By Atty. Clara Rita Padilla
In November 2011, the senate passed on third reading SB 2814. This bill seeks to prevent discrimination, profiling, violence and all forms of intolerance against persons based on ethnicity, race, religion or belief, sex, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, language, disability or other status.
The bicameral conference committee meetings could have been called since December 2011 and yet, despite the lapse of more than one year, no bicameral conference committee meetings have been conducted. We fervently hope that the bicameral conference committee will immediately meet so the senate version of the bill will be approved when Congress holds session in July 2013.
The bill recognizes acts of religious and ethnic intolerance as acts of discrimination. It seeks to end racial, religious, and ethnic profiling including arrests of religious and ethnic minorities based on trumped- up charges. It prohibits discrimination not merely based on, inter alia, employment and education to eliminate various types of discrimination. The bill ensures the right to equality and non-discrimination including in employment, education, and adequate housing, among others, and includes provisions on public information and education to contribute towards preventing discrimination.
The bill also prohibits discrimination based on health status such as living with HIV. Instead of halting the transmission of HIV in the Philippines, our country has been unsuccessful in its efforts against HIV/AIDs. Part of the reason why there is continued increase in HIV incidence is because of the lack of sexuality education where children, adolescents, and young people can learn about gender relations, safe sex and risky sexual behavior. Anyone who engages in risky sexual behavior and does not practice safe sex is at risk for HIV transmission. People living with HIV are vulnerable to discrimination because of their health status, hence, the need to immediately pass this Anti-Discrimination Law.
The bill recognizes that people are discriminated based on their sexual orientation and gender identity. There is widespread discrimination against lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgenders (LGBTs) in the Philippines, yet no national law explicitly prohibits LGBTs from discrimination. There are anti-discrimination bills on sexual orientation pending in the 15th Congress, but none has yet been passed into law.
All over the Philippines, there is evidence that there is an increase in number of hate crimes against LGBTs. This is indeed cause for alarm and signals the urgency to pass laws eliminating discrimination against and promoting equality of LGBTs. The fact that the anti-discrimination bill has not been passed into law mirrors a society where many have not stood up for the rights of LGBTs to equality and non-discrimination. It is time that our national laws clearly provide protection of LGBTs against discrimination otherwise LGBTs will continue to suffer human rights violations with impunity and the Philippine state will continually fall short of complying with its obligation to respect, protect and fulfill human rights.
Some leaders of certain churches condemn “active homosexuals.” Instead of preaching respect for human rights, compassion and justice, these institutions are complicit in propagating discrimination against LGBTs.
While some church leaders oppose this bill, our constitution guarantees separation of church and state and non-establishment of religion to prohibit the establishment of religion in our law and to guard against the views of any majority or minority religion in influencing our laws. Our constitutional guarantee of non-establishment of religion is significant for us individuals to be able to uphold our right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.
At the United Nations Human Rights Council session in March 2011, even the Holy See spoke out against violence and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation through its intervention stating, “A state should never punish a person, or deprive a person of the enjoyment of any human right, based just on the person’s feelings and thoughts, including sexual thoughts and feelings.” In December 2008, the Holy See publicly urged states “to do away with criminal penalties” against homosexuals and again in December 2009 with its statement before the UN stating, “The Holy See also opposes all forms of violence and unjust discrimination against homosexual persons, including discriminatory penal legislation which undermines the inherent dignity of the human person.”
Throughout the world, political leaders support the rights of LGBTs to equal protection of the law. United States President Obama, New York City Governor Cuomo, New York Mayor Bloomberg, Spanish Prime Minister Zapatero and Argentinian President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner all supported the passage of equality rights laws for LGBTs.
On June 17, 2011, the Human Rights Council approved a historic resolution condemning discrimination based on sexual orientation, expressing grave concern about acts of violence and discrimination, in all regions of the world, committed against individuals based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
This bill upholds the constitutional guarantee of equal protection of the law. It upholds human rights as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and other relevant core human rights instruments. It affirms that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights and that everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in that Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth, or other status.
Any form of discrimination is dangerous because it breeds hatred, intolerance, and even violence. This is a very important piece of legislation that should immediately be passed into law this 15th Congress. Enacting this law is one step towards ending discrimination and hate crimes. It is an important step towards a humane and just society where people respect the rights of others.