5 things you should know about the Anti-Discrimination Bill

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Together with Rep. Christopher de Venecia of Pangasinan and Rep. Kaka Bag-ao of the Dinagat Islands, Rep. Geraldine Roman of Bataan raises the rainbow sign with the hashtag #equalitychamps, in a press conference before her first privilege speech last September 19 on the Anti-Discrimination Bill based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI). Photo courtesy of the OFFICE OF REP. GERALDINE ROMAN

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — Today, the House of Representatives conducted its first hearing on the Anti-Discrimination Bill on the Basis of Sexual Orientation or Gender Identity (or House Bill 267), three weeks after Rep. Geraldine Roman of the 1st district of Bataan gave an emotional privilege speech before the 17th Congress. During the hearing, the bill was subjected to closer scrutiny by various lawmakers and religious groups — some who contested that its provisions violated their right to religious freedom — as its advocates clarified what the bill seeks to achieve, and what it does not.

The bill is the latest version in a string of bills that had previously failed to pass as a law in Congress. Previous proponents of the bill include then Akbayan Rep. Etta Rosales and Rep. Kaka Bag-ao of the Dinagat Islands, who all struggled to convince legislators and related sectors of a need for an Anti-Discrimination Bill. This year, it is hoped that Roman — who has been recently included in a global list of inspiring women for 2016 — will finally set the bill firmly as part of the law of the land. But getting there won’t be easy, what with certain assumptions that may be wrongly made and questions that still need to be asked in light of the Philippines’ long history of Catholic conservatism and resistance to LGBTQ-related measures in the past. With regard to the bill now under close examination in Congress, here are several clarifications on what the Anti-Discrimination Bill grants, prohibits, and ultimately what it seeks to achieve — whether you are part of the LGBTQ community or not.

The bill does not seek to legalize same-sex marriage or unions.

The bill’s title should speak for itself: It is a bill which merely seeks to prohibit certain discriminatory practices that harm members of the LGBTQ community. Roman and Bag-ao have repeatedly emphasized that the bill does not hide a provision on same-sex marriages, or same-sex unions, for that matter (the latter of which is a subject of a future bill, according to Roman). In the event the bill somehow includes a provision on same-sex marriage or union, however, it can simply be stricken out of the draft or even the law, if passed, as a “rider,” which means a provision in a law which is unrelated to the bill’s title and purpose. The law, as a whole, will not be rendered invalid — only the rider will.

The bill seeks to prohibit only a certain number of acts that unfairly discriminate against members of the LGBTQ community.

The bill is basic, as it only seeks that certain rights be recognized. Roman made it clear during her privilege speech that the bill seeks to prohibit the following acts, which constitute discrimination:

“If an employer, whether from the private or public sector, includes sexual orientation or gender identity in the criteria for hiring, promotion, transfer, designation, work assignment, re-assignment, dismissal, performance review, selection for training, in the computation of benefits, privileges and allowances — that is discrimination.

If a school or any educational or training institution refuses to admit a student or participant or chooses to expel him or her solely on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, that is discrimination.

If a school imposes disciplinary sanctions, penalties, restrictions and requirements harsher than the usual that infringe on the rights of students on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, that is discrimination.

When a student or a trainee is harassed, punished or restricted due to the sexual orientation or gender identity of his parents or legal guardians, that is discrimination.”

The merit of defining several acts of discrimination as prohibited acts makes such acts illegal, and therefore punishable by imprisonment. The law cannot punish what it cannot specifically define. The Philippine Constitution only goes so far as to declare that “No person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law, nor shall any person be denied the equal protection of the laws,” which is insufficient to protect a specific sector (the LGBTQ most especially) without any kind of legislation outlining how its rights should be recognized. Roman also points out, in her privilege speech, that “an overview of legal references to the LGBT phenomenon shows that there are no direct references to lesbian, gay, transgender and bisexual individuals … these terms are nowhere to be found in any of our existing laws, save for a few references to ‘sexual orientation.’”

Considering the lack of sufficient protection in the Constitution’s Bill of Rights, or in any other law we have, the enumeration of specific discriminatory acts in the Anti-Discrimination Bill is significant, if not historic, in the efforts to provide for more LGBTQ-inclusive laws in the country.

The bill also makes it illegal for anyone to force a person to take a medical or psychological exam, to alter that person’s gender or sexual orientation.

Without an LGBTQ individual’s consent, a person cannot force such individual to consult with a psychologist to re-evaluate his or her gender identity or sexual orientation, says Roman. A minor falling under this clause is protected under the draft bill, in that it requires that the approval of the Family Court (where the Solicitor General will represent the child) be secured before a psychological examination may be conducted on the child.

The bill provides for jail terms for those who violate its provisions.

According to Roman, imprisonment of not less than one year, but not more than six years, will be imposed upon anyone who will violate the provisions of the Anti-Discrimination Bill, specifically the prohibited acts as defined above. In addition to imprisonment, the offender may also be subjected to community service, and may be required to undergo human rights education on the plight of the victims of discrimination.

The bill provides for a venue for complaints and cases to be filed.

There are existing police desks addressing complaints and cases related to violence against women and children. Under the proposed law, Roman states that these same desks will attend to cases of discrimination against LGBTQs. In order to prepare the desk officers to handle complaints and cases under the Anti-Discrimination Bill, they shall be required to undergo trainings on gender-sensitivity, proper terminology, dynamics of LGBTQ relationships, and how to properly handle hate crime investigations.