Anti-discrimination bill may breach religious freedom, a CBCP lawyer says

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A LAWYER for the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) wants amendments to an “anti-discrimination” bill, warning that the measure could infringe upon religious freedom.

CBCP legal counsel Jo Imbong said several provisions in the bill, which seeks protections for lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders (LGBT), were “disturbing” and “unconstitutional,” citing areas that might trample upon religious convictions.

“[We will support the bill] as long as a bill like that will respect religious freedom, parents’ rights, employers’ rights, privacy rights and it will not punish people who will act according to the teachings of their faith. The Church will be very careful in reading that bill,” Imbong said in an interview with the Varsitarian.

Imbong said there should be clear language against the issuance of marriage licenses to same-sex couples, noting that the proposed anti-discrimination bill deems as discrimination the denial of application for licenses on the basis of gender identity.

Article 1, Section 1 of the Family Code of the Philippines states that marriage is a special contract of permanent union between a man and a woman in accordance with law for the establishment of conjugal and family life.

The CBCP in principle is against discrimination of homosexuals, as stated in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

“Persons with homosexual orientation are sons and daughters of God; no less than any of us is. Discrimination against them is contrary to the Gospel spirit. Verbal and physical violence against them is an offense against the good Lord Himself,” Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop and CBCP President Socrates Villegas said in an article published by CBCP News.

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First proposed in 2000 by former Akbayan partylist Rep. Etta Rosales and the late Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago, the bill sanctions people who discriminate against members of minority groups. Imprisonment, community service and attending human rights seminars are among sanctions that could be imposed on violators.

Takahiro Aman, co-founder of the Philippine Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Bar Association, countered Imbong’s statements, saying the bill should be looked at from a secular standpoint, citing institutionalized discrimination in schools, workplaces and legal affairs.

“We are looking at this from a secular point of view; and this is why the LGBT community is pushing for this bill because everyone, regardless of race, gender and religion, is entitled to equality,” Aman said in an interview.

The bill calls for gender desks in police stations to address abuse and discrimination cases against the LGBT community.

Proponents say it does not cover religious vocations, particularly gender-specific vocations, and does not seek to have same-sex marriage legalized.

Chances boosted
Despite criticism on the bill, the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) is optimistic the long-pending anti-discrimination bill would finally be inked under the Duterte administration.

“During the last [State of the Nation Address, President Rodrigo Duterte] made a lot of categorical statements highlighting his concern for the poor, the marginalized and the vulnerable sectors of the society,” CHR spokeswoman Jacqueline de Guia said in an interview.

A survey by the Pew Research Center in 2013 found that 73 percent of Filipinos thought society should accept homosexuality, while 26 percent believed otherwise. In the same survey, the Philippines was hailed as one of the “most gay-friendly” countries in the world.
De Guia said having a sponsor and an advocate in Congress would advance the passage of the bill.

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The first House hearing on the bill was held on Oct. 16, 2016. One of the House versions, House Bill 51, was filed by Dinagat Islands Rep. Arlene “Kaka” Bag-ao. The Senate counterpart, Senate Bill 935, was filed by Sen. Risa Hontiveros.

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