Philippine laws are still confused about gender

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — On October 18, Pat Bringas received a decision from the the Civil Registry Office in Manila to grant the petition which officially changes her legal name on her birth certificate.

Her birth-assigned legal name was Patrick.

"Hindi ko alam na posible pala siya [I didn't think it was possible]," Bringas said.

Bringas, a trans woman who works in the media industry, said she had her petition posted for four months on the wall in her office cubicle. Her parents even expressed support for the move.

"Medyo sila din 'yung nagpu-push sa akin. Kasi sila din pag tinatawag ako sa bangko, o sa hospital, Patrick. (Sasabihin nila), 'Papalitan mo na nga 'yan. Hindi naman bagay,'" she said.

[Translation: They were also the ones who pushed me to do it, because they see that when I'm called in the bank or the hospital, it's Patrick. They would say, 'Have your name changed. It doesn't suit you.']

Bringas' feminine gender identity is in conflict with her previous masculine name -- a name which appeared on all of her legal documents.

An annotation on the side of Pat Bringas' birth certificates shows that her previous name Patrick has been officially changed to its shorter derivation, Pat.

Under Articles 407 and 408 of the Civil Code, substantial changes may be made to the entries at the civil registry through a petition. Entries that can be changed include births, marriages, deaths, legal separations, annulments, adoptions, loss or recovery of citizenship, and the name change.

Her transgender identity has since been accepted by her parents, after she identified herself as a woman upon joining a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) group in college. She admitted her family struggled at first, due to a lack of awareness of the concepts of sexual orientation, gender identity and expression (SOGIE).

"When I was young, ang tawag ni Daddy sa'kin 'Boy'. Yun ang palayaw niya sa akin. And, lately lang niya nasabi sakin kung bakit. It's because noong bata daw ako, parang nakalimutan ko daw na boy ako, so he had to remind me," she said.

[Translation: When I was young, Daddy called me 'Boy.' And it was only until late that he explained why. It's because when I was still a kid, he thought I forgot how to be a boy, so he had to remind me.]

While Bringas has identified as a woman, the law, however, does not. Her birth certificate identifies her as a male, which corresponds to her sex.

"I wasn't able to change my name because I'm trans. I was able to change my name because of legal loopholes that I had to take advantage of," she said.

She, however, pays it no mind for now.

"I have to make do with just changing my name. Kasi feeling ko naman, less na na-notice 'yung [Cause I feel we notice less the] gender marker than the first name," she explained.

This was not always the case. Before, some transgender women could change their gender markers under Republic Act 9048, or the Clerical Error Law of 2001. The local Office of Civil Registry may approve the change provided there was proof that the petitioner has not undergone a sex reassignment surgery (SRS)--the medical procedure involving the change of genitalia, a 2018 United Nations report showed.

The UN report explained that since local civil registry offices are in charge of correcting these clerical errors, modifications to gender markers somehow passed through.

But all these changed with the 2007 Supreme Court ruling against Mely Silverio, a trans woman, who went under sex reassignment surgery. The high court affirmed the ruling of the Court of Appeals, which implemented the Clerical Errors Law's provisions on strictly not granting changes in gender markers.

However, the SC said it ruled against Silverio on the grounds that there was no law which dealt with the change of first name following sex reassignment surgeries.

Transgenderism, which contains a spectrum of dissociations between sex (physical anatomy) and gender (social and personal role), is just one of the many SOGIEs. And as these identities and sexualities continue to get mixed up in understanding, as well as defy heterosexual standards, members of the LGBT community are subject to discrimination, and worse, hate crimes.

One of the most prominent cases was that of Jennifer Laude, who was strangled to death by then 19-year-old U.S. Marine Lance Corporal Joseph Scott Pemberton. The U.S. soldier reportedly choked her after finding out that Jennifer was born male.

READ: Revisiting the Jennifer Laude case

READ: Jennifer Laude documentary "Call Her Ganda" is required viewing

On the other hand, the country has also celebrated its first transgender woman in the 17th Congress. The election of Bataan First District Representative Geraldine Roman was then followed by the passage of the Anti-Discrimination Bill at the House of Representatives.

Trans woman Geraldine Roman is one of the authors of the Anti-Discrimination Bill, a bill which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or expression (SOGIE).

But the pioneer lawmaker said she is frustrated, since the passage of laws which cater to the rights of transgender people is still being hindered by misunderstandings surrounding SOGIE.

"I remember during my privilege speech to launch the Anti-Discrimination Bill, they kept on asking me to explain the differences," Roman told CNN Philippines. "Cause I think we have already gone forward with that. Also, you know exposure, aside from their direct experience with me, they have also been exposed to media, and also to some television programs and series that fortunately have been produced in the past few years which explains the differences between these two concepts."

