Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Katrina Halili-Hayden Kho sex video scandal

I really thought that I was not going to comment on this issue; especially since those involved come from showbiz, an industry that is notorious for fabricating stories about its denizens just to keep them in the public eye. This whole “scandal” may very well be just another one of those well-crafted publicity stunts such that commenting on the whole thing might prove futile in the end. But as things stand, the story has now caught the nation’s undivided attention and is being used by various parties including several government agencies and politicians to earn them media mileage as well. Let us not forget that it is an election year after all. What I cannot personally stand are the moralistic and medical discourses being voiced out by these public personages, which are ultimately anti-sex and therefore anti-people, something that I feel we must all guard against.

How it all started

Not too long ago, rumors started circulating about the existence of a sex tape involving Katrina Halili and Hayden Kho, local actors here. What made the story juicy was the fact that Kho, a doctor himself, was then known to be in a May-December relationship with a prominent beauty expert more than 20 years his senior, Dr. Vicky Belo, a dermatologist who has built a small empire, the Belo Medical Group (BMG), by primarily selling plastic surgery and cosmetic enhancement services. Ironically, Kho and Halili were model-endorsers of BMG (as shown in the picture above) and the rumor resulted in a very public break-up between Kho and Belo although months later, Belo came out on TV saying that she and Kho were still very good friends and that she still loved him, although now on a more platonic level.

Fast-forward to the present. There is a Katrina Halili-Hayden Kho sex tape after all. It started circulating online first until some opportunist decided to convert it to CD/DVD format to sell it on the black market and earn off it. Now, Halili has sought the help of a women’s group and a senator and is considering filing charges against Kho while Kho has released a statement through his lawyer apologizing for the harm done by the sex tapes he made. He has also alleged that Halili supplied him drugs during their taped sexual encounters and thus was not in a stable state of mind. It turns out that he has also video-taped his sexual encounters with several other women including Belo. Only, he is claiming that the tapes were meant for his private viewing pleasure and that he never intended them released to the public. There are also two new angles to the story now. The first one purports that it was Kho’s best friend who released the sex tapes. Apparently, Kho, a serial womanizer, had sex with his best friend’s girl friend that in revenge, the best friend stole the videos off Kho’s laptop and made them public. The second angle claims that it is Belo who masterminded the release of the sex tapes herself. In collusion with Kho’s best friend, Belo gave the best friend access to Kho’s apartment by handing him the key so he could copy the entire content of Kho’s laptop including the videos contained in it.

The aftermath

In the wake of the scandal, the following chain of events took place:

a) Senator Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr. immediately delivered a privilege speech denouncing Kho and calling him several names like “maniac”, “pervert of the highest order” and even “crazy”. Revilla asked the Professional Regulatory Commission (PRC) to revoke Kho’s medical license and called on the Senate to immediately pass Senate Bill (SB) 12 also known as the Anti-Pornography Act of 2007, which he filed two years ago. Moreover, Revilla also asked to punish Internet Service Providers (ISP) that allow users to access “lewd” videos online following the Chinese or Middle Eastern model of Internet usage control.

b) Halili went to the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) asking the agency to help investigate her case. She also held a press conference with the women’s group Gabriela Women’s Party which is arguing her case in sexual abuse and sexual violence terms.

c) Several government agencies announced their intent to hold independent probes: the Philippine Medical Association (PMA), which has the power to recommend the revocation of Kho’s license and expel him from its ranks, the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) which wants to investigate the drug angle and the Philippine Senate, which will investigate the matter in aid of legislation.

d) Kho’s mother Irene Kho granted an interview on national television alleging that the scandal was orchestrated by talent manager, Lolit Solis. Mrs. Kho claimed that Solis and Revilla, an actor himself before he became a senator, are merely using her son in a publicity game that will most benefit them. Mrs. Kho repeated her son’s claim that Halili caused her son to be addicted to drugs.

A case of depravity and disease?

Yesterday, Thursday, was the beginning of the Senate inquiry on this matter and the news last night showed some dramatic footage of Kho being splashed water by an ex-cop present at the hearing. The former Makati police officer claimed he was just too enraged by Kho that he could not stop himself. Halili also made an appearance. She read a statement in Filipino while shedding copious tears. Both Kho and Halili were accompanied by their mothers. Pundits are saying that the Senate hearing is a farce, a pointless exercise. They predict that, in the end, nothing will come out of it.

