Advocates, gov’t agencies support refiled SOGIE bill
MANILA, Philippines – Groups advocating for the rights of the LGBTQ+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer+) community, together with numerous government agencies, threw their support behind the bills seeking to penalize discrimination against persons based on their SOGIE (sexual orientation, gender identity and expression) as the Senate reopened discussions on the bill on Monday, September 19.
Senators Risa Hontiveros, Loren Legarda, and Mark Villar refiled versions of the SOGIE Equality Bill in the 19th Congress. Senator Robinhood Padilla manifested his support in Monday’s hearing as well.
“While many claim that the Philippines is a country welcoming of the LGBTQIA+, news [is rife with] abuses and discrimination against them. And these are just cases that land in the news… So you can just imagine how many cases remain unaccounted for, and in many instances, [are] hidden and unspoken,” said Hontiveros, chairperson of the Senate committee on women, children, family relations, and gender equality.
There are several SOGIE anti-discrimination ordinances in local governments across the Philippines, but a national law remains lacking.
What’s at stake in schools, mental health
Mela Habijan, Miss Trans Global 2020 and an LGBTQ+ advocate, highlighted the struggles of LGBTQ+ students’ inclusion in schools that observe traditional values.
She told a story of four trans girls, Nicole, Jade, Kendi, and Rey, who were almost not allowed to have their graduation photos taken nor attend their graduation ceremonies because of the way they dressed.
With the reopening of face-to-face classes, Habijan said she has been receiving messages from queer students and teachers. “Their concern: as we go back to the face-to-face set up, will they be allowed to come to school in the gender that they identify as?” she said.
While the Department of Education has its 2017 gender responsive basic education policy which recognizes gender diversity and protects against gender-based discrimination, Habijan said not all school heads and personnel embrace this.
Habijan added that the Commission on Higher Education needs a strong legal basis, or a national law, to further strengthen inclusive policies in higher education institutions.
“Education is a human right; education should be for all. Many LGBTQIA+ members are skillful, smart, talented, and have goodwill. If you just let us be who we are, we will become our best and we can make vital contributions to our beloved Philippines,” Habijan said in a mix of English and Filipino.
Meanwhile, Marc Eric Reyes, president of the Psychological Association of the Philippines, said that LGBTQ+ community members who experience stigma, discrimination, and violence based on their SOGIE are bound to feel negative effects on their mental health and well-being throughout their lives. These include depression and suicidal tendencies.
“The experience of other countries shows that policies and legislation promoting equal rights and prohibiting discrimination can reduce stigma based on SOGIE and lead to better mental and physical health. Anti-discrimination legislation is associated with decreased risk for psychological and physical health problems and improved well-being among LGBT+ individuals,” said Reyes.
Philippines obligated to protect dignity of all
The push for an anti-discrimination bill is not out of pure advocacy for progressive values – lawyers in the hearing highlighted the state’s legal obligation to protect the dignity of all persons.
“As a state signatory to many international rights instruments, the Philippines is under a legal obligation to protect and accord full respect to the fundamental human rights of every person regardless of their SOGIESC. No less than the 1987 Constitution likewise mandates the state to value the dignity of every human person and guarantee full respect for human rights,” said Hendrix Bongalon of the University of the Philippines Gender Law and Policy Program (UP GLPP).
“Despite the unequivocal recognition and protection of the fundamental human rights of all persons of diverse SOGIESC in both domestic legislation and international law, and even in our existing jurisprudence, numerous cases of discrimination and hate crimes still exist in the Philippines,” Bongalon said, reiterating the UP GLPP’s support for the bills.
Representatives from the justice, health, technology, labor, and education departments all manifested their support to pass the SOGIE bill. They were joined by the Philippine Commission on Women and the Commission on Human Rights.
“The Department of Labor and Employment supports the purpose of these proposed measures which seek to address all forms of discrimination, marginalization, and violence on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or expression or sex characteristics,” said Mercy Apurado, officer-in-charge of the DOLE’s Women Workers Development Division.
Health Undersecretary Beverly Ho said that the SOGIE bill would enhance gender and development perspectives, and would help ensure a gender-responsive health system.
SOGIE bill opposition: Parenting interference, ‘child abuse’
A number of groups in the hearing, especially those that were religiously affiliated, strongly opposed the bill. They said that it would impose progressive beliefs on others who did not share them.
The Fellowship of Redeemed Sexually Disoriented Individuals, who said they have experienced same-sex attraction but “changed,” said that sexual preferences are a choice.
“Ang sexual preference ay hindi inborn. Ito ay isang acquired taste. Nade-develop ‘yan through the years (Sexual preferences are not inborn. This is an acquired taste. It is developed over the years),” said Cesar Buendia of the group.
“Kahit pa sabihin ng isang 12-year-old na siya ay 21 years old na, hindi pa rin siya pwede magmaneho, bumoto, pumasok sa nightclub, o uminom ng alak base lamang sa kanyang paniniwala na siya ay 21 na,” he added. (Even if a 12-year-old says he or she is 21 years old, they cannot drive, vote, enter a nightclub, or drink alcohol based on their belief that they are 21.)
Buendia claimed that teaching children sexuality will cause them to be “curious” and engage in “experimentation” of their sexuality.
“Pag pinag-eksperimentuhan niya ito at magustuhan, uulit ulitin niya ito, at kapag nakagawian na niya ito, paniniwalaan na niya na siya ay likas na ganoon na nga… [At] makukulong na siya sa paniniwala na siya ay ganoon na nga. Hindi ba child abuse na maituturing ang pagsaksak sa mura at maselang utak ng isang bata, ang sistema ng paniniwalang ito?” he said.
(And when they experiment with this and enjoy it, they will do it again and again, and when this becomes routine, they will believe that they are naturally like this. And they will be locked in with the belief that they are like this. Is this not child abuse, to force this system of beliefs into the young and delicate mind of a child?)
Benjamin Cruz of Living Waters Philippines meanwhile claimed that the SOGIE bill would interfere with parents’ rights in raising their children.
“SOGIE undermines parental authority. Under these bills, parents need to secure a family court order should they want their children to undergo any medical or psychological examination in matters related to SOGIE. Also in all those three bills, a parent discouraging his child to have a gender other than his biological sex consistent with his religious beliefs can be jailed,” said Cruz.
Cruz added that Living Waters is against any practice that discriminates against the LGBTQ+ community, but they only need “acceptance and compassion, not legislation.”
Jazz Tamayo of Rainbow Rights Philippines recognized opposing positions, but highlighted the bill’s intention pushing for equal treatment of all.
“I think many times it has been argued that the law is somehow giving special rights to people, that it’s sort of like giving an exception to the general rule, but to be honest, if you read all the provisions, it’s very clear that what it only promises is equality,” said Tamayo.
The SOGIE anti-discrimination bill has been languishing in Congress for more than 20 years. (TIMELINE: SOGIE equality in the Philippines) – Rappler.com