The Metropolitan Community Church – Quezon City (MCCQC) organized a gathering, dubbed Affirming Party, slated on April 8 for GLBTQIA activists who were at (and driven away from) the fourth regional conference of the Asia chapter of the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex Association (ILGA) in Indonesia.
Earlier, on March 26 in Surabaya, Indonesia, an estimated 50 to 60 members of hardline Indonesian Islamic groups staked out not just the hotel where the participants were staying at, but also the conference venue (Mercure Hotel) to force the participants to leave their accommodation and, thereby, cancel the event. To what is shameful for Indonesia, conservative intolerance triumphed over respect for diversity – ILGA’s gathering was cancelled, and not without drama, with the participants literally chased out of the country.
The April 8 gathering was, in MCCQC’s Rev. Ceejay Agbayani’s words, an “affirmation of our fellow GLBTQIA Filipino activists on their quest for equality and justice.”
To drum up participation, for MCCQC, aside from word-of-mouth, a main mode of information dissemination was through the Internet. Even sans the availability of disposable budget, “the Internet (allows) us to tap (as wide a market as possible),” Agbayani says. The effort boosted by “coordination through SMS messages” made the gathering a “success, exceeding our expectations (as over 60 people attended – in Facebook, only 50 people confirmed attendance).”
That, then, stresses the power of New Media.
And so the GLBTQIA advocacy gets an upgrade.
Outrage Magazine, as the only Web-based publication catering to GLBTQIAs in the Philippines, may well be an ideal study on the utilization of New Media – dominated by the Internet – in reaching target (in this case, i.e. GLBTQIA) markets. According to publisher cum “editor on the loose” Michael David C. Tan, getting an A4-sized magazine of from 60 or more pages printed could easily cost well over P100,000 just for a thousand or so copies – and this does not yet include the money to be allocated for the salary of people involved in the publication (e.g. editors, writer, graphics, administrative staff, et cetera), costs to run the office (e.g. space rental, allotments for utilities, et cetera), and other costs associated with the production of traditional media.
Going online made the move realistic, Tan says – something he stresses is “great because, in the Philippines, GLBTQIAs remain under-represented, (and) we only actually make the (mainstream) news when something (bad) can be said about the group, e.g. when gays are found dead, supposedly killed by sex workers who were not paid properly; when there are raids of cinemas, supposedly because of the ‘immoral’ acts of its gay patrons; et cetera.”
Tan adds: “Outrage Magazine in this sense is a media by and for GLBTQIAs,” he said, adding that “other markets on top of these are, of course, just as welcome.”
It helps, too, that this representation is immediate.
On this, the experience of Sass Rogando Sasot of the Society of Transsexual Women of the Philippines (STRAP) on May 24, 2008 is worth a mention. Visiting Ice Vodka Bar in Greenbelt 3 in Ayala Center, Makati City, she (with other members of STRAP) was refused entry because – put succinctly – she’s a transgender (TGs are often described as “dressed inappropriately”).
In a letter that went viral virtually starting 6.04 A.M. of the next day, May 25, Sasot made the world knew what happened to her – she wrote: “This may not be the proper forum to raise this concern. But is there any reliable legal forum to address this issue? Reality check: There is no antidiscrimination law in this country. And if you’re discriminated, there seems to be a notion that you’re supposed to blame yourself for bringing such an unfortunate event to yourself. So, I’d just stand up through this open letter.”
With other advocates picking up the story, the responses soon followed – first, from Ice Vodka Bar itself, which apologized to Sasot; from Dennis Galimba, operations engineer of Ayala Property Management Corporation, who raised the issue to the Ayala Group of Companies; et cetera.
What the Constitution states (equality for all) but the law enforcers fail to implement, the Internet (somehow) helped to (at least) stress, thereby press for actions to be taken. IMMEDIATELY.
In the US, according to queerty.com in The Gay Revolution Will Be Twittered, while social networks site “Twitter was originally designed to allow people to give short status update, essentially answering the question: ‘What are you doing now?’, in practice, the service has become much more, especially when it comes to news. The immediacy of Twitter, coupled with its ability to deliver messages to a phone or Web-client, means that breaking news is even more, to coin a Colbert-ism, ‘breakier.’”
That people now actively participate in breaking the news adds to the empowerment, as Sasot shows.
For GLBTQIAs, nonetheless, with Twitter (and the Net, as a whole) becoming integrated into daily lives, or at least the lives of the hyper-wired, such social networks have become “not only a source of news, but a way for communities to connect,” states queerty.com. And this way, too – this “community aspect” – has special significance for GLBTQIAs.
During the Holy Week of 2010 – nowadays often seen as a season for decadent holidaying, NOT necessarily church-going – Jethro Cuenca Patalinghug organized the Take the Test, a campaign that wanted to trigger MSMs in Puerto Galera (a popular venue frequented by MSMs from Metro Manila, among others) to get themselves tested for STIs, including HIV and/or AIDS.
It was a “very personal endeavor (for me),” Patalinghug says, considering that “I have lived with HIV positive individuals for years and I saw the kind of emotional struggle that they had to face on a day-to-day basis – I have friends who have either died or are still alive, and yet are suffering from the stigma of HIV and AIDS.”
Due to “our promotion in the Net, there were a lot who expressed (their intent) to partake of the activity/test – in fact, we were able to educate around 200 participants during our activity, 30% of (that number taking) the test.”
Patalinghug believes that “the Net should play a primary role in pushing for GLBTQIA issues. It is the medium that people choose to rely on because participation can be personal and easy; (and) information dissemination is clearly fastest on the Net and I think GLBTQIAs (can do so much with) these potentials. We should definitely exhaust it (the Net).”
Again in the US, Ruth Schneider, writing How Social media is Changing Gay Activism for 365.com, tells the story of Greg Porter, who, as a reaction to one Ricky Joaquin, who tweeted “because we don’t want your fag blood,” wrote in a blog his stance on the “circle of bigotry.” That blog entry was, subsequently, re-tweeted, so that Porter himself has lost count the number of times his views have been accessed and, yes, shared by (generally) like-minded people, people within the GLBTQIA community.
