

It's hard to write about depression especially if you don't have it. Not because you don't know or understand anything about it, but because you can only write one's pain from an audience' standpoint. Writers call it the narrator's voice. I call it honoring the past.

Depression came too late in the day for me. Past September 5, 2015 when I was struggling to pick up the pieces of what I can say the best relationship I've had with someone. I look at that past with him whimsically. And I can even handpick a memory or two from the flashes of those years, but I cannot deny myself that depression ended it. And had I known about it earlier I would have done so many things, which, in tears, I regret now.

I guess the struggle to knowing the reality of depression as a mental disease for me came along with how my mother raised me. She raised me in a strictly authoritarian rule where women run the clan with utmost grace, open secrets, and no-nonsense kitchen logic. What do you get when a Tiger Mother raised you? Of course, a Tiger Cub. I'll not deny that I have a strong personality. I could be quiet, seemingly out of the radar, but for the introvert that I am, (for the peculiarly prone to depression boy that I am) depression to me is New York to Saturn: many a mile. There is in me that cannot understand the dynamics of depression because it seemed to lock horns with how I handle myself. Sure, I've experienced being bullied in an exclusively male school. True, I've came face-to-face with domestic problem during my formative years. Yes, I once took a beating for being gay. And, what seemingly like a cherry on top of this whole train wreck, I've had HIV. So you could say I've had enough dole out from life's miseries. But some people are just too hard to bend on their knees. I'm one of them. Until the cliche of a Love came along.

The first time I laid my eyes on Depression, we were in a cemetery. It was an arranged meet up spanning three months of anonymity. My friends warned me that I may end up in a grave there in Himlayang Pilipino. I trusted my guts. Depression is this tall, geeky guy who has an immortal power of playing with words. He is a wordsmith like me. He knows how to say "I love you" in ways precum will shape itself into China in your boxers.

Depression is a quiet guy. Quieter than I am, better in words than I am, I can say. Throughout the sojourn I've had with him, I knew there was something wrong. I didn't have the faculty of words for it though. It was alarming because I couldn't withdraw a word for it from my vocabulary bank. All I know--if you may please to allow me to show, don't tell--is sometimes, Depression was: "Hun, I'm not going to work today. I'll just coop inside the house. I can do work from home." And I think that's fine, right? Depression was: "I don't celebrate birthdays. I'm not really a festive guy." I think that's okay with a dint of suspect. But Christmas? That's too buzzkill. Depression was: "It's okay. I understand." But I think he doesn't, but I'll apologize anyway because he was with me even before I entered law school so I thought he did sign up for this, right?

Wrong. Depression is a great impostor. Because while I had much misgivings, Depression showered me with so much to such a point that it was able to hide behind the mask of itself. Depression was the voice who seconded my dad about choosing a particular law school. Depression was the companion who would never mind how long the wait was at PGH-Sagip. Depression was my punching bag during those nights of obligations when he shouldn't do a thing but listen to my crappy bad recitation day. Depression is my bestfriend who would just read a book with me in a coffee shop. I took Depression at Pinto Art Museum once, and I saw the glitter in his eyes. I introduced five-foot-nine Depression to my family--from parents up to my grandmother down to my cousins--and he curled into a shy puppy. Depression hated crowds, but loved the rows of Fully Booked. Depression was mad, mad sex. Depression was HIV negative. Depression was acceptance. And I didn't have a word for it.

"Depression" was only baptized as a word only after I asked my bestfriend what went wrong between him and I. Over bottles of beers that only I swigged at, after a long litany of painful recounts, she said, "Did she check if he has depression?" I didn't know where she was going. And I think that was medically malicious of her. But my bestfriend had been clinically diagnosed with depression, saw a psychiatrist for herself, and took medicines for it for her to know if the bells are tolling. And just like the veiled disease that depression is, she kept it hidden from me because she doesn't want to make me sad. Because she hadn't had the guts to tell that she's medically depressed in the way that I had told her that I was positive of HIV. And I wept because I felt offended and hurt and pained. I wept because I finally found the realest word for it.

