The Anti-discrimination Bill (ADB) that will protect the human rights of LGBTQI Filipinos may not see the light of day. This is considering the current pace of its (non)development in the Senate, where it continues to languish.
(Re)filed in the 17th Congress on December 7, 2016 as Senate Bill No. 1271 by Sen. Risa Hontiveros, the legislative status of the ADB is still listed as “Pending Second Reading, Special Order (12/14/2016)” in the official website of the Philippine Senate. As per the office of Sen. Hontiveros, SB 1271 is still only up for interpellation in the Senate.
Meanwhile, its counterpart in the Lower House (the House Bill No. 4982, otherwise known as the SOGIE Equality Bill) was already passed on September 20, 2017. This was the first time it went this far in 11 years.
HB 4982 – sponsored 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 – was passed in the House of Representatives after only over a year. In total, the bill got the nod of 197 congresspeople, with none opposing it.
The very first ADB was filed in the 11th Congress by Akbayan partylist Representative Etta Rosales. That version of the bill was approved on third and final reading in the 12th Congress, but failed to gain traction in the Senate. It was again only in 2006, during the 13th Congress, when the ADB reached second reading.
Sans progress in the Senate, SB 1271 now seems bound to follow the path taken by Rosales’ bill almost 20 years ago.
In a statement released to Outrage Magazine, Hontiveros said: “We must imagine a future in which hate has no place. The SOGIE Equality Bill has been filed and re-filed in the Philippines Congress for the past 19 years. Now is the time to enact this important piece of legislation.”
Hontiveros added: “I welcome the House of Representatives’ final nod to its version of the bill and likewise urge my colleagues in the Senate for us to catch up. It is our commitment to human rights, equality and fairness to all.”
WRONG NOTIONS OF ANTI-DISCRIMINATION
Too many people ERRONEOUSLY associate the ADB with legislating marriage equality in the Philippines. In fact, the ADB only eyes to prevent discrimination from happening to ALL PEOPLE irrespective of their sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression – here, including heterosexual people, who also have SOGIE and should also not experience discrimination because of their being straight.
In the case of HB 4982, cited as discriminatory are:
- 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.
But pessimism is already invading the ranks.
According to Bubsie Faustino L Sabarez III, national chairman of LGBT Pilipinas, “expected ko na po na malabong makapasa sa Senate ang ADB (I already expected for the ADB not to pass in the Senate),” he said.
For Sabarez, a big part of this is Hontiveros herself, the sponsor of the bill, who is among the main detractors of Pres. Rodrigo Duterte since she belongs to the opposition party. The ADB – in this sense – is now something that is “from (the realm of the) political to politicized”, thereby unfortunately seemingly leaving LGBTQI Filipinos as just political fodder.
For Aaron Bonette of Bahaghari Center for SOGIE Research, Education and Advocacy (Bahaghari Center), politicians are largely to blame because “pinapairal nila ang personal beliefs and interests nila instead na isulong ang interes at karapatan ng mga taumbayan – ang LGBTQI community, in this case (They prioritize advancing their personal beliefs and interests instead of advancing the interests and rights of the people – the LGBTQI community in this particular case).”
For Bonette, this is sad because “this is a manifestation that legislation is often only made to benefit those who make them.”
FULL OF EXASPERATION?
Naomi Fontanos, who heads Gender and Development Advocates (GANDA) Filipinas, said that, “politically, we have the numbers as there are more supportive senators than those opposing it.” And so for her, “it seems to me that the delay is hypocritical (particularly) if you look at the senators who are causing the delay. Sen. Vicente Sotto III is from the showbiz industry peopled by lots of LGBTIQ folks. Sen. Manny Pacquiao keeps saying he has LGBTIQ people in staff. And Sen. Joel Villanueva even released a message for Pride month. So why then are they delaying passage of the SOGIE Equality Bill in the Senate, which, when passed into law, will provide badly needed protection to LGBTIQ Filipinos from discrimination?”
Fontanos added that “in the case of Sen. Villanueva, it is much worse since he is listed as a co-author of the bill.”
