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The Years of Living Dangerously

LGBT-related hate crimes have been making the news. And while in the Philippines these are still often “blamed” on the gays, R-Rights’ Atty. Angie Umbac believes pointing fingers on who to blame is not the way to go about this. “The point is we are not after who to blame, but on ending the crimes and the hate that caused them. No one deserves to get hurt, or to be killed,” Umbac says.

In November 2006 (as reported by the Pilipino Star Ngayon, philstar.com), Ilocos Norte Rep. Imelda Josefa Remedios, a.k.a. Imee, Marcos suggested for the government to develop a program that will teach gays “Kung Fu or other forms of martial arts or self-defense for them to be able to defend themselves,” she was quoted as saying, with the urgency stressed with the noting of the “sunud-sunod na pagpatay sa mga bakla (murder of gays one after another)”, or, possibly, “gumagalang gay killer (gay killer on the loose).”

Gays need this, Marcos said, “upang maipagtanggol ang kanilang mga sarili (so they can defend themselves).”

The proposal may have been laughable for many, but the bigger issue was no laughing matter – it was, in fact, so dead serious, as the cliché goes, that many died (and continue dying) because of it.

The issue at hand is gay hate crimes.

HATE IS HATE

Hate crimes, also known as bias-motivated crimes, “occur when a perpetrator targets a victim because of his/her perceived membership in a certain social group, e.g. racial group, religion, sexual orientation, nationality, gender/gender identity, political affiliation, et cetera, states Rebecca L. Stotzer, writing Comparison of Hate Crime Rates Across Protected and Unprotected Groups for the Williams Institute (law.ucla.edu). Incidents involved include: physical assault, damage to property, harassment/bullying, verbal abuse, and, yes, murder.

While only recently getting more of much-needed attention, hate crimes are nothing new. When the Romans fed the early Christians to the lions, that was motivated by hate (and fear, too). When White American members of the Ku Klux Clan burned Black Americans on crosses or hanged them on trees, this was done out of spite. When the early European settlers of the New World (16th to 17th centuries) targeted the Native Americans/American Indians, they were driven by hate (among others). When Adolf Hitler wanted to rid the world of Jews (World War II), hate was the driver.

And hate drove the crimes against the likes of Matthew Shepard (tied on a fence and left to die by men who targeted him for being gay in 1998), transgender man Brandon Teena (raped before he was murdered in 1993), Sakia Gunn (the 15-year-old Newark, N.J., teen fatally stabbed in May 2003 after she rebuffed the advances of a man who told him she was a lesbian), and Elvys Perez (also known as Bella Evangelista, the Washington, D.C. transgender woman killed in August 2003 after a man, who had paid Evangelista for a sex act, discovered she was biologically a man).

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The “freedom” card, e.g. free speech, is often used to defend biases, but for the US Supreme Court, penalties against hate crimes “do not conflict with free speech rights because they do not punish an individual for exercising freedom of expression; rather, they allow courts to consider motive when sentencing a criminal.”
A crime may be a crime, even if tagged differently; but why the special attention given to hate crimes?

When it enacted the Hate Crimes Act of 2000, the New York State Legislature found that:

“Hate crimes do more than threaten the safety and welfare of all citizens. They inflict on victims incalculable physical and emotional damage and tear at the very fabric of free society. Crimes motivated by invidious hatred toward particular groups not only harm individual victims but send a powerful message of intolerance and discrimination to all members of the group to which the victim belongs. Hate crimes can and do intimidate and disrupt entire communities and vitiate the civility that is essential to healthy democratic processes. In a democratic society, citizens cannot be required to approve of the beliefs and practices of others, but must never commit criminal acts on account of them.”

Unfortunately, “current law does not adequately recognize the harm to public order and individual safety that hate crimes cause. Therefore, our laws must be strengthened to provide clear recognition of the gravity of hate crimes and the compelling importance of preventing their recurrence. Accordingly, hate crimes should be prosecuted and punished with appropriate severity.”

IFTAS elder Marlon Toldeo Lacsamana agrees.

“According to Stotzer, hate crimes or bias-motivated crimes occur when a perpetrator targets a victim because of his or her perceived membership in a certain social group, usually defined by racial, religion, sexual orientation, disability, class, ethnicity, nationality, age, gender, gender identity, or political affiliation. I think based from the definition of what is a hate crime, we as a community can call it as such,” Lacsamana says. “But as a country we do not have laws or policies recognizing it, thus most of the cases were filed under robbery with homicide or possible homicide.”

There were, of course, attempts in the past to come up with documentation on violence committed against GLBTQIs. The most definitive so far was a research done in 2004 by Lesbian Advocates Philippines on documenting instances of discrimination against Filipino lesbians, which had 10 case studies and many other instances coming from testimonies in small group discussions. “Were the instances cited in that study hate-related? Yes: hate-related, fear-related,” Angie Umbac of R-Rights says. Sadly, among the “identified perpetrators were family members, employers, co-employees, et cetera.”

