By: Ma. Jiandra Bianca F. Deslate
Underbar Associate, DivinaLaw

“My dear brother and sisters in the LGBT community, I want you to know that I am but one voice among many in this august chamber that says it is time: It is the time to pass the Anti-Discrimination Bill on the Basis of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity. And the time is now,” declared Bataan 1st District Representative Geraldine Roman in an impassioned privilege speech in Congress on Sept. 19, 2016. A year later, 197 other congressmen echoed her call and unanimously passed the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity and Expression “SOGIE” Equality bill on the third reading.

Uphill Battle
House Bill No. 4982 or “An Act Prohibiting Discrimination on the Basis of Sexual Orientation or Gender Identity or Expression (Sogie) and Providing Penalties Therefor” is the first of its kind in the country. Other anti-discrimination bills have been filed in the past, but these were never SOGIE-specific, lumping the lesbian, gay, transgender, bisexual, and queer sector (LGBTQ++ sector) with others such as the differently abled or the indigenous groups.

The first version of the SOGIE Equality Bill was filed in the 11th Congress by the late Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago and Akbayan Rep. Etta Rosales. It was pending for nineteen years, and is now coming to fruition in the 17th Congress through the ardent efforts of Bataan 1st District Representative Geraldine Roman, Diwa Party List Representative Emmeline Aglipay-Villar, and Dinagat Islands Representative Arlene “Kaka” Bag-ao. While the bill still has to hurdle the Senate, its passage in the House is already a victory in itself for the LGBTQ++ community.

The Purpose
The SOGIE Equality Bill is meant to fulfill the rights set forth in the 1987 constitution, particularly the equal protection clause. It recognizes the LGBTQ++ as equals and ensures that their rights are protected inasmuch as everyone’s is. The bill also acknowledges the Philippines duties under international law particularly the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. It thus recognizes the non-discrimination of the LGBTQ++ as both a national and international duty.

The Specifics
The bill first introduces and defines the concepts of sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression, as well as other terms that are pertinent to the aforementioned.

It then lists the practices to be considered discriminatory and unlawful under the bill, like the denial of rights to LGBTQ+ community on the basis of their SOGIE, such as their right to access public services, right to use establishments and services including housing, and right to apply for a professional license, among others. Differential treatment of an employee or anyone engaged to render services, denial of admission to or expulsion from an educational institution, refusal or revocation of accreditation to any organization due to an individual’s SOGIE will also be penalized. The bill also deems as discriminatory the act of forcing any person to undertake any medical or psychological examination to alter his SOGIE, the publication of information intending to “out” a person without his or her consent, public speech meant to vilify LGBTQ+, the harassment and coercion of the latter by anyone especially those involved in law enforcement, and gender profiling. Children under parental authority are given particular attention in the bill, as the prevention of the expression of their SOGIE will also be penalized. Any act of harassment or coercion directed to the LGBTQ+ is a discriminatory act under the SOGIE

Commission of any of the said acts will be meted out a fine of one hundred thousand to five hundred thousand pesos (P100,000 to P500,000) or a prison sentence of one to six years (1 to 6 years), or both. Additionally, the court may impose community service in the form of attendance In human rights education.

The bill is not only punitive, but more importantly, is preventive. It orders the inclusion of SOGIE concerns in all police station activities and services, with the renaming of the Women and Children’s Desks to Women, Children, and LGBTQ++ Protection Desk, and the imposition of human rights based training on the police. It directs the promotion of nondiscrimination through social protection and diversity programs, and even incentivizes the positive portrayal of the LGBTQ++ in the media. A SOGIE Equality Oversight Committee shall be created to effectively implement the Act.

Continuing Fight
While the bill has already overcome resistance in the lower house, it is still hotly debated in the Senate. Senate Majority Floor leader Tito Sotto III, Sen. Manny Pacquiao, and Sen. Joel Villanueva, who have been very vocal about their religious beliefs, are among those who staunchly oppose its passage. Various Christian groups have also expressed their protest. The Christian Coalition for Righteousness, Justice and Truth (CCRJT), for one, argues that the bill actually perpetuates and does not prevent discrimination, as it discriminates against those who do not agree with the LGBTQ++ community.

Proponents of the bill, however, vow to continue the fight for its passage into law. Chairperson for the Senate Committee on Women, Children, Family Relations and Gender Equality, Senator RisaHontiveros-Baraquel stresses the importance of a law that will protect people from sexual and gender-based discrimination and inequality, and laments that it is long overdue.

With opposing forces weighing in on the debate, only time will tell if the SOGIE bill will be signed into law.