Wednesday, November 03, 2010

The raid season

This was my column on the date indicated above.

These must be really slow days for both media and the police because the usual harassment—better known as raids—on bars, massage parlors, and other places condemned as places of sin by moralists and by those who stand to gain from exposing the supposed evil that happens in these places has started once again. The season has started and it’s not really just because Christmas is in the air.

These raids usually happen during times when there is nothing scandalous or salacious enough for certain television programs to feast on. Thus, they instigate raids, which they meticulously cover from the planning, to the actual police operation, down to the part when the victims are forcefully unmasked or embarrassed publicly.

Police authorities cooperate because it provides them the opportunity to look good in the public eye—it’s one of those rare occasions when they are depicted as extremely competent and adept. In short, they get to show off.

The bottom line, however, is one and the same. In the words of a friend of mine who has been witness to many of these raids and who have been campaigning heavily against these raids “pera pera lang yan.” It’s all about money. In fact, it is a known fact that many of the establishments that are raided are also under the protection of some police officers, which really explains why and how they are able to operate as legitimate business enterprises to begin with. The raids that are conducted without the direct and active support of television programs are conducted for show; some are staged. In fact, even the raids instigated by television programs such as those conducted by Mike Enriquez and his Imbestigador staff are often unsuccessful and always fail to catch the proprietora—the so-called big fish—of the establishments purportedly because they get the benefit of an advance warning. Small wonder also that these establishments are able to operate immediately after the raid as if nothing happened.

Many, this columnist included, have written in the past about the oppressive nature of these raids. What usually happens is that the ones that are victimized are the women (and sometimes men) who work in the establishments—the guest relation officers, dancers, masseuses, and waitresses. They are the ones whose faces and nude or half-naked bodies are mercilessly and heartlessly paraded on public television. They are the ones that are victimized many times over. First, by the circumstances and the people that pushed them into a life in prostitution. Second, by the owners of and the people who operate the establishments - from the managers down to the pimps that make money out of the whole arrangement. Third, by the customers who patronize these establishments. Fourth, by media who come up with sensationalized stories and embarrass them publicly. And finally, by police officers who harass them endlessly and subject them to various forms of indignation.

The raids that happen on establishments that cater to heterosexual men are oppressive enough. Imagine what happens during raids conducted on places that cater to marginalized communities such as gay and bisexual people. Obviously, marginalized people such as lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgenders are prone to more harassment because many are “closeted” and therefore fear being “outed.” There is also this perception that members of marginalized groups are easy prey because they don’t fight back. Police officers have an easier time extorting money from them as in the case of a raid that happened recently in an establishment in Pasay City.

I was asked to write about the raid a couple of weeks ago, but the request got buried in tons of paperwork. What follows are parts of the statement released by TLF SHARE, a community-based NGO, in reaction to the raid. Please note that the establishment in question is a private club, which does not feature sex workers. It’s essentially a place where people hang out in and meet others. The charge of human trafficking is farcical.

“On September 25, 2010, Queeriosity Palace, a well known gay and bisexual establishment in Pasay City, was raided by the Pasay City police. The raid resulted in the arrest and detention of more than 100 men who have sex with men, including members of the establishment’s staff. According to initial reports, the police charged the arrested individuals with violating the Anti-Human Trafficking Law (RA 9208) and a city ordinance against ‘male prostitution.’ Curiously, the police reportedly used the presence of condoms and lubricants found in the establishment as among the bases for the charges. What was most deplorable were reports that the police subjected the arrested persons to threats, coercion and psychological abuse and extorted fees in exchange for their release or for not exposing them publicly as frequenting a “gay club.” Among those arrested reported that their cellphones were confiscated and not returned and that the fees demanded ranged from P100 to P2,000.

TLF SHARE Collective, Inc., a non government organization working for gay, bisexual and transgender and men who have sex with men, strongly condemned this action of the Pasay City Police. The raid violated the rights of MSMs on several counts: The right of MSM adults to a safe space, the right to be protected against abuse and from threats, coercion and extortion. The raided establishment was operating legally and legitimately and there was no evidence that it employed men in prostitution; its only “crime” was that it catered exclusively to MSMs, specifically gay and bisexual men. The raiding team patently violated the integrity and dignity of the clients by subjecting them to physical coercion and psychological abuse during their arrest and detention. The reported extortion committed by the police on the arrested individuals was also strongly denounced .

TLF SHARE calls on the local government of Pasay City and the Commission on Human Rights to investigate the incident and determine the extent of violations committed against the rights of the arrested individuals. The perpetrators have to answer for these violations. To put a stop to using condoms as “evidence” of wrongdoing TLF SHARE called on the Philippine National AIDS Council to formulate, once and for all, the appropriate policy and guidelines with regard to the promotion and distribution of condoms for the prevention of sexually transmitted infections and HIV/AIDS, especially among most-at-risk populations like MSM and transgenders. Such a policy should acknowledge the contribution to public health of establishments that ensure access to these life-saving prophylactics among their clientele.

Accordingly, TLF also called on the Department of Health to provide the appropriate clear guidelines on the primacy of condom promotion and use in STI and HIV prevention outreach, and assure partners—like establishments catering to MSMs and LGBT groups—that condoms can be safely included as part of its safer sex advocacy and promotional activities. Establishments that cater to MSMs and the LGBT community should no longer be subjected to police action, threats and coercion that are committed in the guise of addressing prostitution or preventing the sexual trafficking of persons.

Stigma, as seen in the case of abuses by the police against MSMs, is the invisible hand that is driving the spread of HIV/AIDS in the country. Raids like this make it hard for the government and non-governmental organizations to reach out to vulnerable communities and give them the capacity to protect themselves from being infected. Only in a climate of tolerance and human rights can we truly engage marginalized groups in the fight against HIV/AIDS.”

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