TIMELINE: SOGIE equality in the Philippines

After trans woman Gretchen Custodio Diez was barred from using her preferred restroom in a Cubao mall last August 13, one wonders how gender equality has fared in the country over the years. 

The State's commitment to upholding the dignity and equality of all persons is enshrined in the 1987 Constitution and in several international covenants it is signatory to, such as the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

While the protection of the LGBTQ+ is promised on paper, the Philippines is no stranger to notorious cases of hate crimes and abuse against the community.

In its latest version, Senate Bill No. 689, entitled “Anti-Discrimination on the Basis of Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Expression,” has not been passed in Congress after almost two decades.

It seeks to penalize discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity or expression (SOGIE), and is more commonly known as the anti-discrimination bill or the SOGIE equality bill.

Early movements

Years before a nationwide measure to specifically protect LGBTQ+ members was filed by lawmakers, activists had begun taking to the streets. An initiative by young lesbian feminists called The Lesbian Contingent joined the International Women’s Day march in 1993. Australian socialist magazine Green Left Weekly claimed it was the first time a lesbian contingent marched in public.  

On June 26, 1994, the Progressive Organization of Gays in the Philippines (ProGay Philippines) and Metropolitan Community Church organized what came to be known as the first Pride March in the Philippines and in Asia.

Various LGBTQ+ organizations had begun budding in the country. For instance, the University of the Philippines' Babaylan claimed itself to be the country's oldest LGBTQ+ student organization in 1992.

History in Congress

The earliest version of the SOGIE equality bill was filed in 2000 by the late senator Miriam Defensor Santiago and former Akbayan representative Loretta Rosales under the 11th Congress.

Refiled in the 14th Congress, the bills reached the committee level only. More senators would file similar bills in the 15th and 16th congresses to no avail. Other significant events are as follows:

2010-2012

Party list Ang Ladlad, which aimed to represent the LGBTQ+ community, files a petition to run in the 2010 national elections. An ABS-CBN report says the Commission on Elections (Comelec) denied the petition twice, citing “immorality” as basis. Its registration is eventually granted by the Supreme Court.

The Department of Education issues an order in May 2012 for the protection of children, including their sexual orientation and gender identity.

2013

On August 3, then-Commission on Human Rights (CHR) chair and pioneer SOGIE bill sponsor Loretta Ann Rosales says the CHR is working on a database on LGBTQ+ hate crimes to better their prosecution and investigation.

By the end of the same month, then-Laguna representative Sol Aragones introduces House Bill No. 2572, which would make LGBTQ+ hate crimes an aggravating circumstance for crimes against persons and chastity.

Shortly after, then-Albay representative Grex Lagman files a measure that would help same-sex couples acquire property together. Neither bill has been passed.

2014

Trans woman Jennifer Laude is killed by a US Marine on October 11.  

Laude’s case catalyzes discussion and action toward advancing transgender rights.

In the local government scene, former mayor Herbert Bautista signs the gender-fair ordinance in Quezon City on November 28. Prohibited acts include discrimination against the LGBTQ+ in the workplace, educational institutions, and in delivery of goods, services, and accommodation.

The ordinance also includes affirmative acts, such as equal pay and sensitivity training in the workplace.

This would become the law that protected Gretchen Diez when she faced illegal detainment at a mall office in Quezon City.

2016

During the election campaign, then-senatorial candidate Manny Pacquiao calls same-sex couples “mas masahol pa sa hayop (worse than animals)” in a viral video interview by Bilang Pilipino. He has served two terms as a congressman by this time.

Bataan congressional candidate Geraldine Roman makes history as she takes her seat as the first-ever elected transgender woman in the House of Representatives in May.

The first Senate version of the anti-discrimination bill is filed on August 11 by Senator Risa Hontiveros, while its House counterpart remains pending.

2017

The House of Representatives under Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez prioritizes the bill on civil unions in the 17th Congress.

After 17 years since it was first filed, the anti-discrimination bill is passed by the House on final reading on September 20 with a vote of 197-0.

2018

In a historic move, the Supreme Court tackles same-sex marriage in oral arguments in June.

In an interpellation of Solicitor General Jose Calida, Supreme Court Acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio asserts that same-sex civil unions are constitutional based on the right to association. This same freedom is cited in the same-sex civil union bill sponsored by House Speaker Alvarez.

Marriage, however, remains defined by the Family Code as between a man and a woman.

In July, President Duterte himself supports same-sex civil unions. Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque says while the President is against same-sex marriage, he is in favor of civil unions.

On August 8, CNN Philippines reports that 5 senators who include Hontiveros, Loren Legarda, Ralph Recto, Franklin Drilon, and Juan Miguel Zubiri express support for the SOGIE bill. Opposing senators include Manny Pacquiao, Joel Villanueva, and Senate President Vicente Sotto III.

The CHR backs the passage of the SOGIE bill through a position paper dated October 8.

2019

The anti-discrimination bill is due for passage by June before the 17th Congress adjourns. The bill languishes after suffering 3 years of interpellations. The civil union bill languishes, too. Both the SOGIE and civil union bills are refiled in the 18th Congress.

On August 13, Gretchen Diez is blocked by a female janitress from using the women’s restroom. The janitress apologizes, but Diez vows to keep fighting for the rights of her fellow LGBTQ+ members. (READ: Gretchen Diez comes out)

After Hontiveros delivers a privilege speech on August 14, renewing her call for Congress to pass the SOGIE bill, Senators Imee Marcos and Bong Go throw their weight behind it.

Meanwhile, several senators express confusion. Senator Aquilino Pimentel III asks for a definition of trans woman, Senator Panfilo Lacson brings up the danger of voyeurism, and Senate President Tito Sotto wonders, “why that lengthy letters? Why not just Homo sapiens?”

Diez meets with President Rodrigo Duterte on August 19, and says he supports her and her push for the SOGIE bill.

Sotto strikes back with another remark about the bill having “no chance” of passing the Senate if it “transgresses on academic freedom, religious freedom, and women’s rights.” 

The Supreme Court junks the petition for same-sex marriage on account of technicalities in September.

2020

Groups celebrate Pride March in Mendiola, Manila, while observing health protocols in line with the coronavirus pandemic. Police arrest at least 20 despite the absence of any prohibition on rallies under the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act.

The Manila city government passes an anti-discrimination ordinance in October. It requires businesses to have gender-neutral toilets by 2023.

In November, LGBTQ+ groups slam “glaringly dangerous” statements made by a resource speaker and House Deputy Speaker Eddie Villanueva during a congressional hearing on the SOGIE bill.

They point out how the bill does not provide benefits to the “straight community.” They also suggest that the LGBTQ+ community should receive “emotional, psychological, and spiritual rehabilitation.”

Senator Hontiveros, for the second time, sponsors the SOGIE bill at the Senate plenary on December 16.

"As we are about to close this challenging year, I am honored to present again to the plenary a piece of legislation so dear to my heart – a bill which has become a battle cry of our younger generation searching for validation and acceptance; a long-standing plea of advocates and allies who have been begging these halls to listen and take a stand; a beacon of hope for Filipino parents who just wanted to see their children grow up without fear of stigma and discrimination," Hontiveros says in her sponsorship speech. – Rappler.com

Michelle Abad

Michelle Abad is a researcher-writer at Rappler. Possessing the heart and soul of a feminist, she is working on specializing in women's issues in Newsbreak, Rappler's investigative arm.

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