“We were seven in the family including our parents. We used to live in the site where this huge mall is now located. We were relocated to Montalban, Rizal. We were showed the land where we could build our own homes after we got demolished and were given a chance to pay it off through mortgage financing. Nearly all affected families were relocated, but a lesbian couple who were our neighbors was told that they were not entitled to a home in the relocation site. We found out that the survey-takers who were in charge of identifying qualified families excluded the couple because they were both women.”
As quoted in Policy Audit: Social Protection Policies and Urban Poor LBTs in the Philippines, by Anne Marie Lim and Charisse M. Jordan, 2013
“While the benefits of poverty reduction strategies, policies, and related budgets are assumed to reach all citizens, development agencies and governments rarely record the impact of their policies and programming on the well-being of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people marginalized because of their sexuality nor do they tend to factor it into their policy planning. As a result, these policies can be less than optimal.”
This is according to GALANG Philippines, a lesbian-led feminist human rights organization that works with urban poor lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (LBT) people who struggle with the multiple oppressions of class, poverty, sex, gender identity/expression, and sexual orientation. GALANG Philippines – helmed by the organization’s founding director, Anne Lim, along with Charisse M. Jordan – recently conducted five policy audits to “illustrate how people of marginalized sexualities are unjustly deprived of the full benefit of poverty reduction strategies.”
A report – entitled Policy Audit: Social Protection Policies and Urban Poor LBTs in the Philippines – looked at seven specific protection laws: Solo Parents’ Welfare Act of 2000 (or Republic Act 8972, and its Implementing Rules and Regulations); Social Security Act of 1997 (RA 8282); Philippine Government Service Insurance System Act of 1997 (RA 8291, and its IRR); National Health Insurance Act of 1995 (RA 7875, as amended by RA 9241, and its IRR); Home Development Mutual Fund Law of 2009 (RA 9679, and its IRR); and the Urban Development and Housing Act of 1992 (RA 7279, and its IRR, as well as the regulations to govern Section 18 of the Act).
The report highlighted how “gaps in Philippine family law and social protection policies disadvantage urban poor LBTs.”
The Philippine-specific audit of policies is only one of the five-country project and the other audits also made by China, Brazil, India, and South Africa.
In the Philippines, in particular, a key issue raised is the still pervasive way of looking at homosexuality and lesbianism as “deviance.” In fact, under the law, Article 46 of the country’s Family Code implicitly mention homosexuality and lesbianism – along with drug addiction and habitual alcoholism, among others – as grounds for annulment of heterosexual marriage. Homosexuality and lesbianism are also grounds for filing of legal separation, along with repeated physical violence, prostituting one’s spouse or their child, drug addiction or habitual alcoholism, and sexual infidelity or perversion (Art. 55). These, therefore, imply that there is something negative about being LGBT; thereby instigating the “standardization of heteronormativity”.
This stresses “heterosexuality as representing the ‘normal’, (while) homosexuality has been treated as a negative term,” feminist lesbian activist Giney Villar was quoted as saying in the report.
Not surprisingly, while many of those who were interviewed for the report said that they consider their same-sex partners as parts of their respective families, they remain wary. Twenty-five year old Blanche Millama, for instance, fears that her relationship for five years with her female partner “could just as easily disintegrate because the law does not allow them to get married like heterosexual couples,” the report stated.
Also touching on this is the Solo Parents’ Welfare Act of 2000, which disadvantages parents of non-traditional sexual orientation and gender identity and expression (SOGIE). According to lesbian rights activist Germaine Trittle Leonin, the Solo Parents’ Welfare Act “poses limitations for LGBT families.”
“We are at a disadvantaged position. Our partnerships are never recognized. Our children’s welfare is in danger. Solo parents’ law negates joint parenthood of LGBT couples,” Leonin was quoted as saying in the report.
Not surprisingly, LGBT partners are also not recognized as dependants or beneficiaries of financial institutions (like the Social Security System, and the Government Service Insurance System) providing social insurance to Filipinos.
Andielyn Ramos, for instance, wanted to name her partner as her beneficiary, but “I was told that I could not put my partner as my beneficiary because she was just my live-in partner. Besides, she was also a woman just like me,” she was quoted as saying by the report.
GALANG Philippines noted in the report that those in non-traditional families “whose choices of dependants or beneficiaries may be severely restricted by the law’s heteronormative biases and traditions”.
In the same vein, a same-sex life partner can not be protected as a “dependent spouse” under the National Health Insurance Act of 1995 (otherwise known as PhilHealth Law). “With this… women from minority groups, such as LBTs, are left to fend for themselves as they are excluded from the government’s health insurance program.” And so, according to GALANG Philippines, “a vulnerable sector is subjected to even further marginalization.”
And then there is the continuing failure to include members of the LGBT community in housing.
In 2010, GALANG Philippines reviewed survey results of “relocatees” – i.e. households to be prioritized for resettlement as soon as private landowners claiming a property obtained court orders for eviction and demolition. The organization noted that two lesbian-headed households – one composed of an elderly couple who had lived together in the site for more than two decades – were not recognized in the survey results. Specifically to refer to these lesbian couples, the listing showed that only one person lived in their particular dwelling unit, “effectively making these women’s families of choice invisible.”
GALANG Philippines admitted that many continue to view social protection policies as secondary to access to employment, among other more immediate concerns. However, the recognition of same-sex relationships could help LGBT people in the long term.
“While this audit falls short of encouraging same-sex couples to push for marriage equality in the Philippines solely for the purpose of gaining access to social protection… it must be said that having the option to get married would certainly allow Filipino LBTs and their families more opportunities to escape poverty,” the report stated. “This is consistent with the view of many focus group participants that, if given the chance, they would definitely want to marry their same-sex partners, not only to have improved access to public insurance, but also to enjoy the feeling of security and acceptance that comes with societal recognition.”
Already, GALANG Philippines is forwarding numerous proposals. These include: making amendments to the Family Code’s definitions of marriage and family, as well as in the definitions of dependants and beneficiaries of select protection policies to include LGBT people; holding dialogues and training for policy implementers for SOGIE sensitivity; and the expansion of awareness of women’s and LGBT groups on the economic implications of exclusion and discrimination of sexual minorities. It similarly proposes the conduct of heteronormativity audits to analyze other social legislations that may affect LGBT people’s lives.
Visit Policy Audit: Social Protection Policies and Urban Poor LBTs in the Philippines for more information.