One Balita Pilipinas interview bares government ignorance of SOGIE and LGBT rights

CHEERS TO One PH’s One Balita Pilipinas for its interview on November 21 countering the skewed and discriminatory statements of Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla. The interview asked a representative of the LGBT community to react to expressions of official discrimination against LGBT people. It also helped educate the public about the point of the Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity, and Expression (SOGIE) Equality Bill, which is to ensure equal rights for all. 

Remulla headed the Philippine delegation to the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) held November 7 to 18 in Geneva, Switzerland. The UPR is a mechanism for the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) to comprehensively review the human rights record of member-states and to make recommendations based on the findings of the review. Media coverage reported that before leaving Geneva, the Philippine government told the UNHRC plenary that it is accepting 200 out of 289 of its recommendations.

In the November 19 episode of DZRH’s program Executive Session which Remulla still regularly hosts, he cited some of the UNHRC’s recommendations that he said the Philippines does not accept, specifically the passage of the SOGIE Equality Bill which he called “not acceptable” in a “predominantly Catholic nation.” Remulla insisted that UNHRC members want the SOGIE Equality Bill passed to enable “same-sex marriage as in their countries.” The statement was a clear misunderstanding of the SOGIE Equality Bill which does not have any provisions for same-sex marriage.

On November 21, Remulla held a press conference to further discuss the recommendations rejected by the Philippine government. Remulla again said that “same-sex marriage” was among them because the country is not “culturally ready.” Remulla claimed that “Culturally, our values may conflict with many of the values that they [the UNHRC] want to impose on us… Culturally, we are not ready for that [same-sex marriage]” – adding that the passage of the SOGIE Equality Bill is “a legislative matter that should be left to Congress.”

Cheryl Cosim, anchor of One Balita Pilipinas, interviewed Reyna Valmores, chairperson of the progressive LGBT rights organization Bahaghari. Valmores stressed that “In the first place po, wala po sa recommendations ng UNHRC ang same-sex marriage. So, ang impression namin ay hindi man lang binasa. Ni-reject outright, hindi naman binasa ng maayos,” (In the first place, same-sex marriage is not among the recommendations of the UNHRC. So, our impression is it [the recommendation] was not even read well.)

Valmores further explained: “Kaya po natin siya tinatawag na ‘SOGIE Equality’, bawat tao ay mayroon pong SOGIE at ang hinahangad natin ay pagkakapantay-pantay para wala na pong kahit sino sa atin ang ma-discriminate dahil lamang sa kasarian natin,” (The reason we call it ‘SOGIE Equality’ is that each person has a SOGIE and what we are calling for is equality, so that none of us will be discriminated against just because of our sexuality.)

Cosim followed up with the question on Remulla’s reference to Catholicism as the basis for the rejection. Valmores said that despite the significant role of the Catholic Church, the country is a secular state, and its Constitution grants religious freedom, and the separation of Church and State. She also cited how “predominantly Catholic” countries have enacted measures protecting LGBT rights, including marriage equality—evidence that Catholicism does not stand in the way of equality.

She also criticized the “double standard” reflected in government officials’ anti- LGBT stand supposedly because of their professed Catholic or Christian faith; and how the government “rejects outright” measures that protect vulnerable groups like women, children, and the LGBT community. But public officials have been slow to act on or are even “complicit in” killings, corruption, and red-tagging, which all go against the teachings of the Catholic Church. 

The interview also discussed Anti-discrimination Ordinances (ADOs) already being implemented around the country. Cosim asked if these have helped to check discriminatory practices against the LGBT community. Valmores said that ADOs have established meaningful safeguards, and described cases when these were particularly effective in checking discrimination against LGBT students. However, she stressed that a national-level measure such as the SOGIE Equality bill is still the most effective way forward for genuine gender equality in the country.   

Other reports merely quoted Remulla’s remarks or the reactions of politicians, such as the comments by Senators Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa and Christopher “Bong” Go. Dela Rosa said that while he is a “devout Catholic” he remains “open” to the SOGIE Equality Bill and marriage equality but noted that the country is a “Catholic nation.” For his part, Go said he would “carefully study” if “same-sex marriage” has become “acceptable to the majority.” These references to Catholicism were not discussed, however. The quotes cited publicized the sources but did not help clarify the religious issue.

In contrast, One Balita Pilipinas’ interview checked the views of a highly placed Cabinet official who used religion and culture to couch what is outright discrimination. 

SOGIE has served to open free discussion to examine the long-standing prejudice against men and women who happen to be different. It should remind government officials to check their biased judgments at the door before taking public office.