Campaign Spotlight: Anti-Discrimination Law in the Philippines

Discrimination based on the status of a person is barred by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) in its Articles 1 and 2, and by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) in its Articles 2 and 26. Although these provisions do not expressly mention ‘sexual orientation’, the United Nations Human Rights Committee (UNHRC) held in the 1994 case Toonen v Australia that the ICCPR’s anti-discrimination provisions should be understood to include sexual orientation as a protected status. In the same decision, the UNHRC affirmed that the criminalization of same-sex sexual relations between consenting adults violates Articles 2 (equal protection) and 17 (right to privacy) of the ICCPR and Article 12 of the UDHR.

The Committee also held that laws criminalizing consensual, adult homosexual behavior violate the rights to freedom of expression, assembly, and association which are protected by the UDHR in its Articles 19 and 20 and by the ICCPR in its Articles 19, 21, and 22. The right to freedom of expression specifically includes ‘freedom to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice’ (ICCPR 19.2).

The Philippines is a signatory to numerous international agreements that seek to ensure respect for the human rights of all persons regardless of sex, sexual orientation or any other condition. In addition, according to the Constitution in the Philippines, the fundamental law in the Philippines values the dignity of every human person and guarantees full respect for human rights. The Constitution imposes on the State the duty to ensure the fundamental equality of men and women before the law. The equal protection clause in the Bill of Rights also forbids discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or any other status in the enjoyment of rights. The equal protection clause, prescribes the constitutional guarantee of equality of all people before the law. This clause requires that laws operate equally and uniformly on all persons in terms of the privileges conferred and the liabilities imposed under similar circumstances. 

Despite these provisions, there have still been cases of discrimination on lesbians, gays, bisexual and trans-gendered (LGBT) people in the Philippines. LGBT people continue to be oppressed by the iniquitous treatment of society at large, primarily because of misconceptions and ignorance. Although there are no sodomy laws in the Philippines, unlike in many other countries of South and Southeast Asia, the very fact that there are no laws and policies specific to the group in the country is discriminatory in many ways. Sadly, for a democracy, sexual minorities are still considered second class citizens when they try to exercise the rights to which they are justly entitled as citizens. Instances of abuse and discrimination range from dismissal of LGBT people from schools and colleges, to the demand for ‘masculinity tests’, to stereotyping and loss of employment opportunities to the usage of anti-vagrancy and anti-public scandal laws to harass and oppress people who do not conform to the ‘norms’ of sexuality set by society. There is, therefore, a need to define and penalize practices that unjustly discriminate against lesbians, gays and other sexual minorities. 

Activists in the Philippines recognize that it is time to call for the passage of a law that provides comprehensive protections against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, education, as well as medical and public facilities, among other realms.

For the very first time, the Philippine Senate will tackle proposed bills that seek to penalize discrimination against LGBT people. On August 9, 2006, the Senate Committee on Labor, Employment, and Human Resources Development, chaired by Sen. Jose ‘Jinggoy’ Estrada, held a public hearing on three anti-discrimination bills that provide protection for Filipino LGBT people against discriminatory policies and practices in the areas of employment, education, health care, and public service, among others. Senator Ramon ‘Bong’ Revilla, Jr. who is the sponsoring senator of the Anti-Discrimination Bill in the Senate is trying to get the Committee on Rules to have it moved to the Committee on Justice and Human Rights chaired by. Senator Juan Ponce Enrile. The Committee on Rules has not responded to the request yet and it is not clear still if the Enrile Committee will organize a new hearing for the bill or just use the proceedings from the Labor Committee hearing.

Recently there has been a lot of talk about the testimony by Inday Garutay who was discriminated against because of cross-dressing. On July 4, 2006, Inday Garutay was reported to have gone to Aruba Restaurant in Metrowalk Pasig City when he was approached by the Restaurant Super-visor, ‘Tintin’ Aguilar, and told that Aruba had a dress code, and that cross-dressers like Inday are prohibited from entering the establishment. Inday Garutay has since filed a civil case for damages against Aruba Restaurant. There are many reports of similar incidents in other private or public establishments, but not everyone chooses to come out publicly for fear of reprisal or further abuse. It is necessary then that this kind of discrimination is put to an end. One of the methods could be through the means of legal enforcement. However, any change in the law would not be enough in itself and would need to be accompanied by efforts to change social attitudes.

Meanwhile, at the House of Representatives there are hopes that the bill will be passed at the second hearing by the Committee of Human Rights. The campaign supporting the Bill is still very hopeful about the historical value of the past two Congresses, where the bill was passed at the Committee level without much opposition, and in fact with a lot of support.

Stop Discrimination Now! is an on-going campaign by the Lesbian and Gay Legislative Advocacy Network Philippines (LAGABLAB-Pilipinas) and Amnesty International Pilipinas (AIP) to push for the elimination of discrimination against Filipino LGBT people through the enactment of an anti-discrimination legislation. Two other organisations, Human Rights Watch and the International Commission of Jurists have expressed support for this ground-breaking LGBT legislation in Southeast Asia.