The year 2017 marked numerous LGBTQI-related developments in these parts of the world.
On a more positive note, this was perhaps, and arguably, first stressed on May 24, when Taiwan’s highest court, the Judicial Yuan, ruled that limiting marriage to between only a man and a woman was unconstitutional, thereby voting in support of marriage equality. With this, Taiwan makes history as the first Asian country to vote in favor of marriage equality.
Then in November, Australians voted in favor of allowing same-sex couples to get married, with nearly 62% of respondents to a postal survey voting “Yes”, according to results released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics. This led to the marriage equality law passing Australia’s parliament on December 7.
But there (obviously) remain numerous anti-LGBTQI developments. In Indonesia, for instance, Arus Pelangi and Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported about the establishment of an anti-LGBT taskforce since LGBT people are seen to be suffering from a “disease of body and soul”; just as raids on LGBT people are becoming common.
Then in May, the government of a supposedly “progressive” Singapore started barring foreigners from joining the annual Pink Dot LGBT rights rally (now, only allow Singaporean citizens and permanent residents to attend).
That despite the progress made, much remains to be done goes without saying. And the Philippines may best highlight this.
Here are some of the LGBTQI-related occurrences marking 2017 in the Philippines.
- 4TH LGBT NATIONAL CONFERENCE
Gathering members – and leaders – of the local LGBTQI community continues to be challenging in the Philippines, with (to date) only four national conferences held here. Every conference is, in fact, serving as just a catching up, considering the number of years between the conferences (the first one happened in 1997, followed by the second in 2011, and the third in 2013).
Themed “Pasigarbo sa Pagkatawo (Behold our Identity)”, the 4th national conference was the first time it was held outside of Luzon (and Metro Manila); and – picking up where the 3rd national conference left off – was the first time to include voices of so-called minorities in the already minority LGBT community, e.g. senior LGBTQI people, differently-abled, LGBTQI people who belong to indigenous communities, and perspectives from people of faith/non-faith, among others.
The plan is to make the national gathering more regular; with participants eventually taught how-to’s in their pro-LGBTQI works.
For the first time in 11 years, the anti-discrimination bill (ADB; this time via House Bill No. 4982, otherwise known as the SOGIE Equality Bill) passed the third and final reading in the House of Representatives.
HB 4982 cites as discriminatory:
- Denial of access to public services
- Including SOGIE as a criteria for hiring or dismissal of workers
- Refusing admission or expelling students in schools based on SOGIE
- Imposing disciplinary actions that are harsher than customary due to the student’s SOGIE
- Refusing or revoking accreditation of organizations based on the SOGIE of members
- Denying access to health services
- Denying the application for professional licenses and similar documents
- Denying access to establishments, facilities, and services open to the general public
- Forcing a person to undertake any medical or psychological examination to determine or alter one’s SOGIE
- Harassment committed by persons involved in law enforcement
- Publishing information intended to “out” or reveal the SOGIE of a person without consent
- Engaging in public speech which intends to shame or ridicule LGBTQ+ persons
- Subjecting persons to harassment motivated by the offenders bias against the offended party’s
- SOGIE, which may come in the form of any medium, including telecommunications and social media
- Subjecting any person to gender profiling
- Preventing a child under parental authority from expressing one’s SOGIE by inflicting or threatening to inflict bodily or physical harm or by causing mental or emotional suffering
Any person who commits any discriminatory practice enumerated in the bill may be penalized by a fine of not less than P100,000 but not more than P500,000; or jailed for no less than one year but not more than six years or both, at the discretion of the court. The court may also impose upon a person found to have committed any of the prohibited acts the rendition of community service in terms of attendance in human rights education and familiarization with and exposure to the plight of the victims.
The bill was championed by Bataan Rep. Geraldine Roman, Dinagat Islands Rep. Kaka Bag-ao, Akbayan Party-List Rep. Tom Villarin, AAMBIS-OWA Party-List Rep. Sharon Garin, Negros Ocicidental Rep. Mercedes Alvarez, An Waray Party-List Rep. Victoria Noel, Pangasinan Rep. Toff de Venecia, Bataan Rep. Henedina Abad, among others.
This isn’t going to become law soon, with the landmark bill still awaiting a counterpart version in the Senate.
Still in the Lower House, Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez filed House Bill (HB) No. 6595, titled the Civil Partnership Act, which seeks to allow consenting adults “of either the same or opposite sex” to form “civil partnership couples” that enjoy “all benefits and protections … granted to spouses in a marriage.”
“Ultimately, at the core of a civil partnership are two fully consenting adults who, like many Filipinos, merely wish to love, care and support each other as they build a life together during their fleeting time here on earth. It is about time that the Philippine government grant couple, whether they are of opposite or of the same sex, adequate legal instruments to recognize their partnerships, respecting their dignity and recognizing their equality before the law,” the explanatory note of the bill states.
HB 6595 similarly seeks to give same-sex couples the rights to marital relations, rights to a child and intestate succession or inheritance, tax benefits and labor privileges (e.g. Social Security System, Government Service Insurance System, Philippine Health Insurance Corp. and other state agencies). Civil partnership couples would also be bound by the marital communication privilege, which prohibits them from testifying against the other.
Under this bill, no one can enter into a civil partnership unless he/she is at least 18 years old and “free from any previous bond of marriage or civil partnership.” Couples should have shared a “common domicile” for at least two uninterrupted years during the time of application for a license, and their relationship should be “publicly known.”
