MANILA - A Catholic nun on Wednesday defended a proposed bill seeking to protect individuals from gender-based discrimination, saying it does not give “special rights” to a certain group in society.
The proposed Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity or Expression (SOGIE) Equality Bill merely addresses the concerns of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community, which has historically faced discrimination, said Sister Mary John Mananzan, a Catholic nun running an all-girls school in the capital Manila.
“I don’t see that this bill is giving any special right to this group. They are just saying that the rights of everybody should also be applied to them,” Mananzan said in a Senate hearing on the proposed bill of minority Sen. Risa Hontiveros.
“As a religious woman I believe in the respect, compassion, and reverence for all persons because I believe they were all made in the image and likeness of God.”
Mananzan said while issues on sexual orientation are highly debatable and would entail “unending discussions”, no one can argue that many people who have chosen to freely express their gender identity have been victims of 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 the discrimination of anybody, sometimes you have to focus on groups of people that are actually suffering discrimination and violence."
Mananzan's statement seems to aim to strike at one of the core arguments of groups opposing the SOGIE Equality Bill who say that the proposed measure would trample upon the rights of non-LGBT community members.
Koko Alviar of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente, also known as the Aglipayan Church, said his 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.
SOGIE BILL DISCRIMINATORY?
While the chief executive backs the bill, it is still expected to face rough-sailing in the Senate, as conservative groups continue to pressure legislators to not support the proposed measure.
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 during the Senate hearing.
“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 claimed.
“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 suffered the greatest amount of discrimination.”
Obed Dela Cruz of the Christian group Intercessors for the Philippines, meanwhile, 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.
FATE OF SOGIE IN SENATE
These conservative groups have found themselves an ally in no less than Senate President Vicente Sotto III, who said the bill’s passage in the upper chamber is bleak.
Sotto said Hontiveros’ pet bill is a “class legislation” that only aims to protect a certain sector of society.
He also dismissed Hontiveros’ statement that the SOGIE Equality Bill can be likened to the Magna Carta for Women.
“Women cannot be compared to a group like that because, I hate to say this but I have to, If you are a man, you will never be a woman, no matter what you do, because you cannot reproduce. You cannot give birth, you do not have ovaries,” Sotto told reporters.
“You will never be a woman. So this, to me, the SOGIE bill is a bill against women’s rights.”
Sotto said he is more amenable to the Comprehensive Anti-Discrimination Bill filed by Sen. Sonny Anagara, which seeks to prohibit a wide range of discriminatory acts.