Philip Belarmino is a happy man tonight, or at least relieved. The US Government announced today that it would NOT be appealing an immigration court judge's ruling allowing his Asylum claim on the basis that he would be persecuted if he returned to the Philippines.
“I’m really happy. I’m grateful that I’m being given this opportunity to lead a better life in America with the support of my family,” Belarmino said.
Belarmino testified in his asylum case that as a young boy, he had been molested several times, and was persecuted for being gay. He did not report the abuse because he was afraid that his very conservative parents would come to know his sexual orientation.
Belarmino would eventually come out to his parents after he initially won his asylum case on May 21, 2009.
“That was a real hurdle, it involved much struggle on my part. But it’s amazing God has his way of reuniting and mending wounds that have been there for quite a long time. It just so happened that the dialogue of understanding, compassion and love took place on my Mom’s birthday.”
Ted Laguatan, Belarmino’s lawyer, says his client can apply for a green card after a year, since he is now officially a refugee.
“As a refugee, he’s entitled to work, he’s entitled to stay here, and he’s entitled to travel.” Laguatan said.
Belarmino is the first known Filipino to win an asylum case based on the threat of persecution due to sexual orientation. Human rights activists feel that his case will serve as a model for other gay men and women suffering similar difficulties.
A former English professor, Belarmino says the decision was liberating and gave him more confidence.
“The resurgence of that self-esteem, that integrity and the acceptance of who I really am has really encouraged me to really live my life, not the way others see me, or others may want to see me, but the way I really am. And I also can say that I’m more at peace right now because of that total acceptance,” Belarmino said.
Belarmino says he’s now ready to start over. He wants to go back to teaching, and become an advocate for human rights.