Change is happening.
An ordinance has been passed in a move aimed at turning the Queen City of the South, Cebu City, into a place with a policy to “promote equality and to effectively eliminate all forms of discrimination that violate and offend the guarantee of equal protection of Human Rights as enshrined in the Bill of Rights and other existing laws as well as in the various international conventions and obligations to which the country adheres”.
The Cebu City Anti-Discrimination Ordinance was drafted with the participation of the Cebu Rainbow Coalition, the umbrella organization of LGBT groups in Cebu, and was filed by city councilors Alvin Dizon, Margarita Osmeña, Nida Cabrera, Lea Japson, John Philip Po II, and Augustus Pe Jr.
“The ordinance means so much to (our) community,” said Ms Magdalena Robinson, president of Cebu City-based Transgender Colors Inc. (COLORS). “It is like a gift of immunity or shield to protect every LGBT (in Cebu), as well as other people who are vulnerable to discrimination.”
The local law notes that “pursuant to the democratic precept which places high premium on the importance of fundamental human rights and entitlements, every person must be given equal access to opportunities in all fields of human endeavors and to equitable sharing of social and economic benefits for them to freely exercise the rights to which they are rightfully entitled free from any prejudice and discrimination.”
It similarly notes, however, that “stigma and discrimination still pervades especially against persons with disability, the senior citizens and elderly, children and youth, People Living with HIV , women, lesbians, gay, bisexuals, transgender (LGBT), people with different religious persuasion and the indigenous peoples.”
It, therefore, prohibits by making it illegal to “discriminate any person and/or group of persons on the basis of their disability, age, health status, sexual orientation, gender identity, ethnicity and religion.”
As mandated, it is now unlawful for any person to: deny access to public programs and services of any person; refuse admission to or expel or dismiss a person from educational institutions; refuse or revoke the accreditation, formal recognition, and/or registration of any organization, group, institution or establishment, in educational institutions, workplaces, communities, and similar settings; deny a person’s access to medical and other health services, as well as health insurance and other related benefits as provided for under the law; deny a person access to and/or the use of private and public establishments, facilities, utilities, transportation or services, including housing, open to the general public; and subject or force any person to any medical or psychological examination without the expressed approval of the person involved provided that such person is not psychologically incapacitated.
To ensure that the contents of the ordinance are implemented, the Cebu City government is to implement various programs. Foremost is the allocation of funds for a Discrimination and Stigma Reduction Program, which will have such components as a capacity building and education campaign, discrimination and stigma studies and databank, and discrimination and stigma monitoring.
The Cebu City government is also to ensure access to scholarships, skills, employment and livelihood opportunities; and access to legal representation when documenting and filing cases, as well as during the duration of the case.
The Cebu City government shall similarly “ensure that all policies embodied in resolutions, ordinances, codes and other policy documents are free from discriminatory statements and provisions and amend those provisions that shall be deemed discriminatory and those that advocate stigma and stereotypes.”
First-time offender will be fined P1,000.00 or an imprisonment of one day to 30 days, or both, at the discretion of the court. Second-time offenders fined P3,000.00 or an imprisonment of one day to 30 days, or both, at the discretion of the court. Meanwhile third-time offenders will be penalized with a fine of P5,000.00 or an imprisonment of one day to 30 days, or both, at the discretion of the court.
The development has been cited as a big achievement for LGBTs not just in Cebu City, but in the Philippines. “We are so proud of this achievement,” said Atty. Angie Umbac, president of Rainbow Rights Project Inc. (R-Rights), whose Cebu chapter was among those to “struggle to pass the ordinance”. “It takes hard work, determination and a lot of courage… They have defined the Bisaya brand of activism.”
Bemz Benedito, first Congressional nominee of Ladlad Partylist, the only political party for LGBTs in the Philippines, said “we laud the city council of Cebu for passing an ordinance that will protect the rights and uplift the dignity of LGBT Filipinos in the city. In the absence of a national law on anti-discrimination, piece meal legislation such as this one is a positive development to the struggle of LGBT Filipinos. Sa simpleng pananalita, ito ay pagkilala at pagrespeto sa karapatang-pantao ng mga Pinoy LGBT na produktibo sa lipunan.”
Meanwhile, Bayan Muna partylist Rep. Teddy Casiño welcomed the passage of the anti-discrimination ordinance as a positive development in lieu of the passage of the Anti-Discrimination Bill, House Bill 1483, which he authored, and which is still at the Bicameral Committee. “LGBTs do not want nor claim additional ‘special’ or ‘additional rights’. All they want are the same rights as those of heterosexual persons that are denied – either by current laws or practices – basic civil, political, social and economic rights,” Casiño was quoted as saying.
“COLORS will monitor the implementation and work with the policy implementers in giving awareness on SOGI and its issues, educate the community and the public regarding the ordinance and facilitate the victims of discrimination on the processes,” said COLORS’ Robinson, who was part of the technical working group that drafted the ordinance, and who was among those who lobbied for its approval.
COLORS, among others, is already reviving the lobbying of the measure in the provincial government in the hopes of “replicating the ordinance to other LGUs in Cebu (province),” Robinson said.