SOGIE

[In This Economy] Why the SOGIE equality bill is a step toward a more just Philippines

JC Punongbayan

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[In This Economy] Why the SOGIE equality bill is a step toward a more just Philippines

GUIA ABOGADO

Providing equal rights to such a marginalized group does not take away rights from the majority. Instead, it upholds the principle that all Filipinos deserve equal treatment under the law.

Nearly six years ago, in August 2019, I wrote that it’s high time to pass the SOGIE (sexual orientation, gender identity, and expression) equality bill.

Fast-forward to 2024, I’m still hoping that lawmakers see the light and pass that bill once and for all.

In 2021, a report showed that the Philippines ranked 36th among 175 countries in terms of the Global Acceptance Index, which measures “the extent to which LGBTI people are seen in ways that are positive and inclusive….” We’re by no means the worst place for the LGBTQ+ community.

We’ve had some gains, too. More establishments have opened gender-neutral restrooms and put up Pride Flags this June. Many local government units have also passed their own anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination ordinances.

But despite these gains, stories of LGBTQ+ discrimination in the Philippines have also multiplied.

In 2020, at the height of the lockdowns, some LGBTQ+ quarantine violators were ordered by a barangay captain in Mexico, Pampanga, to “kiss each other and do a sexy dance in front of a minor.” Later, some LGBTQ+ protesters were unlawfully arrested, and one trans activist was detained in a male cell for five days.

In 2021, lesbians in Ampatuan, Maguindanao, were “punished” for being lesbians by having their heads publicly shaved.

In 2022, a trans woman was discriminated upon and made to move to a male fitting room at a Zara store in Bonifacio Global City, in the most modern urban hub in the country.

In 2023, a Social Weather Stations survey found that Filipinos still harbor dangerous views about the LGBTQ+. A whopping 43% of adult respondents agreed that AIDS “can be considered as a sickness of gays and lesbians.” Some 40% disturbingly agreed with the statement: “If there are gay or lesbian members of the family, I would like them to change and become straight men or women.” A full 26% agreed that “being gay or lesbian is contagious.” What the hell?

In 2024, a viral video showed trans students cutting their hair after their university allegedly blocked their enrollment because they did not follow hair length restrictions. Taylor Sheesh, a famous Taylor Swift impersonator, was assaulted by a random person while performing in Bayambang, Pangasinan.

Just three days ago, actor Ian Veneracion came to the defense of his lesbian daughter, Dids, who has been attacked for her sexuality. And on June 22, Quezon City will be hosting a special graduation ceremony for LGBTQ+ students barred from marching in their schools’ graduation rites because of SOGIE discrimination.

All these and more show that there’s an urgent need to pass into law the SOGIE equality bill.

Debunking lies

In past years, opponents of the SOGIE equality bill have likewise honed their mental gymnastics.

Among the staunchest opponents are Representative Benny Abante (who in 2022 creepily told a trans advocate during one House hearing, “Ang ganda mo namang transgender”) and Senator Joel Villanueva (who covers up his biases by insisting that he “loves the LGBT community”). Their very words and actions only bolster the need for the SOGIE equality bill.

But they also argue that the bill will promote all manner of things, from same-sex marriage to pedophilia. They also say that there’s no real need for it, that it infringes on religious freedom, and that what we need is a generic anti-discrimination law that protects everyone, not just the LGBTQ+.

I don’t need to belabor the point that such arguments are replete with fallacies and outright lies.

The SOGIE equality bill makes no mention at all of same-sex marriage (that’s a battle for another day). And linking it to pedophilia only serves to stigmatize and demonize the LGBTQ+ community without any factual basis. Meanwhile, a generic anti-discrimination law will likely have no teeth to address the unique forms of discrimination and violence faced by LGBTQ+ individuals.

One of the funniest arguments against the SOGIE equality bill is that, as echoed in 2020 by the Armed Forces of the Philippines, it “[sacrifices] the rights of the majority.” In 2019, Representative Eddie Villanueva (the evangelist father of Senator Villanueva) said that the SOGIE equality bill would give “special rights” to the LGBTQ+ community.

But providing equal rights to such a marginalized group does not take away rights from the majority. Instead, it upholds the principle that all Filipinos deserve equal treatment under the law.

There’s an equity aspect as well (in fact, I’d say that the bill promotes equity more than equality). The whole point is to address the specific challenges faced by the LGBTQ+ community, and protect them from the long-standing and systemic discrimination that has often made them feel inferior vis-à-vis the rest of the population, or the “majority.”

To apply John Rawls’ theory of justice, imagine being born into this world without knowing whether you would become a member of the LGBTQ+ community. In such a scenario, you would want a society that protects the LGBTQ+ community, on the chance that you might be a part of it.

In this sense, the SOGIE equality bill is a step toward a more just Philippines – and must be passed immediately.

What has been done?

With the House of Representatives passing an absolute divorce law recently, there’s renewed hope that the current crop of lawmakers may be open to passing the SOGIE equality bill once and for all.

A group of 200 organizations, called The Equality Alliance, recently urged President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. to certify the SOGIE equality bill as urgent.

But Marcos has been kind of wishy-washy where LGBTQ+ are concerned.

Shortly before Marcos’ inauguration, First Lady Liza Araneta-Marcos hosted a group of supporters called LGBT Pilipinas in Malacañang. The group lobbied for an “advisory body or commission” that can pave the way for “more visibility and representation in the bureaucracy” among LGBTQ+ members. But in his first two State of the Nation Addresses, Marcos said nothing about LGBTQ+ issues or the SOGIE equality bill.

In December 2023, although Marcos signed an executive order that created a special committee overlooking issues of the LGBTQ+ community, such committee has since been criticized as “toothless.”

Meanwhile, Chiz Escudero, the new Senate President, said that the SOGIE equality bill “will continue to face rough sailing in the Senate.”

The very first SOGIE bill was filed in Congress in 2000. It’s now 2024. How many decades more do they plan to drag this on? (By contrast, the ill-conceived Maharlika Investment Fund law was passed less than eight months since it was first proposed in the House of Representatives.)

The saying holds: Kung gusto, may paraan, kung ayaw may dahilan! (If you want to, there are many ways; if you don’t, there are many reasons!) – Rappler.com

JC Punongbayan, PhD is an assistant professor at the UP School of Economics and the author of False Nostalgia: The Marcos “Golden Age” Myths and How to Debunk Them. In 2024, he received The Outstanding Young Men (TOYM) Award for economics. JC’s views are independent of his affiliations. Follow him on Twitter/X (@jcpunongbayan) and Usapang Econ Podcast.

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JC Punongbayan

Jan Carlo “JC” Punongbayan, PhD is an assistant professor at the University of the Philippines School of Economics (UPSE). His professional experience includes the Securities and Exchange Commission, the World Bank Office in Manila, the Far Eastern University Public Policy Center, and the National Economic and Development Authority. JC writes a weekly economics column for Rappler.com. He is also co-founder of UsapangEcon.com and co-host of Usapang Econ Podcast.