MANILA (UPDATE) — "Bakit kami inaaresto?" Rey Valmores-Salinas asked cops as she and a few other activists were being pulled out of their car and forced into a police mobile one morning in June last year.
Just a couple minutes earlier, Salinas, a transgender woman, was on the streets with several LGBTQ demonstrators and allies from different progressive groups to hold a protest for Pride month.
It was June 26, 2020, and Metro Manila was just weeks fresh out of the toughest virus quarantine classification.
But despite the risk of contracting the new coronavirus, compounded by fear of state violence, the group insisted that Pride month is not merely a celebration, but a protest.
They followed protocols: 3 columns, 3 people per row, 1 meter apart from each other, as they marched from Recto Avenue to Mendiola, where a short program was supposed to be held.
And then the police came.
"Habang inaayos ang sound system, dumating ang bulto ng kapulisan… in full riot gear. Sa isang iglap ay napaligiran nila kami in police formation with their metal shields in front," said protester Andrew Zarate in his affidavit, a copy of which was obtained by ABS-CBN News.
(While we were fixing the sound system, the police arrived, clad in full riot gear. In a snap, they were around us, with metal shields in front.)
Zarate pleaded to police to allow them to hold a program for just 10 minutes. The police declined.
"Humingi na lamang ako ng ilang minuto para magkaroon ng organisadong dispersal ang aming grupo. Sa yugtong ito, habang ako ay pabalik sa aming hanay para ianunsiyo na kami ay maayos na na magdi-disperse, bigla akong dinamba at hinila ng isang pulis paloob sa kanilang shield formation," Zarate recounted.
(We just asked for 5 minutes to disperse. While I was returning to my group, I was suddenly grabbed by a police officer into their shield formation.)
A violent dispersal ensued.
"As we walked to the intersection, we kept asking what crime we committed, and the officers never gave an answer. They just told us to follow them and that we should go to the police station. We saw our friends loaded into a packed police mobile," Carla Nicoyco, another protester, said.
Protester Aljohn Estrella, screaming for help from the crowd, was allegedly told by arresting police: "Papatayin kita kapag lumaban ka pa."
(I will kill you if you resist.)
Stunned, he stayed silent.
Twenty protesters, now collectively known as Pride 20, were brought to a Manila Police District (MPD) station for "violations" that have yet to be clear to them.
MISGENDERING, SEXUAL HARASSMENT
At 11:45 a.m., the Pride 20 arrived at the MPD station in U.N. Avenue.
By now, it was clear for the group that they were indeed arrested for several alleged health violations, not merely "invited for validation," as claimed by the authorities.
Police segregated the Pride 20 by gender.
Salinas, the only transgender woman in the group, realized asserting her gender identity was one of the very first individual battles she had to face in this ordeal.
"Nung una kaming pumunta doon, hiwalay ang kababaihan at kalalakihan. Doon pa lamang po bilang transwoman, pinipilit na nilang ilagay ako sa selda ng mga lalaki," Salinas told ABS-CBN in a Pride event on June 26, 2021, exactly a year since her arrest.
(When we first got there, they separated the women and the men. At that point, me being a transwoman, they were forcing me to be at the male cell.)
But with "immense collective negotiations" of her lawyers Minnie Lopez and Alnie Foja, Salinas was finally made to stay with other women detainees.
It did not end there, Salinas said: "In several instances during my detention, the police insisted on misgendering me, calling me ‘sir’ even after having been repeatedly corrected."
The misgendering of Salinas was only the first of the many alleged harassments she would face in the hands of the police.
"Some police officers were shocked when I entered the detention room for the arrested women, and remarked 'lake naman 'yan!' (that’s a man!). One of the officers gave me a fist bump," she said.
She also felt sexually harassed when a police officer allegedly looked at her from head to toe, then said: "You’re so pretty and tall."
"I felt deeply uncomfortable, harassed, and pried upon… [He] kept trying to converse even when I didn’t want to speak to him," she said.
"Siyempre napaka (Of course that was so) unbecoming. Malinaw na malinaw na kaso ng sexual harassment."
The group, in their detention that spanned 5 days, experienced several episodes of alleged abuse from police officers.
