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House human rights chair: Anti-Discrimination Bill to invite wrath of God November 22, 2006

Posted by lagablab in Anti-Discrimination Bill, campaigns, Discrimination, gay discrimination, gay rights, in the news, lagablab alert!.
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A battle to pass a human rights measure penalizing discrimination against lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgenders is raging in the House of Representatives, where the incumbent Chairperson of the Committee on Human Rights, Rep. Bienvenido Abante (6th Distict, Manila City), is ironically blocking the bill’s passage. In a controversial speech delivered last Monday, Rep. Abante, who is also a Baptist pastor, charged that the enactment of the bill would invite the wrath of God and would mean “death to the most cherished Filipino values of Godliness and moral rectitude.” (more…)

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Rep. Abante did it again! November 17, 2006

Posted by lagablab in Anti-Discrimination Bill, Discrimination, gay discrimination, gay rights, gay rights Philippines, in the news, lagablab alert!, LGBT News.
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In the House of Representatives, Rep. Bienvenido Abante (6th District, Manila City), the Chairperson of the Committee on Civil, Political and Human Rights, blocked anew the passage of HB 634, or the Anti-Discrimination Bill, following the sponsorship speech made by AKBAYAN Rep. Etta Rosales. (more…)

Isagani Cruz, Press Freedom, and Media Ethics and Responsibility September 4, 2006

Posted by lagablab in in the news, LGBT and the media.
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Barely a month since it started, it appears that the controversy sparked by a homophobic column is finally over. Or at least that’s how the Philippine Daily Inquirer would like to have it.

After publishing the last letter to the editor on the issue on August 25, 2006, the editor issued this notice:

About a hundred readers — and counting — have written the Inquirer in reaction to Isagani Cruz’s columns on LGBTs. The Inquirer regrets that for lack of space it cannot accommodate all their letters. For this reason, the Inquirer decided to publish those that it deemed most representative of the collective sentiments of the letter-senders. This letter should be the last on the matter. — Ed.

It thus killed an issue that should have been resolved through an honest discussion on media ethics and responsibility.

How the controversy unfolded: Columns, letters, and an Editorial

The controversy was triggered by Inquirer columnist and former Supreme Court Justice Isagani Cruz, who, in his regular column “Separate Opinion,” derided Filipino homosexuals. Bloggers across different sexual orientations and locations quickly condemned the bigoted column. Manuel Quezon III, another columnist from Inquirer, wrote a powerful rejection of Cruz’s bigotry and likened him to a Grand Inquisitor. A few days later, Cruz responded to Quezon’s column, calling his critics’ arguments “neither here nor there,” and at the same time invoked free speech to articulate his hatred against “certain” types of homosexuals. In Quezon’s succeeding column, he said that Cruz’s distinction between acceptable and unacceptable homosexuals is tenuous because for bigoted people, “all gay people are fundamentally the same because of their sexuality.”

Letters were also sent to the Inquirer in response to the controversy. Among those that got published are the following:

In an editorial on August 22, 2006, the Philippine Daily Inquirer (PDI) conceded that the widespread protest against the column of former Supreme Court justice Isagani Cruz is understandable since it “portrayed homosexuals in a negative light.” After briefly indulging in a rather curious discussion on whether homosexuals are born or bred, the editorial concluded that regardless of the nature of homosexuality, “all human beings are born equal and free.”

The Editorial elicited mixed reactions from the community. Others considered it as a sign of victory – it admitted that the newspaper received scores of letters because of the column and it reminded homophobes like Cruz that homosexuals are humans, too. Others, however, felt that it was “neither here nor there”: it was patronizing to a certain extent, but it was silent, too, on the responsibility of journalists like former Supreme Court Justice Isagani Cruz not to use a powerful medium to sow hatred.

In a show in ABS-CBN News Channel (ANC) and in a meeting with various LGBT groups, Lorna Kalaw-Tirol, PDI’s Ombudsman and Readers Advocate, admitted that Cruz violated the newspaper’s Code of Ethics, and yet the Editorial was surprisingly silent on what sanctions PDI would impose for these violations.

The Real Issues

Despite claiming that the “controversy may yet result in something good for the homosexual community,” the Inquirer itself has been mum on what concrete actions it would take to address the issues that Cruz’s column raised. It says that Cruz violated some of the newspaper’s policies on journalism ethics, yet its silence on punishing Cruz for his transgressions is raising a more fundamental question – does the newspaper, as a matter of policy, concur with Isagani Cruz’s belief that press freedom and free speech give journalists a license to sow hatred?

