Last edited: November 08, 2003

Shameful Arrest Silences Gay "Bagong Bayani"

ProGay Philippines, May 28, 1998

By Oscar Atadero

JOHN PAUL (not his real name) finally came home from Qatar where he spent seven and a half months in a detention cell on charges of sodomy. Fanning himself furiously to ward off the sadistic heat of El Niño at his family's hovel in Tondo, Manila, John Paul related his ordeal to Pro-Gay's Oscar Atadero amidst the noise of a feast for a patron saint in progress last week.

The media reported a mass arrest of 33 Filipino males in October 1997. Trying to prevent another case as controversial as Sarah Balabagan's dramatic trial, the labor attaché assigned by the Philippine embassy repeatedly reprimanded John Paul because he wrote his mother home complaining of the negligence.

"I have been a barber there for four years now, and not long after I came back to Qatar, that was one day in November, the workers in the street where my sponsor's salon is located came in to say the police were arresting overseas contract workers (OCWs) for different reasons. From our door, I saw them hauling many Filipinos and other Asians into police cars. The next day, they came back and I was surprised when one policeman pointed to me and without saying a word, gestured to me to take a ride in one of those cars. I had no choice but to go with them, I didn't even have the chance to say goodbye to my sponsor (employer)."

He said there were no warrants of arrest for him and the many others taken to the CID, which he thinks means something like "Criminal Investigation Department." The detention cells were teeming with men and women from different nations, arrested for charges of robbery, prostitution, trade of liquor and drugs, substance abuse and homicides.

At the CID, he and others like him charged with the catch-all term "homosexuality" was forced to submit to a rectal examination by a Qatari medical technician in order to find out if he was engaging in anal sex. He was deemed positive and ordered jailed until he can be deported back to the Philippines. Topping his tribulations was 40 lashes on his buttocks with a whip, administered by a police officer inside a jail. 

"It could have been worse, I heard in other countries, gays are whipped in public places. Another Filipino arrested with me got 100. But I don't think the rectal examinations are foolproof. I know a gay who was very notorious in having sex most of his spare time, but he passed the test and went free. Another man who is not gay, he does not even go out, he was tested and accused of homosexuality."

John Paul said word has it that among crowds in the after-hours, streetlife in Doha, the capital city, people who want to earn extra, spy on their fellow OCWs and submit to the authorities information about careless people, for about 100 dinars per suspect turned in. Gay men cruise openly in the shopping areas abandoned during night time and the spies may be gay or not.

The 32 other Filipino men arrested for the same charge got home as early as January because either their sponsors or relatives back home were quick to produce the air fare to get them home. John Paul had to beg his sponsor to come up with the money, since he didn't earn enough in the two months he worked, while back home, his mother didn't know where to get some. His seven other siblings were either unemployed or earning just enough to feed their respective broods.

His only alternative, attention from the case workers hired by the Department of Foreign Affairs, was sorely lacking. He claims not being shown any documents from either the Philippine or Qatari side all throughout his detention.

"I think his bosses in Manila may have scolded him after my mother went to a radio commentator to ask for help. He got angry at me, told me not to bring this to the attention of anybody again or he will let go of my case totally. He said not even the President can help me if I made another public noise again," John Paul said. Still, the frustrated gay OCW refused to reveal to us the name of the case worker, because he is honoring a promise he made to shut up.

But the real motive behind his self-imposed silence is part economic, partly because of the stigma that might pursue him if he decided to publicize his case. Already he fears of being permanently banned from the Islamic countries in the Middle East, because five copies of fingerprints and handprints were taken from him.

"People say that if they did that to you, the other prints will be sent to the other conservative governments in the Middle East. If I try to go back to any of those countries under a changed name, I may even be jailed again for falsification of documents. My only choice is Italy or Japan, where the pay is not that attractive and the competition is fiercer."

Part of his prison diary was being raped by a Palestinian co-detainee. He didn't want to report the incident, but the guards learned from other prisoners anyway. Instead of punishing the rapist, the jail warden threatened to torture John Paul if he refused to reveal the details of the rape and admit it was his fault.

Like many migrant workers simply seeking a respite from the gross inability to be gainfully employed here, John Paul viewed his misadventure as a part of his fate over which an ordinary mortal has no control. "I was just unlucky that I came back to Qatar during a promotions year in the police force. They say that if a low ranking has an ambition but lacks formal schooling, he has to compensate by catching more criminals."


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