Searching for Freedom


Written by: K Ballesteros, Jerwin Regala, and Gie Lenna dela Peña
Graphics by: Jacklyn Moral and Krystle Mae Labio


Last June 2021, #MentalHealthPH’s #UsapTayo campaign celebrated freedom. Integral questions about its definition and how we can achieve it among groups of people were raised during our regular #UsapTayo Spaces session. Here are some of the highlights of #UsapTayo Spaces for the month of June:

Malaya: K’s notes

The conversation about help-seeking behaviors related to Filipino mental health centered our history of colonialization, religion, and identity-formation to frame current attitudes. Pinpointing these behaviors — including the tendency to rely primarily or solely on religious rituals like forms of prayer — illustrates how deeply-ingrained cultural influences inform the way Filipinos cope with mental and physical health issues. Another speaker [Azie] pointed out how bayanihan as a cultural value has historically allowed Filipinos to win battles, start and nurture revolutions outside of more recognized, formal military tactics. 

Part of our search for kapwa, and for belongingness, is to further the idea of Hindi Ibang Tao. The reality of a Filipino diaspora, the continuous migration and return of Filipinos, informs the way kapwa is valued and practiced. We crave belongingness, and we practice enlarging our communities to offer belongingness. These insights have practical implications for mental health practice here, and now, in the form of critical questions to keep answering ever more creatively: who might harbor feelings of unbelonging? How can we empower ourselves and other Filipinos to change culture if it may risk their sense of community? What does inclusive mean to a Filipino community who deeply values Hindi ibang Tao? How do we expand familiarity and being hindi ibang tao?

The final part of the conversation swerved to talk about individual freedom as freedom of choice, as the freedom to pursue pleasure or ambition or desire. A more clear-eyed view of freedom insists on community — that individual freedom relies on everybody’s capacity to pursue their own desires, ambitions, and to live in dignity. Roy’s sober reminder to recognize how “the world is finite” was also an invitation to recognize not only how we belong, but Filipino lives are interconnected.  

Manning Up: Jerwin’s Notes

In a world where machismo and patriarchy exist, do all men have the freedom to express their true emotions? The session centered on men’s freedom to express one’s emotion, opening with a special conversation about our fathers’ wellbeing. Looking at the perspectives of two men, RS and AJ, it was difficult to notice how our fathers were able to release or even utter their emotions.  Both men experienced a not-so smooth relationship between them and their own fathers because of unmet expectations. RS pointed out how maturity shed light on this trying kinship with his father by saying that when someone experiences and learns more things, one can understand his/her father better. Every speakers’ experience with their fathers laid the foundation for the conversation.

Kyra, furtherly, discussed the reason why most fathers might not be able to express their emotions is because they might not have been taught how to talk about it. Our fathers were molded in a society where mental health awareness is uncommon and talking about it is effeminate. Rooted in man’s history, traditional masculinity and its ideals is narrow in the sense that it used strength to exert dominance and a desirable male individual should or at least had aggressive and ruthless characteristics. This practice, which in turn would be termed as toxic masculinity, has adverse effects on male especially on their mental well-being. But it is also understood, as RS have mentioned, fathers might have different ways of expressing their emotions, apart from crying. The challenge posed was to be more understanding, even if our fathers’ feelings cannot be said. 

The conversation, from its middle hours to the final parts, is quite heavy since it was talking about everyone’s first hand experiences with fathers but at the same time heart-felt because we are celebrating our appreciation and gratitude to our house posts (mga haligi ng tahanan), as what the last guest speaker for open mic have commended. Tweetchats ended with a question “what do you want to say to your father?” recognizing the fact that fathers’ love is eternal and has no price. 

Below the Rainbow Flag: Gie’s Notes

The conversation discusses LGBTQIA+ Filipinos’ legal rights, their status, and their mental health, including the speakers’ LGBTQIA+ anthem, their icons, and especially dwelling on SOGIE’s context and objectives. Our guest Xavi defined SOGIE as a pedestal to understand one’s self without using it to identify other people. Apart from this, Xavi also articulates  SOGIE with new additional SC, meaning sex characteristics. 