Looking back, I finally figured why on some days he would have this spell of melancholia. It's a pretty fancy phrase I coined when he was down and out. I finally realized why sometimes it seemed to me that his bed seemed like a blackhole he can't even get out of. I finally realized that I should have apologized when I sadistically said, "Because you know, some happy faces hide the most unspeakable sadness" (that was when he flipped open the pages of the 50th anniversary edition of James and the Giant Peach and inside are really sad and forlorn artistic renditions, notwithstanding the bright and colorful cover).

I wish there was a way to tell Joey de Leon that depression is not "gawa-gawa lang." And the support that Maine Mendoza said was not to support them to be sad all the more, but to support them towards the diagnosis and further treatment. I take a cutting offense with the mortifying remarks of these people. And I cannot laugh at their ignorance as well. There is no legitimate feeling but deep scorn for these people who never knew how amorphous depression is until it is too late, until people are hurt, until communication lines hang loose, and the elephant in the room, that "gawa-gawa lang" thing, is still sitting in that dark corner, because we never knew how to deal with it without putting shame on it, without being dismissive of it. I think between depression and those ignominous words from Joey de Leon what is more mental is the fact that people cannot see that depression is a disease, not really about how strong or weak we are in entangling ourselves from sadness, melancholy, defeat, or cloudy day.

For someone who does not know depression entirely, it's hard to write about it. So I thought it's better to paint a picture of it than to tell what I know of it, and some parts that I don't. There are still so many things to learn, and I guess one of those is the privilege to unlearn (which is a way to learn) that I do not have the self-entitlement of glorifying under other's pity just because I have HIV. Yes, I have HIV. But diseases are a spectrum of blacks and whites and grays. Depression or HIV, these shamed diseases needed to be learned more before we conveniently rely and throw in the red herrings of morality that will confound the truth and science that we all want to know.

As I type this, I texted him and asked him about what I feel and I apologized to him, and told him that had I only learned of his state, I would have been more considerate, and would have put enough courage to let my hands bleed just to peel the layers of his smiles. Just to get there. To get into that core of black and prove Mr de Leon that nothing is conveniently made up. Once, before Depression and I broke up, it came to a point where he wanted me to choose: Depression as unnamed back then or law school. I chose. And you certainly know what I chose. The choice came along with dire costs, some immediate to the heartbreak; one, tonight, through one of his replies:

I know I'm prone to depression before us. I thought I had a better handle. But I'm learning to manage it better. Or at least I try. I'm sorry I didn't carry a warning sign. You did your best despite things. I know you did. I know we did. And isn't that all that matters?

Now tell me, Mr de Leon, tell it right at the gaps of my jagged heart, if I am making up all these tonight as much as any depressed person can make up their sad stories tonight?

Sunday, June 25, 2017


I hope to see you soon. To tell myself that I am happier. To prove myself that I have covered a greater mile beyond the future that dimmed before us. I have no other way to compare the promises I made to myself with where I am now but to test myself through you. I hope to see you soon to tell myself that all the tears that quenched my throat was worth the travel down to my guts. It could never be anyone but through you for me to tell myself that I resurrected from the graveyard; that the hurt that came when I had to peel off my old skin, which knew too well the contours and gaps of your body, was for my sake even if it feels as if every strand of my faith is torn from me just for the sake of baptism. I hope to see you soon.
But not too soon. Or better yet, forget it. Because I am afraid that all the blankets that I wrapped myself beneath before going to bed will come hovering at me in broad daylight. The blanket of stars that remind me how I can never see another beauty. No one beauty can be repeated. It’s a thing that life taught us only through heartbreak. The blanket of darkness that I chose to drape myself with for being too blinded by the generic daylight most men have these days. And the blanket of thoughts that left me awake on the edge of sunrise and pulled me out of REM cycle.
Lies comfort the dreary ones and it is hope that makes one lie immeasurable against truth. I think I can never see you because I don’t know how much coffee I have to drink to keep my lies awake: that you are a linear past, never bound to repeat again; and that somehow, I wouldn’t want to let go of that throb in my chest because it perfectly spells out your name. And if we meet again, I can never be too sure if I can bring my entire self together again should you confess me your truth: that some parts of me still lives in you. I never want to meet you; because I’m afraid that beyond these promises that we made to ourselves after we almost damned each other in our memories, what we’re only needing is each other’s finger to plug the hole in our hearts when Cupid ask for his arrow back.
That flying imp never told us that his arrow could leave splinters in our hearts.

