Pioneering Davao gay rights activist Pidot Villocino remembered

Jun. 12, 2021

This year’s Pride Month for the LGBTQ community is marked with sadness as Davao City’s prominent gay activist Pidot Villocino passed away in this pandemic on June 6 from lung failure at age 61.

Friends and colleagues from his many affiliations gathered in an online program last Wednesday to pay tribute to PIdot’s lifelong activism that spanned over four decades.

Born Wilfredo Alba Villocino on March 25, 1960, but fondly called Pidot by friends, he was a stand out in rallies and social movement events that colleagues call him “the life of the party”.

Beyond being the “life of the party” and his self-described job as a “glamor technician”, Pidot was a serious and multi-faceted activist. He was a cultural performer, street parliamentarian, anti-Marcos activist, and women rights advocate dating back from the Martial Years in the 70s.

Youth activism in Martial Law

Pidot’s activism started during Martial Law when he was at the University of Mindanao and he joined student activists campaigning for the re-opening of student councils and publications.

He later joined Davao’s cultural group  Kulturan Atin Foundation and landed a role in the musical, Nukleyar penned by Joey Ayala and Al Santos in 1983. This musical daringly exposed corruption in the bureaucracy that was exposed in the controversy of the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant.

As anti-Marcos rallies often saw tension,  Pidot was once hauled away by soldiers as he desperately tugged on fellow rallyists. “His body was almost like snapped in half as we did a tug of war with soldiers,” recalled fellow activist Rocky Balili.

Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III, who was then an opposition lawyer, remembered Pidot standing out among the young activists of that time. He particularly recalled during the 1986 snap elections, the latter’s group went from one precinct to another to monitor the ballot and even stand up to Marcos’s forces just to guard the people’s votes. “I think that prevented cheating in those places,” Bello recalled.

In those early years of the social movement, gays were still not widely accepted in the public eye, but Pidot blazed a trail.   He spent nearly a year integrating in peasant communities in Calinan to help him learn the rigors of organizing.

But that disposition, relayed by his contemporary, former Social Work Undersecretary Mae Fe Templa, was accepted by Pidot. She recalled how Pidot just laughed off his experience on how farmers tended to evade billeting him in their houses when he needed shelter for the night.

And that experience made Pidot take it as a challenge to do even better as an activist to overturn usual misconceptions of gays as belonging only to parlors and whatnots, recounted Templa.

Thus, Pidot would be famous for his own words whenever chided, “My being gay would not deter me from serving the people.”

Gay rights activist

Pidot capitalized on this burning call to overturn discrimination against one’s gender orientation to unite with fellow gay activists, so that when his paths crossed with former Bayan Southern Mindanao secretary general, the late Val Mante,  they naturally became vanguards on the recognition of gay rights in Davao City.

Val Mante later on turned into a communist cadre and in fact earned a record of being the first gay-wedded couple held in a New People’s Army (NPA) guerrilla front.

But Pidot went on to wave his flag for gay rights movement in the streets of Davao City and elsewhere in the country. As he became the face of the group as they engaged  the public  on the LGBTQ issue, Pidot later became one of the founders of the national Progressive Organization of Gays in the Philippines (ProGay) in the mid ’90s.

But he did not relegate his cause only to advance the welfare of fellow LGBTQs. He united with the advocacies of the different sectors knowing that at the root of all this problem is a society that needed so much change.

Thus, Pidot walked hand in hand with women’s rights group Gabriela, Amnesty International and even supported the Makabayan bloc partylists when he was a nominee for Ladlad Partylist in 2013.

Former Gabriela Women’s Party representative Luz Ilagan recalled how Pidot harnessed his services to advance the cause of women’s movement back when she was still a City Councilor in 1998.

Ilagan recalled that as a Councilor  with a strong advocacy for women’s advancement, Pidot pitched in his hairstyling skills to train women in urban poor communities that they may somehow find support in their livelihood as they struggle for social rights. “Pidot was such a hit, was the most sought after,  that women would come demanding for his presence in the different activities!” Ilagan said.

And yes, this joy that Pidot emitted alongside the people he came hand in hand with as he walked the terrain of mass struggles somehow was sorely missed.