Considering that SOGIE describes identity and expression, the expectation is that it applies to people who are part of LGBTQIA+. In reality, SOGIE allows  everyone to freely express themselves  without discrimination.  It was an honor and an opportunity as well to be part of this advocacies, since I’ve been confused by some terminology such as transman, transgender and the likes. I also educate myself to re-correct some deceptive notions  which clearly promote deep understanding towards mass movement supporting at the sametime respecting LGBTQIA+. Xavi from the very beginning vocalized that pride month should not be only acknowledged in the month of june, rather we should recognize and commemorate  month in year.

At the middle of the conversation, it was a sensitive and emotional conversation done by our moderators; their  experiences and unpleasant silent journey were shared by spaces. It drives me to be soft-hearted, being highly attuned to context as a lesbian, gay man, bisexual, or transgender person shapes your inner world, too. It affects how you think and feel about yourself. In response to an outside world full of negative messages about what it means to be attracted to people of the same sex or not cisgender, many people come to view themselves as deeply flawed, unlovable, unworthy, and hopeless. Conforming to the statement by our guest speaker Xavi, anti-LGBT religious exemption laws are likely to exacerbate mistreatment because, both on their face and in the political discourse that surrounds them, they tend to legitimize and signal official acceptance of discrimination against LGBT people. And by restricting the state’s ability to prohibit, sanction, or even discourage discrimination, the laws undermine the core principle of nondiscrimination law: that people should not face adverse treatment simply because of who they are. 

There was a particular shared experience, where that person went through hardships back then, now that the person was successful and popular, the person gets respected and has been acknowledged. It simply discerns that LGBTQAI+ must first get successful in life before accepting them as who truly they are, which is an unlikely experience to a person who does such  bad things. He/she will immediately accept by just asking for an apology that is probably unfair for LGBTQAI+.

Finally, the discourse resonated with me, from the pre-questions unto the last request were such valuable pieces of information. This serves as the avenue of knowledge to continue raising the awareness and breaking the stigma of LGBTQIA+ identity. MentalHealthPH together with #UsapTayo team engage the audience through  last request wherein through tweetchat they will show a photo of them and tell which of the letters of LGBTQIA+ do they represent with of course their comrades and colleagues that were also part of LGBTQIA+. With this, they conflate a united yet diverse identities who always choose to respect, educate and be true. I would love to leave remarkable quotes by Senator Tammy Valdwin as he says “All of us who are openly gay are living and writing the history of our movement. We are no more – and no less – heroic than the suffragists and abolitionists of the 19th century; and the labor organizers, Freedom Riders, Stonewall demonstrators, and environmentalists of the 20th century. We are ordinary people, living our lives, and trying as civil-rights activist Dorothy Cotton said, to ‘fix what ain’t right’ in our society”.

Happy Pride Month, Sulong ka-Vaklash!


After celebrating freedom, the #UsapTayo team reflected on their ideals about the campaign. Freedom involves creating our own identity as a community. Freedom is the ability to express one’s mental health without being perceived as a weak person. Freedom is being able to express one’s individuality without stigma and discrimination. Freedom may mean differently from different individuals. As mental health advocates, we aim to provide freedom in the little spaces that we created. 

