Agusan del Norte has become one of the still few locations in the Philippines to pass an anti-discrimination ordinance (ADO) that protects people irrespective of their sexual orientation and gender identity and expression (SOGIE), with the approval of Provincial Ordinance No. 358-2014 on July 21, 2014. The ordinance similarly prohibits discrimination in the province of Agusan del Norte on the basis of age, disability, ethnicity, health status, physical appearance, political affiliation, religion, and social status.
The ordinance was a work in progress since 2013, according to Ysang Semacio Bacasmas, executive officer of Ladlad Caraga Inc., who helped push for the ADO to be passed, with the original draft submitted last September 18, 2013 to the Sangguniang Panglalawigan of Agusan del Norte.
Even early on, Bacasmas said that the initiative was supported by Governor Ma. Angelica Amante-Matba, Vice Governor Ramon AG Bungabong, and SB member Elizabeth Marie R. Calo, all partners of Ladlad Caraga Inc. in its province-wide efforts.
“Pushing for this ADO to pass was challenging, mainly because the ordinance (touches on a very) sensitive issue for many people,” Bacasmas said. But “getting the support that we did was great.”
Agusan del Norte is one of the 79 provinces of the Philippines, and is one of the four provinces comprising the Caraga Region (Region XIII). Within its territory are 11 municipalities, namely: Cabadbaran, Buenavista, Carmen, Jabonga, Kitcharao, Las Nieves, Magallanes, Nasipit, Remedios T. Romualdez, Santiago, and Tubay. Within these municipalities, there are 167 barangays.
The ordinance – known as the Agusan del Norte Anti-Discrimination Ordinance – “recognizes as a policy… to value the dignity of every human person and guarantee full respect of human rights to promote equality and to effectively eliminate all forms of discrimination that violate and offend the guarantee of equal protection of human rights as enshrined in the Philippine Constitution and other existing laws, as well as in various international conventions and agreements to which the countries adheres and is signatory.”
Liability lies not only on the actual violator, but also on “any person who requests, instructs, induces, encourages, authorizes or assists another to commit acts of discrimination.”
Prohibited acts include: denial of services; refusing admission/dismissal from educational institutions; denial of access to use private and public establishments, facilities and utilities; employment rejection; publication and/or use of derogatory/humiliating images and/or statements against persons; and uploading/posting of images and/or videos online to debase and humiliate a person.
The ordinance mandates the creation of anti-discrimination councils within one year of the effectivity of the ordinance. Specifically, to “ensure the effective implementation of this ordinance, the local chief executives are… mandated to issue executive orders organizing their respective local anti-discrimination mediation and conciliation councils.” These councils are tasked to receive complaints concerning violations of any provisions of the ADO. They are also expected to “exert all efforts to exhaust all available means to mediate or conciliate the parties to the end (so that) judicial, quasi-judicial, prosecutorial and administrative actions are avoided.”
In case cases are not resolved, however, penalties for violators of the ADO include: a fine of P1,000 and/or imprisonment for one to 30 days for the first offense; P3,000 and/or imprisonment for one to 30 days; and P5,000 and/or imprisonment for one to 30 days for the third offense.
For Bacasmas, a key provision of the ADO that she is happy was included was the “emphasis on how we should not be denied access to programs and services,” she said. For her, this may not seem like a big thing, but this is something that “many LGBTQIA people face on a day-to-day basis.”
With the ordinance now passed, Ladlad Caraga Inc. is already pushing the Sangguniang Panglalawigan of Agusan del Norte to draft the implementing rules and regulations (IRR) to “ensure that this can already be put into actual use,” she said. “The next step is to make sure that there is no more discrimination happening, especially to the LGBTQIA people.”
Bacasmas added: “I feel very happy and at least we now have this that can help our brothers and sisters in the LGBTQIA community. Sa ating mga kapwa LGBT, sana tuloy pa rin ang laban para sa matiwasay at kaaya-ayang pamumuhay (To our fellow LGBTs, hopefully we continue the fight for us to have a peaceful and good lives).”