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Senatoriable Neri Colmenares on countering all forms of oppression

Outrage Magazine interviews Rep. Neri Colmenares of Bayan Muna, which has filed various bills and resolutions to address and counter various forms of oppression experienced by LGBT Filipinos. “It is also important that the LGBT issues be recognized and respected by other people in the society. If the common people become enlightened on the issue, more people can support the cause of the LGBT,” Colmenares says.

What made you opt to sponsor the ADB?

Bayan Muna, since its establishment, had been a staunch advocate for the recognition and respect for human rights. As a human rights lawyer, I have particular interest in issues related to human rights. Respect for human rights includes the recognition of certain economic, political and socio-cultural rights and the elimination of any form of discrimination against any group of persons in society. Discrimination comes in many forms in many aspects in society: from class-based discrimination among workers and peasants to sector-based discrimination among women, children, indigenous peoples, and the lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender (LGBT) community. Bayan Muna Party-list, in its work in Congress, has filed various bills and resolutions to address and counter the various forms of oppression and discrimination suffered by the different groups of persons in society.

Particular for the LGBT community, Bayan Muna has filed a number of measures during the 15th Congress, in line with our advocacy against discrimination, and more importantly, because it is just, reasonable and it is high time to do so. In 2010, House Bill (HB) 1483 or the Anti-Discrimination Bill was filed by then Bayan Muna Representative Teddy Casiño. In 2011, House Resolution (HR) 1432 was filed for the investigation of Hate Crimes against LGBTs, HB 1483 defining and penalizing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity and HB 4853 declaring May 17 as National Day against Homophobia (NADAHO). In the 16th Congress, Bayan Muna Representatives Neri Colmenares and Carlos Isagani Zarate refiled the Anti-Discrimination Bill as HB 1842 and HB 1843 for NADAHO.

Except for very few points which may be considered as minor, HB 1842 is essentially in consonance with other five similar bills concerning Anti-Discrimination. A point different from the other bills’ definition of Sexual Orientation is the inclusion in HB 1842, of sexual orientation being “not equivalent to sexual behavior since this refers to feelings and self-concept. Persons may or may not express their sexual orientation in their behaviors.” Also HB 1842 has a higher minimum penalty for any violation of the provisions of the Bill. These differences though were resolved by the consolidated House Bill 5687.

By the time the most Congress ended, what was the status of the bill?

The House Committee on Women and Gender Equality held several hearings on the different bills on Anti-Discrimination. The Committee also formed a Technical Working Group to unify the bills and deal with its refinements. Then on April 23, 2015, the Committee issued a Report recommending the approval of the consolidated HB 5687. HB 5687 was included in the plenary Order of Business since May 2015. The bill was not discussed by the plenary until the adjournment in February 2016 for the election season. 

The 16th Congress was able to produce a Consolidated Bill of the Anti-Discrimination Bills but it was not given the opportunity to be approved on 2nd reading. The Committee Report was a very positive indicator because a lot more bills and resolutions do not usually get to that point.

A bill has to be approved by Congress on three separate dates and submitted to the President for approval, before it can become a law. It usually takes a longer period from the filing of the bill to the committee report. But after its approval on 2nd reading, the 3rd reading is almost for ceremonial purposes only if the bill is not controversial. If after submission to the Office of the President and he did not sign it nor veto it, after the lapse of 30 days from its receipt, it will become a law.

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Most bills easily passed by Congress are those certified as urgent by the President, or those with strong public pressure. The Anti-Discrimination Bill was neither certified as urgent nor endorsed with strong public support. This could be attributed to the society’s long standing misconceptions and stigma on LGBT rights which are reflected in Congress itself.

There are LGBT community members who remain critical in the handling of the ADB – i.e. that it was not considered a priority, and so it was not actively pushed. What can you say about this? What efforts need to be taken for the ADB to progress and even be passed?

For Bayan Muna, the Anti-Discrimination Bill is among the measures it considers important because it is a part of the people’s issues. In performing its duty in Congress, Bayan Muna makes sure that the measures it files are given their due attention by Congress, considering that most of its bills and resolutions are people’s issues. However, different factors come into play that affect the progress in the legislative mill of every measure on people’s issues.

For the Anti-Discrimination Bill, some of the factors which may be considered are the level of general concern that legislators have for the LGBT community, the support of most other groups and people in society and most particularly, the degree of commitment, support and participation of the LGBT community in pushing for the enactment of such legislative measure.

We have seen recently that many legislators still need to be informed and educated, and even to be convinced about the justness of an Anti-Discrimination Bill or about the LGBT question. Although it should have been their homework to study and know more about the people’s issues, it is a sad reality that a significant number of them do not really care about LGBTs and are in fact not in favor of it, save for the interest in their votes. But what matters is to be able to acquire the support of a significant number of the legislators for the Anti-Discrimination Bill. That is why, more efforts are needed to inform and educate the people, including the legislators, to the issue besetting the LGBT community which is primarily discrimination. Legislators need to know that they have constituents who are LGBTs and advocates who are fighting for the elimination of discrimination against the LGBT community. And this can be done through different forms such as through discussions with the lawmakers by lobby groups, through petitions for them to support the bill, or through letters soliciting their support for the cause.

It is also important that the LGBT issues be recognized and respected by other people in the society. If the common people become enlightened on the issue, more people can support the cause of the LGBT. This can be done through different means of educational discussions, and information-dissemination, either through the social or the tri-media. Solicitation of support from other people’s organization can also spell a big difference for the cause. Bayan Muna has been working with people’s organization because it believes that the collective voice of the people has a major effect and influence on the lawmakers.

But the commitment, participation and support of the LGBT community is the most decisive factor to be considered. Bayan Muna thinks that the LGBT community can make itself more visible, more united, more coordinated and more active in asserting their rights. This may be through organizing themselves and reaching out to coordinate with other LGBT groups and individuals for a common objective like pushing for the enactment of the Anti-Discrimination Bill. An effective campaign for such an undertaking needs a machinery to ensure that different activities needed for its passage are done and to coordinate all efforts to achieve its ends.

Bayan Muna, in pushing for a people’s agenda in the legislature, has been in close coordination with people’s organization and other interest groups and individuals for the advancement of the people’s issues in Congress. For Bayan Muna, together with the Makabayan Bloc, the people’s organizations are the key to our strength inside Congress.

The LGBT community and its fight against discrimination has come a long way. The passage of the Anti-Discrimination Bill will be possible with a little more push and consolidated effort from the LGBT community itself and in coordination with legislators in the next Congress.

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