June 10

  1. “Malaking factor ang cultural influences sa mental health — the way we cope” 
  2. Sikolohiyang Pilipino: ang Kapwa Theory centers understanding the Filipino value system. Kapwa is the core value in our culture. Hindi Ibang Tao — are the people who are most familiar to us. 
  3. Roy: Values are what are important to you, and ano ang pinapahalagahan mo. 
  4. Referencing history spaces, Azie: “winning revolutions and battles were through bayanihan, not in a formal, organized manner. Our collectivist social dynamics have allowed for so many victories”  
  5. Diwa: “communities anchor yourself to fellow Filipinos” 
  6. Diwa: we are born and we grow up [in our regions] and we take it for granted that we belong there until you are transplanted to another place. Hahanap ka ng belongingness. In another place, you find people from your own region. That is where our regionalism comes in, but it’s not bad.
  7. Azie: because we are islands, we form regional cultures. Through out focus on island-culture. It becomes a double-edged sword because it helps us form our identities, regional identities, but it hinders us from feeling that we belong to a larger identity as Filipinos  
  8. Roy: “I respect kung ano ang gusto mong paniwalaan o kung anong gusto mong opinion as long as it doesn’t hurt me, my community, or the people i want to fight for. Kung may masasaktan ka na, that is where i draw the line.” 
  9. Kams: “if our digital self allows us to be free — malaya — if doon ka nagiging kung sino ka, so be it although there are the older generation who, you know, don’t really understand how beneficial and how advantageous this digital era is because what they can see is — yun nga — nawawalan ng social interaction. What they see is the facade of this digital world, pero they don’t get to see or — ako, personally — i don’t get to see what’s underneath. I can really relate to it when it comes to your digital self. I find solace and i find peace kapagka nandito ako sa twitter, and alam ko hindi mababasa ng parents ko o ng kamag-anak ko. I get to be me nang walang kumokontradict sa kung paano ko gustong i-express ang sarili ko” 
  10. Roy: it is so important to embrace our vulnerability, to find that ‘safe space’ regardless of it being digital or physical, where you can remove the armor, and you unlearn the lessons that society has been telling you. If you are in that safe space, you are you. For some people, ang hirap hanapin ng safe space na yun. 
  11. Kams: “Kalayaan is not just about doing the things that you would like to do, but freedom as an idea is vague. I think about “hindi ka tunay na malaya, mahaba lang ang tanikala’ because I think you can’t achieve total freedom. Malaya lang tayo dahil we have a lot of choices. Sa sobrang lawak ng horizons, hindi natin natatanaw ang limitations — may limits pala ang capacity ko, and ang contribution ko as an individual, yung skill ko, may limitation din pala. Hindi ko siya narealize kasi sobrang lawak, sobrang vague niya. Ang pagiging malaya is sa kamatayan. Charot lang!”  
  12. Roy: “Sa akin siguro, kalayaan is freedom to know my rights and exercise them. Kasi parang, ang assumption natin ng freedom is always infinity: you can do anything. But: the world is finite. Meron pa ring limitation na kung sosobrahan mo, karapatan na ng iba ang tatapakan mo.” 

June 20

  1. AJ: Growing up, narealize ko, reflecting on my life, on how things happened, na bakit hindi ko natanong sa Father ko what he really feels…
  2. RS; it was not a very smooth relationship between me and my father because there are expectations bilang panganay na lalaki that I was not able to meet. There was a time when it was hard to communicate but When maturity strikes in, when you learn things, when you experience more things, you will try to understand each other better… it cannot be said but it can be felt
  3. K: The expectation of being mature is that you understand things without being explained…
  4. Azie: Eventually you’ll understand where they are coming from…
  5. K; the reason our fathers might not be able to express their emotions is because they might not have been taught how to talk about it. Where is the space for masculinity when you talk about “I feel hurt, I feel the pain”…
  6. RS: It is important to point out that there are other types of modern fathers who are more vocal…
  7. Kams: Nandun yung thinking na since men are perceived as strong and macho in the society, nawawalan sila ng karapatan to be themselves and free of their emotions…”
  8. AJ: Hanggang ngayon tolerated pa rin yung mga jokes about sa mga bagay na pang-lalaki. It’s never okay to joke about  traits and characteristics of a certain individual. We have to understand that we have differences in personality e.g. expression of masculinity
  9. K: the ideals of masculinity is so much narrower, instead of celebrating how many ways men are…
  10. Try to understand, try to be more understanding. Being sensitive enough will make a long way
  11. K: you (guys, might pertain to males) have a lot of responsibility to future generation. It is on you to set better examples to them
  12. Cams: Its okay to be vulnerable
  13. K: Its okay to be vulnerable, choose to be vulnerable 

June 30

  1. SOGIESC stands for Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Expression, and Sex Characteristics 
  2. LGBTQIA+ stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, and asexual however the symbol “+” depicts a myraid of gender identities 
  3. Xavi defined SOGIE as a pedestal to understand one’s self and is not used to identify other people.
  4. SOGIE do not promote gender biases but rather educate people about their expressions, identity, characteristics and also their belongingness
  5. #MentalHealthPH together with #UsapTayo team provide infographics regarding LGBTQ Alley, and SOGIE 
  6. Here in the Philippines LGBTQIA+ remains experiencing discriminations and stereotypes due to social constructions (culture, religion,political view, societal standard etc.)
  7. Being left behind, ignored, and discriminated by such skills that affects their mental, emotional and work positions. This was common experiences by the LGBTQIA+
  8. Educating them that starts at home,  to better support the students who are part of this community as discrimination and absence of support and of corse to admit and be true to ourselves will be the cradle to cope with such distasteful standard of society. #
How do you feel about this?

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