MANILA—The House committee on human rights has approved the creation of a technical working group (TWG) that will harmonize eight bills seeking to prohibit discrimination on the basis of ethnicity, race, religion or belief, sex, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and expressions, language, disability, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) status, and other status.
In a hearing presided by committee vice chairperson Rep. Sitti Djalia A. Turabin-Hataman (Party-list, Amin), the panel members agreed to the TWG creation for the consolidation of the anti-discrimination bills which aim to strengthen the protection of the rights and privileges of Filipinos.
For consolidation are House Bills 79, 491, 576, 1556, 3312, 3468, 3541 and 3895, seeking to prohibit discrimination on the basis of ethnicity, race, religion or belief, sex, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and expressions, language, disability, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) status, and other status, authored respectively, by Reps. Emmeline Aglipay-Villar, Turabin-Hataman, Jose Panganiban Jr., Luis Raymund ‘LRay’ Villafuerte Jr., Kaka Bag-ao, Shernee Abubakar Tan, Deputy Speaker and Party List – AAMBIS-OWA Rep. Sharon Garin and Rep. Evelina Escudero.
Escudero said the provisions of her HB 3895, or the proposed “Anti-Religious and Ethnic Stereotyping Act” seek to protect the rights of Filipinos against discrimination arising from race, religion and ethnicity.
“Under the bill, there should be no discriminatory treatment on the basis of one’s religion or ethnicity, and there should not be any stereotyping or profiling of any person especially when they apply for work. The penalties should not be lower than Php 30,000 for the first offense, not lower than Php 200,000 for the next offense, and not lower than Php 500,000 for the third offense,” said Escudero.
In the explanatory note of her bill, Escudero said individuals who belong to the stereotyped communities feel a diminished sense of citizenship and a feeling of being an unequal member of society although Filipinos purport to live under one flag and one country.
“This bill does not purport to be a panacea to cure these age-old ills. It is, however, believed that a greater knowledge and consciousness about the dangers of stereotyping and racial-cultural profiling will go a long way in mending and improving relations among the diverse members of our community and our country,” said Escudero, chairperson of the committee on basic education and culture.
Lawyer Eunice Sta. Maria of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) Legal, Legislative and Linkages relayed the CHR’s full support for the bills, saying it is “high time that a legislative measure is put in place” since basic human rights are not only enshrined in the Constitution, but also embodied in several treaties and conventions which the country is a signatory to.
Police Chief Supt. Ericson Velasquez, deputy director of the Philippine National Police (PNP) Directorate for Community Relations, concurred with the CHR’s position and commended the intention of the bills. He, however, proposed amendments to certain provisions of the bills to ensure these will not be in conflict with existing laws.
Among Velasquez’s recommendations are to remove the provision granting authority to the CHR “to investigate and prosecute” since it is not in accordance with its powers and functions as enshrined in the Constitution; remove the provision granting power to the CHR to order the revocation of license, removal from office or employment, suspension, demotion, fine, censure, or prosecution of a public officer it found to be negligent or at fault but pending any legal action in court, as this is tantamount to the denial of administrative due process; and allow profiling of suspects if it will help law enforcers in pursuing significant leads during criminal investigations or in identifying suspects as described by witnesses.
Hataman welcomed the PNP’s high regard for the people’s human rights. “Napakasarap pong pakinggan na galling sa PNP ang pagpapahalaga sa due process,” Hataman said.
Anita Baleda, chief of the Policy Development and Advocacy Division of the Philippine Commission on Women (PCW), said some provisions of the bills are already covered by existing laws.
Lawyer Krunimar Escudero III, Attorney VI of the Civil Service Commission, raised some queries on administrative proceedings and sanctions, and other relevant civil service matters for more clarification.
Biblemode International Inc. chairman Pastor Benny Abante, Jr., a former House member and chairman of the House committee on human rights, expressed reservations over the inclusion of the members of the LGBT (lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender) community and the controversial sexual orientation and gender identity and expression clause in the proposal.
Saying he is not condemning the LGBT, Abante said he believes in the rights of women and children and of religion as natural rights. Whereas, he said the LGBT rights are “special rights” whose further protection is no longer needed since these are already safeguarded in the Constitution under the equal protection clause.