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Probe Team (Or: When PHILJA looked at LGBT issues)

Fresh from a impeachment trial that rocked its leadership, the Philippine Supreme Court is set to explore more tumultuous terrain, this time for introducing an innovation to address human rights concerns of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender citizens of the country.

Fresh from a impeachment trial that rocked its leadership, the Philippine Supreme Court is set to explore more tumultuous terrain, this time for introducing an innovation to address human rights concerns of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender citizens of the country.

The tribunal’s Philippine Judicial Academy (PHILJA) conducted in September a focus group discussion on the LGBT sector, a groundbreaking attempt of the judicial branch of government to address human rights concerns of the LGBT in the wake of similar steps taken by the executive and legislative branches to address gaps in law, programs, and resources.

The discussion was made possbile by the United States Department of Justice Criminal Division and its Office of the Overseas Prosecutorial Development, Assistance and Training (OPDAT).

Members of the LGBT groups, human rights NGOs and Congress were invited to contribute inputs as basis for the training curriculum for judges with the aim of enhancing their understanding of LGBT issues, including Rep. Teddy Casiño of Bayan Muna, the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC), GALANG, Rainbow Rights Project, Pink Watch, ProGay, EngdeRights, Task Force Pride and Outrage Magazine.

Hon. Adolfo Azcuna, PHILJA’s Chancellor, said the activity was opportune for judges because they can have special leadership roles in defending the dignity and equality of LGBTs before the law.

In the lively exchange of legal opinions and numerous social research data facilitated by retired Supreme Court Administrator Hon. Zenaida Elepaño, the discussions between judges, court personnel and the LGBT leaders listed many action points for resolving past jurisprudence that affected the LGBT community.

Some sticky sore points brought up by transgender activists include the SC decision on Silverio vs. Republic of the Philippines that denied their right to change their gender in their birth records and passports.

Hon. Delilah Vidallon Magtolis, academic affairs officer of PHILJA, said that the judges’ organization can try to instill gender sensitivity of judges all over the country to have better appreciation of sexual orientation and gender identity in future rulings. Meanwhile, Hon. Geraldine Faith A. Econg, the Supreme Court’s Judicial Reform Program Administrator, said that LGBTs can possibly benefit from more inclusive rulings on questions of the Family Code in order to accomodate same-sex couples who seek protection of their rights on joint properties and child custody.

IGLHRC’s Ging Cristobal and Anne Lim of GALANG provided a simplified overview of sex and gender concepts that judges can consider in making rulings that concern legal definitions of sexuality.

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The author, Oscar Atadero of ProGay, proposed that PHILJA and the Supreme Court expand the mainstreaming of the Yogyarkarta Principles, a compilation of provisions from international human rights covenant, as basis for LGBT-compliant rulings and jurisprudence.

Atty. Claire Padilla of the Engenderights legal advocates office said that judges can start becoming fairer to lesbian mothers who sue for child custody by ruling on strictly legal basis and not making moral judgments against homosexuality.

The focused group discussion produced sweeping resolutions for future PHILJA actions that include producing education modules on sexuality and gender and LGBT social issues.

Incorporating concepts of sexual orientation and gender identity in trainings on subjects such as family courts, international law and commercial courts were suggested. Searching for best practices of judicial decisions on LGBT issues will help PHILJA produce publications that can help judges make creative means of resolving cases involving LGBT issues.

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