Umbac adds: “Because the term ‘crime’ is vague and can include non-violent instances like estafa or theft, there is need to gather data on acts of violence.”

CRIME AFTER CRIME

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For GLBTQI Filipinos, the counting of seemingly hate-related cases hasn’t halted, and has, in fact, been going on and on and on and…

According to Umbac, while there are efforts of women’s human rights activists in the Philippines to gather data affected by crimes, the available data is sex-disaggregated data (meaning data is determined according to boys/girls), so that “the concept of orientation or identity is not a factor in the data-gathering and recording, making GLBTQIs fall through the cracks, so to speak.”

Numerous media reports highlight (supposed) LGBT-related crimes happening in the Philippines.

Start the counting.

In November 2006, the same month that Marcos commented on the gay killings, Joselito SierVo, 38, executive producer ng Pinoy Dream Academy (PDA) of ABS-CBN was found dead in his house in Quezon City – an occurrence that actually triggered Marcos to speak, because two other ABS-CBN gay employees were killed seemingly on the same manner: i.e. on May 26, 2005, Eli “Mama Elay” Formaran, 52, an entertainment writer, was also found dead in his house; and on August 8, 2005, the decaying body of Larry Estandarte, 27, ABS-CBN program researcher, was found inside the room he rented in UP Village, Brgy. Krus na Ligas, Quezon City.

This is nothing new, if cases are to be reviewed – e.g. as early as February 18, 1998, Larry Arciaga, 34, was found dead from stab wounds in his own salon in Barangay Poblacion, Muntinlupa City.

This isn’t limited to metropolitan cities – e.g. on March 22, 2008, still unidentified gunmen shot dead a homosexual salon owner, Romeo Lim, 25, in the largely Muslim province of Sulu.

This does not choose between affluent or impoverished – e.g. in April 2006, the body of relatively known fashion designer Melchor Vergel de Dios was found along Commonwealth Avenue in Quezon City; and in March 2004, DZAM radio announcer William Castro, 42, was found dead in the room he rented at 6401 Phase II Bldg. 6, Sikatuna Bliss, Quezon City, triggering the police to summarily arrest (then released with no one charged) 13 male sex workers who may have been with the victim at one time or another.

This affects all GLBTQIs – e.g. on May 11, 2003, the body of an unidentified transgender was found in a river in Camp Pantaleon Garcia in Cavite – she was raped before she was stabbed to death; and on July 15, 2004, Lorna Dating, 26, a native of Iloilo, and who used to work as a house help at 389 Batangas St., Ayala Alabang Village, Muntinlupa City was found dead after (the police suspected) she fought off a would-be rapist.

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And it continues to happen to these days – e.g. on August 16, 2009, the body of Winton Lou Ynion was found drenched in his own blood in the toilet of his condominium unit in Katipunan, Quezon City (the Palanca Award-winning writer, and fellow in the 5th IYAS National Writers Workshop held in Bacolod City in 2005, was found with his hands and feet tied with a nylon cord and his body covered with stab wounds); on December 2, 2009, Aries Alcantara, 28, a hairdresser in San Pascual, Obando, Bulacan was shot in front of Red Palmas Restaurant at Panghulo Road, Panghulo; and on February 17, 2010, the lifeless body of Enrico “Jeric” Esquerra, 50, was found in San Jose St., Brgy. Damayan, in the City of Manila (he had multiple stab wounds, and his head was covered with plastic when his body was found).

And these are just cases that made it to the news, with the victims either out or eventually outed as GLBTQIs after the heinous crimes. Many, in a still largely homophobic world, would prefer the sex and/or gender identity of those who were murdered to stay hidden, so that no reporting correlating the crime with sex/gender is done. On this, Lacsamana notes that “the family don’t want to pursue the case when it’s going to be obvious that their son was killed for being gay,” he says. “How to deal with these challenges is still a challenge, we (GLBTQIA Filipinos) have not met as a group since we are basically a young formation. The details of documentation are so far (the only thing that) we have agreed on.”

Still other cases documented – by an initiative done by the Metropolitan Community Church-Quezon City, SGO-Phils, OUTPhils, GABAY, and IFTAS to identify GLBTQI Filipinos affected by hate crimes – include the murder of Father Robert Tanghal (2005), beautician Joel Binsali (2005), advertising consultant Carl Roman Santos (2005), businessman Francisco Uy (2006), doctor Epi Ramos (2006), and lesbian Matilde Sinolan (2010).

With hate crimes, particularly among GLBTQIs, still not given much attention, yes; but it has become dangerous living for GLBTQIs in the Philippines.

