LGBTQ+ rights

Pride vs prejudice: Congress sidesteps LGBTQ+ legislation, ignores most bills

Jezreel Ines

This is AI generated summarization, which may have errors. For context, always refer to the full article.

Pride vs prejudice: Congress sidesteps LGBTQ+ legislation, ignores most bills
The struggle for equal rights holds immense importance that extends beyond mere rhetoric, even spelling life and death. Yet in Congress, legislations that would protect LGBTQ+ languishes, and who one can love remains a subject of a protracted debate.

MANILA, Philippines – No one else but JF Calimag, 28, knows better about his partner of five years. 

He knew he needed to stand by his partner’s side when the latter’s parents, both devout Catholics, found out about their same-sex relationship and expelled him from home. This compelled them to live under one roof. 

He knew the struggles they shared during the pandemic, how they had to take on all sorts of jobs that came their way. He knew what the coffee shop that they had built from scratch meant to his partner and to other members of the LGBT+ community.

And like any other couple, Calimag knew what his partner last did and what he last ate before he had a heart attack during that fateful night of November 2021.

Overwhelmed with worry and anxiety, Calimag rushed his partner to the hospital, gathering as much information as possible about his condition and the necessary treatment.

However, the medical staff dismissed his claim of being the patient’s partner and insisted on seeing proof of identification, Calimag recalled. 

“The staff adamantly insisted [to me] that only immediate family members can make medical decisions, leaving me feeling helpless and unsure of how to proceed,” he said. 

Despite his efforts, the hospital staff insisted that he could not be with his partner in the emergency room until the latter’s immediate family came. 

“I felt that all my love for my partner was invalidated,” Calimag added.

For individuals belonging to the LGBTQ+ community like Calimag and his partner, the struggle for equal rights holds immense importance that extends far beyond mere rhetoric, even spelling life and death. 

And yet, in the halls of Congress, legislations that would protect LGBTQ+ continue to languish, and who one can love remains the subject of a protracted debate.

SOGIE equality bill

The first legislation on sexual orientation, gender identity, and expression in the country was introduced over two decades ago by the late senator Miriam Defensor Santiago and former Akbayan representative Loretta Rosales during the 11th Congress, marking a significant milestone in addressing SOGIE equality.

Peter Van Evangelista, 43, reminisced about his sense of optimism upon learning about the potential enactment of this bill, which would provide LGBTQ+ individuals like him with legal recognition, protections, and rights.

“Twenty-three years ago, I believed that progress was being made. I already dreamt of a future filled with possibilities when I first heard about the SOGIE bill. A future where everyone is equal,” he said. 

However, the SOGIE bill, which intended to safeguard the LGBTQ+ community from discrimination, has been lingering in Congress for over two decades, encountering substantial hurdles. 

The bill was reintroduced during the 14th Congress but didn’t progress beyond the committee stage. 

In the subsequent sessions of the 15th and 16th Congresses, several senators submitted similar bills but were unsuccessful in making any significant progress.

However, in the 17th Congress, the bill showed great promise as different versions of the SOGIE bill, filed by Representatives Arlene Bag-ao, Geraldine Roman, and Tomas Villarin, achieved unanimous approval on its third and final reading in the House of Representatives, making it the first anti-discrimination bill to be endorsed in the House.

Nevertheless, the bill failed to advance in the Senate and was subsequently reintroduced in the succeeding Congress. Despite persistent efforts, the bill encountered protracted delays and opposition, slowly killing its chance to become law.

For Evangelista, who has been with his partner for more than a decade, the passage of the bill would be a big step in recognizing same-sex relationships in the country, effectively safeguarding them from discrimination and affirming their rightful place in society.

“Of course, I want to be able to hug and kiss them and feel comfortable doing so in public. It saddens me that I can’t do that, considering how much we have grown together and wanting to proudly show our love to the world, just like any opposite-sex couple can,” Evangelista said in Filipino.

Delaying, scare-mongering tactics

Data from the House of Representatives reveal that progress on LGBTQ+ legislation has been slow, with a considerable number of bills still pending.

Throughout the 14th to the current Congress, a mere 83 bills explicitly pertaining to forwarding the rights of LGBTQ+ were filed, with a staggering 48 of them still stuck with their respective committees.

Only three House bills were approved to go until the third or final reading and one was enacted into law. These include:

  • House Bill 04982 or the version of the SOGIE bill in the 17th Congress
  • House Bill 09094 or the act Declaring May 17 Of Every Year As The National Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, Transphobia And Other Phobias On Persons With Diverse Sexual Orientation Or Gender Identity Or Expression (Sogie)
  • House Bill 08794 or An Act Defining Gender-Based Street, Public Spaces And Online Sexual Harassment, Providing Protective Measures And Prescribing Penalties Therefore (later became Republic Act 11313 or the Safe Spaces Act)

However, during this period, notable bills were also introduced, such as the civil partnership union bill that was consistently refiled by Representatives Pantaleon Alvarez and Bernadette Herrera-Dy. 

