Bam backs anti-discrimination bill

By Ryan Chua, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jun 23 2015 04:13 PM | Updated as of Jun 26 2015 06:46 PM

MANILA - It is time to push for a law penalizing discrimination on account of sexual orientation and gender identity, among others, according to a legislator who authored an anti-discrimination measure that continues to gather dust in the Senate.

Senator Bam Aquino, the author of Senate Bill 2122, plans to use the next half of his term to steer the measure to passage.

''Hindi ko siya naipasa ngayong second year ko (I was not able to have it passed now in my second year),” he told reporters on Tuesday.

“Maybe next year, with the support of the people, we can have it passed.”

Various groups and individuals advocating lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights were recently in uproar after a number of trans women were not allowed to enter a high-end club, whose staff allegedly cited a policy against cross-dressing.

One of the incidents involved transgender fashion designer Veejay Floresca, who was reportedly denied entrance to Valkyrie club even after showing her California ID with a female name and gender marker.

While club managers denied there is an anti-cross-dressing policy, some LGBT rights advocates argued the rule actually exists, albeit unwritten.

“With this case coming up, panahon na nga na mapasa natin ito (it’s really time to approve it),” Senator Aquino said of his bill.

The measure has been pending at the Senate’s committees on cultural communities and social justice, welfare and rural development since early 2014.

Its counterpart at the House of Representatives hurdled the committee level in February this year, but has yet to be approved at the plenary.

Aside from sexual orientation and gender identity and expression, the Senate bill outlaws discrimination based on ethnicity, race, religion, political beliefs, social class, civil status and medical conditions such as being positive for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).

The bill defines discrimination as any act that has the “purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on an equal footing, or political, civil, economic, social, and cultural rights.”

The discriminatory acts include inflicting stigma and the denial of various rights such as the right to education, employment, and access to goods and services, among others.

Among the prohibited acts, section 5 mentions in particular the refusal to admit people to “any establishment, facilities or utilities that are open to the general public, such as but not limited to restaurants, bars, hotels, shopping malls, solely on the basis of the grounds listed”.

Depending on the category of the offense and the court’s discretion, persons found guilty of discrimination would face fines of between P100,000 and P500,000 or imprisonment of two to 12 years.

The bill assigns to the Commission on Human Rights the task of investigating cases of discrimination and recommending the filing of charges against individuals found guilty.

“The LGBT community continues to be oppressed through various forms of society at large, primarily because of misconceptions and ignorance. LGBT students, for instance, are refused admission or expelled from schools due to their sexual orientation or gender identity. Companies block the promotion of LGBT employees due to the deeply embedded notion that homosexuality is an indication of weakness. Laws such as the anti-vagrancy law are also abused by law enforcement agencies to harass gay men,” the bill’s explanatory note states.

“In a democratic society that claims to give equal access and opportunity to each of its citizens, many Filipinos are still treated as ‘second-class citizens’ when they try to exercise the rights to which they are rightfully entitled.”