Gretchen Diez says Duterte vowed to pass SOGIE bill before December

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, August 21) — Transgender woman Gretchen Diez said President Rodrigo Duterte vowed to lobby for the anti-discrimination bill in Congress to ensure its passage before the year ends.

“I’m glad that he gave a time frame. He said that hopefully this will get passed before December, so this will be a good Christmas gift [for] everyone ,” Diez told CNN Philippines on Wednesday.

Aside from this, Diez said Duterte is also considering holding a conference for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning (LGBTQ+) sector at the Philippine International Convention Center by December.

Diez met with President Rodrigo Duterte in Malacañang on Monday, days after she was barred from using the women’s restroom, and eventually arrested for broadcasting on Facebook Live to document the incident.

Senator Christopher “Bong” Go, a longtime aide of Duterte who was present during the meeting, said the President committed to push Congress to pass the bill that will support the measure, which will prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression (SOGIE).

Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo echoed this, but could not say whether Duterte will certify the proposed law, popularly known as the SOGIE Equality Bill, as urgent which can speed up its passage in Congress.

READ: Don't let restroom debate hinder SOGIE Equality Bill passage – LGBTQIA+ group

But Naomi Fontanos, spokesperson for the Lesbian and Gay Legislative Advocacy Network – Philippines, is cautious about Duterte’s promises, noting that he is known for flip flopping on policies.

“The President is known for giving empty promises. We appreciate his support, but we’re also hoping that the LGBTQ community will not be used to cover up the many human rights abuses that are happening under his administration,” Fontanos told CNN Philippines’ The Source.

A unanimous House of Representatives passed the SOGIE Equality Bill in 2017, but this failed to clear the Senate, where several lawmakers insisted on repeatedly interpellating the sponsor of the measure, Senator Risa Hontiveros. This eventually led to the death of the bill in the 17th Congress.

‘Quit slacking off’

Diez’ ordeal renewed calls for the passage of the SOGIE Equality Bill, which has been refiled in the House and the Senate.

But this also ignited opposition to the bill, with some senators arguing that this is no longer needed, as there are enough laws to protect LGBTQ+ people from discrimination.

READ: Villanueva: SOGIE Bill 'not the right' anti-discrimination measure

Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel “Migz” Zubiri has also said that some senators are more inclined to support a bill that prohibits all kinds of discrimination, instead of a measure that only bans discrimination on the basis of SOGIE.

But Fontanos said senators should read and understand the bill first before making any comments.

Tapos na po ang panahon na pabanjing-banjing diyan sa Senado,” she said. “Hindi na po tayo papayag na paglalaruan tayo ng mga senador na katulad ni Lito Lapid na nasa isang posisyon ng kapangyarihan pero ayaw initindihin kung ano ‘yung nilalaman ng panukalang batas.

[Translation: The era of slacking off in the Senate is now over … We won’t allow ourselves to be toyed with by senators like Lito Lapid, who are in positions of power but refuse to understand the contents of the proposed law.]

She added that just as women and other minorities have special laws to protect them, LGBTQ+ people should also be protected by specific legislation tailored to them.

“Those who have less in life should have more in law. Members of the LGBT community in the Philippines very obviously have so much less in life because we experience discrimination and violence on the basis of our sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, and of course sex characteristics … and we deserve equality under the law,” Fontanos said.

READ: SOGIE Equality Bill needed to address LGBTQ+ sector’s special needs – solon

Lapid has said that he is not inclined to support the measure.

"Pinag-aaralan pa namin kasi parang may masasagasaan ka diyan, kasi dati namang wala 'yan eh... Kaya naman solusyonan ng mga local 'yun," he said in a chance interview.

[Translation: We are still studying it because it will not be at the best interest of everyone. We have survived without it. The lack of a law can be solved through local ordinances.]

Along with Lapid, Senate President Vicente “Tito” Sotto, Senators Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel, Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa, Joel Villanueva, and Manny Pacquiao have expressed reservations on the measure.

CNN Philippines Digital Producer Robert Vergara contributed to this report.