“Between blogs, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, activists are using the power of social media to increase the reach of their advocacy messages,” Schneider states, adding, this time quoting Sree Sreenivasan, a dean at Columbia University’s School of Journalism, that “social media has had a tremendous impact on all advocacy, for better or worse.”
Outrage Magazine’s Tan agrees. “We knew – and subsequently interviewed – Jude Bacalso of Cebu City because of (our social network) connections, giving the GLBTQIA community in the Queen City of the South some voice somehow. Through trails found online, we have been able to develop stories, therefore give information on existing GLBTQIA groups in the Philippines (e.g. Batangas-based Beavers, photography enthusiast KonZepto Productions) – a veritable guide for GLBTQIA Filipinos looking for groups to belong to. Our establishing of contacts, too, is helping existing networks get in touch with each other (to, hopefully, build) a stronger presence (as a unified entity),” Tan says. “The world has, indeed, become smaller.”
Hired by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force in the US, Sarah Kennedy, as the interactive media coordinator, is responsible for exchanging tweets daily (with the more than 3,000 followers of the task force’s Twitter account), as well as upload content on the group’s Facebook account (with more than 8,000 Facebook friends). “I believe that is the number one key to social media. That it is social,” she was quoted as saying by queerty.com. After all, if, in the past, “organizations have sent out newsletters to inform them about their work, now there are tweets, posts, blogs and videos to spread the message. And before GLBTQIA groups had social media, there wasn’t always that level of information.”
Tan, though, is first to acknowledge that “we have yet to fully tapped the benefits of New Media – in fact, we have barely scratched the surface, as the cliché goes,” he says.
On January 12, Haiti was ravaged by a 7.0 Mw earthquake on January 12 – and it took relief organizations only five days to collect $11 million through SMS-sent donations (the donations grew further, so that since then, the American Red Cross alone had collected more than $25 million through $10 text donations). And while “the Philippines may have been dubbed as the ‘Texting Capital of the World,’ texting has, thus far, been largely limited to the personal in the country,” Tan says.
Tan believes that, outside of text votes that cost texters from P2.50 per text in support of wannabe celebrities in popularity competitions, “if we could instead raise the money for worthy causes – noting that there are an estimated 400 million text messages sent in the country per day – we can change this country’s direction.”
At least Patalinghug has already somehow tapped this potential.
It took Patalinghug, who also spearheaded the I AM NOT IMMORAL video campaign in response to the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) branding GLBTQIAs as immoral (its ground for non-inclusion of GLBTQIA group Ang Ladlad in the partylist system), “less than a month to organize everything,” he says. “We had to gather all the resources and information needed to conduct a (proper) HIV rapid screening, equipped with all the necessary pre- and post test counseling (as required by the law). In other words we had to tap government institutions, such as the National Epidemiology Center or NEC from Department of Health (DOH), Social Hygiene Clinic Manila, Positive Action Foundation Philippines Inc. (PAFPI), and the Global Fund (in a short period of time).”
While the DOH provided some funding, “we had to turn to our friends in the Net, specifically Facebook, and we were able to gather enough funds that covered our (expenses) in Puerto Galera.”
Everything is, obviously, getting integrated – Google Chrome, as an example, attempts to unify all the applications needed online, from email to chatlines to Facebook-like functionalities to YouTube-like tasks. Technology is far from perfect – yet – but “perfectly functional or not, it can already be used for advocacies in ways never done before,” Tan says.
But whether it’s through high-tech strategies or low-tech tools, Sreenivasan is (for now) somewhat cautious. “It’s all about having a plan about new technology rather than jumping down rabbit holes,” he says. “You have to do everything you did before. This is something you need to add into the mix.”
MCCQC’s April 8 Affirming Party was not the first – nor will it be the last – event that the group will mainly promote through New Media. Says Agbayani: “We have been using the Internet even before Facebook,” citing, specifically, the now defunct Guys4Men.com, a social networking site geared towards MSMs, which allowed the group to “pagpapalaganap ng (widely spread) information and invitations (of our events).”
Agbayani, nonetheless, believes that any of the New Media follows much of the same “given” of old practices. “First, (dapat) maganda ang event mo. Malaking add-on ‘yan (First, you should have a worthy event. That’s a big plus),” he says.
“Pangalawa, dapat matiyaga ka talagang mag-promote sa iyong event – mag-message sa inbox nila, mag-personal message sa lahat na nag-confirm, et cetera (Secondly, you should be persistent in promoting your event – send messages to everyone, follow-up those who confirmed, et cetera).”
And thirdly, “make sure sa event, hindi gutom ang tao – may laps dapat lagi [make sure participants do not go hungry – there should always be food (to ensure you look after your guests)].”
All the same, the game, in a manner of speaking, has changed. “Malaki ang role ng New Media (in pushing advocacies to the fore) – maramihan kasi ang naabot niya; lahat na kasi yata ng tao ay involved sa New Media (The role of New Media in pushing advocacies to the fore is substantial – it has wider reach; just about everyone is in it),” Agbayani says.
And with this understanding, MCCQC, among others, enters a braver new world.
The future has truly started.
Ilagan City in province of Isabela enacts SOGIE-specific anti-discrimination ordinance
General Ordinance 198-2019 finds the “need to prohibit… discrimination against people on the basis of actual or perceived SOGIE on the areas of work, accommodation, education, provision of goods, facilities and services, memberships in organizations, and the administration of local laws and programs.”
The rainbow rises up north.
Ilagan – officially the City of Ilagan – a first class city and capital of the province of Isabela, enacted its own anti-discrimination ordinance based on sexual orientation, gender identity and expression.