One thing is for sure though, in the din and drama created by this whole “scandal” there was a palpable lack of affirmation of human sexuality, particularly the sexuality of the people involved. In spite of the fact that it is touted as a “sex” scandal, the sex part is the last thing people are talking about. Unsurprisingly, commentators have been using highly moralistic and medicalized language when talking about the issue. Revilla, in his privilege speech for example, portrayed Kho as someone sick for taping his sexual exploits without the knowledge of the women involved. Some psychologists have also lambasted Kho casting aspersions on his psychiatric health. Without knowing Kho personally and without having met him, they diagnosed him as someone with a disorder. After all, only someone with a mental problem could have done such a thing.

Women’s groups are also arguing the matter in terms of abuse and violence. In their statement on this issue, the National Commission of the Role of the Filipino Women (NCRFW) observed “While it is true that both the man and woman are publicly exposed in the video, we should be reminded that the man made the choice to be filmed, while the woman did not. In a still patriarchal culture like ours, women and their bodies are often made the subject of public scrutiny in any depiction of the sex act. The women are the ones who are made to feel ashamed, while men who appear in the same public depictions are affirmed, if not held in awe, for their supposed sexual prowess.” The NCRFW goes on to connect Kho’s video to pornography and makes this sweeping generalization:“Women in pornography are violated and dehumanized as they are mostly presented in scenes depicting degradation and humiliation. Pornographic materials depicting heterosexual sex do not just hurt the women directly involved in their production, but also all women and girls who are potential targets of aggression from the male consumers of pornography.” The Gabriela Women’s Party whose help Halili sought also echoes the same sentiments. A spokesperson for the women’s group in a TV interview said that what happened to Halili is sexual violence of the psychological kind. The release of the video showing her having sex with Kho without her consent will result in harming Halili emotionally.

Protecting people means affirming their sexuality

I can understand the outrage over this scandal on the issue of consent. Certainly, without Halili’s consent, Kho had no right to take the video. And nobody had the right to release it save for Kho or Halili themselves. But, one thing needs to be said here: there is nothing intrinsically wrong with taping one’s sexual activities alone or with others. And nobody is saying this without injecting their own brand of emotional attack on either Kho or Halili. Just think: if Halili consented to being taped and agreed to release said tape, would the video have merited all of the reactions above? I doubt it. It would have been a totally different scenario.

But now that the whole thing has ballooned out of proportion, we the Filipino public can no longer ignore the possible consequences of this issue. We must be particularly wary of
Senator Revilla’s insistence to pass SB 12. It is a violation of our freedom of expression and our right to access knowledge and information. We must fight this asinine attempt to institutionalize repression at all costs.

For sure, the Halili-Kho video is neither the first nor last of its kind. Sex video scandals have become all the rage in our country. Over the last year or so, we have heard of videos of people having consensual sex which later would magically fall in the hands of pirates, who reproduce and sell them without compunction. Most, if not all of the videos, were taken secretly without the knowledge usually of the woman involved. And herein lies the heart of the matter: What kind of nation are we that we have produced a generation of men who like shaming their women after sex? What kind of culture do we have that we allow people to use sex to punish others publicly?

If our education system had a sexuality education component that teaches people to strive for sexual health and sexual well-being, the proliferation of these sex videos might have been significantly reduced. For a comprehensive sexuality education would teach people to respect their bodies, their partners and the sex act itself. We should start teaching people that sex is a natural component of our humanity. It is one of our sources of pleasure. It fulfills us and enriches our lives in many ways. We must stop raising our children on the notion that sex is bad, dirty and evil. It is this idea that fuels the usage of sex to punish people, ruin their reputations and hurt their persons. We must put an end to the use of sex to have power over others and harm them. If Halili feels that she has been harmed, then she deserves justice. But let not this justice be served at the expense of the wonderful thing that is our sex and sexuality.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Translondon boycotts Pride London 2009

Barely two weeks after the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHO), we are once again being reminded of the prejudice, hatred and bigotry that can come from even within the communities we advocate for. Translondon, a support group of transpeople in London, just released a statement saying they will not participate in the upcoming Pride London 2009 march and rally. It will be remembered that last year, the London Pride March was marred by an incident involving transwomen being refused usage of the public women's toilets in Trafalgar Square. You can read about the incident here. Because of this transphobic incident, Translondon voted overwhelmingly to boycott the 2009 London Pride march. Below is their statement.

In a busy meeting on May 19th, members of TransLondon, London's largest support group for all trans-identified and genderqueer people, voted overwhelmingly for a boycott of the Pride London 2009 march and rally. As a result, for the first time since the group was formed, TransLondon will have no presence in the parade, nor at the rally.