The bill also lists down “unlawful or discriminatory employment practices”, including refusal to hire on the basis of civil partnership status and imposes a penalty of P100,000 to P500,000.
For dissolution of civil partnerships that do not work, the grounds for legal separation, annulment and declaration of nullity of marriages will be applicable.
HB 6595 is co-sponsored by Reps. Geraldine Roman, the country’s first transgender lawmaker; Raneo Abu; Frederick Abueg; Len Alonte-Naguiat; Sandra Eriguel; Gwendolyn Garcia; Sharon Garin; Victoria Isabel Noel; and Eric Singson.
- NUMBER OF PRIDE CELEBRATIONS IS GROWING
If the numbers of people joining Pride gatherings are “markers” of how far the LGBTQI community is going, then we’re headed in the right direction. Yes, Metro Manila already has a commercialized Pride (this year held – for the first time – in Marikina City), aside from Pride in Quezon City, Baguio City, et cetera. But this year, the rainbow flag also rose in Cebu City for the first Visayas-wide Pride March; city of Zamboanga which held its first Pride March; and the city of San Juan, among others.
- NUMBER OF ADO IS GROWING
In the absence of a national law prohibiting discrimination against LGBTQI people in the Philippines (this year, no thanks to the slow movement in the Senate), the number of anti-discrimination ordinances (ADOs) is growing. They are not all “equal” – e.g. some only protect LGBTQI people in employment-related discrimination, while others are more comprehensive, offering protection in all forms of discrimination based on SOGIE. But that localized efforts are thriving still matter.
In September, Ilocos Sur joined the growing number of local government units (LGUs) in the Philippines with an anti-discrimination ordinance, with the province’s “gender-fair ordinance” approved on final reading by the Provincial Board. Principally sponsored by Atty. Pablito Sanidad, Ilocos Sur’s ADO mimics Quezon City’s version of ADO, which focuses on the sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression, compared to other ADO versions that lump the LGBT community with other minority sectors (e.g. indigenous peoples, people living with HIV, persons with disability, seniors) as this approach is deemed more palatable to those who may oppose passing an ADO.
In October, the City of San Juan in Metro Manila became the newest addition to LGUs in the Philippines with an ordinance that declares it unlawful to discriminate against LGBT people. City Ordinance No. 55 was the brainchild of Vice Mayor Janella Ejercito Estrada and was sponsored by Councilor Mary Joy Ibuna-Leoy; it was approved on third and final reading after it was co-authored by all the city councilors and was passed unanimously. It now awaits the signature of the city’s mayor, Guia Gomez.
To date, LGUs with ADOs now include:
- Angeles City, Pampanga
- Antipolo City
- Bacolod City
- Baguio City
- Batangas City
- Butuan City
- Candon City, Ilocos Sur
- Cebu City
- Dagupan City
- Davao City
- General Santos City
- Mandaue City
- Quezon City (in 2003 and in 2014)
- Puerto Princesa City
- Vigan City
- Municipality of San Julian, Eastern Samar
- Barangay Bagbag, Quezon City
- Barangay Greater Lagro, Quezon City
- Barangay Pansol, Quezon City
- Province of Agusan del Norte
- Province of Batangas
- Province of Cavite
- Province of Iloilo
- Province of Dinagat Islands
There are also pro-LGBTQI policies (not ADOs). In July, for example, Laoag City’s Office of the City Administrator released a memorandum directing all of the city’s heads of offices and employees not to use derogatory words to address, call and describe LGBT co-employees. The memorandum, released by Laoag City Administrator John Michael Fariñas, is said to be in line with the city government’s support to the LGBT community and the push for the enactment of the anti-discrimination bill into law. It specifically directs all heads and employees to practice and put to heart a simple way of showing respect by not using the terms “bakla“, “tomboy” or “transgender” to address and/or describe persons of the LGBT community to “practice and maintain respectful attitude or behavior towards everyone regardless of gender.” The memorandum also stated that if a person prefers to use a specific pronoun (i.e. “he” or “she”), then the person should be called and treated accordingly. Employees who are found violating the directive will be charged administratively for conduct unbecoming, disrespect, and insubordination.
- NUMBER OF LGBTQI COMMUNITY MEMBERS WITH HIV IS GROWING
Members of the LGBTQI community – particularly gay and bi men – continue to be greatly affected by HIV in the Philippines.
In September 2017 (when the latest data was released by the HIV/AIDS & ART Registry of the Philippines or HARP), there were 936 new HIV cases. Most (97%) were male.
Yes, the Filipinos getting infected with HIV are getting younger. In September 2017, 286 (31%) cases were among youth aged 15-24 years. But 96% of the cases were male. Ninety-nine percent (283) were infected through sexual contact (31 male-female sex, 182 male-male sex, 70 sex with both males and females), two were infected through sharing of injected needles, and there was one who have no data on mode of transmission.
It is worth noting that from 1984 to 2009, the predominant mode of HIV transmission in the Philippines was male-female sex. But beginning 2010, the trend spiked to male-male sex as the predominant mode of transmission and has continually increased since then. In the past five years, from January 2012 to September 2017, 82% (32,424) of new infections through sexual contact were among men who have sex with men.
Now, as the cliché goes, what 2018 will bring to the LGBTQI community remains to be seen.