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Malacañang hosts historic LGBT rights confab

By PROGAY Philippines
December 12, 2011

MANILA  –  The Office of the President waded into one of the remaining last frontiers in the country's human rights struggles when it hosted probably the first  open discussion on human rights based on sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI).

On the eve of the 63rd anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Presidential Commission on Human Rights (PHRC) convened the 11th National Human Rights Forum titled "LGBT Ngayon: Lalim ng Pagunawa at Antas ng Pagtanggap" at the Richmonde Eastwood Libis in Quezon City. In English, the title would translate roughly to "Our Present Levels of Understanding and Acceptance of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender People."

The human rights watchdog Philippine LGBT Hate Crime Watch organized the forum that was powered by a broad range of human rights experts, international agencies, church leaders and the academe. According to the organizer's spokesperson, Reighben Labilles, the conference has very profound implications on government policies towards LGBTs and would seem a fitting rejoinder to the announcement of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that the United States will protect LGBT rights on a global scale.

The PHRC targeted national government offices such as the Philippine National Police and Department of Justice with the aim of getting the Philippines up to speed in terms of LGBT rights. Also in attendance were leading activist groups such as ProGay Philippines, GALANG, Task Force Pride, Asia Foundation, Leap, and the International Lesbian and Gay Rights Committee.

Rena Dona, Assistant Country Representative of the United Nations Populations Fund, gave a rousing keynote speech that urged the Philippines to make reproductive health services and commodities open to all LGBTs as part of its human rights obligations for the highest standards of health.

Eric Manalastas, a teacher at the University of the Philippines and member of the Psychological Association (PAP) provided the mental health background of discrimination that Filipino LGBTs suffer.  Ms. Bemz Benedito, chairwoman of the Ladlad partylist, presented the legal and social problems of the Transpinay or transgender Filipino woman, face when trying to get work or legalize their gender identity.

In his presentation "LGBT and Society," Dr. Emmanuel de Guzman of the Polytechnic University of the Philippines explained the level of acceptance that mainstream Filipino society has of LGBTs and traced the problem of homophobia and discrimination to a vast array of hard historical pressures coming from colonial past and the Christian religion. De Guzman said that LGBTs should take advantage of social technologies that allow a new "politics of truth" to convert victimhood into power demolish the dominance of patriarchy.

The speaker from the United Methodist Church and Promotion of People's Church Response, Rev. Marie Sol Villalon, discussed her denomination's open heart, open hearts, and open arms policy in receiving the LGBT into the laity and the clergy. She advised the state to stop using bureaucratic procedures in denying LGBTs legal rights and instead always consider human rights as above any administrative law such as presidential decrees, because the main teaching of Jesus was that every one has rights.

Atty, Liezl Parajas, director of the Commission on Human Rights Women's Human Rights Center gave the international human rights framework. Parajas said that the lack of a national law on LGBTs should not prevent the government from interpreting international commitments favorably to promote human rights based on SOGI. Addressing the civil society, she suggested the more creative use of civil code instead of always pursuing the penal approaches to settling claims against violations.

Oscar Atadero, program manager of the legal rights NGO Rainbow Rights Project, tackled Activism at the Grassroots Level. Atadero provided a comprehensive overview on how the Yogyakarta Principles can be used by the PHRC and national government agencies to mainstream SOGI human rights protections for LGBTs without having to wait for Congress to approve an Anti-Discrimination Law.

Ron de Vera of Amnesty International provided an overview of the history of the anti-discrimination bill and hate crimes resolutions in Congress, while Prof. Danton Remoto discussed the internal dynamics and external factors that are both boons and threats to having LGBTs elected into political office.

The forum unearthed many potential areas of administrative work for the government to accomodate LGBTs in its human rights and services mandates. In the lively debates that interspersed the presentations, many more instances of discrimination and ill treatment surfaced. Chad Jacinto of the Department of Foreign Affairs said the failure of the government to actively pursue SOGI human rights in the United Nations is hampered by a lack of a clear guidelines from Malacañang regarding LGBTs.

The GALANG lesbian group said that in its survey asking police in a Quezon City district if LGBTs have rights, the overwhelming response was that LGBTs have no rights. In response, Superintendent Susan Jalla revealed that the PNP is committed and actively creating policies that would make the police more sensitive and responsive to LGBT complainants and victims of violence.

Undersecretary Severo Catura of the PHRC said that the proceedings of the forum was crucial in jumpstarting future administrative programs under the Aquino administration that will incorporate the concerns of the LGBTs in national development agenda.