This is part of an ongoing estrangement from Pride. Last year, a successful Pride march was marred at the rally in Trafalgar Square when a number of trans women were denied access to the women's toilets by Pride security stewards. One woman was subsequently sexually assaulted after being told to use the male toilets. Roz Kaveney, one of the women targeted in the 2008 "ToiletGate" incident, explained how she felt Pride London had only ever provided a grudging apology under threat of legal action, and that she felt they had never taken the discrimination against trans women in the 2008 rally seriously.

During the meeting on May 19th 2009, members heard how the democratic and transparent structure used in 2008 to co-ordinate participation of trans groups and the funds made available for transgender attendees, through the elected Trans@Pride committee, has been abolished by Pride London for 2009. Instead, Pride London have imposed their own unelected "representative" for the trans strand. Furthermore, requests for information about funding, how decisions were made and who participated in the decision-making process, have been rebuffed.

Last year, the elected Trans@Pride Committee consulted repeatedly with over a dozen groups and hundreds of individuals over before arranging travel bursaries for trans people to attend from around the country, hosting a breakfast for marchers on the day, commissioning artwork from a local queer artist as a rallying point for trans marchers, producing banners and bunting, arranging trans performers for all of the Pride stages including the main stage in Trafalgar Square and publicising the arrangements widely. In stark contrast, the meeting heard of how Pride London's appointed trans "representative" for 2009 has simply imposed Pride’s vision for trans participation in the march and rally.

The 2009 pride participation is, so we are told, to consist of a float at the very back of the parade which would pander to the most tired and inaccurate media stereotypes of trans people. Trans women would, in Pride's vision, be dressed in sequins, high heels and fairy wings and, apparently as an afterthought, a few trans men would be invited to pose in football strips. The Pride representative explained that the trans float would complement a float at the front of the march with members of the cast of the West End musical, "Priscilla, Queen of the Desert". In her vision, onlookers would be delighted to see "Priscilla at the front and Priscilla at the back". As a coup de grace, a visible cordon of security stewards would surround the trans float, ostensibly "for our own protection".

Rather than address the true diversity of the trans community, members of TransLondon felt that participating in such an event would serve only to bolster the kind of negative media stereotypes which portray trans people as "the cast of Grease", and that these undemocratic plans constitute an insult to London's diverse trans community. Sarah Brown, a member of TransLondon, an elected member of Trans@Pride 2008 and co-founder of the London Transfeminist Group said, "If I am to march at Pride, it would be as the lesbian woman I am, not dressed up as a corporate parody".

To determine TransLondon's official position on participation in Pride London 2009, three options were put to the vote:

Option one, to participate in the march under the terms we felt were being dictated by the Pride London board, received no votes.

Option two, to participate in the march independently of the "official" trans strand, as a form of direct action to show our dissatisfaction, received 31% of the votes cast.

Option three, to boycott the parade and rally received 65% of the votes cast.

There were some abstentions from members who wanted to see what their friends in other groups were doing before making a decision.

The democratic decision of the membership of TransLondon is therefore that the organisation will have no official presence or banner at Pride London, 2009.

Christina Alley, co-organiser of TransLondon and elected member of Trans@Pride 2008 said, "Volunteers from a dozen trans groups worked incredibly hard for Pride last year. Members of TransLondon are extremely disappointed at being betrayed, marginalised and stereotyped in this way by Pride. Members have made their disappointment clear in a democratic vote to boycott this year’s march and rally."

TransLondon is keen to hear from other trans groups, allies and any groups from other parts of the LGBTQ community who also feel disenfranchised by Pride London this year. We would like to discuss alternative arrangements for a celebration of the diversity of the LGBTQ community, free from cynical corporate politics, where we can enjoy the true spirit of Pride.

Reactions to TransLondon’s announcement:

We were extremely proud to march with TransLondon in the parade last year along with dozens of other groups and individuals of all ages and backgrounds. As a result of this announcement we are devastated this display of unity won’t be repeated this year. The only official offer of “support” from Pride this year has an offer to send a selection of our own members to be part of their separate and official “Trans Float” which we have already objected to on the same grounds as TransLondon. So we’ve had to seek funding for banner-making and costumes elsewhere as Pride London seem unwilling to hand any over.

We are currently reviewing our involvement in the parade pending the outcome of further consultation with our membership. Regardless of the outcome we remain committed to supporting safe, inclusive spaces for ALL trans young people even if many of our individual members decide to support a boycott.

Statement from Trans Youth Network
Contact: Joey McKillop (

Queer Youth Network members are still committed to participating in the parade because pride is often the first time they have had the chance to actually be out in public as a group so we will support anyone who wishes to do that. Some of our volunteers who have previously taken a break from their duties in order to assist Pride have decided not to offer their services as stewards this year. We appreciate the level of hard work that has gone in to organising the youth at pride activities and events, however we also accept they won’t appeal to everyone so our main focus will be supporting inclusive, grass roots events that bring all of our community together regardless of their identity. We have decided not to take part in the rally in Trafalgar Square and we will not be having a stall as we can’t afford the fees and most of us will be heading to Hyde Park instead.