Authored by City Councilor Rolando Tugade, General Ordinance 198-2019 stated that the office of the Sangguniang Panglungsod “finds the need to prohibit, so far as is possible, discrimination against people on the basis of actual or perceived SOGIE on the areas of work, accommodation, education, provision of goods, facilities and services, memberships in organizations, and the administration of local laws and programs.”
According to Yonidick Pascua, president of City of Ilagan Gay Association, who pushed for the passage of the ADO, having the same is important “para mapangalagaan ang bawat LGBTQIA person,” he said. This is also needed, he added, to show respect to the rights and “dignidad ng bawat LGBTQIA person; para sa pagkapantay-pantay (na trato) bilang tao sa lipunan.”
Passing the ADO was challenging, said Pascua.
“Marami pa rin sa ating mga kababayan ang lubos na hindi naiintindihan kung ano ba talaga ang SOGIE,” he said, adding that this is – nonetheless – exactly why the ADO is needed. Fortunately, for him, City Mayor Josemarie L. Diaz and Vice Mayor Kit Bello backed the ADO.
With the ADO, “inaasahan natin na magiging mas ligtas ang bawat LGBTQIA person (dito sa Ilagan); inaasahan natin na mas lalong magkakaroon ng lakas ng loob at mamuhay ng mas panatag ang bawat LGBTQIA person, at inaasahan natin ang mas masaya at makulay na pamumuhay ng bawat LGBTQIA person dito,” he said.
Aside from the aforementioned acts prohibited by the ADO, also deemed unlawful is “discrimination through verbal or non-verbal ridicule and vilification,” where it is declared “unlawful for any… person to vilify or ridicule any person on the based of perceived or actual SOGIE which may result in the loss of self-esteem or sense of safety and security, or the infliction of psychological harm through: contemptuous imitating or mockery; and uttering of abusive and slanderous statements.”
Persons who violate the ADO may be jailed for up to 60 days, and/or fined up to P5,000.
With the ADO, the city mandates its barangays to “develop a system to record and document reported cases of discrimination and violence against LGBTQIA persons, and provide assistance to victims.” But the ADO also establishes an LGBTQIA council.
“Yakapin po ninyo ang LGBTQIA people, itaguyod ang SOGIE para sa proteksyon ng bawat LGBTQIA person at bigyan sila ng pagkakataon na mamuhay ng mapayapa at ligtas sa pamamagitan ng pagpasa ng ADO,” Pascua said. “Ang mga LGBTQIA people ay kasama sa lipunan kaya nararapat laman na yakapin, tanggapin at bigyan ng respeto.”
Behind the bars on LGBTQIA life in prison
In the Philippines, it remains hard to monitor wrongful accusations (and eventual wrongful convictions); much more on how badly this affects members of the LGBTQIA community. Outrage Magazine interviews a gay man who experienced this, and what he went through as a minor behind bars.
It was a tiring day for then-16-year-old Harry (not his real name). He just got home from two consecutive weddings, and so – right after arriving at their house in San Jose City in Nueva Ecija – he asked his mother if he could skip school to just rest.
Harry’s mother indulged him; but she also asked Harry to look after a younger sibling as she had to do some errands. On her way out, Harry saw his mother speak to the nine-year-old son of their neighbor outside their house; he said he was just wandering to catch a dragonfly.
With his mother gone, and before getting some sleep, Harry decided to harvest some mangoes from the tree beside their house. And while atop the tree, he noticed that the nine-year-old boy was no longer in the street. After getting down from the tree, he went inside their house, locked the door, and then slept.
It seemed that only a few minutes passed, but Harry was woken by knocking on their front door. He got up to open the door; it was the nine-year-old boy’s mother, asking about the clothes Harry wore to one of the weddings that day. When Harry moved to go inside the room to get the pants he wore, the nine-year-old boy surfaced from inside the room.
“Anong ginagawa mo diyan (What are you doing there)?” the mother asked her son, flabbergasted.
He said “tinitingnan ko lang ‘yung kapatid ni Harry (I was just looking at the younger brother of Harry).”
Harry joined the conversation, saying he didn’t know that the boy was even inside.
The boy’s family went straight to the police station, accusing Harry of child molestation. Harry was eventually taken into custody.
Though he was only 16 then, Harry was detained at the lock-up facility of the Philippine National Police (PNP). This is – by itself – a violation of Republic Act 9344 or the Juvenile Justice Law of 2006, which sets the minimum age of criminal liability at 15 years old. This means that those between 15 to 18 years old (and Harry was 16 when the alleged rape happened) may be detained in youth centers and go through rehabilitation programs, while those under 15 years old are exempted from criminal liability and undergo intervention.
After a month with the PNP, Harry was transferred to the custody of the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP), an agency of the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), mandated to direct, supervise and control the administration and operation of all jails in the Philippines.
Here’s a sobering fact: the incarceration rate of lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) people is up to three times than that of the general population. Sexual minorities (or people who self-identify as LGB and people who do not identify as LGB but reported a same-sex sexual experience) comprise: 9.3% of men in prison, 6.2% of men in jail, 42.1% of women in prison, and 35.7% of women in jail.
Note: As is often used, “jails” are facilities that hold inmates awaiting trial or serving short sentences, while “prisons” are facilities for those serving their (often longer) sentences.
Now this is worth stressing: Even if this has already been (partly) studied overseas, this continues to be largely ignored in the Philippine context.
One study – “Incarceration Rates and Traits of Sexual Minorities in the United States: National Inmate Survey, 2011–2012″, co-authored by Ilan H. Meyer, PhD, Andrew R. Flores, PhD, Lara Stemple, JD, Adam P. Romero, JD, Bianca D.M. Wilson, PhD, and Jody L. Herman, PhD and published in the American Journal of Public Health – found that sexual minorities are not only incarcerated at disproportionately high rates, but that once incarcerated, they are more likely to experience mistreatment, harsh punishment and sexual victimization.
