Marking milestones, continuing the fight

The ‘Pink SONA: The State of Filipino LGBTQI,’ summarizing and revealing the situation, achievements and continuing struggles of the LGBTQ+ community, was delivered by Percival Vilar Cendaña

October 15, 2021

Aside from the Metro Manila Pride March and Festival, which is the biggest Pride event in the Philippines and Southeast Asia, this year saw several Pride events, most of which were held online because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

“Pride 2021: Sama-sama, Tuloy ang Laban” served as a fitting culmination of the LGBTQ+ Pride Month.

Organized by LGBTQ+ organizations TLF Share Collective, Babaylanes and Galang, with the support of the Fund for Global Human Rights, the whole-day event featured talks, performances and messages of support and solidarity. Hosted by Miss Trans Global Philippines 2021 Albiean Revalde, it was streamed via Facebook Live at TLF Share page on 30 June, starting at 10 a.m.

LGBTQ+ ally, Senator Risa Hontiveros (left), gave a message. Percival Cendaña (right) delivered the Pink SONA. / PHOTOGRAPHS COURTESY OF FB.COM/RISA HONTIVEROS, FB.COM/PERCIVAL CENDANA

With the theme, “Sama-sama, Tuloy ang Laban” (Together, the fight continues), TLF Share considered the event as “a reiteration of the LGBTQI+ community’s commitment in fostering an inclusive and accepting society and in upholding the rights of the community to love and live in peace.”

According to former student leader and currently president of Babaylanes Incorporated Percival Vilar Cendaña, “the theme… signifies the clear objective of the Pride celebration — collective action, advocating and fighting for equality. We see this tide of rainbow across the nation as this collective action is being consolidated in many community organizations.”

He added: “The call for ‘Pride 2021: Sama-sama, Tuloy ang Laban’ reflects the desire of every Filipino LGBTQI for a better Philippines where there is justice, equality, empowerment and dignity.”

The program was beefed up by two talks and discussions. “In the Face of Pandemic: Stories of Challenges and Collective Actions of Filipino LGBTQI” featured guest speakers: Maroz Ramos of Galang Philippines; Maria Eda Catabas of LakanBini Advocates Pilipinas; Noemi Bayoneta-Leis of TLF Share Collective; and Wilmar Operario of San Julian Pride Advocacy Group; while “Diversity and Inclusivity: The Ups and Downs of Legislating for Equality,” which tackled the struggles in passing a local and national legislation concerning SOGIESC, featured Claire De Leon of Lagablab LGBT Network; Magdalena Robinson of Cebu United Rainbow LGBT Sector; and Rolando Rivac of GAYON (Albay Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Organization).

Messages of solidarity
Aside from the welcome remarks from TLF Share executive director Anastacio Marasigan and the closing remarks from TLF Share president Ferdinand Buenviaje, “Pride 2021: Sama-sama, Tuloy ang Laban” was graced by prominent personalities with their messages of solidarity and inspiration including Vice President Leni Robredo, Senator Risa Hontiveros, Dinagat Islands governor Arlene “Kaka” J. Bag-ao, Bukidnon congresswoman Maria Lourdes Acosta-Alba, and comedian Kaladkaren Davila.

Robredo underscored the roles of LGBTQ+ organizations, saying, “Hindi lang ito naging samahan; naging takbuhan din ito ng mga inaapi, boses ng mga nasa laylayan, tahanan ng mga madalas napag-iiwanan (They are not only associations but they are also where the oppressed turn for help, the voice from the margins, homes for those frequently abandoned).”

On the other hand, Hontiveros said, “Pride is more meaningful than the parties or rainbow products that come out once a year. When you remain proud of who you are, you create space for the people around you. You save lives; you help people live a life that is worth living.”

The program also included launches of LGBTQ+ initiatives and projects such as Tatsulok Comics of Galang, the Rainbow Legal Care with UP (University of the Philippines) Outlaws, and by TLF Share’s Equality Champions 2021 awards.

“Pride 2021: Sama-sama, Tuloy ang Laban,” meaty with discussions and heavy issues featured, was lightened up by entertainment numbers from local drag performers Ming Torayno Elvira B, Mrs. Tan and Aries Night.