Statement from Queer Youth Network
Contact: Jack Holroyde – Campaigns Officer (

I fully support this boycott. I am sad to announce that Trans Ebony will not take part in Pride London this year. This would have been my first very pride in England having visited events all over the world. I was intending to enter a float for our group and was even told we could get some funding.
Pride London has the potential to offer a unique platform to showcase those normally ignored by the mainstream. As a struggling black transgendered artist I’m actually feeling incredibly angry towards those in charge of the festival. I was equally distressed to hear black and asian people have now been removed from the decision making process last week according to Pav Akhtar of UNISON and LGBT Muslim group IMAAN.

Deliberately closing so many doors on so many people does nothing but add to the multitude of prejudices trans ebony members live with every day of their lives. I accept we are a normally silent minority but that doesn’t change the fact London’s pride management have betrayed the very history it owes its existence to.
Angie Kingston (Founder) - Trans Ebony (

Thursday, May 21, 2009

4th Anniversary

I am back home in Manila from India. I got in on Tuesday night. When I stepped out of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) Terminal I, I immediately proceeded to the Metered Taxi stand to get a cab. The airport now boasts a fleet of yellow cabs that can take you anywhere with just a slightly higher flag down rate. Every time the meter ticks, 4 pesos is added to the flag down compared to the regular 2.50 with a regular cab. About 5 minutes after the cabbie started driving, I noticed that the meter was not on. I asked the driver politely where the meter was just in case it was located somewhere unusual that made me miss it. (I based my question on the one time I got on a cab with a meter just above the rear view mirror.)

It turned out that the meter was right in front of us but was switched off. The driver was trying to scam me. He started asking me how much it cost me to get from the airport to Quezon City where I lived. I gave him the lowest amount possible and asked him nicely to switch the meter on. He then started to pretend that he didn't know his way around the city and pestered me with directions. I told him to take the nearest and fastest way but in the end he took a longer one. We spent around 20 minutes going around Makati so that by the time we got on EDSA, which I told him to take, the meter said I owed him more than 200 hundred pesos. I knew I was home because I had just stepped right into a highway robbery.

Anyway, I have more horrific cab stories than this. Suffice it to say that my body has not yet readjusted to being back home. I have been wanting to write about my experience in India but it will not just be. I guess I will finally be able to write it next week. In the mean time, the girls are getting ready to celebrate our 4th anniversary at the beach. Tomorrow, Friday and Saturday, different batches of girls will trek to Puerto Galera for a weekend celebration of  successes in the past year and those we hope to achieve in the coming one. 

Monday, May 11, 2009

India Incredible

I'm in New Delhi, India now to attend the 5th Regional Institute on Sexuality, Society and Culture sponsored by the not-for-profit NGO Talking About Reproductive and Sexual Health Issues (TARSHI). I flew in yesterday via Singapore Airlines. The flight took under 8 hours from Manila to Singapore then from Singapore to Delhi. I got in Delhi with other participants from Manila around 10 pm, collected our luggage and located our driver. The driver first drove us into a street jammed with traffic. After almost an hour, he decided to take a diversion road. We finally reached our hotel a little past 1 am.

I was very very tired. When I knocked on my room door, it was opened by my room mate from Indonesia, Luluk (in the picture above). She's a very nice girl from Central Java. We exchanged pleasantries briefly and went to sleep as the first day was going to start at 9 sharp.

We woke up at 7 am and got ready for breakfast. At the cafe, we met other participants. At 9 am, our first day began. In a nutshell, the first day covered the basics on sexuality and culture. The highlight of the day was the screening of one of my all-time favorite movies, Ma Vie En Rose. After the screening, reactions were shared by some of the participants. I was very touched by one of them, Damai also from Indonesia who was sobbing as she shared her own experiences raising a daughter. According to Damai, her 9 year old approached her telling her that she's in love with a girl. As a mother, Damai was touched by the movie because the story of Ludovic, a little boy who feels and knows deep inside that she is a girl, reminds her of her own daughter's struggle with her identity at such an early age.