Saturday, June 24, 2017


I still remember you whenever I see planes dotting the sky. Maybe because the anchor of regret still wrings my neck hostage, a chain to a locket of impossibility, or a scarlet letter. Scarlet for dried bleeding, not Catholic shame. You see, I've always fallen clueless for men already tied to another. I guess it's my fourth to count that I started to examine my skin one afternoon before shower. Maybe an epithelial cell could answer the misfortune. You were the first domino to fall and create the wave. I should have loathed you but I guess there's so much peace in quiet resignation. Airplanes. You. Incredible, right? I do not know either.

I was in a daze the night when you said you were already at the airport. I wore two left shoes. One yearned the final bid. The other, a safe distance. None of them were right. But an injured person owes himself a sense of justice, and heaps of pride. Until some memento mori scattered in the metropolis reminds him that the world was built on skewed encounters, illumined by asymmetrical smiles.

Tickets to freedom may be constructive, I guess. Constructive, and an afterthought. We belong to lands whose shores did not even kiss during Pangaea.

Friday, April 28, 2017

7 Things to Know about the Ongoing HIV Law Amendment

Some preliminary matters:
The Senate, through the Senate Health Committee, has already issued a committee report. It already filed Senate Bill (SB) 1390, which consolidated the bills of Sens. Hontiveros, Legarda, Trillanes IV, Angara, Poe and Binay. Before SB 1390, these six senators individually filed their versions of a substitute bill to 1998 HIV/AIDS Law. All six versions were tackled, resulting in SB 1390.

At the House of Representatives, the House Committee on Health has already consolidated the versions of each lawmaker into one House Bill. But as of this writing, that consolidated bill has not yet been filed. On May 10, 2017, the Committee will convene to discuss the consolidated bill for final amendments. It is expected that they will release a committee report with the final House Bill, akin to SB 1390.

What are inside the two separate bills:
1. The two chambers are at odds with the issue of PLHIVs as regards HMOs
Senate: SB 1390 expressly included HMOs as an institution which cannot deny or deprive a PLHIV for coverage without any qualification. That is provided under paragraph 2, Section 39 of SB 1390, reading:

"No person living with HIV shall be denied or deprived of private health insurance under a Health Maintenance Organization (HMO) and private life insurance coverage under a life insurance company on the basis of person's HIV status."

House: The lower chamber's version — also in paragraph 2, Section 39 — did not expressly write HMO. It provided that, "No person living with HIV shall be denied or deprived of private health and life insurance coverage on the basis of the person’s HIV status x x x." This sentence was qualified by a phrase, "following the company’s reasonable underwriting policies.

Interestingly, under Article VII, Section 46 (Discriminatory Acts and Practices), it is worthy to note an odd addendum to that phrase stated above. Paragraph (f) — "Exclusion from Credit and Insurance Services" — provided that it is a discriminatory act if a "loan or insurance (facility)" excluded a PLHIV despite having undergone the company's "reasonable underwriting processes and pricing policies." This animal of "and pricing policies" suddenly appeared. Again, no explicit mention of HMOs.

What's the implication to this?
1. Since the House bill did not expressly include HMO, the HMOs may claim that they can deny coverage to PLHIVs, on the ground that they are not insurance companies. At present, there are conflicting views as to HMOs not being insurance companies. Even the Supreme Court in Philippine Healthcare Providers, Inc. v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue (G.R. No. 167330) ruled that HMOs are not engaged in the insurance business. Suffice to say, it can be argued by the HMOs that they are totally a different animal compared to insurance companies, and that their exclusion in the law will permit them to deny PLHIVs access to health coverage.

