Fiery debate erupts anew over Sogie bill
MANILA, Philippines — One of the most contentious proposals in Philippine legislative history again inflamed tempers at the House of Representatives on Wednesday as proponents insisted that the proposed sexual orientation and gender identity expression (Sogie) bill is an antidiscrimination measure and does not seek to legalize same-sex marriages nor change legal gender markers.
“It is not a same-sex marriage bill. It is not a gender recognition bill that will allow us to change our legal markers. It’s a totally different issue. This is not about civil union, this is not about same-sex marriage or civil partnership,” said Bataan Rep. Geraldine Roman.
Roman, the country’s first transgender lawmaker, made the remark as the House committee on women and gender equality started a public hearing on the Sogie bill, which has failed to pass Congress since it was first filed by former Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago and former Rep. Etta Rosales in 2000.
There are actually 16 Sogie bills filed in the House and the panel adopted as a “working draft” the version that was passed on third and final reading during the 17th Congress.
During the hearing, Roma was infuriated by the suggestion of lawyer Lyndon Cana of the Coalition of the Concerned Families of the Philippines that the law did not define the “plus signs” in the term “LGBTQIA+” and suggested that pedophilia and necrophilia may be included by some people.
LGBTQIA+ refers to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex and asexual community.
“For example, if an old man is attracted to very young children, that’s sexual orientation, pedophilia. Is that included in the fundamental human rights? How about those who are sexually attracted to the dead? Is that also included in the LGBTQ++? The proposed bill does not define a boundary or limitation as to where the concept of gender identity and sexual orientation will end,” he said.“How dare you!” Roman replied. “We are here in the House of Representatives. Do you seriously think that we will legislate something that will allow necrophilia and pedophilia? How dare you!”
Everyone is protected
Roman reiterated that the bill would not allow legal changes in gender markers, and that everyone, including heterosexuals, could use the Sogie bill to protect their rights in addition to two other existing laws, the Safe Spaces Act and the HIV law, that already define Sogie.
“Even you, attorney, you have sexual orientation. You are straight, your identity is apparently male. That is also your expression. So just in case you are discriminated and mistaken for a gay man, you can use this bill,” she said.
But Cana, one of two resource speakers who voiced their objections to the bill, argued that the working draft had a “subjective” definition of Sogie, which would discriminate against the “straight” majority.
He cited the higher penalties for discriminatory practices in the Sogie bill, which is at P250,000 to P500,000 and imprisonment for six to 12 years, as compared to slander and defamation which impose lighter fines at P20,000 and shorter prison terms under the Revised Penal Code.
“There is a discrimination here in the text of the bill. That the LGBT community, while we respect them, while we love them, while we want them to be protected, they become a super special, elite class compared to the rest of the community,” Cana said.
He also questioned if the law protects his religious beliefs on homosexuality as a sin, adding that he would be legally vilified as a “bigot and a self-righteous hypocrite.”
“Nothing in this bill will stop you from thinking a sinner or that I am an abomination in the eyes of the Lord. But, of course, when it comes to the right to work, study, receive government services, enter public places and facilities without discrimination, that is a different matter,” Roman said.
“Don’t tell me ‘I love you.’ Just call me an abomination and a sinner, and just tell me straight up that I deserve to be punished here on earth and you will make my life difficult. Let’s not be plastic,” she added.
House Deputy Speaker and Cibac Rep. Eddie Villanueva, however, rose to Cana’s defense, saying that the lawyer is a respected leader in the Christian community and that he was simply defending “truth, justice and righteousness.”
“To call him a plastic and hypocrite in public, that is very unbecoming. This bill is not yet approved and yet we hear these things,” Villanueva said, adding that some provisions in the proposed Sogie bill was already covered by existing laws.
“What if this is not passed without any balancing? All of us are against discrimination. That’s why it’s easy to sign it, it’s antidiscrimination. But we must study this. In this, we might discriminate [against] major communities like straight communities,” Villanueva said.
He asked that the committee invite more resource persons from faith-based education groups and the business sector, citing the private security sector as an example, as he raised the question of antidiscrimination policies on Sogie affecting the employer’s hiring prerogative.
In response, Roman maintained that she did not call Cana a hypocrite and that she simply criticized the lawyer’s behavior.
“When you tell us that you love us, accept us, but you cannot recognize our right to work, to study, to receive services from the government, this for me constitutes hypocrisy. I did not call attorney Cana a hypocrite,” Roman said.
She reminded her fellow lawmakers that their job as legislators is “not to determine what is a sin or not” and that the Constitution, not the Bible, is the basis of the country’s laws.
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