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Soaring beyond stereotypes: Promoting gender inclusivity in the air force

A soldier by day and a comedian by night.

This is the life of Mhyljone Rhandy Escoto, who goes by the stage name Chikita Ssang.

Escoto is a reservist of the Philippine Air Force with the rank of sergeant. 

Escoto identifies himself with the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) community.

He rewrites the narrative of strength and courage in the ranks of the PAF, juggling the rigors of military life and the spotlight of comedy, breaking barriers with every punchline.

What was once considered the exclusive domain of men, the air force opened its door to all regardless of gender who are interested to serve the country. Taking the opportunity, Escoto challenged not just the skies but has also set out to shatter gender norms.  

For Escoto, the seamless transition from the stern of commands on the military field to the stage lights is no small feat. 

By day, Escoto dons the PAF uniform with pride, which becomes not just his attire but a symbol of dedication. The weight of duty is shouldered with precision—each step, each salute, an embodiment of discipline.

"Ganahan ko kay wala ko ka-feel ba nga abi bayot ka dili ka pwede. They accepted me despite ang military nailhan jud sya nga panglalaki [I like it because I didn't feel judged, as if I'm gay and not allowed. They accepted me despite the military being known as a male-dominated workforce],” Chikita said. 

By night, Escoto sheds off the regulation khaki uniform with a different kind of uniform—that of a stand-up comedian. 

The transition is smooth, yet one can feel the atmosphere shift. He subverts social conventions with each joke he tells, shattering preconceived notions of what an individual should and should not be. His canvas is the stage, and every punchline he delivers adds a vivid brushstroke of authenticity to his dual persona.

Escoto’s decision to join the Air Force Reserves was not merely a choice but a statement. In a society where traditional gender roles persist, his determination to break into a male-dominated field stands as a symbol of progress.

“Sa training nakita nako naa’y lalaki, babae, and ako bayot, and you know basta bayot kay yaya lang, go with the flow lang. Pero na-inspire ko samot kay nakaya nako bisan bayot ko [During the training, there are men, women, and me, who is identified as gay, and, you know, being gay, they say I am weak. I just go with the flow. But I'm even more inspired because I've proven that I can do it despite being gay],” says Chikita.

Escoto’s inclusion marks a shift in the longstanding traditions of the military forces. 

In recent years, the PAF has actively worked to promote gender diversity and inclusivity. 

TSgt. Rimcu Irish Francis A. Gonzaga, a military instructor at PAF, acknowledged the importance of this transformative period, saying, "Regardless of your profession, position, and gender orientation, isa ra among panan-aw sa inyo [we see everyone the same]—a trainee."

The PAFR actively fosters an inclusive environment within its ranks. For Gonzaga, gender stereotypes or preconceptions among trainees are no longer new to them.  

“Every training, na ta’y ginatawag nga program of instruction nga mao among ginasunod para maka-produce og quality reservist. Since time immemorial, ginadawat na sila as long as they are wearing the uniform, sundon nila kung unsa’y military standards [In every training, we have what is called a program of instruction that we follow to produce quality reservists. Since time immemorial, they have been accepted as long as they are wearing the uniform, and they must adhere to military standards],” he added, ensuring that the diverse needs of all trainees are acknowledged and met.

Mhyljone Rhandy Escoto participated in the field training exercise of BAGSIK LIPAD CL 2022 Bravo at Naawan, Misamis Oriental. The field training exercise is the crucial stage of the whole training as it involve the application of skills, military tactics, and procedures learned from the whole duration of the training. (Photo courtesy of Mhyljone Rhandy Escoto)

Moving towards gender fair, inclusive society

In recruiting members despite their gender preference, the goal is clear: to create a military force that mirrors the diversity of the nation it protects.

“Every individual has different strengths and weaknesses, and we develop our weaknesses to become our strengths. Wala ug dili gina pa-feel saila na naay lahi. The Philippine Air Force is skill-based, not gender-based [Every individual has different strengths and weaknesses, and we work on turning their weaknesses into strengths. We don't make them feel different. The Philippine Air Force is skill-based, not gender-based],” Gonzaga said.

The military force strides toward embracing diversity, highlighting initiatives and policies that promote equality. Such showcases the positive impact of having members like Escoto, who add unique perspectives and strengths to the force. 

Escoto also shared the boundaries he set and balanced his identity as an LGBTQ+ individual with his role as a member of the Air Force Reserve.

"Sa training jud seryoso jud ko as a member of PAFR. Military rules are very sensitive jud, especially kung unsa ilang standard; we need to follow jud. Kailangan man respeto jud ta [I take the training seriously as a member of PAFR. Military rules are highly sensitive, especially regarding their standards; we really need to adhere to them. Respect is essential],” says Chikita.

When asked about the changes or improvements he would like to see in terms of LGBTQ+ inclusion within the military, Chikita holds no opposition to the established military standards.

“They already have rules, and kailangan mag respeto ta. Okay na kayo ng gi-accept ta, dili nata mulabaw pa sa kung unsa ang na establish na [They already have rules, and we need to respect them. It is enough that we are accepted; we shouldn't go beyond what has already been established],” he asserts.

Escoto’s vision is to have a future where dual identities are not just accepted but celebrated and where individuals are valued for their skills and dedication, regardless of gender. 

The PAFR, with Escoto, shows that the skies are vast enough to accommodate the dreams and aspirations of every Filipino, regardless of age, gender, or sexual orientation. 

Escoto proved that the only limits that exist are the ones people impose on themselves. With his chin up, Chikita is challenging not only the limitations placed on the LGBTQ+ community but also the preconceived notions surrounding their capabilities.

Through determination, courage, and a commitment to breaking barriers, he is soaring to new heights, leaving a trail of inspiration for others to follow. Escoto is not just navigating the skies; he's rewriting the narrative for generations to come. (KAPG/PIA-10)

Sgt. Mhyljone Rhandy Escoto, one of the Philippine Air Force Reservists in Cagayan de Oro City, took flight into a new chapter, celebrating the culmination of rigorous training with pride and commitment at graduation ceremony. (Photo courtesy of PAF 8th Air Reserve Center)
Sgt Mhyljone Rhandy Escoto a.k.a Chikita Ssang cracked up the crowd with his comedic charisma in one of his comedy shows. (Photo courtesy of AMC Capture)

About the Author

Recthie Paculba

Regional Editor

Region 10

Camiguin Information Center Manager 

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