MANILA - Several groups on Wednesday denounced efforts to pass a measure that protects individuals from discrimination based on their gender identity and expression, but the proposed law’s lead author stressed it is meant to protect everyone.
The Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity or Expression (SOGIE) Equality Bill, filed by minority Sen. Risa Hontiveros, seeks to prevent and penalize discriminatory acts against a person's sexual orientation.
But this bill is facing stiff opposition from conservative groups who believe it would violate the rights of people who do not belong to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community.
The SOGIE Equality Bill is in itself discriminatory for being “one-sided,” said lawyer Lyndon Caña of the Coalition of Concerned Families of the Philippines.
“We do not hate the LGBT community. We don’t condone any form of bashing… We, however, have the strongest reservations and concerns or opposition to the SOGIE bill and I hope it will not be misconstrued as hatred to the LGBT community,” Caña said in a Senate hearing on the bill.
“There is exclusion or non-mention of the other sector immediately affected by the bill. It is immediately a one-sided bill which is supposed to be anti-discrimination.”
Caña also believes that in the SOGIE Equality Bill, “facts will yield to feelings,” as he noted that one’s gender identity is based on an individuals “feelings.”
“We are very concerned that in this concept of the bill where facts will yield to feelings, na-criminalize pa ang mga maninindigan based on fact (those who stand up for facts are criminalized),” he said.
Cesar Buendia, who represents a group of “former homosexuals redeemed and changed by Jesus Christ,” said the bill guarantees rights to its citizens “based on mere perceptions, beliefs and mindsets.”
“It is dangerous,” Buendia exclaimed.
“What if a 12-year-old child believes and asserts he is already 21 years old? Should the child be accorded the right to vote marry, and drink alcohol?” he said.
Buendia added the SOGIE Equality Bill is “excessively discriminatory [against] the majority of Filipinos” who believe that there are only two sexes.
“We pray that no part of the SOGIE bill be passed. If the framers of the bill only seek protection for people who are discriminated upon, then pass a law that will protect all people from discrimination and not only a group of people,” Buendia said.
Addressing Buendia’s concern, Hontiveros said the intention of the hearings on the proposed measure is to “eventually pass a law that indeed protects all.”
“It is the belief that each individual has a SOGIE, even cisgender, even heterosexual people,” she said.
“But certainly [it seeks to provide] protections against discrimination to all and especially at this point in time the LGBT+ community who historically suffer the greatest amount of discrimination.”
Obed Dela Cruz of the Christian group Intercessors for the Philippines said a SOGIE Equality Bill may not be necessary as there are already several laws protecting a person’s rights.
“The laws are already enough to be applicable to all, and if ever a court or a public officer will refuse to apply this law to the LGBT, let that public officer be [made] liable,” he said.
FIGHT VS DISCRIMINATION
But Sister Mary John Mananzan, St. Scholastica College's Vice President of External Affairs and Director of the Institute of Women's Studies, said she supports the bill because it fights for the rights of a group of people who have been victims of discrimination.
Mananzan said while issues on sexual orientation are highly debatable, one must not ignore the fact that many people who have chosen to freely express their gender identity face discrimination.
She explained that heterosexual men would not normally demand equal treatment because "it is a fact that they are not discriminated against as gender."
"Therefore, it is really the one that is discriminated against that is the focus of our attention," Mananzan said.
"Even if we are really against discrimination of anybody, sometimes you have to focus on groups of people that are actually suffering discrimination and violence."
Koko Alviar of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente, also known as the Aglipayan Church, said the church supports the SOGIE Equality Bill because "we believe the full realization of human rights is our way of establishing heaven on earth."
"We believe God wants us to exist in a community of love," said Alviar, an openly gay man.
"'Love the sinner,' we are told by our anti-SOGIE Christian siblings, but how do you say you love the sinner when you are refusing them secular, universal rights to jobs, education, and healthcare based on their dissonance from your expectations?" he added.
The SOGIE Equality Bill recently became a hot-button issue after transgender woman Gretchen Custodio Diez was arrested following an altercation with a mall personnel for her use of a woman’s restroom.
The proposed measure has deepened divisions among various sectors in predominantly Catholic Philippines.
But President Rodrigo Duterte has expressed support for the bill’s passage.