By Malu S. Marin*
On November 12, 2009, Ang Ladlad LGBT Party, Inc., a national organization of Filipino lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgenders (LGBT), received a notice from the Second Division of the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) dismissing their application for registration to run in the 2010 national elections. Under the Philippine Partlyist system, marginalized and under-represented sectors can apply for registration as a party and run for a seat in Congress. A maximum of three seats can be won, depending on the number of votes a party garners in the elections. In 2007, Ang Ladlad had also filed for registration, but was disqualified for technical reasons, particularly for failing to prove “national membership” with sufficient regional and provincial representation.
Mindful of the pitfalls and weaknesses of the previous application, Ang Ladlad made sure that it fulfilled all the requirements provided by law in its 2009 application. Thus, it expressed dismay that the relevant policies such as the party-list law (RA 7941) and the Supreme Court’s eight-point guidelines in the accreditation of party-list groups, were altogether disregarded by the Second Division Commissioners.
‘Immorality” and “a threat to the youth” were the primary grounds cited by COMELEC Commissioners, Nicodemo Ferrer, Elias Yusoph and Lucenito Tagle. The ruling cited verses from the Bible and the Koran, along with a citation lifted from the internet, of American bible scholar, Lehman Strauss. It also mentioned Sodom and Gomorrah in reaction to a citation of statistics related to men having sex with men (MSM). By virtue of these religious texts, the Comelec ruled that Ang Ladlad “tolerates immorality which offends religious beliefs”.
The ruling also cited various provisions in the Civil Code and the Revised Penal Code, which contained the words, “morals and good customs”. In a disjointed conclusion and without clear and rational evidence, the COMELEC concluded that Ang Ladlad was ‘contrary to morals and good customs’.
The grounds for dismissal shocked and outraged the LGBT community, as well as other movements involved in development and social justice work, namely, women’s organizations, alternative law groups, student organizations, other partylist groups and human rights institutions. Prominent individuals and politicians also criticized the Comelec decision, calling it bigoted, discriminatory and archaic. The decision was also scored for violating the principle of separation between the church and state, which is a specific provision in the Philippine Constitution. Referencing religious texts to decide on matters of the state is a manifestation of a thinly veiled theocracy, a disturbing trend in Philippine legislative processes. The non-passage of the Reproductive Health Bill is another example of such vigorous campaigning by religious groups, particularly the Catholic Church.
In a strongly worded statement, the Philippine Commission on Human Rights (CHR) said the ruling smacked of prejudice and discrimination and that it appeared to be a “misplaced edifice of arcane views on homosexuality”. The CHR further said that “the rights of the lesbians, gays and bisexuals are a human rights issue” and that “there is and can be no basis in law to deny the registration of the party, directly or indirectly on the grounds of homosexuality…”
As a counter action, Ang Ladlad has filed a Motion for Reconsideration and a Motion for Early Resolution, given the approaching deadline for manifestation to participate in the elections. It is unclear when the COMELEC will decide on the issue and what its decision will be. If there is no timely decision rendered, the only recourse of Ang Ladlad would be to file a pleading to the Supreme Court.
The outcome of the Comelec decision is being anticipated by many, because it can define the future of political participation of any LGBT candidate. Further, if the Supreme Court is unable to rule or does not rule in favor of Ang Ladlad, it will lay the ground for institutionalized discrimination against any LGBT who intends to seek public office.
An “I’M Moral” campaign, to subvert the “immoral” tag rendered by the COMELEC, has been hatched by supporters and allies of Ang Ladlad. Protest actions, signature campaigns, media advocacy and web-based networking has enabled the formation of ImmorAlliance, a loose coalition of various organizations who recognize the strategic importance of winning this battle, as it sets a precedent on how LGBTs will be treated by society; on how the concept of “morality” will be defined and interpreted; and, on how the principle of separation of religion and state will be applied in future years to come.
In a statement released by ImmorAlliance during its November 25 protest action, it stressed,
“Hatred and divisive sectarianism are the real threats to our society. We do not contest the importance of morality in public life; on the contrary, we believe that moral standards are necessary. We draw the line, however, on the imposition of sectarian biases on public policy. On matters of the State, our moral standards should be within the realms of our common values – our democracy, respect for equality and diversity, and the supremacy of human dignity.”
For further information on Ang Ladlad and the ImmorAlliance, please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.
* Executive Director, Action for Health Initiatives (ACHIEVE), Inc.
Core Group Member, Ang Ladlad LGBT Party