Senator Alan Peter Cayetano on early Tuesday called on the Senate to further discuss issues such as abortion and the Anti-Discrimination Bill with the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) at the committee level.
This after the heated discussions that arose during the plenary debates of the 2024 budget of the Commission on Human Rights, with the tension stemming from the commissions’ inconsistent statements on the issues.
Last week, Cayetano slammed CHR for its vague stance on abortion, saying its statement on decriminalizing abortion is in conflict with the 1987 Constitutional mandate to protect the right to life of the mother and the unborn.
“I’d like to pursue this because I really feel that the Philippines should be the champion of pro-life, not only of the unborn but everything about life,” he added, on the issue of abortion.
Then on Tuesday morning, senators called out the CHR regarding one of its officials who singled out Senate Majority Leader Joel Villanueva over his reluctance on the Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity, Gender Expression (SOGIE) Equality Bill.
“I think this deserves more discussion. In the same way that we said here, dapat ‘yong pro SOGIE Bill at pro Anti-Discrimination Bill ay makinig sa atin, we should also listen to those who are saying na may right of choice, et cetera,” the independent senator said as he addressed the Senate in the wee hours of November 21, 2023.
Cayetano said Senator Francis Tolentino, chairman of the Committee on Justice and Human Rights, already agreed to pursue the talks at the committee level.
Questioning provisions in SOGIE bill does not mean anti-LGBT
In detailing the instance concerning the CHR offical and Senator Villanueva on the Anti-Discrimination Bill, Cayetano referred to a video Villanueva showed the chamber.
The video showed Atty. Krissi Shaffina Twyla Rubin, OIC of the Center for Gender Equality & Women’s Human Rights, speaking on stage during last June’s pride month rally in Quezon City indicating that the commission had a petition for Villanueva on the SOGIE bill.
Rubin said in the video, ”Mayroon tayong love letter kay Senator Joel Villanueva. At ang ating panawagan po, dear Senator Villanueva, dear senators natin, lahat po kayo, sana pakinggan niyo ang boses ng ating LGBTQ community at ang ating sigaw, ano pong gusto nating ipasa? SOGIE Equality Bill.”
This video did not sit well with the senators, who suspended the Senate rules to clarify with Rubin and CHR officials if this move was sanctioned by the commission itself.
“Is it the position of the commission that if you are against the SOGIE bill, you are anti-LGBT? There’s a difference between allowing discrimination against LGBT and the provisions of the SOGIE bill. Magkaiba ‘yon,” Cayetano told the CHR officials.
“I think everyone in the Senate is against any form of discrimination for the LGBT community, pero hindi ibig sabihin ‘pag may objections ka sa certain provision sa SOGIE, you’re anti-LGBTQ,” he added.
CHR Chairperson Richard Palpal-latoc explained that Rubin’s actions in the rally was not the official stand of the CHR. However, he said it is the official stand of the commission to advocate for the passage of the SOGIE bill.
Cayetano, however, pointed out that Rubin’s action made the CHR biased toward the LGBTQ community and against Villanueva.
“The point is that the commission is now a partisan in hitting the Majority Leader because he has some concerns with some provisions in the SOGIE bill. And because in social media, in [traditional] media, in the public and rallies, pinapalabas na anti-LGBT siya. That’s very unfair,” he said.
After asking CHR officials to confer and to further clarify this issue to the Senate, Cayetano made the proposal to take it up in the committee hearing to exhaust the matter.
“I respect what you’re fighting for. I respect your advocacy but the way you did it as a commission is not acceptable. It’s not being done in a civilized way. Even in a rally… If y’un ang stand n’yo, do it in your individual capacity,” he said.
“As the CHR, meron kayong duty to do it a certain way, and in a way that promotes better communication with everyone,” he added.