A LIFE IN FEAR
“Nung first time kong pumasok sa loob ng selda, binuhusan ako ng isang pulis ng tubig habang natutulog pa ako (The first day I got detained, a police officer splashed water on me while I was sleeping),” Harry recalled. Dazed and confused, and not knowing who the person was (because she was not wearing uniform), “tinanong ko siya kung naka-detain din ba siya; hindi ko alam na pulis siya. Nalaman ko lang nung bigla niyang pinakuha yung batuta niya (I asked if she was also a detainee; I had no idea she was a police officer. The moment she asked for her club/cudgel, everything just came to me).”
There was a time when Harry was almost transferred to Boystown (a facility for offending minors), but his mother pleaded for this not to be done since he would then be too far from home and she would be unable to visit him regularly. And because he did not entirely understand what was being discussed, all Harry said he could do was cry, “too scared of everything.”
Bullying/getting maltreated was a “norm” particularly for those who just enter prison.
In Harry’s case, he was beaten – an act, he was told, was “a way to welcome new inmates.”
“Ano yung ginagawa ng mga jail officers? Wala lang din. Wala silang ginagawa kasi minsan parang sila na din yung nagsasabi o nagbibigay ng memo na i-welcome yung mga bagong inmates (The jail officers are not acknowledging this issue. They are not doing anything about it because there are times when they, themselves, are the ones who give orders to welcome new inmates in that way),” Harry said.
Inside the jail, minors are supposed to be separated from the adult inmates. But this policy is also amendable, depending on the whims of the warden. In their case, an inmate who was also a minor tried to escape because he wanted to celebrate his birthday outside the prison, but “after that incident, the (minors were already treated as adult inmates), included with the adult prisoners.”
Men and women have separate sections; but transgender women are mixed with men.
“Wala silang sariling lugar doon sa kulungan. Isinasama sila sa mga lalaki kasi para sa mga tao doon, lalaki pa din sila (There’s no designated place for them. The jail officers still see/treat them as men),” Harry said.
Also as big as a risk for new inmates like Harry was getting raped.
“Meron talagang rape na nangyayari sa loob. Lalo na sa mga bagong pasok. Yun din minsan ang parang pinaka-welcome ng mga inmates na lalaki sa mga inmates na bakla. Kahit ayaw mo, talagang pipilitin at pipilitin ka (It is undeniable that rape occurs inside the jail. They specially do it to the newcomers. This is how straight inmates would welcome gay people in their cell. Even if you don’t want to, you will be forced)” Harry recalled.
Harry was not exempted from this experience because, “sabihin ko man na ayaw ko, hindi pa din sila pumapayag na huwag kong gawin. Pag sinabi ng isang inmate na gawin namin, wala na lang din akong magawa kundi sumunod na lang (Even though I didn’t want to, I would never have a choice. If a straight inmate asked for it, you just have to obey them),” Harry said. “Na-experience ko yun as a welcome sa akin nung pagpunta ko don (I experienced it as a welcome greeting when I first got there).”
At 16, Harry was raped in jail by a 23-year-old.
“Pag na-gustuhan ka nila, may mga grupo don tapos lalapitan ka nila. Papapasukin ka nila sa lugar nila tapos gagalawin ka nila. Mapapasunod ka na lang kesa masaktan ka (If you caught their interest, groups of boys would approach you and ask you to join them in their cell to rape you. You won’t have any other choice because if you refuse, they will hurt you),” he said.
This maltreatment, by the way, is not exclusive to members of the LGBT community in jail/prison, since “there, no matter what your gender is, they will hurt you if they wanted to.”
Though these may – no doubt – be known to those running the country’s jails/prisons, Harry said that they didn’t have access to any contraceptives and/or protection while inside the jail/prison.
“Hindi sila nakakapag-provide ng ganun. Kahit minsan nasusubukan namin magkaroon ng sakit, hindi din kami nabibigyan ng kahit anong gamot. Itinatawag lang namin sa mga magulang namin yung mga ganun (They can’t provide things like that. Even at times when we were sick, no medicines were made available to us. We still rely on our relatives outside),” he said, adding: “Saka pa lang nagkakaroon ng aksyon pag parang mamamatay na yung tao (They only really act when someone is already really close to dying.)”
There was a point in time when Harry said he almost gave up. But he kept telling himself that “hindi yun ang panahon na dapat akong mawalan ng pag-asa dahil naniniwala ako noon na darating at darating yung oras na malalaman talaga kung ano yung totoo (That was not the time for me to just give up. I had faith that the truth will come out),” Harry said.
Much has already been said about prison management in the Philippines.
To start, and as noted by the Human Rights Watch (HRW), critical and chronic overcrowding has long been a perennial topic when discussing the country’s jail facilities. BJMP runs 415 detention facilities in 17 regions, and on average, its jailhouses report 380% overcapacity. In Metro Manila alone, the BJMP’s total cell area of 22,318 square meters, designed for 4,749 detainees; but it currently holds 21,868 detainees (a congestion rate of 361%).
The surprising – and somewhat senseless – thing worth noting here is that between 85% and 90% of the more than 94,000 inmates in the custody of BJMP are awaiting or undergoing trial.
“This makes the Philippines the Southeast Asian country with the highest number of pretrial and remand detainees and the second highest in all of Asia. Prolonged detention without charge or trial violates international human rights instruments, including Article 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which the Philippines ratified in 1986. Moreover, it ‘shall not be the general rule that persons awaiting trial shall be detained in custody,’ but rather released with guarantees of appearing for trial,” HRW stated.
HRW also noted that “the injustice of lengthy detention is compounded by the horrific conditions of the jail facilities (with) many detention centers in the Philippines failing to meet the minimum United Nations standards for such facilities, including inadequate amounts of food, poor nutrition, and unsanitary conditions.”
And yes, “torture and other forms of ill-treatment are also common,” HRW similarly noted.
