The Akbayan party of Deputy Minority Leader Risa Hontiveros has prodded the Senate leadership to frontload the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity and Expression (SOGIE) bill that she has long championed, even as Majority Leader Joel Villanueva has indicated that it is not considered a priority measure.
On Wednesday, Akbayan issued a statement reviving—on the occasion of Pride Month in June—a call to have the Senate plenary tackle Hontiveros’ SOGIE Equality bill, which initially sought to end discrimination against LGBTQ sectors, but has gotten entangled in debates over same-sex unions, among others.
In a separate statement, Hontiveros herself called out Villanueva for his remark that the bill is not deemed urgent, saying, “It is sheer numbness to say that the SOGIE Equality Bill is not urgent.”
She appealed for “justice for our countrymen who cannot live freely simply because of their gender orientation.” She noted many reports about LGBTQ people being bullied, denied access to medical services, and the right to benefits at work, because of discrimination.
“I expect that the bill will be allowed to go through the proper legislative process, according to the rules of the Senate. If the Maharlika Bill, which was filed only once in the Senate, and is not needed today, got approved, why is the SOGIE bill that has long been pending [two decades] repeatedly blocked?”
Hontiveros appealed for “justice for our countrymen who cannot live freely simply because of their gender orientation.” She noted many reports about LGBT people being bullied, denied access to medical services, and the right benefits at work, because of discrimination.
“I expect that the bill will be allowed to go through the proper legislative process, according to the rules of the Senate. If the Maharlika Bill which was filed only once in the Senate, and is not needed today, got approved, why is the SOGIE bill that has long been pending [two decades] repeatedly blocked?” Hontiveros said.
Akbayan stressed that the measure seeks to prohibit discrimination based on SOGIE.
The proposed law is pending in both Houses of Congress. The House of Representatives just passed the bill at the committee level, while the Senate version authored by Hontiveros is still waiting to be heard in the plenary deliberations after being remanded to the Committee on Rules chaired by Villanueva.
Akbayan recalled that 23 years ago, then Akbayan Party-list Rep. Etta Rosales filed the first SOGIE Equality Bill. Back then, it was known as the Anti-Discrimination Bill. The farthest that the measure had gone in recent history was its unanimous approval on third and final reading in the House of Representatives. Its principal author at the time was former Rep. Kaka Bag-ao of the Lone District of Dinagat Islands, who is also a member of Akbayan Party.
“The debate has long been finished. Actually, human rights should not even be debated on. Our elected officials should remember that they represent the people and not their conservative religious affiliations,” said Akbayan, partly in Filipino.
“The SOGIE Equality Bill is about acceptance and love. Kung may pagmamahal ang mga nakaupo sa pwesto sa mga mamamayang pinaglilingkuran nila, matagal na sanang naipasa ang batas na ito,” said Akbayan Party President Rafaela David.
“Senator Joel Villanueva has said the SOGIE Equality Bill is not urgent. Paanong hindi naging urgent ang pagtatanggol ng karapatan ng bawat Pilipino? May mas importante pa ba dito? Nakakalungkot na uunahin pa ng gobyernong ito ang pagpopondo sa isang investment fund, kaysa sa pagbibigay ng karapat-dapat na proteksyon sa ating mga kababayan mula sa LGBTQIA+ community. A sad case of money over people,” she lamented.
Both the House and Senate approved the Maharlika Investment Fund bill, which was derided by Akbayan Party as “the country’s largest investment scam,” after being certified as urgent by President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.
Earlier, before Congress adjourned sine die for a six-week break, Villanueva said the Senate will continue making headway in passing measures that are thoroughly studied, well deliberated and relevant to the welfare of the Filipino people.
“We thank our fellow senators for working tirelessly from crafting the bills and resolutions, to participating in committee hearings and debating in plenary to see through the passage of these important measures,” Villanueva had said.
“We owe it to the people to see to it that the laws we pass here in the Senate have hurdled the most rigid scrutiny to ensure that they will truly impact the people,” he added.
Villanueva also pointed out that aside from the expected benefits to the people, the Senate ensures that every law it passes has proper safeguards against possible abuses or breaches to existing systems.
Before adjourning, the Senate passed on third and final reading landmark measures, such as Villanueva’s Senate Bill No. 2035 or Trabaho Para sa Bayan Act, which establishes a National Employment Master Plan.
Villanueva’s bill aims to synergize all policies, programs and initiatives of the government in addressing labor-related challenges under one coherent direction and strategy.