2. In law, specifically in the interpretation of law (we call it "statutory construction"), when there are conflicting provisions, some rules on statutory construction will be relied upon. If this House version goes to court and the court has the opportunity to rule upon this difference, it may apply the "rule of later provision." What's that? Simply put, provision which comes later in the law is deemed to be the true intent of the lawmakers. Hence, in this scenario, we can presume that since "pricing policies" appears in Section 46 as against its absence in Section 39, it will be Section 46, which carries the second qualification of pricing policy, which will prevail. Meaning, a PLHIV is under the mercy of the underwriting policy of the insurance company and its pricing policy, which is we all know how they arrive to that is kept under the rug.

2. Both bills instruct redress mechanism to protect the human rights of PLHIVs
Senate and House: The SB 1390 and the unnumbered House bill carry a provision on "Protection of Human Rights." Worthy to note is the last sentence of paragraph 2 of Section 10.

Senate: The Senate Bill tasks DOJ as the lead implementing agency in crafting the redress mechanism, "to ensure that their (PLHIVs) civil, political, economic, and social rights are protected." Joining DOJ are the Philippine National AIDS Council (PNAC) and Commission on Human Rights (CHR) in crafting the mechanism.

House: The House Bills tasked DOH and CHR as the lead implementing agencies. It instructs PNAC to coordinate with DOH and CHR.

Our take as PLHIVs?
Add the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) in the picture. On pain of repetition, make explicit "labor rights" because time and again we are faced with discrimination as regards security of tenure and/or employment simply because of this condition. It is about time that we call for a law that asks DOLE to intervene for our labor rights.

Also, when it gets down to it, the DOJ has no oversight over labor arbiters. It only has oversight over prosecutors. Should a PLHIV file a labor case before the National Labor Relations Commission, it will be labor arbiters who will handle the case. And who is the big boss of labor arbiters? The DOLE. So put DOJ and DOLE side by side to create a redress mechanism that will be followed should a court case proceeds as regards discrimination against PLHIVs.

3. "Contact tracing" is changed to "partner notification"
The 1998 HIV/AIDS Law defined contract tracing as "the method of finding and counselling the sexual partner(s) of a person who has been diagnosed as having sexually transmitted disease."

Senate and House bill defines "partner notification as "the process by which the 'index client', 'source' or 'patient', who has a sexually transmitted infection (STI) including HIV, is given support in order to notify and advise the partners that have been exposed to infection. Support includes giving the index client a mechanism to encourage the client’s partner to attend counseling, testing and other prevention and treatment services. Confidentiality shall be observed in the entire process."

4. Private sectors also asked to create a grievance system as regards discrimination
Senate and House: Both chambers created a new provision, captioned as "Duty of employers, heads of government, heads of public and private schools or training institutions, and local chief instructive."

I quote in full:

SEC. 45. Duty of Employers, Heads of Government Offices, Heads of Public and Private Schools or Training Institutions, and Local Chief Executives. – It shall be the duty of private employers, heads of government offices, heads of public and private schools or training institutions, and local chief executives over all private establishments within their territorial jurisdiction to prevent or deter acts of discrimination against persons living with HIV, and to provide procedures for the resolution, settlement, or prosecution of acts of discrimination. Towards this end, the employer, head of office, or local chief executive shall:
(a) Promulgate rules and regulations prescribing the procedure for the investigation of discrimination cases and the administrative sanctions thereof; and
(b) Create a permanent committee on the investigation of discrimination cases. The committee shall conduct meetings to increase the members’ knowledge and understanding of HIV and AIDS, and to prevent incidents of discrimination. It shall also conduct the administrative investigation of alleged cases of discrimination. 

What's good in this provision?
Finally, the provision empowers, if not mandates, the private sectors to resolve, settle and prosecute acts of discrimination. The two qualifying enumerations — paragraphs (a) and (b) — give the private sector the capacity to investigate and to enforce penalties for any acts of discrimination.

