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Why the SOGIESC bill has stalled in the Senate

by Leila Salaverria

THE LGBTQIA+ community rejoiced in December when the anti-discrimination Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Expression, and Sex Characteristics (SOGIESC) Equality bill hurdled a Senate panel and was endorsed for plenary deliberations, putting it a step closer to a crucial vote.

But the celebration turned out to be premature as the bill has stalled in the Senate. Critics said it fell prey to dilatory tactics that may very well have killed it. 

Instead of beginning plenary discussions on the SOGIESC bill, Majority Leader Joel Villanueva said the measure would have to be  studied again and heard by the Committee on Rules. This was because of letters from religious groups who wanted to have a say about it first.

Religious opposition

Villanueva said the religious leaders reached out to him and other Senators to complain that they were not invited to the hearing on the bill conducted by the Committee on Women, Children, Family Relations, and Gender Equality, which originally handled it.

As a result, majority of Senators decided to give these religious groups the chance to speak up and would now study the SOGIESC bill again and hold more hearings on it. 

This time, it will be the Committee on Rules, which Villanueva chairs, that will handle this instead of the Senate Committee on Women, chaired by Sen. Risa Hontiveros. 

Bill in limbo?

However, Villanueva could not say if or when the SOGIESC bill would be referred eventually to Hontiveros’ committee or for sponsorship in the plenary as this is matter for majority of the Rules Committee members to decide. 

A bill has to be referred to the plenary, or the Senate body as whole, before it could be put to a second and third reading vote. 

“I cannot speak on behalf of the entire Rules Committee. Whatever will be the decision of the Rules Committee, I will have to respect it,” Villanueva said. 

Tug of war

Hontiveros objected to the decision to let the Committee on Rules handle the bill and said she is willing to hold more hearings on the matter in her own committee.

She clarified that various religious organizations, including Jesus is Lord with which Villanueva is affiliated, were invited and had participated in her committee discussions. 

She had also agreed to the religious leaders’ suggested amendments to the bill, including an explicit provision stating that the bill will not allow same sex marriage, she noted.  

It was also not true that religious groups have not been heard, she said. 

“We have been listening to and hearing our religious groups for 23 years among all groups. I am willing to keep on engaging and listening in good faith, and I can engage with those who speak from a place of faith and religion being a woman of faith myself,” she said.

“But I was voted by the Republic to pass secular laws. Laws that protect the least of us. Laws that reflect our commitments to international law and to human rights norms,” she added.

Love will always win 

She said there is a pressing need to pursue the bill because the members of the LGBTQIA+ community continue to suffer from oppression and discrimination.

“I hope you agree with me that the oppressions that visit our LGBTQIA+ community are real, documented and undeniable. Wag na sana natin ipagkait sa kanila ito,” she said. 

She appealed to her colleagues to think about the challenges that the LGBTQIA+ community faces. 

“When we pass measures that protect those that society casts aside, we do God’s work,” she said. 

She will continue to pursue the approval of the SOGIESC bill, she said. 

“To my friends in the LGBTQIA+ community, I will continue to fight with and for you. Love is the currency of our struggle and love always wins,” she said.

Rules prevail 

Senate President Pro Tempore Loren Legarda, who was presiding officer when the fate of the SOGIESC bill was tackled, said she feels for Hontiveros and the LGBTQIA+ committee.

But under the Senate rules, it is the discretion of Villanueva, as the Majority Leader, to decide how to handle the bill, said Legarda.

What the SOGIESC bill is all about

The bill seeks to put a stop to discriminatory acts and policies solely because of an individual’s sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, and sex characteristics. 

Among the actions it seeks to prohibit are the promotion of stigma on the basis of SOGIESC, inciting violence against members of the LGBTQIA+ community, and denying an individual access to establishments, facilities, or services based on SOGIESC.



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