From Mindanao, Ash Gevera of the United Lesbians of Davao said that “in all honesty, this is very frustrating.” For Gevera, “I honestly think it is not fair that the Senate could allocate time entertaining (Sen. Antonio) Trillanes’ triviality and not give time to actually pass this bill which is far way more important that Trillanes’ PowerPoint presentations. I also do not also appreciate how Sen. Manny Pacquiao is able to preach about having only two kinds of people in the Philippines who should have rights (i.e. babae at lalaki).”
The dilly-dallying, said Gevera, is unnecessary. “They should already just pass the ADB,” she said. “We LGBTQI people (exist). That’s a fact. We should be dealt with rightfully. We also deserve to have our rights.”
“The passing of the SOGIE Bill is not a discriminatory bill to non-LGBT believers, but rather, it is a move towards advancing and strengthening the protection of the underprivileged and most commonly abused members of the society elsewhere. It is significantly similar as the bills we pass in connection to protecting the rights of the Lumads, and even those who do not have any religion,” said Alvin Toni Gee Fernandez of Mujer-LGBT Organization in Zamboanga City. “It is highly imperative that we take into consideration the existence of human rights violations and abuses towards the member of the LGBTQI+ community, which leads to one basic connotation; the existing human rights law is not enough to protect those belonging to the community herein mentioned – different from the argument raised by the protesters. To add further, Section 11, Article 2 of the 1987 Philippine Constitution on State Policies provide that The State values the dignity of every human person and guarantees full respect for human rights.”
Fernandez added that “laws and religion, especially in our country, must relatively and separately stand as it is enshrined in our constitution that the state shall have no religion, and as such, must not be dictated by any religious organization.”
Fontanos believes LGBTQI Filipinos need to be more proactive in pushing for the passage of the ADB.
For instance for her, “it is time for the LGBTIQ people who work with these senators to wake up and challenge and call out Sen. Sotto, Sen. Pacquiao and Sen. Villanueva on their hypocrisy,” she said, adding that “I would especially like to appeal to people in the showbiz industry. One of you is preventing the LGBTIQ community from achieving equality and perpetuating the injustices we face in our daily lives by blocking the SOGIE Equality Bill in the Senate. Are you/they aware of this?”
Fontanos added that “Sen. Sotto is okay to host Super Sireyna but will look the other way when those transwomen are denied work, education and basic dignity.”
Fontanos said that, theoretically, “the LGBTIQ community should be boycotting Super Sireyna in protest. But of course, that won’t happen because many LGBTIQ folk are all too willing to cooperate in their oppression, which is unfortunate.”
Also from Mindanao, Jim Casamayor Ofonda of Diosa ng Kutabato said that “should the ADB not progress in the Senate, we’d be back to square one (in the next Congress).” And here, “we can blame these senators who claim to be for us ONLY when it serves their purpose; and then attack us when they no longer need us.”
But Ofonda said that “we also shoulder a large part of the blame – for trusting ‘allies’ who are really only there just to promote their personal interests; for putting people in positions of power, only for them to attack us when we’re no longer useful to them; for not calling these people out for putting their self-interests ahead of what’s right.”
Exactly because he is already disheartened by the non-action on the ADB in the Senate, Sabarez said that – in the case of LGBT Pilipinas – the approach is now not to focus on the national level. Instead, “it is to go to local government units (LGUs) to persuade them to adopt anti-discrimination ordinances (ADOs).” Thus far, they have been finding success in promoting the human rights of LGBTQI people in such localities as the City of San Juan. “Ang atake natin ay sa ibaba habang wala pang malinaw na batas sa national level (We’re starting at the grassroots while there’s no law yet on the national level),” he said.
In a statement provided to Outrage Magazine, DAKILA stated that “we urge everyone to continue pushing for equality in the society by upholding our basic human rights. We demand that the SOGIE Equality Bill (Anti-Discrimination Bill) be passed at the senate level. We demand that the ADB be signed as law. We demand the equal protection of everyone’s rights, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, and expression.”
Bahaghari Center’s Bonette said that “we can only overcome the challenge (of ensuring that ADB is passed) through collective action. Pressure the legislators; don’t vote for those who hate us; stop supporting the haters; and hold those who deny us our rights accountable.”