SOGIE Equality Bill might start from scratch 19 years since proposal

Michael Joe Delizo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 09 2019 10:41 AM | Updated as of Mar 09 2019 05:46 PM

MANILA – Last year’s supposed discrimination against comedienne-impersonator Kaladkaren Davila, whose real name is Jervi Li, was not enough for the swift passage of the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity and Expression (SOGIE) Equality bill. 

“Alin nga ang hindi puwedeng pumasok (Who cannot enter)?” Kaladkaren was heard in a video that shows her argument with a bouncer of a restobar in Makati City.

The bouncer replied: “Ang bakla (The homosexual).”

“That’s discriminating people like us,” Kaladkaren rebuked. 

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The incident prompted uproar. Some senators even drummed up their support for the SOGIE Equality bill that was seen as a way to protect the rights of members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender/transsexual, intersex and queer/questioning (LGBTIQ) sector from discrimination. 

A 2018 survey from Rainbow Rights Philippines showed that 6 in every 10 LGBTIQ have experienced discrimination. Most cases were reported in schools.

There was even one case filed in a lower court in Cagayan de Oro City in 2012 against a school principal who publicly humiliated a Grade 4 student for wearing a skirt fashioned out of a curtain because she was wearing a boy’s uniform.

A report from Human Rights Watch said humiliation is common for LGBTIQ students in the Philippines where many schools impose gendered uniforms or dress codes, which the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights called “discriminatory.”

The SOGIE Equality bill will remove uniform restrictions in schools to protect students from discrimination, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.

After 17 years, this anti-discrimination bill finally overcame resistance in the lower house and reached the Senate plenary in 2016. 

But since then, the bill languishes in the period of interpellation, making it the longest-running bill under interpellation in the Senate.

Now on its 19th year, the bill is at risk of going back to square one and undergo the same process all over again. 

After the midterm elections on May 13, the 17th Congress has only 9 sessions left to pass the law. 

“Kasi kapag hindi natapos ang process ngayong 17th Congress, i a-archive itong bill. So ’pag bukas ng 18th Congress, ire-refile ito, magsisimula na naman sa simula ng Committee hearing,” Senator Risa Hontiveros, author of the SOGIE Equality bill, told ABS-CBN News. 

(Because if this is not finished this 17th Congress, the bill will be archived. So when the 18th Congress opens, this has to be refiled, it has to go back to the start in committee hearings.)

Senate President Vicente Sotto III and Senators Manny Pacquiao and Joel Villanueva, both devout Christians, are among those opposed to the SOGIE Equality bill.

Hontiveros said the prohibitions on gendered uniform policy in schools and establishment of unisex restrooms, among others, face strong resistance. 

“Sabi ko naman sa mga kasama ko na nagi-interpellate pa, ‘Isara na natin ’yung period of interpellation and then pumasok na tayo sa period of amendments dahil ’yung mga amendments na kayang tanggapin ng mga advocates ng LGBTIQ community, tatanggapin ko para makumpleto na lang natin, masara na natin ’yung process and then mapagbotohan na,’” the senator related.

(I have told my colleagues we should close the period of interpellation and start the period of amendments because there are amendments that the advocates from the LGBTIQ community can accept just so we can complete, finish the process and start voting [on the bill].)

Even without the SOGIE Equality bill, residents of 18 cities and three barangays in the country are already protected from discrimination under local ordinances. 

But how about the others? 

The SOGIE Equality bill does not only protect the LGBTIQ community from discrimination, but all people with real or perceived class, status, ethnicity, color, disability, and religious and political beliefs.

“Kasi naga-apply siya sa lahat. Ibig sabihin, ang ADB (anti-discrimination bill) ay para sa lahat ng Pilipino, particularly for LGBT, pero kahit nasaan ka man sa bansa,” said lawyer Jazz Tamayo, president of Rainbow Rights Philippines. 

(Because this applies to all. That means the ADB is for all Filipinos, particularly the LGBT, wherever you may be in the country.)

He said there is a high probability that their sector would not only vote but also campaign for senatorial aspirants who will support equality. 

For now, Hontiveros could only hope for the slim chance that the bill could still be passed before the end of the session, but she is determined to re-file the bill in the next Congress if it comes to that. 

“Umaasa pa ako na kakayanin pa naming ngayon pero ilalaban talaga naming sa 18th Congress hanggang maipanalo ito,” she said. 

(I am still hopeful that we could still finish this but I will fight for it in the 18th Congress until we win.)