The Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity and Expression (SOGIE) equality bill has trended anew on social media after members of the LGBTQ+ community asserted that it be passed in Congress after it remains pending for more than 20 years.
According to singer-songwriter Ice Seguerra, who identifies as transgender, rumors have been circulating that attempts to delay the bill are once again being made. This comes as the Senate has started convening for the opening of the 19th Congress on Jan. 23.
"There are attempts to delay, once again, the SOGIE Equality Bill from being deliberated in the Senate Plenary. Mga bakla, all eyes on the Senate tomorrow at hanggang mapasa ang batas," Seguerra wrote.
He added, "Ang pagbabalik sa committee ng SOGIE Equality Bill para maging parte ng iba pang bill o komite ay paglusaw at pagdelay nito. Tama na ang delaying tactics. Tama na ang pasikot-sikot. Senators, stop hiding and stop delaying. I-plenary na ang SOGIE Equality Bill."
Others have also taken to Twitter to call for the passing of the long-pending bill.
What is the goal of the SOGIE Bill?
First things first, the SOGIE Bill is not meant to attack nor shift discrimination to people who identify as heterosexual or those who are attracted to the opposite sex. In fact, it seeks to protect everyone from any form of discrimination, including heterosexuals as they also have a sexual orientation and a gender they identify with.
Should the bill be passed, it will essentially leave everyone on equal footing, which means no one will be denied employment, education, or access to health services and public facilities because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
This is what happened to Gretchen Custodio Diez, a transgender woman who faced arrest and detention back in 2019 after she was prevented from using a restroom for women at a mall in Cubao, Quezon City. She was placed in handcuffs and was detained at a police station for 11 hours, sparking one of the first debates on enacting the SOGIE Bill.
Aside from this, the measure will also penalize any person, corporation, or any group that will harass or attempt a criminal act against a person because of their sexual orientation, which includes promoting negative beliefs and inciting abuse.
It should be made clear as well that the act does not have any provisions that will allow same-sex marriage.
Gathering dust in Congress
The bill first came into light when Filipina activist and former House of Representatives member Etta Rosales and the late senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago filed it in the Congress in 2000.
While the proposal passed the third reading in the lower house, it was subsequently stalled in the Senate and it has since gone back and forth among lawmakers, having been lobbied in the 14th, 15th, and 16th with no fruits for the LGBTQ+ community to pick.
The battle has not been easy as the bill has gone against very strong and influential opponents in the form of former senators Manny Pacquiao and Tito Sotto, with the latter arguing that the bill will "trample" on women's rights.
"If you are a man, you will never be a woman, no matter what you do, because you cannot reproduce. You cannot give birth, you do not have ovaries. You will never be a woman. So this, to me, the SOGIE bill is a bill against women's rights and it's giving transgender rights (unclear), so it's class legislation," Sotto said in a media interview.
The current Senate Majority Leader, Joel Villanueva, has also voiced out his opposition for the act, stressing that it will "destroy the family" as it is "not fit" for Filipino culture.
"Ang kultura ng Pilipino ay sapat para maging great nation ang Pilipinas. Bakit kailangan pa nating umimport ng template from Western countries just to drastically change the system ng ating bansa?" Villanueva said in a news briefing in 2019.
As the topic of sexual orientation is essentially a taboo among religiously conservative groups, the bill also lacked support from this sector of society.
In a report, a spokesperson from Simbahang Kristyanong Lumad, Inc. said, "We will not jeopardize our people to the backlash from the spirit world. We believe that such action is taboo and will anger the spirits and bring curse to our land. It will invite famine, bring sickness, and death."
Is it moving forward?
There is really no definite answer as to whether the SOGIE Bill is truly progressing. The LGBTQ+ community can only hope in the words of Sen. Risa Hontiveros, one of the bill's sponsors, who highlighted back in June that she is still not giving up on having the bill see the light of day.
"We will use this 19th Congress to carve the runway to pass the SOGIE Equality Bill at long last. We will use this as a fresh opportunity to renew and prioritize our fight for all sexualities and genders. Yes, we are with heterosexual cisgender in our fight for our LGBTQ+IA+ siblings,” she said amid the celebration of last year’s Pride Month.
She underscored, "Lives are at stake here because we are talking about basic protection for all of us. Yes, everyone is included in equality."
Members of the LGBTQ+ community are also not backing down as they have been continuously reviving calls to pass the bill whenever the situation calls for it, such as when Manila Rep. Benny Abante has filed House Bill 5717, otherwise known as "The Heterosexual Act of 2022".
The bill, which aims to protect the rights of heterosexuals in practicing their religion and expressing their beliefs on homosexuals, has had many comparing it to the SOGIE Bill. Unlike Abante's proposal, the SOGIE Bill encompasses all genders and sexual orientations, not just heterosexuals.
Moreover, many were against the bill as it seeks to protect the dominant sexual orientation who aren't the ones frequently subjected to discrimination and oppression.
As the bill has once again become a hot discussion on social media, Filipinos can only pour their hearts out in underscoring the importance of its passage and hope that the country's powerful lawmakers will lend a compassionate ear.
Read the full bill here.