LGBT measures in limbo as RH Law marks 10-year milestoneBy Diana Mendoza
As there is yet no national legislation covering LGBTQIA individuals, activists, and advocates have been visible, and vigilant as cases of hate crime and abuse rise against the rainbow community.
PURPLE WAS the color of choice, waved high by reproductive health and women’s rights advocates gathered before Christmas in 2022 to celebrate 10 years of the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act of 2012 or the RH Law. The multi-sectoral community of advocates, activists, and stakeholders recalled their journey with poignant recollections, impassioned speeches, and songs.
Signed into law by the late President Benigno Aquino III on Dec. 21, 2012, the RH Law or Republic Act (RA) 10345 has proved one of the biggest wins for sexual and reproductive health rights (SRHR) in the country.
“Without a doubt, the passage of the RH law is among the greatest milestones in Philippine legislation and policy making,” Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, the bill’s principal sponsor in the House of Representatives, told advocates, activists, and legislators during an online and onsite meeting in Quezon City on December 13, convened by the United Nations Population Fund-Philippines, the Commission on Population and Development, and the Philippine Legislators’ Committee on Population and Development. In Makati City on December 17, the LIKHAAN Center for Women held an echo event.
There were a few media reports about the event, mostly citing press releases and statements by the organizers. In recent years, many social concerns have fallen out of the news agenda.
Lagman said the initial RH bill, filed in 1999, was marked by 13 years of struggle, opposed by influential groups for over a decade, foremost among them, the Catholic Church, its affiliate religious and lay organizations, fundamentalist and conservative groups, powerful politicians and public figures. In 2014, these groups took their case to the Supreme Court and lost. But the High Court, upholding the landmark measure, struck down eight provisions as unconstitutional.
No LGBTQIA-specific law yet
But in the sea of purple, the color symbolizing feminism and the women’s movement, there was no sighting of the various hues of the rainbow that now symbolize the LGBTQIA (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex and asexual) movement worldwide.
There was talk about measures to advance LGBT rights, as these issues have become part of the agenda among women. The battle on this front has yet to secure the prize legislation that will ensure the welfare and protection of LGBTs.
As they plan their next moves to ascertain that the RH law is fully implemented, stakeholders said a law addressing LGBTs may be in sight, with Lagman saying the RH Law was the herald. The lawmaker emphasized that the RH law is “not only a landmark piece of women-centered legislation; it has also become the precursor of many gender-oriented laws” because of the increase in measures focusing on promoting gender equality and equity.
These are the landmark SRHR-related statutes:
1.“Anti-Mail Order Bride Act;”
2.“Safe Spaces Act of 2019;”
3.“Kalusugan at Nutrisyong ng Mag-Nanay Act;”
4.“Philippine HIV and AIDS Policy Act of 2018;”
5.“105-Day Expanded Maternity Leave Law;”
6.“Anti-Child Marriage Law;”
7.“An Act Providing for Stronger Protection against Rape/ and Sexual Exploitation and Abuse;”
8.“Anti-Online Sexual Abuse or Exploitation of Children/ and Anti-Child Sexual Abuse or Exploitation Materials Act;”
9.“Expanded Solo Parents Welfare Act;”
10.“Expanded Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act”
11. “Kasambahay Act;”
12. “First 1,000 Days Act of 2018;”
13. “An Act Increasing the Age to Determine Statutory Rape.”
The following issues were discussed In and out of Congress: the divorce bill, a measure seeking to decriminalize abortion, teen pregnancy prevention bill, and a measure on marriage equality or same-sex marriage.
However, in October 2022, Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla, who led the country’s delegation to the United Nations Human Rights Council meeting, rejected calls by the UN body to legalize same-sex marriage and enact other pieces of legislation that seek to protect members of the LGBTQIA community, saying the UN recommendations were “not acceptable.” He said the same about divorce and abortion bills.
The Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity or Expression, or Sex Characteristics (SOGIESC) Bill has had many versions filed in Congress in over 20 years.
In December 2022 before Congress ended its session, Sen. Risa Hontiveros, principal sponsor of the bill, said, “It’s already 2022. Our laws should reflect the realities of our culture.” Hontiveros had received the support of 18 senators during the filing of the report by the Senate committee on women, children, family relations and gender equality, which also included the proposed SOGIESC Equality Act.
In November 2022 in the House of Representatives, the House Human Rights Committee discussed with supporters and critics four pending anti-discrimination bills for the first time, with LGBTQ+ advocates calling for the passage of a law against discrimination on the basis of one’s gender, sexual identity, and expression.
During the deliberations, Hendrix Bongalon, Gender Law and Policy Program representative of the University of the Philippines, said the government has “yet to fully comply with its obligation to eliminate discriminatory practices, laws and policies” against the LGBT community.
Reyna Valmores, chairperson of Bahaghari, said, “In our view, a specific law which expansively tackles SOGIE-based discrimination remains pressing, necessary and non-negotiable.”
Loud and proud
As there is yet no national legislation covering LGBTQIA individuals, activists, and advocates have been active, visible, and vigilant as cases of hate crime and abuse reflect the quick resort to violence against these communities.
Among these murders, the case of Jennifer Laude, who was killed by US Marine Lance Corporal Joseph Scott Pemberton in a hotel room in Olongapo City in 2014, gave rise to a heightened activism for LGBTQIA rights in the Philippines.
The Philippine National Police (PNP) reported that it has conducted investigations into the murders of eight transgendered or trans women in the past six years. Advocates claim that across the country, there have been 50 transgender persons who have been murdered since 2010.
In 2018, the PNP put up “LGBT desks” with specially-trained staff in all its district offices. Over 35 local governments have started crafting ordinances and policies against transphobic and homophobic abuse.
Marches make history
The Philippines is said to have mounted the first Pride March in Asia in 1994 when ProGay Philippines and the Metropolitan Community Church commemorated the 20th anniversary of the Stonewall Riot in a parade on Remedios Circle in Malate, Manila. In 2022, the Metro Manila Pride March was held in the Cultural Center Open Grounds in Pasay City on June 25, said to be the first in-person event to celebrate the cause since the pandemic. Some 29,000 people joined.
Almost 30 years after the first event which catalyzed the campaign to advance LGBTQIA rights, the signs are good that the march will continue until the struggle for equality scores another triumph.