On June 26, the Judicial Bar and Council interviewed six candidates for an open spot on the Philippine Supreme Court. What then followed was a 10-minute line of questioning that clearly exposed how far there was to go in terms of LGBTQ recognition in the country.
It started when former Justice Noel Gimenez Tijam asked the interviewees about their opinion on a recent issue involving transgender women and men from a state university who were initially barred from their graduation rites because of their choice of dress.
When asked a hypothetical about whether a transgender member of the Supreme Court was prohibited from wearing their preferred dress, candidate Alex Quiroz, an Associate Justice of the Sandiganbayan, the country’s anti-graft court, said allowing cross-dressing would ruin “the dignity of the institution.”
“We looked carefully on the rights of the LGBT but we have arrived to the conclusion that in order to establish the dignity of the institution of the Sandiganbayan, we have to prohibit the wearing of transgender dresses,” he said.
Tijam then broadened the question to whether there were any violations to the rights of transgender people if they were prohibited from wearing their clothes of choice during office hours.
Another candidate, Court of Appeals Justice Edgardo Delos Santos said he believes “there is no violation.”
“We can say that, [at] this time, the acceptance of the members of the LGBTQ is not yet the same as those from the other countries. It will still take a long time perhaps for the society to accept them. Not that I despise them but that is the reality,” he said.
“At this point, they still belong to the minority…The office is also entitled to preserve decorum. It does not necessarily follow that the rights of the LGBTQ are being violated. They can [dress] after office hours. But we have to preserve the respect, the image of that institution.”
Finally, on the topic of letting transgender women use female bathrooms, candidate Cesar Villanueva, a former dean of Ateneo Law School and co-founder of his own private law firm put the nail on the coffin.
“It may be in keeping with what their biggest position is, but it affects the women of the institution,” he said. “Probably to them, it would be indecent to be exposed to the male anatomy. So I think a great respect for the greater good is important here.”
This is a stark contrast from the excitement gathering around a Manila Pride Parade scheduled for this weekend, on June 26. The Philippines is often touted as one of the most LGBTQ-friendly countries globally. A 2013 Pew Research survey placed it 10th out of 39 countries in the world, 2nd in Asia. In 2017, it elected Geraldine Roman, its first transgender congresswoman. She’s reportedly drafting a bill allowing transgender people to change their gender markers. But the reality is far from sterling.
Activists and lawmakers have been trying to pass an anti-discrimination bill for nearly two decades. The Philippines also doesn’t recognize same-sex unions, and a recent survey by Social Weather Stations revealed that 61 percent of 1,200 respondents were against same-sex marriages.
While the Supreme Court conducted oral arguments on a petition seeking to recognize it, if lawmakers ultimately don’t recognize LGBTQ rights, then all the strides made so far are just lip service.
Happy Pride, everybody.