Inside jail, fighting for oneself was never really an option, Harry said, because the inmates could just – eventually – get back to you for fighting back. Giving in to just go with the flow was the attitude being in jail teaches inmates.
Though one time, Harry said he tried to fight for his basic human right of… simply existing and being treated more humanely.
One time, he recalled, a lady jail officer started pushing his chest with her fist and kept asking him if it hurts. It reached a point where the officer was already pointing a knife at him.
“Sabi ko sa kanya, hindi rin ako papayag na gaganunin niya ako. Bilang isang inmate, itrato din naman sana kami na parang tao dahil hindi naman kami iba sa kanila. Kasi sabi ko wala naman kaming ginagawang masama sa kanila. Tapos sabi ko pwede ko silang ireklamo sa ginagawa nilang ‘yun (I told her that I won’t let her do that to me. I may be an inmate, but I am also a person just like her. I told her that I did not do anything wrong to deserve the way she is treating me. I also told her that I could file a complaint on how she is treating me),” he said.
That – fortunately for Harry – silenced and prevented her from doing more harm.
It was while in jail that Harry finished high school under the Alternative Learning System (ALS) program offered there.
ALS is a practical option for learning in the Philippines, offering education to those who could not usually attend and access the formal type of schooling.
It was also while in jail when Harry first found love.
Harry met another minor, and “we became BFs.”
Prisoners who are in relationships and want to have sex may ask for permission from the jail officers who then give them space to do so. “Pwedeng-pwede lalo na pag LGBT ka; pero pag babae at lalaki, medyo mahirap kasi inmate na lalaki at inmate na babae, bawal ‘yun (ipagsama) (The officers are very open to that matter specially if you are a part of the LGBT community. But if the sexual intercourse is going to be between a man and a woman, they don’t allow it).”
Their relationship lasted for a year and three months.
THE WRONGLY ACCUSED
While in jail, Harry was repeatedly told that he would be transferred to “The Mansion” (how inmates called New Bilibid Prison, located in Muntinlupa as the main insular penitentiary designed to house the prison population of the Philippines). He was scared; and he was feeling bad, though not just for himself but also his mother who – even if she just gave birth – continued to regularly visit him.
And then one day, his lawyer – while on a visit – just handed him his already-signed release paper.
“Bigla po akong na-congratulate ng attorney ko dahil nai-panalo ko daw yung kaso ko (My lawyer congratulated me because we won the case),” Harry said.
Relieved, he said he just wanted to have a life outside.
It is worth noting that Harry’s case is not exactly rare. And the warning bells have long been ringing.
In 2004, Free Legal Assistance Group (an NGO that provides legal assistance mainly for human rights cases) conducted a survey of death convicts in the Philippines, and it found “significant figures that could indicate a high judicial error rate”. The survey showed that 73.9% of the convicts were arrested without a warrant, 78.3% were not informed of their constitutional rights at the time of arrest, and – get this! – 90% were not assisted by counsel during police investigation and interrogation.
Perhaps it is also worth noting that 52.2% of the convicts belong to the lowest socioeconomic class.
In 2014, Innocence Project (a litigation and public policy organization composed of human rights advocates in Ateneo, UP Law School and De La Salle University College of Law, headed by Jose Manuel “Chel” Diokno) revealed that some 400 prisoners were wrongfully convicted by the court; most are charged with rape.
And in 2017, the Philippine Daily Inquirer reported of the Supreme Court’s admission that seven in 10 death penalty convictions in 1993-2004 by the lower courts, submitted for automatic review, were wrongly judged. Also, during trials, 59% of the suspects were represented by lawyers from the Public Attorney’s Office, but 54.1% did not have regular consultations with their trial lawyers, and 10.2% never even had a consultation.
So in 2017, during the 17th Congress, former Sultan Kudarat Rep. Horacio Suansing Jr. and Nueva Ecija Rep. Estrellita Suansing filed House Bill 5582 to create a commission mandated to review all cases in which an innocent person was convicted; identify the causes of wrongful convictions; and identify current laws, rules and procedures implicated in each identified cause of wrongful convictions. This is because, the politicians noted, “at present, there is no government entity in our country charged with conducting the independent expert review of wrongful convictions necessary to identify the primary and potential causes of wrongful convictions.”
The same bill was actually originally filed by the late Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago during the 14th Congress and refiled during the 16th Congress. It failed to pass the 17th Congress.
Suffice it to say, in a country like the Philippines, it remains extremely hard to monitor wrongful accusations (as in the case of Harry) and eventual wrongful convictions; much more on how badly this affects members of the LGBTQIA community. And then – yes – add to this the extra layer of hardships experienced by members of the LGBTQIA community if/when they are sent to jail/prison, some of them experienced by Harry, solely because of their sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression.
THE WORLD OUTSIDE
Upon his release from jail, Harry’s first stop was his brother’s house, where they accused him of escaping. “They only believed me when I showed them the release paper,” he recalled.
Not surprisingly, the complainants weren’t too happy that Harry was released. And this was even if other stories emerged – e.g. that the family of the complainant just paid the medical exam to release a report that stated that the boy was raped; that when the nine- year-old boy was interviewed, he actually denied that he was raped; and that the complainant demanded P30,000 from his family in exchange for his freedom.
Harry was also told that if he wants to turn the tables on them and file a case against his complainants, it would be a very strong lawsuit.
But not that Harry even cared at that point in time. “Pinabayaan ko na lang. Hindi ko inisip na maghiganti pa sa kanila (I moved on. Revenge is not what I wanted),” Harry said.
Harry’s relationship with his fellow minor inmate also did not prosper.
The BF is also already out of jail, Harry said, and he’s already married (to a woman). “Wala naman akong magawa kundi maging masaya na lang para sa kaniya. Pero magkaibigan kami ngayon (There’s nothing I can do but be happy for him. We’re still friends though),” Harry said.
As a freed man since 2016, Harry eventually found a job working for a local government official.
