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FEATURE

The Unequal Fight for Equal Rights

by Jan Isabelle Barlis

Six years have passed since the murder of transwoman Jennifer Laude but the Philippines, unfortunately, continues to be a place of maltreatment to the trans community.

In the past 10 years alone, there have been several notable reported hate crimes directly involving trans individuals being attacked, assaulted, and even killed.

Photo by Jomay Del Rosario

A Decade of Attacks

On January 11, 2013, transwoman doctor Nathalia Ann Gonzales (legally named Russel Fritz Saliganan) was found dead in her apartment with over 50 stab wounds and drowning in blood. Further investigations led to conclude her lover at the time, John Patrick Torres, as the convicted murderer.

Over a year later, on October 11, 2014, Jennifer Laude was found dead in the bathroom of a motel room in Olongapo City, with strangulation marks on her neck and head rammed into a toilet. Her murderer, U.S. Marine Lance Corporal Joseph Scott Pemberton, was found guilty of homicide, not murder, for the death of Laude, and was sentenced to six to 12 years of imprisonment a year after the attack.

Another case of the murder of transwomen happened on October 21, 2014. Mary Joy Añonuevo was found dead inside a bar she owned located in Tayabas, Quezon — with several stab wounds and strangulation marks on her body, only 10 days after the death of Jennifer Laude. Between the years 2008 and 2016, 41 transgender people were also reported to be killed in the Philippines, the highest rate in Southeast Asia.

On August 13, 2019, a transwoman by the name of Gretchen Diez was arrested and detained in Quezon City for entering the women’s restroom. A month later, another transwoman by the name of Jessa Remiendo was attacked and brutally killed after taking a walk in Bolinao, Pangasinan, on September 17, 2019.

To make matters worse, Joseph Scott Pemberton, who was only a few years into his imprisonment after being pleaded guilty for the murder of Jennifer Laude, was granted absolute pardon by President Duterte last September 7, 2020 — proving the negligence of the government towards respect for trans lives.

Turning a Blind Eye

Looking into the numerous attacks afflicted towards the trans community in the Philippines raises great concern over the protection of both trans rights and ultimately, human rights. The rise of the constant injustices towards the trans community and the lack of support given towards the protection of our trans fellowmen make it clear that the government does not value providing trans individuals a good quality of life.

The president evidently turns his priorities to other concerns and turns a blind eye towards the continued injustices towards the trans community, despite having expressed several statements on his “support” for the LGBT community in the past.

Moreover, the latest version of the SOGIE Bill, or Senate Bill №689, entitled “Anti-Discrimination on the Basis of Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Expression,” which aims to prevent discrimination on the basis of SOGIE among individuals, has not yet been passed in Congress after almost two decades. The alarmingly slow progress of the bill comes as no surprise due to opposition from several lawmakers.

In a text message sent to reporters in 2019, Senator Tito Sotto stated that the SOGIE Bill had “No chance” of passing at the Senate level, saying, “Anti-discrimination on persons, pwede. Pero focused on gays, which the SOGIE bill is, and religious and academic freedom impeded plus smuggling of same-sex marriage? No chance!”

Senator Joel Villanueva also expressed his disapproval towards the bill, claiming that the SOGIE bill will “destroy the family,” and that the bill “does not fit” our Filipino culture. He also expressed that the proposed law could cause problems with the beliefs of the church and various religious institutions.

The same sentiment was shared by Senator Manny Pacquiao. “Even in the Bible, we can read na ang babae, dapat magsuot na pambabae; at ang lalaki, magsuot ng panlalaki. That’s what I believe,” he told Senator Risa Hontiveros in 2017.

The biggest commonality between these opposing statements which staggers the progress of providing basic rights for the LGBT Community is the claims stating that doing so is against God and various religious beliefs. However, not long ago, Pope Francis himself indicated his support for the civil unions of same-sex couples in the film Francesco last October.

He states in the film, “Homosexual people have a right to be in a family…They are children of God and have a right to a family. Nobody should be thrown out or made miserable over it. What we have to create is a civil union law. That way they are legally covered,”

These statements counter the oppositions stated above, making it clear that the provision of rights for the LGBT community is a matter of civil law, not a matter of church and religion, or culture and tradition.

The Need for Change

In a 2013 Pew Research Center study, the Philippines was revealed to be one of the “most accepting” countries when it comes to the acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community, with more than 70% of Filipinos expressing the need for acceptance of the community. However, this does not seem to translate in reality as attacks towards LGBT, especially the trans community, continue to rise and with the government unbothered to approve the laws meant to protect them.

Other countries have already progressed with the legalization of same-sex marriage in major countries including the United States in 2015, and further representation of the LGBT communities in mainstream media, increasing the awareness of people regarding the realities the community faces among others.

The Philippines, on the other hand, confuses LGBT rights as less rights for the cis-hets when it is simply providing them the basic rights they rightly deserve. For decades, the LGBT community has been oppressed simply for being themselves, but in reality we are all people who deserve a chance in living a life with equal rights. This is why we must continue fighting for a better life for our trans brothers and sisters.

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