A bit of law and procedure?
To my mind, this may become an "administrative remedy" which will be a condition sine qua non before filing a court case as regards discrimination. Simply put: If Person A files a case before the court without undergoing this administrative or investigative procedure, the court may validly dismiss the case for the meantime (let's call it, "without prejudice") and ask Person A to submit himself before this "permanent committee" and allow such permanent committee to rule first on his issue. Such that if no resolution was reached between Person A and the other party, that will only be the time when Person A can file a case and for the court to say that it has capacity to hear the case.

Our take?
This is a good step to get the participation of private sectors in helping address discrimination in the workplace and in school by placing a procedure as to how to lodge a complaint or grievance. While both public and private sectors are instructed to "provide procedures for the resolution, settlement, or prosecution of acts of discrimination," the PLHIV community should look forward to this because it clearly included "employers" without distinguishing if it is public or private.

5. Harm reduction provision is not in sync between the Senate and House versions
Senate: Section 23 of SB 1390 is captioned as "Harm Reduction Strategies"
House: The unnumbered HB is more narrowed in its Section 23, read as "Comprehensive Drug Intervention for People who Inject Drugs"

There is a huge misconception that when one speaks of "harm reduction" in HIV, it only refers to use of injectible drugs--which is a mode of transmitting HIV. Harm reduction is more than that. It is more than syringe or needle and drug. Harm reduction should be broad enough to include reduction of the transmission of HIV and its harmful consequences. Yes, there is harm reduction policies and programs as to injectible drugs. But also, there could also be harm reduction strategies tailored fit for sex workers. The lawmakers, in their bicameral meeting, have to resolve which between the provisions to use. Then again, what is clear is, harm reduction is not simply drug use.

6. Two representations in PNAC
Senate and House: We will be having two representations before the PNAC.

Fast facts?
What is PNAC or the Philippine National AIDS Council, by the way? It is, among many others, the advisory, planning and policy-making body of the country as regards our address in fighting HIV and AIDS. PNAC is composed of government representatives, civil society organizations and PLHIV community. Back in the 1998 HIV/AIDS Law, out of the 26 members of PNAC, the PLHIV community is only represented by one person.

How we arrive to 2 seats?
During the Technical Working Group at the House of Representatives last March 13, 2017, the PLHIV community stood pat that we already have to have 2 representatives at the very least on board PNAC. This is because of the changing milieu of the virus. The community was met with opposition from PNAC itself, from Philippine Information Agency and from Rep. Sol Aragones of Laguna. Probably, we can call that confrontation as one of the fiercer debates during the TWG because while the PLHIV community has allies in the CSOs and in the National Youth Commission, it also has oppositors from other sectors. Rep. Joet Garcia of Bataan gave each voice their fare share of time to air their concern. The "seat contention" in the end was noted and will be deliberated upon. For the House to give the PLHIV community representatives before the PNAC, after the debate is their recognition of our importance in changing the landscape of HIV response.

7. Disclosure of HIV status to sexual partners
Myth: Keeping your HIV status a secret to your sexual partner carries jail time.
Fact: There has never been jail time as regards non-disclosure to partners — EVER!

Do not be of the illusion that Section 34 of RA 8504 carries a jail term. And I quote:

Section 34. Disclosure to sexual partners. – Any person with HIV is obliged to disclose his/her HIV status and health condition to his/her spouse or sexual partner at the earliest opportune time.

When you go down to Section 42 of the RA 8504, the penalty only applies to discriminatory acts under Article V. Section 34 is under Article IV. I have read tweets and comments stating that if a PLHIV does not disclose his status to his sexual partner, he will be placed behind bars. That is not true. It's a misreading of the law. Section 34 of RA 8504 is a "conscience clause." It does not carry a penal provision.

And that does not change in the Senate or House bills. Under RA 8504, the wording of the law is a PLHIV "is obliged" to disclose his status to his partner. In the two bills, the wording of the law is "is strongly encouraged." These two bills and even the 1998 HIV/AIDS Law do not impose a criminal offense to non-disclosure. Let's iron that one out.