“Sa totoo lang, mahirap talaga ang buhay sa loob ng kulungan kapag kayo ay papasok so kailangan talaga na mag-ingat kayo na wag gumawa ng kasalanan (My advice to the LGBT people is for them to watch their actions because it is very hard to live behind the bars),” Harry said.
And to the incarcerated: “Sana mag-ingat na lang din sila kasi kailangan din nilang maipagtanggol yung sarili nila sa lahat ng maling gawain doon sa loob (To those who are inside, they should take care and learn to fight for themselves from every wrong thing that is happening inside).”
‘Practice what we believe without inciting hate’
With those opposing the non-discrimination of LGBTQIA people still using the Bible to promote their hatred/bigotry, there are numerous people of faith who say that practicing what we believe is possible without inciting hatred. In the end, the goal is to ensure everyone is treated equally; and for the State to sanction those who violate this concept of equality.
The SOGIE Equality Bill is needed, said Pastor Carleen Nomorosa, program coordinator at the National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP), because “kinikilala niya at inaangat niya ang kagalingan at kahusayan at ang maaaring maiambag pa ng LGBTQIA people sa iba’t ibang larangan (it recognizes and elevates how good LGBTQIA people can be, and their contribution to various sectors).”
Nomorosa noted that currently, a handful of LGBTQIA Filipinos are not even allowed to share their potentials because they are hindered by their sexual orientation, gender identity and expression (SOGIE). “And as a Christian, as a pastor, I believe that this (SOGIE) should not hinder LGBTQIA people from… fully participating in society,” she said.
This is why, for Sen. Risa Hontiveros, the sponsor of the SOGIE Equality Bill in the Upper House/Senate, there is a need to “remind ourselves of (what unites us). That we are all against any form of discrimination. That we want what’s best for each other. And that we want to preserve our values, and the Filipino family.” So “let’s treat each other with respect, empathy and openness.”
DEALING WITH LAW’S LIMITATIONS
For his part, Atty. Lyndon Caña of the traditional Coalition of Concerned Families of the Philippines, passing the SOGIE Equality Bill will go against the existing law of the land by – to start – giving credence to gender identity. Caña is particularly cognizant of the Supreme Court (SC) decision on the 2007 case of Rommel Jacinto Silverio/Mely Silverio, where the SC stipulated that a female person is one who produces ova/egg cells; while a male person produces spermatozoa.
As background info, on October 22, 2007, the SC’s First Division junked Silverio’s plea to change birth certificate entries — i.e. name to Mely, and sex to female. This after Silverio already underwent gender affirmation surgery. The court ruled that “the words ‘male’ and ‘female’ in everyday understanding do not include persons who have undergone sex reassignment.”
A Manila court earlier granted Silverio’s plea, but the Office of the Solicitor General elevated the matter to the Court of Appeals, where Silverio lost. The case was then raised to the SC, where Silverio lost with finality.
“While petitioner may have succeeded in altering his body and appearance through the intervention of modern surgery, no law authorizes the change of entry as to sex in the civil registry for that reason. Thus, there is no legal basis for his petition for the correction or change of the entries in his birth certificate,” the High Court said in the decision written by then Associate Justice Renato Corona.
But even the SC’s simplistic definition of what makes males and females may, however, be questioned.
And this is why, according to Prof. Revelation Velunta of the Union Theological Seminary (UTS), there is a need to: 1. Recognize that existing laws may have loopholes; and 2. Come up with solutions to deal with these loopholes.
In the Philippines, Velunta said, there is the Penal Code; which was revised. And then there was a law made to deal with rape; this was also eventually revised. “We always assume that we have anough laws,” he said. “The question then is: If we have enough laws, why do we revise (existing laws)?”
For Velunta, laws can have loopholes that may not answer the current needs. “And this is the case with the SOGIE Equality Bill,” he said.
CONFRONTING BIBLICAL BASHING
Velunta also said that the attempt to attack the SOGIE Equality Bill by using Biblical texts is flawed. This is – largely – because of “diversity”. To start, “we always ask: Which Bible (do we use)?”
Velunta said that there are 78 books in the Eastern Orthodox Church Bible; 79 in Ethiopian Orthodox Bible; 73 in the Roman Catholic Church Bible; 66 in the Bible used by Protestant churches; and 24 books in the Hebrew Bible. Right now, too, there are 5,700 Greek manuscripts of the New Testament; no two of them are exactly alike. And, also right now, there are over 2,000 English translations of the Bible, so that “there are more English translations of the Bible than there are English languages.”
Velunta, therefore, said that asking “what version (of the Bible)” is always necessary; or better yet, to focus instead on human sexuality diversity.
“For every (faith-based organization that) argues that (the SOGIE Equality Bill) should not be passed, there are (also) faith communities – Christians, Muslims and others – that say that it should be passed,” Velunta said. “For us, for example, we follow the example of Jesus who always took the side of the marginalized, oppressed and the poor. And in this particular situation, the LGBTQIA community is being marginalized. (They’re not asking for special favors, they) are just asking to be recognized that they are God’s children, they are created in God’s image, and being LGBTQIA is a celebration of God’s diversity, of God’s creation, and God’s love.”
DEALING WITH CONFUSIONS
Confusion continues to exist re the SOGIE Equality Bill, nonetheless.
For Kata Inocencio, who is with the 700 Club Asia, there is fear that their freedom to tackle homosexuality – considered a “disorder” with adultery, among others – in their TV programs will be hindered. With her ilk, Inocencio believes that being gay can be “cured”; and conversion therapy is a regular topic discussed in 700 Club Asia.
The SOGIE Equality Bill, however, does not intend to infringe on Constitutionally mandated/protected rights; and earlier efforts were already made to clarify what the bill intends to do/does not cover.
Still, for her part, Nomorosa of NCCP said that “we can still practice what we believe without inciting hate, discrimination and fear against people who do not fit our notion of ‘normal’.”