Anyway, I am very tired right now and will rest. I have a ton of readings to go over still before dinner. At the moment, I'm a little disappointed that I might not see the Taj Mahal. The organizers said that the entire 8-day training will be very hectic that no time will be allotted to sight-seeing. There is a scheduled outing on one day but it will be done briefly just to buy souvenirs to bring back home. So far, I'm okay with being in the hotel for now after the first day. I have seen parts of Delhi on our way to it and like new cities one is visiting for the first time, I am awed by it. It is truly incredible as the India tourism authority calls their country and I'm loving every second of it.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

New UNDP HIV/AIDS program launch

With UNDP Country Director Renaud Meyer

Yesterday, May 6, I attended the launch of a new HIV/AIDS response program being co-sponsored by the Government of the Philippines (GOP) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) at the Renaissance Hotel in Makati City. The new program seeks to strengthen national and local responses to HIV/AIDS and mitigate the disease's impact on human development. The GOP and UNDP have earmarked a little over a million dollars for this new three-year program and the money will be used to: a)develop an effective, sustained and comprehensive leadership program in response to HIV and AIDS; b) strengthen the capacities of government, NGOs and people living with HIV (PLHIV); c) implement HIV prevention intervention among most at-risk populations (MARPs) and identified vulnerable populations; and d) develop and disseminate information for these vulnerable groups.

According to the representative of the Philippine National AIDS Council (PNAC) at the launch, the Philippines is considered a low HIV prevalence country. In fact in 2007, the number of PLHIV in the Philippines was less than eight thousand. However, those who do HIV/AIDS work have noted an alarming trend of new infections from 20 new cases monthly in 2000 to 44 new ones per month in 2008. In January 2009, there were 65 reported new cases of HIV/AIDS infections.

The reason why we went to the launch was because the UNDP has been trying to get in touch with transgender community organizations doing HIV work. As of today, only one group for transpeople in Cebu, called the Tonette Lopez Project (TLP), is involved in HIV/AIDS work.

When I spoke to the UNDP Country Director Renaud Meyer (in the picture with us above), he asked me if any transgroup had direct involvement in their new program. The UNDP has identified the trans community as one of their MARPs and one of the components of this new program is to build the capacity of trans groups responding to HIV/AIDS. I told him that no transgroup had key role in their program but that they should get in touch with TLP if they want to target the trans population. I just emailed a Trans 101 presentation to one of the officers of TLP, Peachy Rivera, who is getting ready for a workshop designed exclusively for trans female participants next week.

I am not well-conversant in HIV/AIDS advocacy but I am aware that it uses the men- who-have-sex-with-men (MSM)framework to describe trans women. In fact the presenter from PNAC would always say MSM and TG. This is something that I feel needs to be urgently addressed by those who are involved in this kind of work because I feel that lumping female-identified trans people together with MSMs disrespects their gender identity and invisibilizes the need for a trans-specific response to HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment and care. For now, I know that there are many transgender rights activists around the world who work in MSM groups because those are the only existing HIV/AIDS organizations in their countries with access to badly needed resources. But I also know these brave trans women are beginning to interrogate within these groups the MSM label used to identify them.

Let's hope that this new UNDP program will deliver on its promise and I really hope we do not see here HIV/AIDS ravaging the trans community.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Manny, Manny, Manny

Yesterday Sunday, the entire Philippines and the rest of the world was electrified as the country's most-beloved boxer, Emmanuel "Manny" Pacquiao aka Pacman the Destroyer made history by defeating Ricky Hatton from Manchester, England via TKO on the second round of their highly-anticipated fight in Las Vegas, Nevada. I don't have Pay-Per-View at home so I was monitoring his fight online and it was right around lunch time that news came in announcing Manny's spectacular win.

This victory does not only cement Manny's place in the world's Boxing Hall of Fame but also makes him and his family very wealthy. He can now rename himself MONEY Pacquiao. *joke* Manny is said to have brought the nation together and this morning, on my way to work, I saw on the news stands that he graced the front page of all the major broadsheets and tabloids.

Manny makes me very proud to be a Filipina and I hope he starts thinking of quitting while he's on top of his game. I am so proud of him and want him to be able to take care of himself, his legacy, his family and their future. Now there are talks that he might run for Congress in the 2010 elections and that really makes me cringe. My country is ruled by elite families who have a stronghold in politics. Now that Manny has become part of the "new" elite, he seems to have fallen under the impression that the only way for him to be able to perpetuate himself is to enter the dirty world of Philippine politics. I really hope he decides not to run this time. He already did it the last elections and lost. I hope he gets the hint.

I also hope that he will focus instead on giving back to this country which is truly under his spell. I hope he can show us back the love that has out-poured for him from every single Filipino in the Philippines and beyond. There is really so much that he can do for change if only he will not permit traditional politicians to use his stature to further their own interests. We shall see. We have barely one year to go before election time.