Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Outrageously Courageous

Note: For CEBU MONTHLY: A monthly newsletter of the Cebu Provincial Government

The courage of policy-makers at the local or even national level to introduce measures to defend, via legislation, the so-called “last socially acceptable prejudice” is both an act of courage and love.

Courage because only a handful, I dare say, will walk the path to damnation because stigma, discrimination, marginalization and oppression based on sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) is still apparent. While the LGBT community don’t ask for “special rights” much less, “special love” the proponents of anti-discrimination ordinance in the province and a bill in Congress is a love offered to the community and I am forever grateful.

Much to my relief that the LGBT community is blessed to partner with PB member Arleigh Sitoy in the province of Cebu and Rep. Teddy Casiño in the House of Representatives. Both men will enjoy the support of the LGBT community for their wisdom, compassion and courage.

Since 2011, PB Sitoy, without much fanfare, introduced an Anti-discrimination ordinance that will protect LGBTs in the workplace. His ordinance is significantly important as well as timely and relevant because it is very specific and hit the nail right on its head – protecting LGBTs in the workplace.

Protecting the LGBTs in the workplace is more urgent than ever. Most LGBTs are working tirelessly to support their family. By protecting their constitutionally guaranteed right to work, PB Sitoy risks the ire of some but is assured of a place in our history as the first to defend the rights and responsibilities of LGBTs in the workplace.  Hence, the urgency of  approving the ordinance is now in the hands of the entire members of the Cebu Provincial Board. I hope and pray that by tackling this issue, as initiated by PB Sitoy, the entire members of the Provincial Board, will be inclusive, rather in exclusive in legislating measures to protect all Cebuanos regardless of  their gender and sexuality.

It is also high time that a major provincial local government unit come up with a local law that helps protect and advance the LGBT community. Cebu province is known for various titles and accolades. It is time to add another feather in the province cap as being the most LGBT friendly in this part of the world.
Allow me also to cite Senatoriable Teddy Casiño’s House Bill 1483 or An Act Defining Discrimination on the Basis of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity and Providing Penalties Thereof filed in Congress in July 15, 2010. Like PB Sitoy, Rep. Casiño’s bill will likewise render legal protection to LGBTs nationwide.

While not specifically for LGBTs, it is notable that various cities around the Philippines, namely Cebu City, Davao City and Angeles City in Pampanga successfully passed anti-discrimination ordinance that penalizes any form of discrimination against diffently abled persons, different sexual orientation, ethnicity and religion.

I would like to reiterate important legal measures that is useful in discussing PB Sitoy’s ordinance, to wit:

1. The 1987 Constitution declares that “the State values the dignity of every human person and guarantees full respect for human rights” (Article 2, Section 11, 1987 Constitution). It also imposes on  the State the duty to ensure the fundamental equality before the law of women and men (Article 2, Section 14);

2. This equal protection clause in the Bill of Rights logically requires that laws are implemented and applied equally and uniformly on all persons; be treated in the same manner with regard to privileges conferred and the liabilities imposed;

3. The Philippines is a signatory to international agreements on the respect for human rights of all persons regardless of any condition, including sex or sexual orientation. These international instruments have consistently been interpreted by international institutions, such as the United Nations Human Rights Committee (UNHRC) and the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, to include protection against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

The UNHRC has interpreted Article 26 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which obliges States to “guarantee to all persons equal and effective protection against discrimination on any ground such as race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status,” to include a protection against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

The UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights has also interpreted Article 2 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) to include sexual orientation in the Covenant’s non-discrimination provisions;

4. The present and future realities that exist in the country should not be left behind by both national and local laws. The noble intentions of numerous national laws and international agreements are still wanting with respect to our LGBTs. They continue to be discriminated by society at large, primarily because of misconceptions and systemic state ignorance. LGBTs often find it difficult to exercise their rights as persons, workers, professionals, and ordinary citizens;

5. Prejudicial practices and policies – mostly unstated and unwritten – based on sexual orientation and gender identity severely limit the exercise and enjoyment of the basic rights and fundamental freedoms in schools, workplaces, commercial establishments, the civil service, even the security services;
6. State and private companies block the promotion and prevent the career advancement of gay or lesbian employees due to the deeply embedded notion that homosexuality denotes weakness. Laws such as the current anti-vagrancy law are also abused by the law enforcement agencies to harass gay men; and

7. Most importantly, LGBTs do not want nor claim additional “special” or “additional rights” in law. They only deserve to have equal observance of the rights, privileges and liabilities as those of our heterosexual compatriots.

To quote Rep. Teddy Casiño on the proposed ordinance of PB Member Sitoy: “The proposed provincial ordinance aims to extend the observance and advancement of the same rights as those of heterosexual persons that are denied to LGBTs in the workplace by current laws or practices: basic civil, political, social and economic rights.

“It is therefore imperative to define and penalize practices that discriminate against LGBTs in the workplace. It is our fervent wish that the Cebu Provincial Board pass its ordinance to protect the rights of workers and employees in the province. It would be a landmark ordinance. It will be a first in the Visayas and the country.  We fully support the passage of this provincial ordinance for the rights of LGBTs in the workplace.

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