Nomorosa urged non-use of the Bible to prevent LGBTQIA people from becoming productive members of society because this very act “shows hate, and not the love of God.”
WANTED: HELP FROM THE STATE
From Cebu in the Visayas, helming the cirty’s anti-discrimination commission, Ms Magdalena Robinson said that there is a need for a national law to provide LGBTQIA people who experience discrimination a redress mechanism.
Robinson is cognizant that there are people – including members of the LGBTQIA community – who oppose giving protection to a minority sector that experiences discriminatory acts solely because of their SOGIE.
But “with our work in the (grassroots), we have really encountered (LGBTQIA people who experienced discrimination). You may not have experienced it firsthand, maybe you just heard of it, but we can’t dismiss that this is a reality for LGBTQIA people. That their identities, their relationships, their gender expressions… are used against them to attack their dignity and demean their very person. So what we want is for the State to provide (a) mechanism to exhaust legal remedies to deal with these.” – WITH ALBERT TAN MAGALLANES, JR.
EDITOR’S NOTES/ERRATUM (Sept. 11, 2019): In the earlier version of this article, Prof. Revelation Velunta of the Union Theological Seminary (UTS) was erroneously identified as “Prof. Salvation Velunta”. This has since been amended.
Our apologies for this error.
SC junks plea for marriage equality; but says Charter doesn’t limit marriage based on sex
The SC stated that the 1987 Constitution, from its “plain text,” “does not define, or restrict, marriage on the basis of sex, gender, sexual orientation, or gender identity or expression,” but the petition had to be dismissed based on Atty. Jesis Falcis III’s lack of standing, violation of the principle of hierarchy of courts, and failure to raise an actual, justiciable controversy.
The Supreme Court (SC) of the Philippines unanimously voted to dismiss on account of a technicality a historic petition to allow same-sex marriage in the country.
The SC dismissed Atty. Jesus Falcis III’ petition “on account of his lack of standing, violating the principle of hierarchy of courts, and failing to raise an actual, justiciable controversy,” SC’s spokesperson Brian Keith Hosaka said in a news conference on Tuesday, September 3.
In 2015, Falcis filed a petition asking the High Court to declare Articles 1 and 2 of the Family Code unconstitutional. The provisions of the 31-year-old law limits marriage between a man and a woman. However, the 1987 Constitution does not categorically state that a marriage must be only between a man and a woman.
But it is worth noting that the SC said the Constitution does not restrict marriage on the basis of sex.
The SC stated that the 1987 Constitution, from its “plain text,” “does not define, or restrict, marriage on the basis of sex, gender, sexual orientation, or gender identity or expression,” but the petition had to be dismissed based on Falcis’ lack of standing, violation of the principle of hierarchy of courts, and failure to raise an actual, justiciable controversy.
The SC ruled with a reminder against “premature” petitions, stating that actions done in the name of public interest “should be the result of collective decision coming from well-thought-out strategies of the movement in whose name we bring a case before this Court.”
Otherwise, the SC added, “premature petitions filed by those who seek to see their names in our jurisprudential records may only do more harm than good.”
For the SC, “good intentions are no substitute for deliberate, conscious and responsible action. Litigation for the public interest for those who have been marginalized and oppressed deserve much more than the way it has been handled in this case.”
The SC also held Falcis and his fellow lawyers, Darwin Angeles, Keisha Trina Guangko, and Christopher Ryan Maranan, liable for indirect contempt, stating that “to forget [the bare rudiments of court procedure and decorum] — or worse, to purport to know them, but really, only to exploit them by way of propaganda — and then, to jump headlong into the taxing endeavor of constitutional litigation is a contemptuous betrayal of the high standards of the legal profession.”
Associate Justice Marvic Leonen, the ponente, said the issue of same-sex partnerships “may, for now, be a matter that should be addressed to Congress.”
Leonen was quoted as saying by the SC’s Public Information Office (PIO) that the SC “recognized the protracted history of discrimination and marginalization faced by the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex and other gender and sexual minorities (LGBTQI+) community, along with their still ongoing struggle for equality.”
SC also “acknowledged that same-sex couples may morally claim that they have a right against discrimination for their choice of relationships” and said “official recognition of their partnerships may, for now, be a matter that should be addressed to Congress.”
The SC ruled that judicial adjudication entails ruling on issues “propelled by actual controversies,” adding that it can fully weigh the consequences of its decisions “only through the existence of actual facts and real adversarial presentations.”
But legislation “ideally allows public democratic liberation on the various ways to assure these fundamental rights,” the SC was quoted by the PIO. “Often public reason needs to be first shaped through the crucible of campaigns and advocacies within our political forums before it is sharpened for judicial fiat.”
Discrimination of LGBTQIA Filipinos goes beyond CR access, say activists
51% of 400 LGBTQIA community members surveyed claimed that they experienced discrimination in public schools, 31% in the streets, and 28% in private schools. This highlights that LGBTQIA-related discrimination happens in the Philippines go beyond toilet-related access.
Gretchen Diez may have self-proclaimed herself to be the “face of the LGBT movement”, but advocates of the SOGIE (Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity and Expression) Equality Bill noted that LGBTQIA-related discrimination happening in the Philippines go beyond toilet-related access.
Diez recently made the news because of her ordeal while trying to access the female toilet in Farmers Plaza, a mall in Cubao, Quezon City. But Diez, who has been in the limelight following her experience and not because of her involvement in LGBTQIA advocacy, now fashions herself as the sole representative of the local LGBTQIA community/as the community’s “face”.
During a Senate committee hearing on the measure held on August 20, mentioned was a survey conducted by Rainbow Rights Project Inc. (R-Rights) with Metro Manila Pride Inc. from 2017 to 2019, with the results showing that 51% of 400 LGBTQIA community members surveyed claiming that they experienced discrimination in public schools, 31% in the streets, and 28% in private schools.
