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Op-Ed

The cause is bigger than our egos…

Sass Rogando Sasot recalls the time when the anti-discrimination bill was unanimously passed in the Philippine House of Representative in less than 30 minutes. She now asks if it is “time for a tactical alliance”. “Anong petsa na! There are really no differences on the content of the ADB – ang ating mga ego na lang ang ating kalaban,” she says.

Did you know that there was a time when the Anti-Discrimination Bill (ADB) was UNANIMOUSLY passed in the Philippine House of Representative in less than 30 minutes??

When it was first filed during the 12th Congress in 2001 by then Akbayan Party List Representative Etta Rosales, the ADB (House Bill 2784) only sought to address discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Several activists pointed out the need to include “gender identity” in the language of the bill. The bill was revised by the Lesbian and Gay Legislative Advocacy Network-Philippines (LAGABLAB) to include gender identity. The revised bill (HB 6416) was re-filed in 2003. It was renamed as “The Act Prohibiting Discrimination on the Basis of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity and Providing Penalties Thereof.”

It was referred to the House Committee on Civil, Political and Human Rights. During the public hearing of the bill, several groups were invited to give their views about HB 6416. The military and the Catholic Church were the vocal opponents of the bill. But surprisingly, Iglesia ni Cristo (INC) supported the bill. INC didn’t attend the public hearing but sent a communique saying that though they didn’t approve of homosexuality they nevertheless support the human rights of LGBT people. In December 2003, the bill was approved by the Committee for second reading.

In legislative processes, 2nd Reading is the toughest stage. It’s there where debates for and against are held, as well as where amendments are suggested.

You may expect that HB 6416 would provoke strong opposition. Consulting Congressional records, one can see that the opposite happened. However strong the Catholic Church position was, no one stood to bark it dogma. You read it right – NO ONE. Because there were no objections, the Speaker of the House of Representatives motioned for the approval of the bill. The bill was unanimously approved in less than 30 minutes – this is not an exaggeration.

After six days, the 3rd Reading of the bill took place. Just like the 2nd reading no one objected. Again, you read it right: The 118 Congressmen present during the 3rd Reading voted UNANIMOUSLY for the bill.

After the 3rd Reading, the bill was supposed to undergo the same process in the senate. However it didn’t make it because the 2004 National Election happened. The bill just landed on the accomplishment report of the 12th Congress of the Philippines.

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Since then, the ADB has been refiled by different groups, specially by the MAKABAYAN and Akbayan groups, and every time it fails to get the needed political traction to make the bill move into the floor for debate.

I’m afraid we can no longer recreate what happened during the 12th Congress, specially with the current “bangayan” among ideological rivals and with the ascendance of the Christian right political groups (more conservative than the Catholic Church!) that have the resources to swiftly mobilise against the ADB.

Isn’t it time for a tactical alliance? Anong petsa na! There are really no differences on the content of the ADB – ang ating mga ego na lang ang ating kalaban.

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