LEGALIZED FAILURE

The closest to a legalized protection of GLBTQI Filipinos may come from the Anti-Discrimination Bill, filed and re-filed in the Lower and Upper Houses of Congress since 2001 (initially with some pushing from Amnesty International), which seeks to, mainly, ban discrimination based on sexual orientation. The Bill’s incarnations include: in 2004, House Bill 6416 was filed; and in 2006, Senate Bill No. 165 by Sen. Loi Estrada, Senate Bill No 1641 by Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago (She ‘loves’ GLBTQI Filipinos, but that love seems to have a limit – Ed), and Senate Bill No. 1738 by Sen. Ramon Revilla Jr., as well as House Bill 634, a counterpart bill filed by AKBAYAN Representatives Loretta Ann Rosales, Mario Aguja and Risa Hontiveros-Baraquel.

Sadly, aside from the non-passage of the Bill, there exist, too, bills that are anti-GLBTQI – e.g. in 2006, House Bill 1245 was filed by Rep. Rozzano Rufino “Ruffy” Biazon to amend the country’s Family Code to limit marriage to “natural born males and natural born females” only; and in the Senate, Senate Bill No. 1276, sponsored by Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago, aims to bar same-sex marriages performed outside the country from receiving legal recognition in the Philippines.

With the law not necessarily on GLBTQIA Filipinos’ side, occurrences that heterosexual-identifying Filipinos do not pay attention to become big issues for GLBTQIAs – e.g. on May 24, 2008, Sass Rogando Sasot, with other members of the Society of Transsexual Women of the Philippines (STRAP), were refused entry into Ice Vodka Bar, located in Greenbelt 3, 3F Ayala Center, Makati City because Ayala Corporation (owner of Greenbelt) was supposed to have had a standing agreement with its tenants (i.e. bars) not to allow transgenders to enter its premises on Fridays and Saturdays (The allegation was denied, even if the barring did happen – Ed). Earlier, on July 4, 2006, TV personality Inday Garutay was told to leave Aruba Restaurant in Metrowalk Commercial Center in Pasig City because she cross-dressed. And who could forget BB Gandanghari, who, on April 25, 2009 was also barred by the same bar for the same reason.

No deaths in these, true – but gender-specific crimes were committed, since the transgenders were targeted to be refused entry, a violation of, to begin with, the Section I of Article III: Bill of Rights of the Philippine Constitution, which states that “No person shall be… denied the equal protection of the laws.”

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INTERNALIZING THE BLAME

When the body of Ynion was found days after he was murdered, the Quezon City Police District said: “We have yet to determine what the victim does for a living and the motive for his killing, although our initial theory was robbery.”

This reasoning – i.e. robbery – is actually the usual reasoning given by the police, whose “logic” – simplistic as it may be – is accepted as truth. And, the saddest part is, even GLBTQIs seem to accept the reasoning as valid – e.g. discussing the gay murders by unknown men/women, the standing joke among gay men themselves is the “insufficient amount paid by the bakla to the call boy (the killer, deemed) hired to give sexual service/s,” says Joan Dioso, a beautician cum local organizer in San Antonio Village in Makati City. “At least that what we joke about (in the beauty parlor), and (what just about everyone) I know joke about.”

In Queer and Present Danger: Gay Rights in the Philippines, the Baguio City-based Igorota Foundation stated that “a lot of myths and conceptions that (GLBTQIs) face also spring from gender stereotypes — or the fixed, unquestioned beliefs or images we carry in the back of our minds about men and women passed from one generation to the next… What is frustrating is that these stereotypes are perpetuated by institutions of mass socialization, such as the church, the school, the media, the workplace – all of which legitimize homophobia and discrimination against GBLTQIs.”

“That we talk the way we do (in these crimes involving other GLBTQIs) is no laughing matter,” Dioso admits. “We are getting killed one by one.” Dioso adds, though, that “we don’t know of how else to deal with the situation, so we just laugh at it (even at the expense of those who died).”

But while gay-related crimes in the Philippines are often “blamed” on the gays – e.g. they picked up sex workers, and there were disagreements on the prices – Umbac believes pointing fingers on who to blame is not the way to go about this. “It is a fact of life that there are risks; everyone makes the occasional mistake in choosing people to trust. But it cannot be blamed on one person or one sector. The perpetrators of crimes do not have a single profile. It cannot be blamed on gay men. It cannot be blamed on sex workers as well, who for all we know have also been robbed, killed, violated by their clients. The point is we are not after who to blame, but on ending the crimes and the hate that caused them. No one deserves to get hurt, or to be killed,” Umbac says.