And so Atty. Jazz Tamayo, executive director of R-Rights, the Constitution’s equal protection clause is not enough to guarantee equality. “We need laws that will specifically compel if it cannot make people understand what equality is. The fight for the SOGIE (Equality) Bill has been too long, all these cases, all these suffering… they simply must stop.”
There are also instances when State bodies end up promoting LGBTQIA discrimination. In Cagayan de Oro City in 2016, for instance, the regional trial court (RTC) sided with a school principal who ordered a Grade 4 student to wear school curtains as punishment for violating the dress code.
“The child was made to wear school curtains as a punishment for failing to abide by (the) uniform policy. This was done to the child no less than six times by the defendant principal,” Tamayo said. “The judge ruled that the child was too young to venture into a lifestyle of a gender identity that is different from the child’s assigned sex at birth.”
The RTC judge further ruled that the mother of the child was to blame for “not guiding her child better.”
“I can imagine the chilling effect it will have for other parents who would have to file cases like this… (with) the judge just berating them about how they did not discipline their child,” Tamayo added.
For her part, Disney Aguila, president of Pinoy Deaf Rainbow Inc. (PDR), the pioneering organization for Deaf LGBTQIA Filipinos, recalled how she – herself – encountered discrimination because she identifies as a transgender woman.
Speaking to Outrage Magazine, Aguila recalled how – when she applied for a job – the HR (human resource) person of a clothing company based in Pasay City at first “praised her for looking nice”. But the same PR officer – when going through Aguila’s bio-data – saw that her assigned sex at birth was male; and “she frowned.” The HR officer asked Aguila to turn around, and then started pulling her braided hair; she then asked Aguila to have her hair cut.
When Aguila asked why, she was told that it’s because she is a “he”, based on her assigned sex at birth, and that either she presents herself as a man or not be hired. Aguila left that office without a job.
“The level of discrimination we encounter is doubled not only because we are persons with disability (PWD) but also because of our SOGIESC,” Aguila said.
Meanwhile, Perci Cendaña – former commissioner at the National Youth Commission, and now with Babaylanes Inc. – cited the cases of: 1) a certain Jay, a Grade 12 transgender man from Pampanga, who did not finish his secondary school because when he met with his principal for college requirements, he was berated for not following the school dress code; and 2) transgender senior high school students of the Polytechnic University of the Philippines who – at first – were told that they would not graduate if they won’t follow the school’s prescribed haircut, and though they were later allowed to graduate, they did not receive a certificate of good moral character, which is a requirement for many colleges/universities for incoming students.
“The Philippine youth development plan states that youth development is defined as enabled, involved, patriotic youth realizing their aspirations. Discrimination, stigma… is a deterrent to development,” Cendaña said. “We would like to reiterate that discrimination is an issue not just of human rights but a development issue because it deters our young people from realizing their aspirations.”
“When you give us equal rights, there is no taking from you. There is no lessening of you. No one is any less a man or a woman. The SOGIE Equality Bill means simply that, an acceptance that we are different but equal,” Tamayo of R-Rights ended.
Civil partnership bill refiled in 18th Congress
Under House Bill 2264, all benefits and protections granted to spouses in marriage under existing laws, administrative orders, court rulings, or those derived as a matter of public policy would also be enjoyed by civil partnership couples.
Separate but equal.
A bill proposing to allow couples to enter into a civil partnership, whether they are of the opposite or of the same sex, has been filed by former Speaker and Davao del Norte 1st District Rep. Pantaleon Alvarez in the 18th Congress.
Under House Bill 2264, all benefits and protections granted to spouses in marriage under existing laws, administrative orders, court rulings, or those derived as a matter of public policy would also be enjoyed by civil partnership couples.
At the same time, laws on marital relations, including donations by reason of marriage, legal separation, adoption, child custody and support, property division and maintenance, and spousal support, will also apply to civil partnership couples.
In refiling the civil partnership bill, Alvarez stressed the right of all Filipinos to equal protection under the law and to freely associate themselves with others.
“This bill… hereby proposes to allow couples to enter into a civil partnership, whether they are of the opposite or of the same sex,” he said. “It aims to be a landmark effort to provide civil rights, benefits, and responsibilities to couples, previously unable to marry, by giving them due recognition and protection from the State.”
Alvarez filed the same bill in the 17th Congress, where it failed to get pass the deliberations of its mother committee.
But at that time, Atty. Clara Rita Padilla, executive director of EnGendeRights Inc., a human rights organization that fights against discrimination of women and LGBTQI people, said that Philippine law should uphold the basic human rights of everyone regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, and expression (SOGIE).
“LGBTQI people enjoy the same rights to equality and non-discrimination as all Filipino citizens, thus, our laws should afford LGBTQI people the same rights as heterosexuals. The right to marry is a basic human right that everyone should enjoy – heterosexuals and LGBTQI people alike. It is guaranteed by our constitutional rights to equality, equal protection of the law, privacy, religion and belief,” Padilla said.
Presently, LGBTQI couples are denied the benefits enjoyed by heterosexuals, such as the right to jointly adopt children, own conjugal properties, intestate succession, immigration, avail of tax exemption, and avail of benefits related to insurance, social security, medical, hospitalization, next-of-kin, burial, among others. These benefits have long been enjoyed by married heterosexual couples simply because they are heterosexuals.
In a 2018 Social Weather Stations (SWS) survey – done via face-to-face interviews from March 23 to 27, and which asked 1,200 respondents across the country whether or not they agree with the statement “there should be a law that will allow the civil union of two men or two women” – at least 61% of the respondents said they would oppose a bill that would legalize this in the country. Among them, 44% said they strongly disagree, while 17% said they somewhat disagree. Meanwhile, 22% said they would support it, while 16% said they were still “undecided,”
But according to Pres. Rodrigo Duterte’s spokesperson at that time, Harry Roque, the President is said to support civil unions but not same-sex marriage (https://outragemag.com/duterte-backs-civil-unions-not-same-sex-marriage-spox-roque/).
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