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SOGIE – Initial thoughts and questions (2)

September 14, 2019 - Saturday 6:09 AM by E.R. Nartatez

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This is a continuation of my ‘thinking out loud’ on the SOGIE controversy. Central to the SOGIE Equality Bill’s raison d'etre is to stop unjust discrimination. I stand with that; all truly unjust discrimination should be opposed. However, when it comes to a proposed legislation, the devil is in the details. 

Another “discriminatory act” defined by the bill is as follows:

> “Refusing admission or expelling students in schools based on SOGIE” – This appears to be a fair and straightforward point. But again, when exploring the potential ramifications of its actual implementation, certain issues emerge.

This was made evident in an interesting and revealing exchange in a recent Senate hearing on the bill. 

Prominent activist nun Sister Mary John Mananzan (Gabriela co-founder) was applauded when she expressed full support for the bill, asserting that all people—including the LGBTQ+ community—are made in God’s image (referring to the biblical doctrine of the imago Dei). True, and Christians who know their doctrine fully affirm this.

Her interlocutor, Senator Nancy Binay, engaged Sister Mananzan and raised a “scenario”. She said, “in the previous hearing, the definition of a transwoman, for them they’re women already.” So, “(if) we accept that kind of definition,” the Senator continued, “can, for example, schools like St. Scholastica’s College, or Assumption, be compelled to accept them as students?” Binay emphasized that following the logic of Senator Hontiveros’ presentation, “technically, they (transwomen—biological male but self-identifying as female—are now to be recognized and accepted as women) can enter an all-girls school like St. Scholastica’s College.”

This is personally significant to Sister Mananzan because she served two terms as president of the College, founded by her own congregation, the Missionary Benedictine Sisters of Tutzing.

The activist nun apparently was a bit flustered by the question, responding to Binay without turning on her mic. The footage appears to show that people had to get her attention to turn the mic on. And when she did, this was what she said, “We have to talk about it because there has never been a case…”

Sister Mananzan has impeccable degrees, and apparently a noted theologian. So, her response to Binay was a bit of a surprise to me, mildly putting it. The question in my mind is this; she’s giving all-out support to a bill that will definitely introduce some significant conceptual, practical, and policy changes and restructuring to our socio-political landscape, but apparently, she hasn’t even thought about what, perhaps, would be its most immediate implication, i.e., the status of an all-girls school vis a vis transwomen.

Ideas have consequences. And ideas that are turned into laws will have more far-reaching consequences. In fact, history and experience show us—sometimes beautifully, sometimes horribly—that when we introduce something new into society—say a new technology (a new gadget for example)—to meet a particular need, often we’re caught totally off guard how radically far-reaching—for better or worse—its unforeseen impact on the socio-cultural landscape! 

This is likewise true—if not truer—when we introduce new laws and new policies (based on redefinitions and a reconceptualization of certain beliefs we hold on some “facts” about the world, e.g., “man”, “woman”, “sex”, “gender”, etc.) to restructure society.

The Sister rejoined that the College does admit lesbians and that in some departments (e.g., music), the school welcomes male students (with some being gays).

But Binay rightly pointed out that the transwoman’s case is different because in this rethinking of sex and gender (as presented by Hontiveros), someone born male—or “assigned male at birth” (“assigned”? That’s a whole can of worms right there!)—would then be recognized as a woman (based on the person’s self-determined choice of gender). Thus, by sheer logic and technicality, nothing stands in the way of a transwoman applying for admission to an all-girls school. Sister Mananzan’s reply again surprised me; “We have not gotten a case about that.” 

Of course, since presently our laws don’t recognize SOGIE. But, if and when it turns into law, then there would seem to be no serious impediment for a transwoman to apply for admission in an all-girls school. Apparently, she’s not carefully thought out the logical and practical implications of this new, ‘progressive’ mindset that’s being introduced into Philippine society and law.

Hontiveros interjected, “The bill does not compel Catholic schools to admit students.” Binay’s rejoinder is logically spot on; it simply follows that recognizing a transwoman as a woman means open and ready access to an all-girls school. That is the direct consequence of the logic/idea that Hontiveros appears to be pushing for in her version of SOGIE. 

In fact, in a recent Rappler interview, commenting on the same topic, Hontiveros explicitly stated that the bill “really encourages, urges yung nondiscrimination” (read: admit a transgirl into an all-girls school, and admit transboy into an all-boys school), and though the bill’s wording does not include compulsion or legal penalties, she admits that legal battles are a possibility (when the bill is passed, including the provision giving freedom to transpersons to enter schools they choose). “OK lang yun,” she said. 

Conceding to the consistency of Binay’s logic, Hontiveros made the revealing statement that the scenario Binay presented would be the “FULL FLOWERING” (my emphasis) of SOGIE policy. This statement is pregnant with significant ramifications. She made a similar statement in the Rappler interview, that—learning from the Diez mall incident—proponents of SOGIE are to “move on from there, expand further outward to ALL the aspects of the” bill (my emphasis).

What other socio-cultural and political restructuring would result in the “full flowering” of SOGIE when it becomes law? How will these “revamping” of the current landscape affect the rest of society? Will the rest of society and its longstanding institutions now must submit and adjust—under threat of legal penalties—to the new “rules of engagement” required by “all the aspects of” SOGIE? 

A controversy in Canada is instructive here: the whole debate and confusion over Canada’s Bill C-16 or the Gender Identity Bill and what many see as putting into law a form of “compelled speech” (in violation of free speech), that it’s possible to be penalized if a person consistently “misgenders” or refuses to use a transperson’s “preferred pronoun” (e.g., Ze, Hir/Zir, Hirself/Zirself, to name a few) [see CBC CANADA’S GENDER IDENTITY RIGHTS BILL C-16 EXPLAINED]. 

In fact, Hontiveros and Binay already clashed on this very point in the hearing—on the use of the “proper” pronoun when referring to a transperson, with Hontiveros arguing for it, and Binay countering that we ought to simply respect those who think differently about this and not force it on them.   

Hontiveros also said, “Let’s see how much common ground we can find in pushing this bill forward.” If she’s saying that she’s open and willing to listen to all sectors and sides and is amenable to redraft the bill’s provision where necessary, then that’s a very positive note, good for her. 

Many express the concern, though, that our ‘progressive’ lawmakers simply want to copy-paste policies abroad and implement them locally. IMO, that invites trouble. The socio-political landscape of the Philippines is unique to our historical, cultural, and religious context. Proponents of the SOGIE bill must fully recognize and respect that, and work with—not around—that. Otherwise, we could be heading towards a full-blown, messy, and nasty culture war.

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