By INA ALLECO R. SILVERIO
MANILA — Already under fire for alleged plagiarism for his speech attacking the Reproductive Health (RH) bill, senator and actor Tito Sotto is now the target of criticism from the country’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community. According to reports, Sotto is demanding the removal of sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) provisions from a bill protecting minorities.
The Progressive Organization of Gays (ProGay Philippines) protested reports that Sotto is working to remove protections for LGBTs from the proposed Anti-Racial, Ethnic and Anti-Religious Discrimination Act of 2011. The alleged position was reported by Ifugao Rep. Teodoro Brawner Baguilat Jr., a member of the House of Representatives that crafted a version that will be reconciled with the Senate version in a bicameral conference. Baguilat did not name other senators who were supposedly opposed to sexual orientation and gender identity provisions.
“We are saddened that Sen. Sotto, whose successful showbiz and political careers are in part supported by hardworking LGBTs are now second class citizens who for him do not deserve equality before the law,” said Goya Candelario, ProGay spokesman.
In a recent report in the Manila Bulletin, Baguilat was quoted as saying that Congress is finding it difficult to decide whether or not the LGBT provisions will be included in the bill. The lawmaker said that he had received word that the bill was facing rough sailing in the Senate bicameral committee because some senators wanted the provisions supporting LGBT rights removed.
Baguilat, the chairman of the House Committee on National Cultural Communities, said the senators may agree not to include such provisions just to ensure the passage of the bill into law. He named Sotto as one of the senators against the inclusion of LGBT provisions. Baguilat’s own proposal seeks to penalize the profiling and acts of discrimination hurled against persons on account of ethnic origin and religious affiliation and belief, but some provisions on LGBT rights have been included. It was approved by the Lower House on August 3, 2011. The bill was immediately transmitted to the Senate which got the House-approved measure the following August 10. Other authors include Tarlac Rep. Susan Yap and Sulu Rep. Tupay Loong.
For its part, ProGay said the Senate should include sexual orientation and gender identity provisions in the bill because it is one of the recommendations made by the United Nations Human Rights Council when the Philippines underwent its Universal Periodic Review in May 2012.
The LGBT rights group said the failure of Congress to comply with this recommendation will put a bigger black eye on the human rights record of the Philippines, which is already in disrepute for the country’s failure to solve extrajudicial killings and political disappearances.
“We appeal to Sen. Sotto to give back to the LGBT community, which had suffered long enough from a spate of hate crimes, workplace discrimination and ridicule from homophobic elements of society,” ProGay said.
Repeal anti-gay vagrancy law
The LGBT rights group is also pressing Congress to repeal an anti-vagrancy law, which, it said has “made life unbearable for LGBT Filipinos.” It announced its support for House Bill 4936 that passed in third reading in the House of Representatives last April and that would repeal anti-LGBT, anti-women and anti-poor sections that enables the police to arrest persons arbitrarily and detain them for indefinite periods.
The Act Decriminalizing Vagrancy is co-sponsored by Palawan Rep. Victorino Dennis Socrates and Bulacan Rep. Linabelle Ruth Villarica.
Candelario said that since the 1960s, Article 202 of the Revised Penal Code has made LGBTs vulnerable to illegal arrests.
“Cops swoop down on gays and transgenders who are walking in the streets at night or daytime, brand us as prostitutes, jail us, extort money from us, and even subject some of us to sexual abuse,” he said.
The ProGay spokesman said many closeted homosexuals are at risk of being shamed or disowned by their families, and the arresting officers threaten gays with exposure to the media, forcing the arrested victims to surrender cash, cellphones, or other favors in exchange for getting out of detention.
Oscar Atadero, ProGay’s human rights officer, however said the repeal of the anti-vagrancy law only partly addresses gross violations of LGBT human rights, because Congress has yet to pass the Anti-discrimination Law or House Bill 1483, filed by Bayan Muna Rep. Teddy Casiño.
ProGay submitted a report to the UNHRC in Geneva in November 2011, asking the UN to compel the Philippines to decriminalize vagrancy and pass legislation to protect human rights based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The UNHRC has increased its focus on LGBT rights.
Atadero pointed out that the Aquino administration must speed up its compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) sections that protect the rights of homosexual and transgender Filipinos.