MANILA - A new bill has emerged as a less contentious alternative to the proposal penalizing gender-based discrimination in predominantly Catholic Philippines.
Versions of the bill have been filed in both chambers of Congress, covering other forms of discrimination, not just those based on one’s sexual orientation and gender identity or expression (SOGIE).
It also seeks to eliminate discrimination based on “age, racial or ethnic origin, religious belief or activity, political inclination or conviction, and social class.”
Discrimination against “marital or relationship status, disability, HIV status, health status or medical history, language, and physical features” are covered as well.
But former human rights chief Loretta Ann Rosales said the SOGIE bill “should not be pitted against” the more comprehensive anti-discrimination measure.
“The SOGIE bill is an anti-discrimination bill... both can be passed,” said Rosales, who authored the SOGIE bill in the House of Representatives nearly 2 decades ago.
A number of colleagues have expressed openness to Sen. Juan Edgardo Angara’s version, which contains clear “exceptions” based on religious freedom and job qualifications, unlike the SOGIE bill.
Sen. Nancy Binay earlier told a committee hearing how she used to be a victim of discrimination as well because of her skin color.
Angara cited concerns by some senators that the SOGIE proposal might be “so absolute that it doesn’t leave room for religious expression, among other things.”
Under his bill, a Catholic school exclusive to girls, for instance, may not be compelled to accept transgender persons under an exception to “avoid injury to the religious sensitivities of adherents.”
“We cannot insist, we cannot demand entrance in that school because that’s the way the school wants to run itself,” Angara told ABS-CBN News.
The bill also provides businesses the elbow room to pick employees based on “genuine occupational qualifications.”
It also exempts from liability a supposed discriminatory act “done in good faith.”
But anti-SOGIE bill groups are still keeping a close eye on the Angara proposal, citing contentious provisions and terminologies.
Malacañang earlier said President Rodrigo Duterte would certify a general anti-discrimination bill as urgent, not a specific SOGIE measure.
Rizalito David, executive director of Prolife Philippines, said there was no need for either bills.
“All the rights being given under the proposal are already provided in other laws that cover all citizens,” he told ABS-CBN News, saying the SOGIE bill would give “special rights” to LGBT people.
Rosales insisted that the SOGIE bill was not a “class legislation,” noting that international human rights instruments also covered specific groups such as children and persons with disabilities.
“That is very specific. But you do not call that class legislation,” she said.
Like the SOGIE bill, the Angara proposal distinguished among gender identity, gender expression, and sexual orientation, terms critics considered as highly subjective, making the SOGIE bill “ambiguous and difficult to implement.”
“We cannot say that this particular bill is better than the other bill without a thorough study,” said Jan Lumanta, legal counsel of the pro-life group, Filipinos for Life.
“We will see to it that all terminologies must be properly defined.”
Both the Angara and SOGIE bills defined “stigma,” saying it would result in discrimination when not acted upon.
Stigma is a “dynamic process of devaluation that significantly discredits an individual in the eyes of others,” according to the senator’s proposed Comprehensive Anti-Discrimination Act.
Like “stigma,” said Lumanta, “violence” as mentioned in the SOGIE bill was not specific and could mean physical, mental and emotional violence.
“Who would determine that?” he told ABS-CBN News.
Lumanta cited a hypothetical case of a man who identifies as a woman but was referred to as “sir” instead of “ma’am.”
The reference, he said, might be interpreted as an act of discrimination “promoting stigma” on the person under the SOGIE bill.
“Will that be considered as mental violence because you felt you had been discriminated against because you were called by not by your preferred reference?”