As the previous administrations pushed for the passage of the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity and Expression (SOGIE) Equality Bill and civil union for same-sex couples in the Philippines, actions and responses of president-elect Ferdinand Marcos Jr. are being anticipated.
Advocating the progress of laws to protect the members of the LGBTQ+ community from discrimination, Marcos Jr. expressed in a townhall session with sectoral representatives last March 28 his support to push Congress to pass a bill concerning same-sex unions in spite of being in a Catholic-dominated country.
Liberated, yet unprotected
In 2014, transgender woman Jennifer Laude was violently murdered by former US soldier Joseph Scott Pemberton after he discovered Laude’s gender identity. This case became the rallying point of LGBTQ+ groups, activists, and protesters in demanding accountability from the United States Embassy and the Philippine government.
Under the Duterte administration, transgender woman Gretchen Diez was arrested in August 2019 after a janitress made her step out in a women’s bathroom. Relatedly, an attack occurred in Zamboanga City where several young men assaulted a gay man in August 2021. These cases provoked public outcry, which heightened the demand for urgency toward the passing of the SOGIE Equality Bill.
Duterte frequently commended and supported fair treatment, protection, and basic human rights of LGBTQ+ members. However, the administration lacked effort in pursuing legitimate laws to not only address the issue of attacks and discrimination, but to protect every individual’s SOGIE and their rights to public and legal services, healthcare, education, and freedom.
For 20 years and counting, the SOGIE Equality Bill remains pending despite many instances of refiling. Several versions of anti-discrimination bills were also introduced, including House Bill 5687 in 2015–which prohibits discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community and penalizes violators—and the Anti-SOGI Discrimination Act that was proposed by Geraldine Roman, the first transgender woman in the House of Representatives. However, neither bill has been passed.
The long-overdue implementation of the SOGIE Equality Bill is still considered a difficult yet urgent fight for many, not just for those who support the bill and the LGBTQ+ community. With this, supporters of the SOGIE Equality Bill continue to anticipate the future efforts of Marcos Jr.’ administration.
When asked about this matter in the SMNI Presidential Candidate interview, Marcos Jr. stated that the issues that individuals in the LGBTQ+ community face are not polarizing—adding that the Philippines is “much more open minded about it considering the fact that we are in fact [a] very Roman Catholic country.”
Students and activists still uphold conviction and anticipation for the Marcos administration to finally push legislation toward the protection of SOGIE against violence, homophobia, and transphobia.
Moira Pulumbarit, the LGBTQIA+ representative for the Council of Student Sectors of the Arts College Government (ACG), asserts that the implementation of anti-discriminatory measures provided in the SOGIE Equality Bill must not only be directed toward the LGBTQ+ community but to all sectors of society. “When you are for the LGBTQ+ community, you should also be for the masses,” she asserts.
According to her, it is crucial for government officials to not only establish policies and laws for its relevance, but to “elect the people who truly represent the [LGBTQ+] community.”
To this, ACG DLSU Assistant Representative for LGBTQIA+ Nio Tujan expresses, “Our incoming leaders and administration make me feel uncertain about the steps moving forward regarding the SOGIE Equality Bill,” he comments, adding that Marcos Jr. also did not provide well-founded ideologies or stances surrounding the SOGIE Equality Bill during his 2022 Election campaign.
He furthers that, “[I] expect that the president-elect shall continue the legacy of the [late dictator Ferdinand Marcos Sr.’s] administration,” pertaining to the exclusion of minorities and marginalized groups, and SOGIE representation in established laws in the Philippines during the Martial Law period.
Along with the persistence of stigma and discrimination within the country, the lack of systematized circulation of rightful information about the LGBTQ+ lives, histories, and issues directly impede the lives of many.
Bryon Neil Senga, a professor from the Department of Sociology at the University of the Philippines Diliman, says the current government leaders ought to prioritize and to address the lack of legal protections by starting with this advocacy in academic institutions.
For those who have become victims of discrimination, Senga expresses that it has become difficult to make sense of their experiences, stressing that “our perpetrators are [from] the schools or the administration themselves, so it has become very difficult to obtain justice.”
“Educational systems should certainly implement modules and [feature] theories, such as the awareness [on LGBTQ+ inclusivity],” Senga highlights. “Actually, we’ve had the project before. I was personally involved in Gamal El Camino modules…for teachers, [which would guide them] on how they can be more sensitive to the learners’ experiences.”
As one of the educators who pushed for the passage of the SOGIE Equality Bill in the Philippines, he also stresses the importance of the provisions which require government agencies to establish diversity training on gender sensitivity and human rights.
“Ideally, this prevents discrimination based on SOGIE in social institutions, then they may also incorporate these activities for existing programs, high school curricula, and instructional materials,” he adds.
As long as these measures are observed by the country’s legislators, Marcos Jr.’s administration can easily set the trajectory for the bills since the president himself should not justify further delays in basic human rights. His early acts will also create a precedent for the type of government the Philippines will have, one that will either uphold or reject the rights of the LGBTQ+ people.