Recall the campaign period of Sara Duterte-Carpio. Plaid in her signature green polo shirt, she proudly expressed her support for the LGBTQ+ community. It’s a typical election trick to make the candidate more approachable to marginalized sectors. But in a twist no one saw coming, she declared, “LGBT din ako.” Although she never clarified whether she identified with a specific sexual orientation, she shared that she sometimes wants to be a man, to look like a man, and to act like a man.
For some, it only affirms how Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. and Duterte-Carpio’s message of “unity” could reach multiple sectors of society. Her words act as a sympathy call to her supporters to say that her heart is one with the community. But for many, Duterte-Carpio’s words were a cheap tactic to gain the support of the Filipino LGBTQ+ community—further undermining the importance of the true integration of the community in our society.
In fact, Duterte-Carpio’s words sound eerily similar to that of her father’s. Rodrigo Duterte’s track record on LGBTQ+ issues is quite fickle. Before he was elected, Duterte “considered” same-sex marriage, only to revoke it in 2017 when he assumed the presidency to avoid hostile reactions from the Church. During his speech on a visit to Tokyo last 2019, the president claimed he “used to be gay,” declaring, “beautiful women cured me.” What seemed to be a joke only rubbed many the wrong way—a common trait in the president’s style of rhetoric.
While presidential spokesperson Harry Roque affirmed the president’s support for the SOGIE Equality Bill, his actions did not reflect his supposed stances. As of writing, the SOGIE Bill has failed to be approved in the 17th and 18th Congresses. Instead, local government units—such as the cities of Mandaluyong and Cebu—took action to implement their own versions of the anti-discrimination ordinances during the administration.
It may come to a point where Duterte-Carpio may follow the path of his father, making promises she cannot keep. Without any concrete plans for safeguarding the community, further progressing LGBTQ+ rights becomes a daunting task to undertake. However, it becomes all the more difficult with the current roster of senators-elect. With a majority of their platforms heavily centered on economic recovery, infrastructure, and alleviating the COVID-19 pandemic, where does this leave marginalized sectors like the queer community?
Among the 12 senators-elect, Risa Hontiveros and Chiz Escudero are the only ones who continue to champion LGBTQ+ rights. Many of their colleagues, however, will be in staunch opposition, especially on important matters such as the SOGIE Bill and same-sex marriage.
Senate frontrunner Robin Padilla, in particular, has a history of homophobic remarks and in 2016 defended Sen. Manny Pacquiao after the latter remarked that gay people were worse than animals. Likewise, Sen. Joel Villanueva in 2019 protested against the SOGIE Equality Bill, saying that it would “pave the way for eventual destruction of the Filipino culture and values.” Of course, Padilla and Villanueva aren’t the only anti-LGBTQ+ senators-elect, and their contempt for LGBTQ+ people isn’t unique, even among the 12 incumbent senators.
With them in power, there is no saying how many pro-LGBTQ+ bills will die on the Senate floor—bills that could’ve saved, improved, and protected countless LGBTQ+ lives. When our lawmakers are so obviously against the community, we will no longer have to wonder why, when the time comes, the Marcos-Duterte administration will fail to prioritize laws and ordinances that aim to materially and socially help LGBTQ+ Filipinos.
Now that this is the LGBTQ+ community’s reality, the question to ask is: what happens now?
If they want true unity, the problems must be solved by Duterte-Carpio herself. She must first learn how to respect and immerse herself in queer culture and identities. The mere effort of thinking about other sexualities and gender identities in drafting legislation is already a great step forward. Instead of using the community as a marketing scheme for higher poll rates, she should understand where the LGBTQ+ community is coming from. These people have already suffered from systemic oppression and discrimination because of the homophobic and sexist beliefs dictated by our conservative society. Queer people should not be leveraged to achieve clout and the “unity” the Marcos-Duterte administration wants—if they are even part of that vision.
Due to our legislators’ unclear agendas and continuous prejudice against the community, we cannot expect to move mountains overnight—or even at all. When our clamors are not ultimately not heard, we must not sit around and wait for them to act anymore. The LGBTQ+ community and all of its allies can do so many things to fight for their rights. But it always has to start with you.
Promoting refined and nationwide anti-discrimination bills that can protect queer people in any place and at any time must be at the forefront. Along with this, Filipinos must actively work toward normalizing discourse about one’s SOGIE and acceptance. Having discussions in school about queer experiences can be a start. This can help young individuals in scrutinizing what it means to be part of the community, stitching future societies together to demand the end of violence and prejudice against LGBTQ+ individuals.
If the administration does not include the LGBTQ+ community in their agenda, many lives will be in peril. Queer individuals will be treated as second-class citizens, especially in a government that institutionalizes heteronormative acts and qualities.
So if a sector is basically separated from the rest of society, is this the kind of unity that Duterte-Carpio is promising?
The need for equality and proper representation is more urgent now than ever. Our incoming government, especially offices such as that of Duterte-Carpio, must constantly keep the community in mind when creating, promoting, and implementing legislation, and this is something that the people must constantly remind them of.
She and the rest of the administration have no right to use the LGBTQ+ community as a dog and pony show for their own entertainment and political gain. After all, those in the LGBTQ+ community are human, too.