Pidot, Gaybriela

Gabriela Davao chair Doctor Jean Lindo said “Before ProGay came, Pidot was our Gaybriela”.  Lindo remembers during medical missions and fact-finding missions Pidot has this “cheerful disposition wherever he finds himself in, and finding joy in those moments.”  To Lindo, Pidot’s sense of solidarity was something else.

All these mass actions came to another summit when the Davao Women Code was passed that paved the way to the setting up of the Integrated Gender and Development Division, where Pidot was head of the division’s LGBTQ Desk.

Fast forward to the present administration, Bayan Muna Representative Carlos Zarate, who hails from Davao, acknowledged Pidot’s massive contributions in the anti-discrimination bills the Makabayan bloc filed in Congress.

Being a prominent rights activist, Pidot would naturally earn invitations from the government to join them. But he shunned off these offers of illustrious posts. He chose to remain among those in the fringes.

He continued on with his advocacies by being present in One Billion Rising, a movement spearheaded by women’s rights activists to show that the march for liberation has not been answered despite the country’s change of guards.

This is why it was no surprise that when activism lately exploded into community pantries that became a veritable political statement when it highlighted the massive lack of social services to the people in the pandemic, Pidot was there volunteering to help in the Matina Community Pantry last April, one of the biggest pantries in the city.

Despite limitations owing to an already compromised physical condition, Pidot showed up in long food lines, handing support, reaching out to donors, even if it meant being “red tagged” as the community pantries in the country have been.

Zarate recalled how in the midst of the red tagging controversy of community pantries, he would call up Pidot chiding, ” Hala ka yot, ginared tag baya ang naga community pantry (Be careful, people involved in the community pantry are being red-tagged)” But as Zarate said, “he did not budge.”

“That’s typical PIdot to find ways of helping and inspiring others in his own unique ways, regardless of the cost to him,” said Mags Maglana of Konsensya Dabaw.  “Supporting the community pantry in Matina even in his state did not require a stretch of the imagination.”

“His persistence to serve the pantry showed that he can be of service not just for the gay community but for others.,” said fellow gay activist and cultural worker Bejay Absin.

Lindo recalled that even if they tried to tell him against it, Pidot persisted to join the community pantry movement. “After the long lull (of the pandemic quarantine), he really missed the mass movement. And that is why I think, when he already could, he was most happy being with the community again. He really wants to be where the action is.”

“That is Pidot. He was not just a gay activist. He was a national democratic activist,” Zarate said of Pidot who was proud of activism despite the stigma attached to it from one administration to another.

“When you see him raised his fist, it’s not half-raised, it’s raised up high to the skies. He was fearless in his commitment,” Zarate pointed.

‘A good fight’

Pidot’s passing was mourned but his life and passion was celebrated.   Tributes poured online with songs, poems, dance and memories of how this gay activist touched the lives of many. “He opened his home and heart to us, we opened him into our hearts,” Mags tearfully recalls.

“I believe Pidot gave a real good fight,” said Oca Casaysay, his colleague from KAFI and in the Davao CIty LGU.

Oca called Pidot up when the latter was hospitalized. “I told him, ‘Kayanon nato ni ha, ayaw paglangi (‘You can do this, don’t whimper’), and he replied, meron ba tayong di pinaglabanan? (Did we ever back down from a fight)”

KAFI alumnus Tacs Tacang aptly describes Pidot in his poem that cited how people knew him as a colleague activist who was able to find joy in the cause of liberating the marginalized sectors, and find the need to transform all things that bring “ugliness”.

“Gusto nimo tanan mahimong maanyag.  apil palibot.  apil katilingban.  ug tungod niana, gusto nimong guntingon ang nagpadunot sa palibot.  gusto nimo sudlayon ang nagpamaot sa katilingban.  Pidot,  tinood ka nga beautician! (You wanted everyone to be beautiful. even the surroundings. even the society. because of that, you wanted to cut off the rot around you. you want to comb away the bad from society.  Pidot, you are a true beautician.”

Pidot’s remains is laid to rest auspiciously on Independence Day of June 12 when all of the country is once again reminded of the continuing calls for freedom.

But even in death, Pidot was true to his cause as he had already prepared a will that his wake donations would be given to his preferred charities, the House of Hope Foundation for children with cancer, Davao LGBT Community, and the Matina Community Pantry.

And this says it all that when news broke on his death, everyone seemed to have lost their rainbow.

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