LGBTQ+ rights

[OPINION] Review the harsh, archaic laws that put women, LGBTQ behind bars

Clara Rita Padilla

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[OPINION] Review the harsh, archaic laws that put women, LGBTQ behind bars
When I look back at the smiles of the inmates at the Correctional Institute for Women, I ponder about the lives they could live as free people

Recently we co-organized a mini concert and gift-giving at the Correctional Institute for Women (CIW) maximum facility. The 3,000 persons deprived of liberty (PDLs) at the facility were dancing, smiling, and laughing. However, I could not help but pause and think about the negative impact of the legal system and its failure to address discrimination and abuses based on sexual orientation, gender identity and expression (SOGIE), and gender.

I saw far too many young, middle-aged, and older PDLs at CIW. Many inmates identified as members of the lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (LBT) community, and I wonder how many of them experienced the same story as “Jojo” (not her real name), a lesbian PDL at CIW.

Jojo experienced cruelty from her father and led a tough life as a youngster. As a young lesbian, she was not accepted by her father and suffered constant physical abuse from her father. Coming from a large and impoverished family of eight children, she had to work at the age of 10 and only finished Grade 6. 

Due to her low level of education and left with hardly any skills to compete in life’s struggles, Jojo became easy prey for criminal minds around her. She became a lookout for burglars and eventually sold drugs just to survive. At the time when she stopped selling drugs to lead a peaceful life and refused to allow her house to be used as a drug den, she was arrested by the police, who claimed to have found drugs at her house, which she vehemently denies were hers. She failed to file an appeal for lack of legal representation.

I reflect on the stark realities faced by LGBTIQ people: the intense abuses they suffer at the very hands of their parents and siblings that force them to leave their homes, and the additional intersectionalities of gender and poverty where they came from large families. Large families, of course, were a product of gender relations, where mothers were unable to say no to sex, manage their fertility and did not have access to comprehensive sexuality education (CSE), and lacked access to reproductive health information, supplies, and services.

If we look back at Jojo’s life, we see the glaring impact of discrimination and abuses based on SOGIE, how the inability to address gender and reproductive rights in the family directly causes poverty, and how the legal system and harsh laws with extremely high penalties need to be reviewed. 

We wrote about Jojo’s story in our Golden Rainbow storybook on older LGBT people. Having met her at CIW, it felt as if Jojo’s story had come full circle for me. Jojo dreams of being free, but she is currently facing a life sentence at CIW.

Talk about harsh laws. I wonder how many of these inmates are serving sentences for violation of archaic laws, such as the law penalizing induced abortion – a law through which the government continues to infringe on a woman’s personal decision on her health and life and which has never deterred women fully determined to discontinue their pregnancies. 

Not only does the restrictive abortion law impact induced abortion, it also negatively impacts women’s access to health services for naturally occurring medical conditions, such as miscarriage or spontaneous abortion, incomplete abortion, and intrauterine fetal demise. Where there are no legal barriers to health access, countless women are denied access to life-saving health services due to stigma and unjustified fear of health providers.

In a recent national jail decongestion summit, Supreme Court Associate Justice Filomena Singh discussed addressing the issues of decriminalizing abortion, adultery, libel, among others, and commencing a review to study whether “capital” and “non-bailable” offenses had deterrent effects. A welcome update is Speaker Romualdez’s statement that Congress will review the decriminalization of libel and abortion.

When I look back at the smiles of the PDLs at CIW and think about their personal stories impacted by SOGIE, gender, and harsh laws and legal system, I ponder about the lives they could live as free people.  People like Jojo are currently undergoing reformation programs. They deserve legal representation and a review of their status. I am certain they will benefit from a review of relevant existing laws.

Apart from the review and decriminalization of relevant laws, I also call for the passage of the laws on SOGIE Equality, Gender Recognition, Marriage Equality, and Divorce, the effective implementation of CSE, and access to family planning information, supplies, and services including by adolescents. 

The constitutional guarantee providing equal protection of the law of LGBTIQ people would be violated when heterosexual people are accorded more rights in law. For instance, marriage is not exclusively for heterosexual people, marriage is for all people.

Finally, I hope people reading this will realize the urgency of a society that upholds equality and non-discrimination of all and promotes diversity and inclusion. –

Atty. Clara Rita “Claire” Padilla is the founder and executive director of EnGendeRights. She has won several Supreme Court en banc cases, including Ang Ladlad v. COMELEC, as a co-counsel.  She drafted a proposed bill to decriminalize abortion, the very first version of the Reproductive Health Care bill in 2001, co-drafted the QC Gender Fair Ordinance and pushed for affirmative actions, including the all-gender restrooms, and has proposed language for other laws, including the Anti-Sexual Harassment Act, the ordinance establishing the QC Protection Center for Victims of Gender-based Violence.

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