This bill provides an opportunity for both same-sex and opposite-sex couples to form a civil partnership, granting them equal legal rights and protections, including the right to inherit, the right to sue for support, and the right to make medical decisions for each other.

In President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s first year in office, the lower house had a staggering 18 pro-LGBTQ+ bills left pending out of a total of 19 bills.

Despite the introduction of numerous proposals advocating for LGBTQ+ rights, almost all of them have become trapped in a seemingly endless cycle of refiling, lacking substantial progress or resolution.

Bataan First District Representative and chairperson of the House Committee on Women and Gender Equality Geraldine Roman said that the main reason for the disregard of pro-LGBTQ+ bills, such as the SOGIE Bill, is the delaying tactics employed by a “noisy minority” in the lower house.

“We have the numbers in the lower house and in the upper house. But the noisy minority uses its power to not only disseminate lies about the SOGIE equality bill and instill fear in the hearts of the people and try to shape public opinion in the wrong manner,” Roman said.

Roman added that this “noisy minority” has been relentlessly obstructing pro-LGBTQ+ bills within the House, spreading malicious rumors and inciting fear-mongering.

In February, a drama unfolded during House discussions on the SOGIE bill when evangelist and CIBAC Representative Bro. Eddie Villanueva walked out of the hearing in protest. He left after Roman denied his request to defer the meeting.

Villanueva, a staunch critic of the SOGIE bill, has not only been openly opposing  pro-LGBTQ+ legislation but has also been forwarding anti-equality bills. In 2020, he submitted PS00047, which allegedly aims to “promote equality and human rights” while opposing the SOGIE bill at the same time.

Additionally, he filed HR00978, a resolution expressing opposition to the “inclusion and promotion of same-sex unions, same-sex marriage, and gender identity ideology” within the Department of Education (DepEd).

Despite this, Roman stressed the importance of patience and giving thorough information to lawmakers, as some of them may still have reservations or concerns about the SOGIE bill.

“It’s been 23 years (that) we’ve been talking about the SOGIE bill, but this period of time has also served to enlighten the minds of my fellow lawmakers on what the SOGIE equality bill is and what it is not,” she added.

Future of pro-LGBTQ+ legislation in the Philippines

While pro-LGBTQ+ legislation shows no progress in the lower house, all hope is not lost.

Jap Ignacio, secretary-general of Lagablab LGBT Network, said there has been a positive trend towards recognizing and protecting the rights of the LGBTQ+ community at the local level. (READ: LIST: Philippine local governments with anti-discrimination ordinances)

“Some LGUs are approving anti-discrimination ordinances because it is easier for them to directly communicate with their constituents at the local level,” he said.

Some cities in the Philippines, such as Quezon City, Manila, Angeles City, Baguio City, Iloilo City, Davao City, and Zamboanga City, as well as provinces like Cavite, Batangas, Bataan, and Eastern Samar, have implemented laws prohibiting discrimination based on one’s sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity.

Ignacio argued that local politicians believe that losing the support of their LGBTQ+ constituents can directly impact their political careers.

"There is always a notion at the national level that it's only the LGBTQ+ community that is advocating for this kind of bill. I hope they can see that it's not only for us but for all, and the challenges we face are indeed real," he said.

Roman said that continued dialogue with her fellow lawmakers was needed to forward pro-LGBT bills in the House. 

"Pro-LGBTQ+ legislation simply aims to ensure that everyone is given equal rights and equal opportunities. I would often ask my colleagues, what if it happened to your son, your daughter, your sister, your relative, your workmate, or your friend?” she added.

For LGBTQ+ individuals like Calimag, the fight for equal rights encompasses the essence of their existence, the pursuit of dignity and acceptance, and the longing for a society where they can truly thrive and be embraced without fear or prejudice.

EQUAL RIGHTS EQUAL TO BEING SEEN. LGBTQ+ individuals like Calimag redefine existence, demanding dignity and acceptance for all. Photo by JF Calimag

Iyong nangyari sa amin, doon ko na-re-realize, habang tumatanda ako mas lumalalim ang pagkakakilanlan ko sa kabaklaan ko sa loob, at sa kabaklaan sa laban nito sa labas,” he said.

(What happened to us, that's when I realized, as I grow older, my understanding of my own homosexuality deepens both internally and in the context of this ongoing fight.)

For Evangelista, delaying the passage of pro-LGBTQ+ legislation in the country means delaying their dream to witness a society where the law views all forms of love equally.

“Tumatanda na ako and thinking about our future makes me sad lalo na kapag naiisip kong wala kaming legal rights dito sa atin,” Evangelista said. (I'm getting old, and thinking about our future saddens me, especially when I realize that we don't have legal rights here in our country.)

"The only person I yearn to have by my side during my final moments is my partner. On my deathbed, all I desire is for us not to be split apart by the absence of laws that protect us," he added.  —

Add a comment

Sort by

There are no comments yet. Add your comment to start the conversation.

Summarize this article with AI

How does this make you feel?

Download the Rappler App!
Face, Head, Person


Jezreel Ines

Jezreel is a researcher-writer at Rappler mainly focused on governance and social issues.