'Tatalima pero di tatahimik': Hontiveros loses in SOGIE bill tug of war

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 8) — The controversial bill penalizing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or sex characteristics (SOGIESC) will undergo "further study" in the rules committee chaired by Senate Majority Leader Joel Villanueva.

The proposed SOGIESC Equality Act — which has been languishing in Congress for 23 years already — faces strong opposition from conservative groups.

It was already approved by the Senate committee on women, children, family relations and gender equality headed by Senate Deputy Minority Leader Risa Hontiveros last year — stating 19 senators signed Committee Report No. 15.

In a privilege speech on Wednesday, Hontiveros lamented that she was ready to report it out in plenary as early as December last year.

"I have no illusions that the bill will sail through this chamber quickly, and I am ready to defend it on the floor as a Sponsor defends any bill — with arguments and logic," Hontiveros said. "What I was not ready for was for this bill to be in this kind of suspension or limbo."

"While I will always defer to the majority of this collegial body, perhaps some points need to be made for the historical record. Tatalima ako pero di ako tatahimik [I will comply but I will not be silent]," she continued.

Villanueva said he and other colleagues received letters from various religious groups complaining that they were not consulted about the SOGIESC bill. He then secured signatures from 18 senators who agreed that the religious groups should also be given a chance to participate.

"I have been bullied, crucified by some groups who are misled of the fact that there was only one hearing of this very controversial measure," said Villanueva, son of renowned preacher and CIBAC Party-list Rep. Eddie Villanueva who founded the Jesus Is Lord movement.

"We can refer this to the Committee on Rules for further study," he added.

In her speech, Hontiveros said she was willing to "keep on engaging and listening in good faith" to religious groups, but explained: "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 also stressed that the measure should be remanded to her committee.

"Parang ang nangyayari pinupunit ang isang sanggol sa yakap, sa kandungan ng kanyang ina [This is like ripping a child from the embrace of his or her mother]. What other committee in the Senate has taken care of such bills as anti-discrimination and SOGIE equality bill since more than two decades ago?" Hontiveros said.

Villanueva explained that since the Hontiveros-led committee report has been submitted to his committee, it is now within its mandate to decide on the next action.

"Hindi naman ho siguro maganda na ikumpara itong panukalang batas na ito na pupunit tayo ng sanggol, hindi ho yon maka-Diyos, makatao, at makatarungan. Ang makatarungan, pag-aralan mabuti what is best for that child," he said.

[Translation: Maybe it's not good to compare this bill to ripping a child apart, that's ungodly, inhumane, and unjust. It's just to study carefully what's best for that child.]

Senate President Pro Tempore Loren Legarda, who presided over the session since Senate President Juan Miguel "Migz" Zubiri is in Japan as part of the presidential delegation, said that while she "feels for" Hontiveros and the LGBTQIA+ Community, the Senate rules state that the Majority Leader has prerogative over the matter.

The issue was put to a vote. While the breakdown of votes was not announced, Legarda announced that the majority won — the bill will be studied by the Villanueva-led panel.

Hontiveros submitted to the Senate's ruling but said she also objects "with every ounce of my being."

Senate Minority Leader Aquilino "Koko" Pimentel demanded a schedule for the proceedings. Legarda said there's no intent to let it languish in the Senate.

At the House of Representatives during the same day, the elder Villanueva sought to delay the lower chamber's hearing for initial consideration of eight SOGIE bills.

Villanueva alleged the discussion was "illegal," as well as a form of "forum shopping" and "railroading," arguing that the House committee on human rights already held an initial deliberation on comprehensive anti-discrimination bills, which include SOGIE provisions.

Bataan Rep. Geraldine Roman, who chairs the House committee on women and gender equality, denied the request and said the House committee on rules told her that the SOGIE bills would remain in her panel.

The religious leader left the committee hearing.