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Op-Ed

Challenge to Digong: Be the President who will champion the rights of LGBT Filipinos

For Pres. Rodrigo Roa Duterte, Yffar Manalili Aquino pens an open letter where he states that: “We are not asking for special rights, we are asking for equal rights, our human rights. We just want to be treated as humans. And as zealous as I am with your leadership, I am hopeful that you will be the President who will champion the rights of the LGBT community in the Philippines.”

Dear Mr. President Rodrigo Duterte,

I’ve been an avid fan ever since there were rumors of you running. I held on despite the roller coaster ride of your decision to run as the president of the country. I kept my firm belief in you even if the mudslinging has reached its peak. I am just one of those LGBTs who are more than eager to see the Mayor of Davao, be the President of the Country.

First, I would like to thank you for being the legal person to tell COMELEC last 2010 for Ladlad to be allowed to run as a party-list. I am grateful that you recognized our right to have representation as a marginalized community. Now, I am not representing the entire organization, or the entire LGBT community here; I am speaking just as an ordinary LGBT Filipino citizen who wishes change for the country, and uplift those who are oppressed and marginalized – this includes us, who continue to face hardships because of our sexual orientation and gender identity and expression.

Now that you are in power, let me – if I may – air out some LGBT-centric points.

  • It has been a seemingly endless struggle for Congress to pass a version of the Anti-Discrimination Bill. Despite various movements globally and the call from the United Nations to ensure equal rights, the Philippines still doesn’t have a national law protecting the basic human rights of LGBT people. We’ve experienced unequal treatment in employment, mistreated in academic institutions, humiliated in public, and some of us were even killed just because of us being “deviant” to the socially constructed binary gender norms dominant in this still highly conservative country. In your Presidency, we are hoping for you to urge the lawmakers to finally pass a national Anti-Discrimination Law. You’ve already done this in Davao.
  • We’ve been repeatedly told not to offend the sensibilities of traditional Christianity. So our approach in fighting for equal rights is supposed to discount same-sex marriage because we are still a Christian country. But Mr. President, you’ve shown your courage to face even the church leaders (even if you’ve been an ally to some religious groups, as well); so many of the Filipino people still followed you and voted for you. With your strong will and influence, it is quite possible for us to have, if not same-sex marriage, at least civil union so that our relationships are recognized by the State. This is to safeguard our relationships; the homes we build with loved ones. Help us gain the right to be with our loved ones and experience the same social benefits that heterosexual couples are privileged to have.
  • We are also seeking for more employment and livelihood programs for our LGBT brethren. In many cases, the LGBT members of the Filipino family are breadwinners, and we would like to fulfill our duties and give a better life to our families. We do not want us to be restricted to the stereotypical jobs given to LGBT people, but have more dignified profession without suppressing who we are. I know you understand how having means to live (and not depend on dole outs) is an empowerment that everyone – including LGBT people – deserves. So with this, help uplift the lives of the LGBT people in the grassroots.
  • This may not be for the benefit of the LGBT community alone, but for heterosexual Filipinos as well: but let us have a better implementation of the Reproductive Health Law and – while at it – ensure a stronger campaign to reduce HIV infections in the country. On this (particularly as it greatly affects the LGBT community), many people are dying and the government hasn’t been that effective in reducing the HIV cases in the country. It is a very serious matter already and we cannot turn our backs to those who could have still been living to celebrate your victory as the leader of the country.
  • Lastly, please have a dialogue with us. The LGBT community’s needs are so diverse that each sector has its own issues and concerns, e.g. the trans community is fighting for gender recognition. You would understand us more if there is constant dialogue between us and your office. It would be a good avenue to express how we feel. You will also be astonished as to how LGBT Filipinos can be of service to the nation building if given the chance.

We are not asking for special rights, we are asking for equal rights, our human rights. We just want to be treated as humans. And as zealous as I am with your leadership, I am hopeful that you will be the President who will champion the rights of the LGBT community in the Philippines.

Sincerely yours,

Yffar Manalili Aquino
LGBT Advocate

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Because of his name, Yffar Manalili Aquino (or just Yffar) is often mistaken as a Middle Eastern guy - that is, until people realize that "Yffar" is actually "Raffy" spelled backwards. He took up Bachelor of Secondary Education Major in Biology at De La Salle University Manila where he had to kill and study the remains of frogs and cats just to pass his Zoology and Comparative Anatomy Class. He aced his Religion courses but became agnostic instead, sometimes enjoying being a Wiccan and mastering astrology. He identifies himself as a cisgender bisexual man, which causes other people to raise their eyebrows because he is sometimes effeminate or androgynous. He believes that his sexual orientation is his personal business whether you agree or not. Yffar loves growing his facial hairs. He started his LGBT advocacy in 2006 when he founded a texting clan named "Boys Legion", started "Rainbow Bloggers Philippines", and joined Ladlad and Task Force Pride. Currently , he is the co-founder of Equality Ph and Side B Philippines. He is also a marketing guy for Outrage Magazine. A lot of work? Not nearly enough, Yffar said, after a decade of being an advocate. He wanted to become a teacher but ended up being a recruiter or a headhunter- enjoying hunting heads and giving... Jobs! From above jobs and below jobs. He can give you any job you want any time and any place! He loves giving trainings and seminars on Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Expression (SOGIE), Diversity and Inclusivity (DNI) in the workplace, and other LGBT thingies!

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