The line between free speech and hate speech is thin, and the consequences can be debilitating, especially if the target of the latter are communities that are already vulnerable because of discrimination. Isagani Cruz’s column is no different from the Danish cartoon that vilified Islam – it helped galvanized a common perception that furthers the prejudice and abuse that the community encounters daily, be it within the family or in workplaces. Hatred, when expressed through a popular and powerful medium, reinforces hatred.

This is not the first time that LGBT groups have expressed concern with the way Philippine media in general has portrayed homosexuals. In 2001, the “Hello Billy” ads of the Philippine Long Distance Telephone Company (PLDT) caught the ire of the LGBT community when it portrayed a gay character negatively. “Hello Billy” was about the stereotypical life of an overseas Filipino worker named Billy and his relationship with his overprotective mother, who kept prying into Billy’s private life. From the conversations between Billy and his mother, his girlfriend, Gracia, and his apparently gay friend, Joey, emerged as new characters. Billy’s relationship with Gracia turned out to be serious, and Joey appeared to be dismayed by this development. Later, an episode insinuated that Joey was spreading bad rumors about Gracia in a bid to prevent her looming marriage with Billy.

The Library Foundation protested the ad, followed LAGABLAB’s campaign to boycott PLDT. LAGABLAB argued then that ads like the “Hello Billy” series reinforce the negative attitudes toward homosexuals in Philippine society. LAGABLAB pointed out that “priests who have condemned homosexuals for immorality, parents who have taught their children that homosexuality is evil, comedians who believe that slapping homosexuals is funny, and, yes, advertisements that portray homosexuals negatively have a role to play why some homosexuals lose their job, get unfair treatment from restaurants or hospitals, or even get killed.”

Another incident, which took place in 2003, demonstrated how unethical media practices target vulnerable sectors like the LGBT community. On February 19, 2003, members of the Central Police District of the Philippine National Police (CPD-PNP) conducted a raid on Alta Theater, a movie house frequented by homosexual patrons and a known cruising area in Cubao, Quezon City. police subjected patrons to physical and verbal abuse as well as extortion attempts, apprehended 63 men “for verification”, and arrested and detained five men in nearby Camp Karingal.

The raid, sardonically referred to as “Oplan Lollipop” by policemen, was provoked by a reporter from ABS-CBN, one of the largest media company in the Philippines. According to the blotter report, the reporter, Mr. JV Villar, approached the local District Police Intelligence Unit (DPIU) and reported the existence of “indecent acts” inside the theater. The report prompted the raid, which was dutifully covered by Villar and his cameraman.

Several cases of police brutality and human rights violations took place during the raid, according to witnesses. One witness saw policemen violently hitting the confused moviegoers with their bare hands or with sandals that were left behind by those who were quick enough to flee. The same witness also noticed one man bleeding from a wound on his head after being hit by a gun by one of the operatives. Dozens were illegally detained, while five were arrested.

Policemen allegedly asked money from the moviegoers in exchange for their freedom.

When they were being led outside the movie house, our source, “Christian”, saw that JV Villar tried to interview some of the moviegoers. The confused and startled moviegoers made attempts to avoid the camera, but they were forced to expose their faces. Christian could not determine if those who forced them to show their faces were policemen or staff from Channel 2 themselves, since no one was in police uniform. When Christian saw the report the next morning, he was shocked and angered that Channel 2 did not even bother to cover the faces of the moviegoers. Christian also said that the report conspicuously did not include the extortion that took place inside the theater, as well as most of the physical harassment and violence. The man who was wounded on the head, according to Christian, later had an asthma attack and was told by the police that he would be brought to a hospital. Upon hearing this, Christian, seriously doubting the sincerity of the policeman, feared for the man’s safety. (LAGABLAB learned from a source inside the camp that the man was also brought to Camp Karingal, and instead of being brought to the hospital, he was forced to walk around the camp barefooted while being threatened not to talk to anyone about the incident).

When the report was shown the morning after in ABS-CBN’s Magandang Umaga, Bayan!, one of the hosts noticed the excessive force that the police used during the raid. Another host, Mr. Ramon Tulfo, allegedly remarked that the gay men inside the theater deserved such treatment from the police since they should be concentrating on their work in beauty parlors instead of committing lewd acts. In ABS-CBN’s news reports on the raid, it did not cover the faces of the interviewees and the other movie goers. (For more information on this issue, visit the website of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, which supported LAGABLAB’s campaign on this case).

Ethics in Media

At the core of the issue is the need for media establishments to enforce on its own policies on ethics. Free speech, in the hands of irresponsible journalists, may contribute to human rights abuses. Mass media has become a powerful instrument that shapes public opinion and discourse, and this power has to be used responsibly to encourage critical thinking and informed decisions, not to sow divisive sectarianism and hatred.

