For 17 years, House Bill 267 or the “Anti-Discrimination Bill (ADB) on the Basis of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity” has been repeatedly refiled in previous Congresses. The most recent efforts to reinitiate debates on the bill came from Representative Geraldine Roman of the First District of Bataan, who delivered a privilege speech urging members of Congress to finally pass the bill.
The Catholic Church, however, as well as several lawmakers, have positioned themselves against the bill mainly because they believe it has a hidden “same-sex marriage component.” The bill, however, only includes provisions on prohibiting several acts that unfairly discriminate against members of the LGBTQ community, making it illegal for anyone to force an individual to undergo a medical or psychological exam to “alter” their gender or sexual orientation, and providing jail terms to those who violate its provisions.
Roman has previously stated that a bill promoting same-sex marriage would be filed in the future, as reported by CNN Philippines. Although it would seem to take more time to approve the bill, recently, last December 2016, a separate bill called Senate Bill 1271 which “seeks to protect the LGBTQ community from hate crimes and discrimination,” has finally reached the Senate plenary. Senator Risa Hontiveros sponsored the bill through a committee report, calling it a “historic first.”
What counts as discriminatory practices?
The ADB aims to protect the LGBTQ community and promote inclusivity as the LGBTQ community in the country is not represented in any law. One of the main challenges of approving the bill is the prevailing Catholic conservatism in the country. Those in favor of the bill, however, argue that people must view it secularly, as it is not a religious matter and it specifically refers to promoting rights for the LGBTQ community.
Those considered in the ADB as discriminatory practices against the LGBTQ community include using sexual orientation or gender identity as criteria for employment, basis for admission or expulsion in an educational institution, measures for imposing disciplinary sanctions in schools, reasons for revoking the accreditation of organizations or groups, and basis as to deny a person’s access to public or private medical services, among several others.
According to Roman, there are no current data on the violations of labor standards affecting LGBT employees. She has mentioned that even the Supreme Court is confused in using the LGBT and homosexuals interchangeably, and only 164 cases of hate crime have been recorded since 1996 because there are no officers in the Department of Justice (DOJ), Philippine National Police (PNP), and National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) who would record such cases.
The ADB has been met with several controversies, most of which follow the conflicting opinions of different senators and congressmen on the matter. At a hearing, Senator Vicente Sotto III argued that if the ADB is to be passed, people could easily disguise themselves as members of the LGBTQ community and harass others—most especially women— in bathrooms. As the bill aims to eliminate discrimination, LGBTQ members cannot be denied access to the use of facilities and services.
Roman responds to Sotto’s claim stating that regardless of the passing of the bill, anyone could still make use of such modus operandi. The bill’s goal is to simply give the LGBTQ community the freedom to express themselves without being subjected to discrimination.
Additionally, Sotto highlights that those who cross-dress could use this as a way for them not to comply with dress codes, especially in bars. Roman initially agreed with Sotto’s argument, but later added that this was not the issue at hand, as the real problem lies within the establishments that continue to discriminate those who cross-dress.
Another notable controversy is the statement made by Senator Manny Pacquiao, as he states that cross-dressing may resort to fraud. Pacquiao presented the story of Jennifer Laude, a transgender who was murdered due to her sexual orientation. This led Senator Risa Hontiveros, a partner advocate of the ADB, to call out Pacquiao for victim-blaming. She stated that Laude was simply cross-dressing because she was staying true to her sexual orientation, gender identity, and expression.
Students’ take on the bill
“I fully support the ADB and I believe it could be the first step to a more peaceful society in the Philippines. However, the implementation is what I’m worried about the most, because it could be passed as a law but would it be taken seriously especially by the local authorities?” comments Elline Espanta (III, AB-DSM). As mentioned by Roman, officers in the DOJ, PNP, and NBI have only rarely documented cases of hate crimes against the LGBTQ community. Whether the possible passage of the bill as a law will ensure strict implementation or not remains to be seen.
For Iris See (III, BS-LGL), members of the LGBTQ community would gain better employment opportunities through the bill. “The employer would not be able to judge you on other [factors]. The employer must solely base the applicant on [their] work ethics, personality, rating, and position and not about his or her personal beliefs,” she adds.
Meanwhile, Kyle Jayco (III, DSM-MGT) ascertains that the opposition of the Catholic Church against the bill has delayed its approval for a long time. He believes that through the bill, Philippine society will move forward and become open-minded. “We are all different and we should accept everyone on who they are. I think that the bill is important and should be implemented, but due to different factors such as religious affiliation, it would be difficult for the bill to be passed and be implemented in the country as a whole,” he argues.
“I think it’s quite [appalling] that it has come to a point wherein we actually have to have a law that practically requires individuals to be decent human beings to other people or else they’d get penalized. It’s sad how we have to institutionalize common courtesy and kindness for it to happen when in reality, it should be a default thing,” emphasizes Nat Ermino (IV, AB-DSM).
While there is an increasing awareness on the plight of the LGBTQ community, many Filipinos and members of the government’s legislative branch continue to have conflicting opinions that essentially delay the passage of the ADB. It has been 17 years, and as stated by Roman, now would be the moment to finally approve the bill, as Filipinos are learning to voice out their opinions more on the ongoing discourses.