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LGBTQI+ Filipinos still belittled, silenced under Duterte

Following three attacks on the LGBTQI+ community, groups condemned the Duterte administration’s flip-flops in loyalty and priorities.

After convicted US marine Joseph Scott Pemberton was granted “absolute pardon” by Pres. Rodrigo Duterte himself, various groups criticized the move as yet another manifestation of the administration’s misplaced priorities.

Five days prior to September 7, the day he was pardoned, Pemberton, infamous for slaying transwoman Jennifer Laude in 2014, was released after only serving five years jail time due to meeting the requirements for Good Conduct Time Allowances (GCTA).

GCTAs, as per Republic Act (RA) No.10592, are deductions to the sentence of a prisoner who is said to have displayed compliance to jail or prison rules, or have shown commendable loyalty and conduct through studying, teaching, and mentoring. 

“Granting Joseph Scott Pemberton’s ‘absolute pardon’ over the death of trans woman Jennifer Laude clearly demonstrates Duterte’s subservience to the United States of America and his puppetry,” College Editors Guild of the Philippines (CEGP) deputy secretary-general Regina Tolentino said.

Karapatan secretary general Christina Palabay claimed that even now, America retained some level of control over the country.

“This action will go down in the annals of Philippine history as among the most notorious proof that the U.S. continues to trump Philippine sovereignty to this day,” Palabay said.

She also condemned Pemberton’s early release, lambasting the favoritism that lingered within the justice system.

“In the Philippines, we have a justice system that is skewed for the interest of the rich, the powerful, and the favored, while the poor and those who challenge the oppressive status quo suffer in prison,” Palabay said.

Laude’s death, when she was found naked, wrapped in a bedsheet, and her head submerged in a Celzone Lodge toilet bowl, lead to numerous protests and in later years tributes from the LGBTQI+ community, and from those who express sympathy for Laude’s tragic murder.

Her murder was remembered even after Pemberton, admitting to the crime, was convicted of homicide in 2015.

Remembering Pride 20

Prior to Pemberton’s pardon, there were already two other manifestations of discrimination towards the queer community. One of them was last June 26, when the Manila Police District (MPD) arrested 20 people, mostly members of progressive LGBTQ+ groups and other allies, at a local Pride March in Mendiola, Manila. 

The rallyists were said to have allegedly violated Batas Pambansa 880, otherwise known as the Public Assembly Act, which claims to protect the people’s right to assemble by increasing the bureaucratic processes needed for a single permit. 

The protest started peacefully before police violently dispersed the demonstrators, who were in attendance initially in celebration of the 51st anniversary of the Stonewall riots, as well as to protest the then-pending Terror Law.

Even though none of the protestors were violating safety measures, including the need to wear face masks and to observe social distancing, armed officers dispersed the protest in response to an incident involving a demonstrator allegedly spraying an unknown substance at an officer. However, this was quickly denied by Altermidya’s Adrian Puse, who said that they did not have footage of such an event taking place.

The arrests quickly gained traction after videos from attendees surfaced online, with netizens expressing concern for the officers’ refusal to read the Miranda Rights. This was a mandatory practice during every arrest that is meant to recognize one’s right to be silent and to access independent legal assistance.

Human rights lawyers have already stressed that none of these policies prohibits public rallies. 

Rey Valmores-Salinas, spokesperson to LGBTQ+ group Bahaghari and was among the informally named “Pride 20,” said that they were just exercising their rights while also observing proper social distancing protocols. 

Hinuli man kami ngayon, walang pandemiya, walang lockdown, at mas lalong walang mga pasistang baboy ang makapipigil ng pagsinag ng Bahaghari ,” she said, onboard a police vehicle. 

When asked what their violations were during the arrest, the police refused to answer.

After their release, Salinas said that they will file countercharges against the MPD. 

“The fight will continue. We will not let the illegal arrest and the illegal detention slide,” she said.

Equality = inequality?

Another was when the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) submitted a position paper to the House committee on women and gender equality stating their opposition to the proposed Sexual Orientation Gender Identity and Expression (SOGIE) Equality Bill, which aims to penalize SOGIE-based discrimination, last August 28.

According to the AFP, the SOGIE Equality Bill is just a reiteration of several existing policies such as the Labor Code. 

They said that it “would be unjust to grant special privilege at some persons at the expense of the basic rights of others.”

“Respect and compassion towards our brothers and sisters in the LGBT community may be given without having to sacrifice the rights of the majority,” they added. 

However, authors of the SOGIE bill, representatives Geraldine Roman and Malou Acosta-Alba, were keen to point out that the bill does not grant any special privileges to members of the LGBTQ+ community.

“The Constitution cannot promulgate itself. It is not a cure-all document. It needs an enabling law to address the specific problems of specific groups. That is why we have laws protecting women, senior citizens, cancer patients, and yet we do not have a law against discrimination against LGBTQIA,” Roman said.

In a statement released by Bahaghari, they pointed out that even with the existing Philippine HIV and AIDS Policy and the Safe Spaces Act, there are barely any more laws that will protect the LGBTQ+ community from further discrimination and violence. 

“The mythical laws the AFP cite failed to protect #Pride20 from illegal arrest, detention, and sexual violence. They failed to protect Jennifer Laude, who as well remains a victim of US imperialism and the government’s failure to assert sovereignty when it mattered for us,” they said. [P]

Photo from Jonathan Cellona/ABS-CBN News

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