Monday, November 16, 2009

Bigotry of the highest order

This is my column today.

In 2007, Ang Ladlad, a group fighting for the welfare of lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders was denied party-list accreditation by the Commission on Elections on the grounds that it didn’t have national representation. The Comelec required proof that there were lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgendered people across the land. The denial, based on technicality, rankled because surely one has to be blind, deaf and stupid not to realize that Ang Ladlad’s constituency can be found anywhere and everywhere in this archipelago. True, not all of them are registered members of Ang Ladlad; but then again not all Filipinos pay taxes, vote, or get residence certificates to qualify as Filipinos.

Last week, the Comelec denied anew Ang Ladlad’s petition for party-list accreditation. This time the poll body didn’t hide behind technicalities. The three commissioners who signed the decision, namely, Commissioners Nicodemo Ferrer, Lucenito Tagle, and Elias Yusoph, didn’t mince words. They said, in so many words, that Ang Ladlad, and by extension, lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders, didn’t have the right to be represented in Congress because they are immoral people.

I don’t know Ferrer, Tagle, and Yusoph personally but I want to know what type of purified air they breathe that makes them qualified to declare other people immoral.

That the Comelec denied Ang Ladlad’s petition was not totally unexpected although not any less disappointing. Many of the walls that compartmentalize people and make minorities more prone to hate, prejudice and discrimination may have already been torn down by the collective effort of many enlightened people but sadly, there remains people who are still stuck in the Middle Ages in terms of general attitudes and paradigms particularly when it comes to diversity issues. Lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders may have gained some measure of acceptance in certain aspects of society, but as the recent ruling of the Comelec has once again validated, there are quite a number of people—many of them, ironically, people who should know better or are in a position to promote enlightenment—who still subscribe to very fundamentalist points of views, people who cling to puritanical tenets long rendered obsolete and irrelevant.

We also happen to have an electoral system that is deeply steeped in political patronage; where groups and individuals that do not have political clout, don’t kowtow to the powers-that-be, or simply don’t have the economic resources to deodorize its public image stand no chance of being in the ballot.

Ang Ladlad does not have the political clout or the resources other party lists associated with powerful lobby groups and even powerful political individuals. Ironically, the party-list system was precisely established primarily to break this system. Party-list groups were supposed to represent marginalized groups who otherwise would have no means of getting elected through the usual channels.

But then again, we’re also supposed to be a country that’s more tolerant and accepting of sexual minorities and their issues so there was some reason to hope that Ang Ladlad would finally get accreditation this time around. After all, even mainstream television show Pinoy Big Brother already has a transgender self-identifying as a woman inside the house and she is one of the more popular housemates of the season. God knows there are just too many issues affecting sexual minorities that need urgent legislative attention. For example, the anti-discrimination bill has been pending in Congress for quite sometime now. The Comelec has now squelched those chances.

Being denied accreditation is one thing. But to be slapped and spat on the face at the same time; to be called immoral and to be accused of being a danger to the youth of this country—well, that’s not just cruel. That’s pure, unadulterated bigotry.

Danton Remoto, professor in the last 20 years at the Ateneo de Manila University and president of Ang Ladlad bristled at the accusation that lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders pose a threat to the youth. I personally don’t get the acrobatic logical deduction that props up this argument. Lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders have been in society for as long as the human race—many of them have been occupying positions of authority. In what distinct ways have they harmed or could potentially harm the youth of this country? As far as I know, many of the crimes attributed to them, including sexual crimes, are more pronounced in other sectors of society.

Lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders are teachers, laywers, doctors, dentists, engineers, writers, etc. They are also fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, uncles, aunts, cousins, friends. To say that they post a threat to the youth not only defies logic; it is a reasoning that strikes at the core of the very essence of humanity. Remoto is correct, the Comelec decision smacks of intellectual bankruptcy. What the Comelec is saying is that it is okay for lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders to teach our children, treat the sick, build houses, etc, but they have no right to have official representation in Congress.

Why should Ang Ladlad earn seats in Congress? Some people cattily remark that sexual minorities don’t anymore need representation in Congress because of the many supposedly closeted members of the sector already in Congress. This reasoning flies on its face because if it were true and we tacitly agree, then the Comelec commissioners are wrong—there is no threat after all. There’s also this assertion that sexual minorities don’t need representation because their issues can very well be advocated by other legislators. This argument negates the personality of all other party-list groups if not of the whole party-list system. We might not as well have party-list groups for women, or farmers, or educators because many legislators respond to these demographic groupings.

Ang Ladlad has time and again stressed that they are not fighting for special rights. Their platform includes the following:

1. Support the Anti-Discrimination Bill that gives LGBT Filipinos equal opportunities in employment and equal treatment in schools, hospitals, restaurants, hotels, entertainment centers, and government offices.

2. Re-filing of the bill to repeal the Anti-Vagrancy Law that some unscrupulous policemen use to extort bribes from gay men without ID cards;

3. Setting up of micro-finance and livelihood projects for poor and handicapped LGBT Filipinos;

4. Setting up of centers for Golden Gays, or old and abandoned LGBTs, as well as young ones driven out of their homes. The centers will also offer legal aid and counseling, as well as information about LGBT issues, HIV-AIDS, and reproductive health. What is so immoral about these goals?

What is ironic is that the Comelec’s decision serves only to highlight the fact that the sector is indeed marginalized. The Comelec has just validated beyond reasonable doubt that truly, institutionalized discrimination directed at the sector exists.

2 comments:

Contents under pressue said...

Bong, how are you?

It's me Antonio. It's been hell trying to recover from the typhoon damage, so I had not been able to visit for a while.

Yeah, me and the group I belong to now - the Filipino Freethinkers - picked up on this news article.

I don't have to be gay to understand that what Comelec was out of bounds, and that they were being bigots.

Ferrer recently defended their decision, claiming that they disqualified Ladlad for moral, and not religious reasons.

There is just so much wrong in Ferrer's reasoning. For one, we have a copy of the circular that officially dismissed Ladlad.

How the hell can Ferrer say it's not for religious reasons when their own document directly quotes the Bible and the Koran to justify their decision.

What sicken me more is that they assert that homosexuality is an immoral act.

So it may be for Christianity and Islam, but do they forget that they are in the service of a population that may not necessarily belong to these two belief systems?

Bong C. Austero said...

Hey Anton, good to hear from you again!

Ferrer is grasping at whatever will pass for cogent reasoning. Truth is, the decision was not only badly reasoned, it was also terribly written - many of my college students could come up with better term papers.

I agree, the issue has nothing to do with being gay or straight. It's just about democracy, and equal rights, and fairness.

Anyway, i am sure he and the other commissioners will go down in history as homophobic bigots.

Hope you and your family have recovered fully from the flood. Ingat.