The Pink SONA
The highlight of the Pride event was the “Pink SONA: The State of Filipino LGBTQI,” the LGBTQ+ equivalent of the report delivered by the president of a nation, summarizing and revealing the situation, achievements and continuing struggles of the LGBTQ+ community.

TLF Share executive director Anastacio Marasigan and president Ferdinand Buenviaje. / PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF FB.COM/TLF SHARE

The Pink SONA (State of the Nation Address) was delivered by Cendaña, who started by looking at the history of the Pride march in the Philippines: “Naalala ko naroon ako at ang mga kapatid sa UP Babaylan sa unang lesbian and gay Pride march noong June 1996 sa Malate sa Maynila. Nasa halos 200 lang kami noon na sumama. Kami lang yata ang youth group na sumali sa martsa.

Noong panahon na ‘yun, may dala kaming giant rainbow flag dahil kailangan namin ng pagtataguan kapag may mga camera ang media na ilan sa amin ay hindi pa out sa aming mga pamilya. (I remember I and siblings from UP Babaylan were at the first lesbian and gay Pride march in June 1996 in Malate in Manila. Almost 200 people joined. Perhaps, we were the only youth group who joined the march. At that time, we brought a giant rainbow flag because we needed something to hide behind when media people brought cameras because some of us were not yet out to our families) From barely 200 marchers in 1996, there were more than 70,000 people in the 2019 LGBTQI Pride march in Marikina. From 200 to 70,000 two years ago. This year we are marking the silver year of the Pride celebration in the country.”

Cendaña also reflected on where the movement was going: “The past three years have been very challenging for every Filipino but more so for LGBTQI Filipinos and Filipinas. Today, as we close Pride Month, it is important to take stock, reflect and analyze our situation and prepare for the future.”

The emergence of more LGBTQ+ organizations
He described the achievements of and positive developments concerning the LGBTQ+ community in the past three years.

“In the past three years, more and more LGBTQI organizations were established in different parts of the country. These organizations represent the aspirations and dreams of every Filipino LGBTQI. This is a coming together of people of diverse SOGIESC (sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, and sex characteristics),” he said.

LakanBini Advocates Pilipinas is the largest coalition of trans Filipinos. / PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF FB.COM/LakanBini Advocates Pilipinas

He also mentioned the laudable efforts of Empress of Mindanao State University, Bulsu Bahaghari of Bulacan State University, and Lesbian for Rights.

The former commissioner of the National Youth Commission also noted the celebration of Pride in workplaces.

“We know of government agencies at the national and local levels who have organized their own Pride celebrations. Sa (In) private institutions at (and) private sector. Tuloy ang Pride sa maraming (Pride celebrations continue in) BPOs, commercial establishments at (and) media,” he said.

He also mentioned barangays that celebrated Pride such as San Dionisio in Parañaque, North Side in Makati and Fortune in Marikina. He trained the spotlight on the town of San Julian in Eastern Samar, which raised the rainbow flag beside the Philippine flag.

Increasing number
of allies and policies
Cendaña remarked on the increasing number of allies, particularly legislators who continue to advocate for the SOGIE Equality Bill in the legislature, as well as government agencies, which “are supporting our lobbying efforts for the SOGIE Equality Bill and for the Comprehensive Anti-discrimination Bill,” such as the Commission on Human Rights and UP College of Law.

He added: “Lumalawak din ang suporta para sa Pride at para sa pagkapantay-pantay sa sector ng ating mga kapatid na religious. Marami sa atin ang naluha at maiyak na nagsalita at nanindigan para sa atin ang mga tulad nila Sister Mary John Manansan, Pastor Carlino Morosa, Pastor Joseph San Jose, at marami pang iba (The support for Pride and equality also extends to the religious sector. Many of us were in tears when personalities like Sister Mary John Manansan, Pastor Carlino Morosa, Pastor Joseph San Jose and more spoke out and stood up).”

“With the increasing access to online platforms of communications, community stories are streamed giving a glimpse of how diverse the image of the Filipino LGBTQI… Unprecedented ang media representation natin. Nitong nakaraang pandemya, bumongga ng bonggang-bonggang ang BL sa Filipinas at humabol din ang GL (This past months of pandemic, BL became very popular and GL followed). We now see queer social media personalities from our communities… Dumarami rin ang mga celebrities who are speaking in support of the community. We call them Equality Champions in media like Heart Evangelista, Anne Curtis, among others,” he further said.