"If not for the kind donations of several concerned citizens who understood our plight and understood that the arrests were unlawful, we would be sleeping directly on the floor in a freezing room filled with cockroaches, with nothing to keep us warm but our rainbow flags," they said in their joint affidavit.
In one meal time, Pride 20 believed they were intentionally starved by police officers.
"Kahit alam ng mga pulis na kami ay hindi pa kumakain ng agahan, lampas tanghali na ay wala ni isa sa kanila ang nag-abiso sa amin na may mga pagkain para sa amin na nakatambak lamang sa may reception. Intensyunal ang ginawa nilang ito," said Marya Estavillo.
(Despite them knowing we haven't eaten any breakfast yet, they did not inform us that food for us had been sitting in the reception area for hours already until lunchtime. They did this on purpose.)
And then a kind of sexual violence that no one saw coming: Being allegedly forced to see several police officers watch pornography in the middle of their duty, with one bold enough to masturbate in front of the detainees.
"Na-witness po ng Pride 20 'yung mga pulis nanonod ng porn. May instances rin po na may nagma-masturbate habang pinapanood kami. 'Yun po yung mga porma ng karahasan na naranasan namin," Salinas told ABS-CBN News.
(We witnessed how the officers watched porn while on duty, and in a separate instance masturbated while watching us. Those were the forms of violence we experienced.)
The detained members of Pride 20 were released on June 30, 5 days after what they claimed was their illegal arrest.
Six months later, on December 29, the Manila prosecutor would junk the complaints lodged by MPD against the Pride 20.
"Nakita naman 'yung matinding injustice sa nangyari. In fact 'yung resolution ng fiscal would complement 'yung complaint namin sa Ombusman kasi pinakita talaga na very violent and brutal 'yung dispersal. 'Yung nag-initiate talaga nung gulo, sinabi sa resolution ng fiscal ng Manila, 'yung sa side ng mga pulis," Lopez, the legal counsel, said.
Exactly a year since her arrest, Salinas and her group Bahaghari co-organized another Pride protest, this time in Quezon City.
Asked what led her to risk another arrest, she gave the same answer: Pride is always a protest.
"Kami po humuhugot kami ng lakas, ng inspirasyon sa iba pang LGBT na nagde-decide na hindi na puwede ang ganito lang, lalaban tayo."
The complaint of Pride 20 against MPD officers that arrested and detained them has been pending before the Office of the Ombudsman since July last year.
In a phone interview, MPD spokesman Philipp Ines told ABS-CBN News the accusations of Pride 20 were "unfair," as it painted police officers as morally corrupt and undignified.
"Mabigat 'yung alegasyon nila. Parang wala na bang moral ang mga pulis na gawin nila 'yun? Ganun na ba kasama ang pulis? Napaka-unfair. Tao din naman kami, wala na bang dignidad ang mga pulis?" Ines said.
(Those are serious allegations. Is that what they think of cops, morally bankrupt and undignified? We're still human beings.)
"Ang mga pulis propesyonal. Hindi mga tambay 'yan na dinampot at ginawang pulis," he added.
(We're professionals. We're not just bums suddenly assigned to be part of the police force.)
Ines admitted he was barely familiar with the case, having only taken over the mouthpiece role at the MPD this year.
However, he said MPD will simply let the Ombudsman resolve the complaints filed by Pride 20.
"Karapatan nila na magreklamo… Hayaan na lang natin ang korte na magpagulong ng kaso. Lahat ng alegasyon puwede ibato. Ang tanong kaya ba nila patunayan?" Ines dared.
(It's their right to file complaints. We'll let the courts decide. The question is can they prove it?)
THE DUTERTE PROMISE
Three-and-a-half years ago or in December 2017, Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said the Duterte administration wants Filipinos to enjoy their rights, freedom and equality before the law, regardless of gender.
Roque issued the statement after Duterte said at the time he was planning to create a commission for the LGBT community.
Speaking at the 7th LGBT yearend gathering at Azuela Cove, Lanang in Davao City that year, Duterte asked the LGBT community to find the brightest nominee to lead the commission.
The proposed commission has yet to be established to this day.