What to expect from here?
1. Both Committees on Health in the Senate and House, acting on their own, will pass the final bill for transmittal to the plenary. (This will be the venue where the aye's and the naye's will be heard) All lawmakers will be copy furnished with the text of the bill.
2. The bill will be scheduled as an agenda during plenary hearings. Here we can lobby to support our authors: at the Senate, it is Sen Risa Hontiveros; at the House, it will likely be Rep Kaka Bag-ao of Dinagat Islands. Expect debates. Debates may be intense because of the sticky context that this bill may impress in the minds of conservative lawmakers.
3. The bill must pass three readings. If the House and the Senate, acting on their own, pass each of their version beyond the third reading, a bicameral meeting will be held to streamline the bills separately coming from the House and Senate.
3. After the bicameral convenes, it will create the final version of the bill, ready for signature at the Malacañang. Hopefully by then the President signs it into law.

Last fast facts: 
Who are the individual authors of HIV Amendment Law at the House? Here's a list:

  1. Rep. Kaka Bag-ao (Dinagat Islands, Lone District)
  2. Rep. Harry Roque (Party List - KABAYAN)
  3. Rep. Victor Yap (Tarlac, 2nd District)
  4. Rep. Pia Cayetano (Taguig City-Pateros, 2nd District)
  5. Rep. Teddy Brawner Baguilat, Jr. (Ifugao, Lone District)
  6. Rep. Sandra Eriguel, M.D. (La Union, 2nd District)
  7. Rep. Estrellita Suansing (Nueva Ecija, 1st District)
  8. Rep. Horacio Suansing, Jr. (Sultan Kudarat, 2nd District)
  9. Rep. Imelda Marcos (Ilocos Norte, 2nd District)
  10. Rep. Bellaflor Angara-Castillo (Aurora, Lone District)
  11. Rep. Angelina “Helen” Tan, M.D. (Quezon, 4th District)
  12. Rep. Gary Alejano (Party List - MAGDALO)
  13. Rep. Gus Tambunting (Parañaque City, 2nd District)
  14. Rep. Sharon Garin (Party List - AAMBIS-OWA)
  15. Rep. Tom Villarin (Party List - AKBAYAN)
  16. Rep. Ron Salo (Party List - KABAYAN)
  17. Rep. Raymond Democrito Mendoza (Party List - TUCP)

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

six years overdue

The streets are familiar. Even the quaint light from the sporadic convenient stores are familiar. "The convenient store! I know that one convenient store there." I was supposed to visit the place a year after 2011, but it took me only in 2017, and a chance encounter, to be there. There was no pain anymore. Chills, maybe. But I needed this. It was six years overdue.

Mike sent me an SMS and asked if he could get his book back. Of course, he can. I just loaned it from him and it's been a while since I kept on saying "yes" but wouldn't go. If it weren't for the seemingly irritated undertone in his messages, I would still be thick-skinned as to delay the return of the book.

Even during the first time I visited Mike's home, I was already acutely aware that somewhere around his neighborhood was the complex of dormitories. I tried to look for it last December when I went home on foot from Mike's with I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings clutched in my pit. But that time, I was not looking harder. I thought, if I'd see the house, I'd see it. If I don't, then I don't.

February. Mike texted. I was ambling down to his place on the back streets of Sampaloc, away from España Blvd. The familiar ruckus of people, the train tracks of PNR, and suddenly UST is coming to view. From the house, I took on Florentino St. to reach M. dela Fuente. The night wind allowed me to think through the 17 blocks of street: "I guess I'll try harder this time around."

Almost half an hour passed when I returned the book, thanked Mike, and saluted off. "I'll try harder this time around." I took a turn on Piy Margal, as if some metaphysical hand pushed me offtrack. Finally, the streets became familiar. The quaint lights from the sporadic convenient stores became recognizable like a dusty case folder taken from my mental cabinet. I could not be wrong about the convenient store. There is no mistaking about it.

I walked to a slow, hoping to make sense of the small block from my six-year-old memory. It felt like deliberately touching a scar at the back of my head wanting to recall how I figured in the accident and got the wound. It was both dangerous and liberating: to be at the place where I spent that one night that will redound to an error of a lifetime.