While LAGABLAB is against censorship, media responsibility has to be exercised by media institutions. If PDI has a Code of Ethics, then it should be enforced without exceptions. Any thing less smacks of discrimination against the aggrieved party, or in this case, the LGBT community.

An Open Letter to Isagani Cruz August 16, 2006

Posted by lagablab in Discrimination, in the news.
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Former Supreme Court justice Isagani Cruz wrote in his column in the Philippine Daily Inquirer that the “pansy” gay population, a dilution of the virility of males and garce of females and a compromise of the strong and the weak, is marching unobstructed. Below is LAGABLAB’s response to his column:

AN OPEN LETTER TO MR. ISAGANI CRUZ

We, members of the Lesbian and Gay Legislative Advocacy Network Philippines (LAGABLAB-Pilipinas), wish to thank Philippine Daily Inquirer columnist Isagani Cruz for giving us yet another proof that homophobia still exists in our society today. His column (“Don we now our gay apparel, August 12, 2006, Page A10) tells us that, indeed, a law penalizing discrimination against lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders (LGBTs) should be urgently enacted by Congress.

His stark hatred against homosexuals represents a common belief system that continues to deepen the prejudice that the LGBT community encounters. Mr. Isagani Cruz fails to see that such display of bigotry is easily translated into acts that concretely violate human rights and fundamental freedoms, values whose universality and primacy a former Supreme Court justice should have been able to grasp and uphold. After all, the Supreme Court as an institution has a long tradition of defending civil liberties and human rights. It is therefore ironic that one of its former justices finds it easy to dehumanize us, target us for exclusion, and deny us the right to celebrate our diversity and dignity.

He claims that his scathing homophobia is only reserved to homosexuals who do not conduct themselves decorously. However, his sense of propriety, going by his narrow-minded perspective, means conforming to the destructive boundaries and restrictive stereotypes that our conservative society has established for LGBTs. It means tolerating biased labor policies and practices that act like a glass ceiling that blocks our productivity, or enduring verbal and physical abuses from our own family members or from our immediate community. Mr. Cruz wants us to believe that the fate of homosexuals who openly claim their space in our society as equal members of the human family is a lifetime of humiliation and discrimination. Unless we conform to the whims of people like Mr. Cruz, we should willingly accept that fate. To him, only when we are invisible or servile to what he claims to be the “privileged sex” can we expect acceptance from our society.

Mr. Cruz should understand that human dignity has no sexual orientation or gender identity. Homosexuality is hardly a dilution of the male and female sexes, and femininity and womanhood, upon which equal scorn and prejudice have been heaped by Mr. Cruz, are not synonymous to weakness. The ‘third sex’ that he ridicules does not exist at all, since we are all equal in dignity and respect, as affirmed by our Constitution, our laws, and the international agreements on equality and human rights that the Philippines signed.

The Filipino LGBT community will continue to march – in sagalas and during the annual Pride parade – because we do not take bigotry sitting down. The likes of Mr. Cruz can’t – and we will not let them – push the Filipino LGBT community back to invisibility.

Click here to read Isagani Cruz’s homophobic column

Wired!!! June 29, 2006

Posted by lagablab in in the news.
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LAGABLAB got wired last April. Many thanks to Ryan Schlief, head of Amnesty International’s Southeast Asia team, worked hard to feature LAGABLAB in AI’s monthly newsletter, The Wire. The article also has a photo by LEAP’s Ging Cristobal of the 2005 LGBT Freedom March, which was held in a new venue (Plaza Miranda) last December.

Below is the article:

Trailblazing activism across the Philippines

Fittingly for an activist organization, LAGABLAB means “blaze” in Tagalog, one of the Philippines’ major languages.

Established in 1999, LAGABLAB, the Lesbian and Gay Legislative Advocacy Network, is a broad network of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) organizations and allies working primarily through legislative lobbying towards achieving a society free from all forms of discrimination, particularly those based on gender and sexual orientation.

Angie Umbac, a member of LAGABLAB, says, “Although Philippine laws do not explicitly prohibit homosexuality in the country, the LGBT community does not enjoy legal equality with heterosexuals and it continues to experience high levels of discrimination, harassment and violence. Effective lobbying for LGBT rights is needed for the voice of the LGBT community to be heard in the legislative process.”

The Executive Director of AI Philippines, Jessica Soto, explains, “Discrimination against the LGBT community in the Philippines can be characterized as institutionalized as many institutions, like religious organizations and government agencies, which are supposed to provide sanctuary and protection, are unwilling or incapable of protecting LGBT people, and sometimes are even the purveyors and perpetrators of the discrimination.”

Read the rest of the article in Amnesty’s The Wire