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Religious groups' opposition puts Senate's SOGIE bill in limbo

The sponsorship of the Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Expression, and Sex Characteristics (SOGIESC) bill has been stalled in the Senate due to the opposition from several religious groups and various sectors.

During Wednesday's plenary session, Senator Risa Hontiveros, chairperson of the Senate women, children, family relations, and gender equality, manifested that some LGBTQI+ groups are asking her why the bill has not been sponsored in the Senate when the committee report was already released early December.

"Pebrero na po ngayon at tinatanong na po sa akin ng mga miyembro ng LGBTQI+ community kung ano na nga ba ang nangyari sa bill. Bakit daw hindi ko pa ito inisponsor. They want to know what is happening," she said.

Hontiveros said Majority Leader Joel Villanueva told her that 19 senators had signed a letter which seeks to remand the report to the committee on women because a number of pastors still want to speak.

"This was a couple of weeks ago. Today, I am still waiting for it to be remanded. I have no illusions that the bill will sail through this chamber quickly, and I am ready to defend it on the floor as a sponsor defends any bill—with arguments and logic. What I was not ready for was for this bill to be in this kind of suspension or limbo," the senator quipped.

While she expresses no objection to the return of the committee report to the panel which she chairs, Hontiveros clarified that several evangelical groups participated actively during the committee hearing and the technical working group for the measure.

These groups include  United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP), National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP), Iglesia Filipina Independiente, Union Theological Seminary (UTS), Intercessors for the Philippines, Mindanao Evangelical Leaders Council, Catholic Bishop Conference of the Philippines, Jesus is Lord, among others.

A number of concessions were also made with the religious groups, Hontiveros said, as she explained that this bill does not legalize gay marriages.

The minority lawmaker also stated that she is willing to discuss the possible trimming of some criminal prohibitions under the proposed bill except for the discrimination on workplace, schools, access to emergency and necessary medical service, and access to social protection instruments.

"Yes, we will revert the bill to committee, yes we will hold another hearing, if that is what you want, dear colleagues. But I ask this of each of you, my colleagues: if you still think that the oppressions against LGBTQI people are imagined and exaggerated, reach out to a member of the community," she said.

Villanueva confirmed that there were concerns from several religious groups.

He showed his colleagues a bunch of letters from various sectors expressing concern on the passage of the SOGIESC bill.

The majority leader said some groups were "misled" that the Senate panel only had one hearing on the controversial measure.

After these concerns were raised, Villanueva said he consulted his colleagues on what to do with the SOGIESC bill.

One of the options available is to remand the committee report on the SOGIESC bill not to the Hontiveros' panel but to the committee on rules, which he chairs.

He cited Section 32 of the Senate rules which provides that: "When a report is returned to a committee or transmitted to another, unless it is returned for purposes of conducting further public hearings on new matters arising after the report, all previous proceedings in connection therewith shall be deemed to be void and that matter in question shall revert to its  original status."

Apart from the concerns from the religious groups, Villanueva said Senator Alan Peter Cayetano asked to adopt a holistic approach in looking into the SOGIESC bill and produce a "better version" that would not only target one particular sector but all sectors of the society.

"Eighteen members of this august chamber asked that they be given a chance to participate, that they be given a chance to be heard," Villanueva said, suggesting to refer the bill to committee on rules "for further study."

Hontiveros objected to Villanueva's suggestion, citing the Senate rule stating the jurisdiction of her committee on the bill.

On Cayetano's concern, Hontiveros said the lawmaker was welcome and he will be welcome to attend the hearing to propose improvements to the bill.

After a lengthy debate on the referral of the SOGIESC bill, the majority voted to remand the bill to the committee on rules.

Upon the clarification of Senate Minority Leader Aquilino "Koko" Pimentel III, Senate President Pro Tempore Loren Legarda assured the minority that a meeting among members of the committee on rules will be scheduled to determine the chamber's next action on the SOGIESC bill.

"Let us make it clear. There is no intention whatsoever to archive it or to let it languish in the committee," Legarda said.

The committee report was signed by Hontiveros, Senators Sonny Angara, Imee Marcos, Cynthia Villar, Nancy Binay, Ronald dela Rosa (may interpellate, with reservation), Grace Poe (may amend and interpellate), Mark Villar (with reservation), Francis Tolentino (may amend and interpellate), JV Ejercito, Robin Padilla, Raffy Tulfo, Jinggoy Estrada, Bong Revilla Jr., Francis Escudero, Lito Lapid, and Pimentel.

SB 1600 or the SOGIESC Equality Bill prohibits discriminatory practices on the basis of SOGIESC, such as refusing admission to or expelling a person from any educational or training institution; imposing disciplinary sanctions harsher than customary that infringe on the rights of students; and refusing or revoking accreditation of organizations, groups, political parties, or institutions.

It recommends a penalty of not less than P100,000 but not more than P250,000 or imprisonment of not less than one year but not more than six years for individuals who would commit such discriminatory practices.