Cendaña also noticed the positive developments of policies for diversity and inclusion in companies as well as anti-discrimination ordinances and other laws in local and national governments such as Executive Order No. 100, “institutionalizing the diversity and inclusion program, creating an inter-agency committee on diversity and inclusion” and the Philippine HIV-AIDS Policy Act.

He also mentioned the establishment of the Center for Inclusivity and Diversity in the Polytechnic University of the Philippines.

Bulsu Bahaghari pushes for an anti-discrimination ordinance. / PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF FB.COM/Bulsu Bahaghari

Discrimination and abuse still continue
Cendaña said that the LGBTQ+ community still experiences discrimination, hate, abuse and marginalization, and a national law to protect them is still not passed.

“Despite these achievements there is still a lot of work that must be done. Twenty-one years na po tayong nagpapaliwanag sa senado at sa kongreso. Twenty-one years na tayong pabalik-balik para ipaliwanag sa kanila na totoo na nakakaranas ng stigma at diskriminasyon ang ating pamayanan, na bahagi ng buhay natin ang stigma at discrimination. Salamat sa Supreme Court sa kanilang isang makasaysayang desisyon (We have been explaining in the senate and congress for 21 years. We always return to tell them that it is true our community experiences stigma and discrimination, that stigma at discrimination have been part of our lives. Thank you to the Supreme Court for their historic decision). Kanilang pinatunayan, kanilang iginiit (They proved and reiterated) that LGBTQI Filipinos live lives of stigma, intolerance and discrimination,” he said.

The increased incidents of discrimination and abuse during the pandemic, with the implementation of lockdowns and restrictions, includes LGBTQ+ persons humiliated and punished for curfew violations. Also, LGBTQ+ persons are forced to stay at home with homophobic families, and LGBTQ+ families are excluded from “ayuda.”

“Like most Filipinos, Filipino LGBTQIs are experiencing socio economic displacement especially in the times of disasters tulad ngayong pandemya (like this pandemic). In addition, several community members, especially in rural areas, are experiencing poverty that undermines their wellbeing and welfare. This is aggravated by stigma and discrimination on the basis of SOGIE. Kaya nga ang paliwanag at panawagan natin kinakailangan ng (That’s why we call for) social protection services na hindi bulag sa katotohanan ng SOGIE (that is not blind to the reality of SOGIE).

Kinakailangan ng ayuda, ng tulong na niyayakap ang lahat anuman ang kanyang SOGIESC. Ang panawagan natin, social protection for all, tuloy ang laban (There is a need for assistance, for help that embraces everyone whatever their SOGIESC. For the call for social protection for all, the fight continues),” he emphasized.

THE SOGIE Equality Bill,
other laws and representation
Cendaña also emphasized that the SOGIE Equality Bill has not yet been passed after a very long time, and the need for legislation and implementation of laws related to the community.

“We need to provide protection for all Filipinos especially now. The SEB, the SOGIE Equality Bill, is a national concern. While more and more ADOs (anti-discrimination ordinances) are being passed, marami pa rin ang hindi na-iimplement dahil walang (many cannot be implement because there is no) IRR (implementing rules and regulations). A number of these ADOs remain policies in limbo, nasa purgartoryo (in purgatory),” he said, mentioning that 81 million Filipinos reside in areas without ADO.

“Kailangan na nating pag-usapan at isulong ang isang (We need to talk about and push for a) hate crime law. Recognize the brutality and gravity of the manner by which these crimes are being committed. Anti-hate crime law, tuloy ang laban (the fight continues),” he added.

Cendaña also said that there is a need for a gender recognition law and health services that are accessible to all.

He further said: “One of the most painful lessons that we learned from the first 25 years of Pride in the Philippines and the last 22 years of our advocacy for the SOGIE Equality Bill is that it is not enough to campaign and lobby for the equality agenda. From the 11th Congress to the 18th Congress ngayon (now), our political institutions have failed our communities. Our political institutions have failed our communities because a majority of those in positions of power will not share our principles and some are even against us. Homophobic and transphobic bigots.”

In the area of governance, he said: “LGBTQI must be recognized and be provided with opportunities for a meaningful engagement especially in decision making. Involvement in such could lead to greater representation and equal partnership between community and different stakeholders.”