SMALL(EST) STEPS

R-Rights’ Umbac says that there remain numerous challenges even in just documenting gay hate crimes in the Philippines – e.g. The absence of resources devoted to this (so that even in monitoring sensationalized news reports on acts committed against tomboys or baklas is not sustained); in fatal acts of violence, families are reluctant to admit that the victim is LGBT, in a bid to “save face”; identification of a victim as GLBTQI, and the crime as a hate crime unless the perpetrator says so (“And, strangely enough, some do admit that,” Umbac says), as opposed to random acts of violence not targeting a particular group; and the issue of language/terminology where identification of GLBTQIs are stereotypical, rendering bisexuals, femme lesbians, transgender males, and females as invisible or lumped into the generalizations (“For example, a victim can be identified as bakla because he had painted nails, had long hair, or wore lipstick,” Umbac says. “It is inaccurate. In addition, many victims do not have these characteristics”).

In 2008, the chief of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR), Leila de Lima, vowed to promote the rights and welfare of GLBTQIs, even as she lamented the non-passage of the Anti-Discrimination Bill in Congress. “(Filipino GLBTQIs) remain one of the sectors most vulnerable to human rights abuses, such as discrimination in the workplace and even harassment in educational institutions,” she said, adding that even with the discrimination, even after submitted “close to a decade ago, (the proposed measure) is still pending in Congress.”

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Sans legalized power to sanction abusers, what CHR can just do is to “encourage those who have been unfortunate enough to suffer discrimination or other human rights abuses to report these incidents to the Commission for investigation and other appropriate action.”

Not much, truth be told – but better than nothing.

For Project Equality, a network of groups and individuals pushing for GLBTQI rights, in the failure of the national government to deal with GLBTQI issues, localizing efforts may be among the better (if not best) alternatives. “We have seen in the last… years the openness of local governments to legislate GLBTQI rights at the local level,” the group said in a statement released upon its establishment in late 2008, citing the case of Quezon City, which passed an ordinance prohibiting the discrimination of homosexuals in employment, as well as ordinances being tackled in Albay and in the City of Manila.

Progress is still pending.

“When the Anti-Discrimination Bill was drafted, we knew the next step would be an Anti-Hate Crime Bill as we expected backlash that would result from our small victories in our bid for recognition of our rights,” Umbac says, noting how numerous institutions still “perpetrate hate against us.” But “from the events of 2009, the spate of killings and hateful statements of (legislators who want) to criminalize our unions, I believe that the time has come (to have a law against hate crimes).”

COMPLACENCY KILLS

Pilipino Star Ngayon (philstar.com) is among those to stress that, “ayon sa ulat, pangatlo na si SierVo sa ABS-CBN gay employee na pinaslang sa Quezon City sa nakalipas na dalawang taon (according to reports, SierVo is the third gay ABS-CBN employee murdered in Quezon City in the past two years).” That report was from 2004 to 2006.

But ABS-CBN, itself, hasn’t taken up the cause of the murdered gays.

The murders haven’t stopped – e.g. Esguerra was killed only in January.
And they are unlikely to stop anytime soon, with the hate, in fact, continuing – e.g. Makati City, under former mayor Jejomar Binay, was able to institutionalize hate with a dress code barring gay men dressed as women from entering the premises of the city hall (August 16, 2000 – cited by C.R. Padilla and F.C. Vargas in Lesbians and the Philippine Law from Women’s Journal on Law and Culture, July-December 2001, Vol. 1, No. 1).

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For Lacsamana, “at present, what we are doing is documenting the different cases, we plan to profile these to be used in possible dialogue with PNP, as well as the Commission on Human Rights.”

With no relief coming anytime soon, Filipino GLBTQIs may, indeed, have to take it upon themselves to deal with the issue – e.g. as De Lima says, report, report, report (or: blog, blog, blog – IFTAS, et al “came out with an open later enjoining the community that if they heard of a case they can e-mail the group about them), with the logic being the bringing of the issue at the forefront.

Small steps, yes; but steps, nonetheless.

Back to Marcos, who said that GLBTQIs are now “considered weaker sex ng mga kalalakihan, at sinasamantala na rin ang kanilang kahinaan (by men who take advantage of this weakness),” she was said to have stated. “Sayang naman dahil malaki ang naiiambag nila sa lipunan, at marami pa sana silang magagawa (Losing them is such a waste because they have contributed a lot to society, and they could have done more).”

“While we look to our legislators to come up with appropriate laws, and our law enforcers to keep us safe, I think the first line of defense is the community’s vigilance. We need to protect ourselves. I am looking for simplistic solutions like getting photos of persons our friends go out with. Yes, there is a premium for privacy, but we can’t be too careful; I like keeping my friends alive. It matters to me that future perpetrators know there is the risk of being caught; I hope it will somehow dissuade them. But I am also afraid that they could be so brazen as to actually taunt us and keep us in fear. I know the answers are out there, we have to find them. One thing for sure, we have to confront this as a community,” Umbac ends.

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