In her senate run last 2019, Imee Marcos branded herself as “tunay na bakla” to court the community’s vote. She said this in a campaign sortie of Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban) held in Biñan City, Laguna. This supposed support for the community, however, did not manifest when she welcomed and even thanked President Rodrigo Duterte for the absolute pardon of US Marine Joseph Scott Pemberton. Pemberton was convicted of homicide for the brutal killing of trans woman Jennifer Laude in 2014.
If not for how exasperating this all was, it would be almost comical how most politicians only ever mention the LGBTQ+ community either during the election period or when queer rights are being heavily contested. It is as if the members of the community only matter to them whenever it is convenient for their political careers.
In the recent CNN presidential debates, boxer-turned-politician Manny Pacquiao expressed his respect for the LGBTQ+ community. Suddenly toned down compared to when he made headlines after calling queer people “worse than animals,” Pacquiao said that he does not underestimate the community, and that he “salutes” LGBTQ+ people for being “hardworking.” Yet in the same breath, he refused to acknowledge civil unions or same-sex marriage, citing his religious beliefs in justifying his stance. Ironically, he then emphasized equality and not favoring one particular group, a rather ambivalent statement and position on the concerns of the sector he “respects.”
This election ploy, aimed at gaining queer sympathies, and eventually queer votes, is nothing new. Candidates seeking government positions usually position themselves as allies of the community through tokenistic actions; but once election is over, most of them turn a blind eye to issues concerning the community. In 2015, before his presidential bid, then Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte appeared to support LGBTQ+ rights. In an interview with talk show host Vice Ganda, he said that same-sex marriage was “good” and that “everyone deserves to be happy.” However, six years into his term we have yet to see meaningful changes in the lives of queer people, and legislation on same-sex marriage has yet to see the light of day.
It must be said that support for the LGBTQ+ community is welcomed and encouraged. However, voicing out praise and empty promises is not enough, especially when various forms of discrimination and violence against queer individuals are still prevalent.
Politicians’ lack of commitment and disregard for the legitimate concerns of the LGBTQ+ sector has been contributing to the loss of queer lives due to violent hate crimes.
Politicians’ lack of commitment and disregard for the legitimate concerns of the LGBTQ+ sector has been contributing to the loss of queer lives due to violent hate crimes. Last May 2021, a few months after President Duterte pardoned US Marine Pemberton, the brutal murder of two transgender individuals was reported on the same day. Ebeng Mayor, a member of the trans masculine community, from Batasan Hills, Quezon City, was found dead after being missing for three days.
Meanwhile, in Alangalang, Leyte, a member of the trans feminine community, Junjie Bangkiao, was found naked and with a bloodied head in the middle of the cemetery. According to an article written in The Fuller Project, a global non-profit newsroom, similar murders are happening here every few months, with at least 50 recorded murders of transgender or gender non-binary individuals since 2010. However, little data exists to illustrate the possibly enormous scale of the problem, partly because when a trans person is murdered, the Philippine National Police logs the victim’s gender as their assigned sex at birth, which means that the actual death toll is higher than the recorded number. Without a national legislation to provide protection for the community, this culture of violence will continue.
This exploitative tactic directed at queer people waters down the very real dangers that members of the community face in their day-to-day lives. Politicians want the support of the community without taking responsibility for acknowledging the causes of such dangers. Through esteeming LGBTQ+ individuals, while simultaneously contemplating whether or not our rights deserve protection, those seeking office send a very clear message that the plight of the LGBTQ+ people is unimportant. Words of admiration and respect, without any aim of changing the current abusive system, are nothing but hot air and the queer community has no use for it.
This upcoming election, it is time that we make it clear that LGBTQ+ individuals are not just pawns in their political game. We are not numbers on the tally board that only matter during election season. We are people who are trying to live our best lives without fear of discrimination and harm. Politicians, as they have the power to legislate, have the responsibility of protecting the lives of every individual — whatever their religion, age, social class and gender. Instead of a superficial show of alliance, they must provide concrete measures to ensure that everyone can live a life without fear of the dangers brought about by unjust prejudices.