I saw the convenient store. I knew that back in February 2011, a boy named Jerome hissed from the other side of the street to signal me to enter into a complex of dormitory units. I should remember too well that store like a lifeline on the palm of my hand, some thing that's ought to be there. It was the store where I bought a Mountain Dew as I texted him where exactly his place is. From the right bank of the road I saw the sari-sari store. I saw my 22-year-old self crossed the street and entered into a gate. "Where the fuck is the gate?" I was already directly across the store when I reminded myself "I'll try harder this time around. This memory is overdue. I'll try harder and find it." I turned around and paced, redraw my steps. It's should be somewhere around here, I thought. There's a tree: Too insignificant. There's a salon: I don't recall. And then suddenly, like a sleeping prisoner in the dark jail, the green gate appeared. I stopped.

I stood there. For good 15 seconds I allowed my inner eye to resurrect what I should have not done in 2011. I saw myself entered the gate. It could only take a while when I and Jerome were already undressed, I thought. If only there was a way to stop me, I would. But memories are ghosts with bloodshot eyes. They stare at you without remorse, and only then you'd know if you have grown accustomed to bringing the Crucifix out into the streets.

I stood for a good time, allowed myself to immerse, to marinate into the thought of that night. From the gate, I saw the imposing old house. It looks haunted from the outside. I thought that should have been enough to scare me off already. But I was stupid then. From what happened, the orbit of my memory moved to Jerome. Is he still there? Or had moved to another dorm? Or if he's still alive and here on Earth in the first place. I remembered how he led me through the snaking stairways to his room. How he asked me to shush and to carry my feet so as not to rouse the others to wake. I remembered how we sat awkward, watching but not watching the TV. I remembered them all. Those were enough for a six-year overdue memory. I walked away.

I don't know how to make out of it now that six years passed and one too many bottles of ARVs went to the trash bin. If you'd ask if there was a sense of regret in me, there's nothing--not even a dint of it. I always believed in the concept of happy accidents. For an existentialist, how I love to blame my faulty wiring to fate. I and Jerome still got to talk after my diagnosis in May 2011. It was that time when he told me he's already suspected that he had it but was just afraid. If only killing was legal, I would have bloodied my hand of his crimson at that time. But wherever he is, I still want to thank him, I guess. If it weren't for my stupidity and what he caused me, I would have not been where I am. Cheesy I know, cliche even, but that's how we romanticize pain to legitimize where we are right now.

Ever since the family moved from Sta Mesa to Sampaloc, I already thought of revisiting that place again. You know, sometimes it's good to return to those old barns in your life just to find out if they scare you still. I guess that old barn of a dormitory, where angels cried during that fateful night, doesn't hurt now as much as I thought it will. Sure, there was that chill that crossed my spine. Sure, there was that utter disbelief that I'd get to see the place years after (I was secretly hoping that it was already razed to the ground and a new building stood erect there). Sure, there was the sudden confluence of memories flashing before my eyes. But I guess those were just but natural. After all, you do not look at a ghost and welcome him with unfolded hands.

I was flooded with what-if's and the could've-been's on my way back home. I was looking at the street and not looking at it at the same time. I just snapped out of the daze when this young man--probably around my age--walking towards my direction was giving me a sticky stare. And, as we came shoulder-to-shoulder, a bated "Hello." He passed by and I surreptitiously turned around. I saw him cross the street towards the dormitory.

I turned away, and didn't look back.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

HIV screening and the hiring process

Bestfriend called up a while ago to just ask about things and update me on his job search. He's in the restaurant management industry and aiming for higher position.

Throughout the conversation, he told me that this one classy cafe asked him to do an HIV test during the hiring process. I stopped him short and asked to repeat what he said. Apparently, even if he knows my condition, he doesn't know that what he underwent was illegal. So I told him to go in with how he went through the process. In sum, it went like this:

He was asked to do a medical test with HIV test in it. It was done outside (I'm not sure if it was the diagnostics laboratory affiliate of the cafe with its hiring process). The HIV counselor did the routine interrogation as regards his last sexual contact. My bestfriend answered. He was told that if the medical staff won't give him a text message the following day, it meant that he was non-reactive; that if he received a text, then that was it. Following day, no text received. Just to make sure, he called the laboratory and indeed the counselor, through phone, told him that it was non-reactive.