Roman had her gender marker changed 24 years ago after going under the knife for SRS. The daughter of former Bataan representatives, Roman petitioned before the Regional Trial Court in Balanga, Bataan right after. She got a favorable ruling, and she was not questioned by the Office of the Solicitor General, unlike Silverio.

But the lawmaker said Silverio's case opens a window for a law to recognize transgender individuals. She then added that she has since drafted a gender recognition bill yet to be released, which allows the change in the markers in birth certificates and other government documents.

However, her draft bill only covers those transgender individuals who have gone through the surgery -- and she argued that this was the only way lawmakers at the House will support it.

"You have people who actually think that if you have a vagina, you're a female. If you have a penis, you're a male. This is the type of people I have to work with. So I cannot introduce very advanced concepts," Roman said.

Not all transgender people have to go under the knife, as not all of them report gender dysphoria -- or an internal conflict between sex and gender. Some are happy with their genitalia, and are content with how they express their gender.

This is the case of Slac Cayamanda, a 32-year-old trans man, who despite being born female, is content with his vagina.

"I'm very happy. When people tell me, 'What kind of a guy are you, of a male are you?' I tell them, 'I'm a man without a d*ck. Get over it,'" he said.

Slac Cayamanda, a home-based employee, said he avoids working in office spaces due to discrimination against members of the LGBT community.

Cayamanda, however, would want to modify other parts of his body to match what he feels inside.

"Actually, I've settled with not taking hormonal replacement therapy. But I am going to have a top surgery. Maybe in two or three years time, depending on the budget," he said.

The top surgery or the removal of the breasts may cost as high as ₱100,000 pesos depending on the size.

Meanwhile, Bringas is not happy with her sexual organs.

"Ayaw ko munang magpa-opera, kasi ang hirap ng recovery," she said. "Hindi ko rin pine-pressure sarili ko."

[Translation: I don't want to go through an operation yet, because recovery is difficult. I'm not pressuring myself either.]

Bringas said the cost to have a vaginoplasty will cost as high as half-a-million pesos.

And this is why for transgender activist Naomi Fontanos of Gender and Development Advocates (GANDA) Filipinas, Roman's proposal to make surgery a requirement for changing gender markers is unacceptable.

"Trans people don't have to change their bodies to change their legal documents. Some trans people may have diseases that would endanger them if they undergo these very sensitive medical procedures, and of course, most importantly, it's a trans person's choice," Fontanos said.

The trans activist also said the procedure can be very expensive and inaccessible for those who cannot afford it.

"She has to consult the people who will be affected by that law directly," she added.

Transgender advocate Naomi Fontanos is a feminist and a trans activist.

Fontanos said lawmakers such as Roman should instead concentrate on an enabling environment for trans people -- including catering to trans-specific medical needs, and addressing the vulnerability of the group to the Human Immunodeficiency Virus-Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (HIV-AIDS) epidemic in the Philippines.

But for Roman, the matter of passing a gender recognition is law is just as political as it is public service.

"There are concepts that will never," she laughed. "Never be understood by the people I have to work with here in Congress. So I have to introduce something palatable to them. Many will bash me. But believe me, this is the only strategic and feasible option."

While remaining an ally and representative of the LGBT sector in the House, Roman explained that the community must not have too many battlefronts.

She then said, "I cannot behave like an activist in the House. I cannot. This is not how we get my colleague's signatures. This is not how we get their support for our legislative measures."

Roman then explained her focus now is getting the Anti-Discrimination Bill passed. The bill was unanimously approved in the lower House, but has been pending for already 18 months at the Senate.

"Because we're talking about the right to work," she said. "The right to study, the right to receive services from the government. The right to enter and access public places and facilities. The right not to be insulted. These are basic. I mean, you won't die if you don't get married, right? But if you're not able to work, or study at that? I mean, it's so hard to be LGBT? Can you imagine being LGBT and poor, and unemployed? That's double marginalization, triple marginalization."

But for Bringas -- and other people like her -- the possibility of their genders being legally acknowledged by the state remains looming in the horizon. As a gender recognition law remains in the pipeline, so do their rights.

"It is necessary. Pero it's just that hindi pa siya possible dito, so ayaw ko lang umasa. So tina-target ko lang 'yung mga possible, in my situation," Bringas said.

[Translation: It is necessary. But it's just that it's not yet possible here, so I don't want to get my hopes up. I'm just targetting what's possible in my situation.]