The bill states that nothing in the measure should be interpreted to disturb the exercise of parental authority, "provided that such exercise shall be subject to limitations provided for by law and the rights and best interests of the child."

Meanwhile, the authors of SOGIE bill in the House of Representatives said it is compliant with the Philippine Constitution.

Bataan Representative Geraldine Roman and Gabriela party-list Representative Arlene Brosas made the position during the first House women and gender equality panel hearing on the pending SOGIE bills.

“Our Constitutional mandate [is] to promulgate laws that will ensure and enable the principles contained in the fundamental law of the land, the Philippine Constitution, which is and must continue to be the sole basis of our laws. We cannot base our laws on any particular holy book of whatever religion for that  matter because the only thing we have in common regardless of our age, sex, gender, civil status, ethnicity, religion, and other personal circumstances is the Constitution,” Roman said.

“We also know that the Constitution needs enabling laws because it is not self-executory, and for this reason, we are here in Congress to protect the  welfare of all Filipinos, regardless of our personal  circumstances. We are here to protect Filipinos from all forms of discrimination. The time is ripe. Matagal nang iniintay itong Sogie Equality Bill ng inyong mga anak, mga kapatid, mga kamag-anak, mga kaibigan, mga katrabaho at kapwa Filipino na nagkataon lang na  member ng LGBTQIA community,” she pointed out.

Roman cited that for centuries, discrimination, oppression and marginalization of the LGBTQIA community remain prevalent such as being stoned to death, burned in the name of religion or criminalized and even imprisoned because of intolerance and bigotry.

“We have been denied opportunities for work, education, and services because of prejudice. We have been judged as immoral and sinful, excluded, ostracized, and treated as though we were lepers because of personal beliefs. And  because we have been denied equal opportunities,  many of us have been condemned to a life of misery and deprivation,” she said.

“Hanggang kailan natin pahihintulutan ang discriminasyon as if  to say na deserve mo ‘yan dahil bakla ka o tomboy o dahil makasalanan ka o isang “abomination in the  eyes of the Lord? We are not here to decide  what is a sin nor are we here to legislate for the afterlife. That is not our job here in Congress. We  must focus on the present and dream big for the future,” she added.

(Until when are we going to allow such discrimination, that people deserve such because they are gay or sinful?)

Roman, a transgender woman, says life stories similar to hers are few and far in between among the LGBTQ ranks since she  is one of the few who comes from a political family, the same family who accepted her sexual orientation wholeheartedly.

“I want you to know that I am an exception. Honestly, I’ve had enough of hearing people say that 'oh we love the LGBT' or 'I have a lot of friends who are LGBT' but these very  same people refuse to legally recognize our existence and our rights. Nanlilimos lang kami ng  pareho at pantay na karapataan na nasasaad sa  Saligang Batas ng Pilipinas para sa lahat ng Pilipino,” she said.

(What we are begging for is equal rights which are provided under our Constitution.)

“My dear colleagues, it is time to walk the talk. It is  time to show love. Find it in your hearts to approve the Sogie Equality bill in the name of compassion, in the name of human rights, in the name of equality. Kayo ang aming pag-asa. Huwag  ninyo kaming bibiguin,” she added.

Brosas, for her part, cited that brutal cases of hate crimes and abuse against the community are still very much evident in Philippine society such as the  murder of transgender woman Jennifer Laude by a US Marine back in October 11, 2014.

“Contrary to what the opposing groups have been saying, this bill does not seek to marginalize heterosexual individuals but simply to put on record that any acts of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, or sex characteristics should not be tolerated. Ang karapatang pantao ay hindi parang buko pie na kapag nagbigay ka ng hati para sa iba ay mababawasan ang parte mo,” she said.

“Karapatan ng bawat indibidwal na mabuhay sa isang lipunan na malaya. Karapatan ng bawat miyembro ng LGBTQIA+ na makatamasa ng pantay na karapatan sa edukasyon, trabaho, serbisyong kalusugan, at iba pa ng walang takot at pangamba,” she added.

(It is the right of every individual to live with freedom and the right to education, work, health without fear of reprisal.)

The SOGIE bill, Brosas said, only seeks to impose penalties on any person who commits any discriminatory practice against a person's sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, and sex characteristic, as well as provide for rendition of community service in terms of attendance in human rights education, familiarization with, and exposure to the plight of the victims.

“My fellow colleagues, the passage of this bill is long overdue. Sa bawat araw na hinahayaan nating matengga ang batas na ito sa mababang kapulungan, lalong dumarami ang kaso ng karahasan sa LGBTQIA+ community na kung saan ang bawat biktima ay hindi nakakatanggap ng hustisya,” she said.

(Everyday that we do not act on this, violence against the LGBTQIA+ community is perpetuated and victims are denied justice.)

“In view of the need to remedy the long-standing discrimination against LGBTQIA+ in Philippine society, we hope that the members of this committee will heed the call of the Filipino people and immediately approve this bill,” she added.—AOL, GMA Integrated News