I could not but stress that what he went through was--under clear provisions of the law--illegal; that's clear under Sec. 35 of RA 8504. Bestfriend could not believe that it was illegal. I reassured him that it was unfair and illegal and I could not just imagine the emotional rollercoaster any applicant had to go through with that kind of policy. True enough, he was nerve-wracked during the testing because if the result comes out as reactive, he wouldn't know what to do and how to go on with the the employment process.

I told him different scenarios--to attack and to defend--the cafe's policy on HIV screening during the hiring process.

1. It's no brainer under the law that what is prohibited and set down in clear words should not be done directly or indirectly. RA 8504 has a prohibitive provision, which means "Bawal gawin" (the antonym is "positive provision").  And I quote, Sec. 35: "Discrimination in any form from pre-employment to post-employment, including hiring, promotion or assignment, based on the actual, perceived or suspected HIV status of an individual IS PROHIBITED." (Emphasis supplied)

2. It does not matter if the result of the prospective employee is non-reactive. Even if the result turns out negative, it is not an argument that no law was violated. Ubi lex non distinguit, nec nos distinguere debemus. Where the law does not distinguish, we ought not to distinguish. Since there is nothing set down in the law which provides for distinction, we should not create arguments that since bestfriend was found negative, then no law was trespassed. The only thing that the law prohibits is when there is discrimination.

3. As regards, discrimination. One may argue that it is not the HIV testing during the hiring process that is prohibited. It is actually discrimination. Point taken. But that creates a confusion when the law is applied. Sec 3 of RA 8504 does not define what "discrimination" is, which makes things confusing. Because if, for example, X was found to be reactive after submitting himself to the medical test, and he was denied application to the job, since the law does not define what discrimination is in connection to HIV testing, it creates a legal loophole. The employer may reason out that the employee is not accepted because he fails in certain qualifications, when in truth and in fact, it was his status that was the basis of his non-acceptance. This is what we call in law as, "What cannot be legally done directly cannot be done indirectly."

1. The cafe is in the food and beverage industry. Perhaps the only reason they wanted to enforce such policy is not to discriminate but to actually enforce higher protection in food preparation. Since not all food requires exposure to fire which kills the virus (e.g. salad, drinks, etc) the cafe may have been only be well-meaning when it enforced HIV screening in its hiring process; this is to make sure that if a PLHIV will be employed, he will be given the best area to work on with lower risk of being wounded (i.e. knife cuts).

2. The cafe may also be providing higher premiums to its PLHIV employees. The only course though that they may know who is positive from who is not is by subjecting its applicants to a screening. This is highly a conjecture and supposition. So even if my bestfriend is not applying for a position in the kitchen (he is applying a managerial/supervisory position), still he is asked to undergo the screening.

The only reason that I can see where HIV testing in hiring procedure is defensible is when the HIV status imposes high risk on the job. The "rational connection" as the Labor Code provides. If there is higher risk of exposure to other people because of the job's nature, then HIV screening may be argued as to why it is needed. For example, when the job requires to deal with sharp instruments or food preparation or in healthcare or even in some industries, like bars or clubs or brothels, that is, the "entertainment" officers.

Always remember that you have a choice to back out from the hiring process if it comes along with HIV testing. Once you submit to the testing knowing fully well that you are already positive and that the position you are applying for does not have any connection with HIV exposure, the employer may argue (if in case in the future you complain) that you WAIVED your right to privacy. Waiver of a right is a direct and voluntary loss of any future claims against someone. Ginusto mo eh. Bakit ka magrereklamo ngayon? So when it appears to you that you have higher risk of being detected as PLHIV, weigh your pros and cons. And when you believe that being undetected is more important than a job in that company, stop and discontinue the process. There may be loss of job opportunity on your part, but you still did exercise your right to privacy and confidentiality.

P.S. I was surprised and disappointed to know that that cafe is employing HIV screening in its hiring process. Okay pa naman doon.