Statement of the Commission on Human Rights on the rejection of the Philippine delegation of the recommendation during the Universal Periodic Review to pass the SOGIE Equality Bill

Statement of the Commission on Human Rights on the rejection of the Philippine delegation of the recommendation during the Universal Periodic Review to pass the SOGIE Equality Bill

Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla on Sunday, 19 November 2022, relayed through a radio programme that the Philippine delegation to the country’s 4th cycle of the Universal Periodic Review at the United Nations outright rejected several recommendations, including the passage of the Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Expression (SOGIE) Equality Bill, for being “not acceptable” in the Philippines as a pre-dominantly Catholic country. Speaking in Filipino, he was further quoted in reports saying: “They want the SOGIE Bill for same-sex marriage to have the same as in their countries. So, that’s not acceptable for us.”

While respect for other people’s beliefs is part of upholding other people’s rights, the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) urges the Philippine government to see the SOGIE Equality Bill, including similar proposals aimed at protecting the LGBTQI community against discrimination and violence, as fulfillment of its obligation to ensure that every individual is free from threats and harm and is treated equally just as everyone else.

We urge the Philippine government to reexamine this position given that the 1987 Philippine Constitution mandates the State to value the dignity of every human person and thereby guarantee full respect for human rights (Article II, Section 11), as well as to provide to all persons the equal protection of laws (Article III, Section 1).

Rights to equality and non-discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation are also entrenched in international human rights obligations in which the Philippines is a State party, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights; the Convention on the Rights of the Child; the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women; the Yogyakarta Principles; and other international human rights laws.

As the country’s independent national human rights institution and Gender Ombud, CHR is open and willing to dialogue with the government so it may better comply with its human rights obligations. This may be the best opportunity to similarly address misconceptions about the wisdom and rationale the SOGIE Equality Bill and similar proposals, including how the said bill pushes for same-sex civil unions. To note, the present version of the bill does not contain any provision on same-sex civil unions. While a direct response to the concerns and realities of the members of the LGBTQIA community, the said bill protects all and every person who may be discriminated for their perceived sexual orientation and gender identity and expression. It does not grant special rights to the LGBTQI community. The bill, at its core, seeks to ensure that the rights enjoyed by all are also enjoyed by the members of the LGBTQI community who are often pushed to the sidelines and further marginalised due to lack of protection against discrimination and harm.

Protecting the human rights and dignity of all is not a competition, where upholding the rights of one sector means less rights for others. We stress that the government’s duty is to advocate for a society that is just, equitable, and fair—a society that strives to breakdown barriers to realising one’s fullest potential, not perpetuate them through direct action or inaction.

CHR calls on the government to keep an open mind as national pronouncements outright rejecting protection for the LGBQIA community may downplay efforts of local governments—albeit only few but growing—that already promulgated ordinances protecting their constituents against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. There may also be others who may feel emboldened to further discrimination and harm in communities against members of the LGBTQIA with these statements under the cloak of religious freedom.

In the end, the country will be judged and viewed through how it treats the weak, vulnerable, and marginalised. The challenge before the government is to serve and address the plight of the unseen and unheard, to recognise silenced realities, and live up to its commitment that will unconditionally uphold the inherent human rights, dignity, and worth of all regardless of their identity. ###