According to his religious beliefs, Baptist Bishop Bienvenido Abante detests gays and pledges to move heaven and earth to stop the Philippines from granting homosexuals (be they lesbians, gays, bisexuals or transexuals) equl rights to form marital unions. Nobody is stopping him from holding such beliefs, however antiquated and inhuman.
What takes the cake is this: Abante also happens to be a duly-elected congressional representative for the 6th district of Manila and chairperson of the House human rights committee. As a supposed public servant and expected champion of human rights, Abante is of course sought to lead Congress and the nation in the quest for a social order that fully respects the broadest array of human, social, political and economic rights for all Filipinos – not just Baptists or Christians.
The problematic position of Abante is laid bare in his scandalous opposition to the sponsorship on the House plenary of a measure banning discrimination against Filipinos who happen to be lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transexuals. That bill is House Bill 637 or the “Act Prohibiting Discrimination on Basis of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity and Providing Penalties Thereof.”
First, Abante claimed to be slighted by the fact that it was the erstwhile chairperson of the human rights committee who was sponsoring it on the floor. Next, he said he did not know it was to be tackled by the plenary. Third, he said he will oppose it because it will grant Filipino lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transexuals the right to marry. In a TV interview, Abante dubbed homosexuality “morally represehensible”
The former human rights committee chairperson and scores of other congresspersons have long wanted this bill passed. It already passed through the requisite process except the plenary debates – which was to be started through the chairperson’s sponsorship speech. Anyway, any House committee chairperson worth his/her salt would always be on the look out for bills rightfully under a committee’s jurisdiction – but in the case of Abante, he didn’t care about this particular bill. Worse, he hated every provision and letter of it even if it will mean respect for the human rights of citizens long deprived of it and long despised by a cruel majority.
As to Abante’s claim that the bill will allow lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transexuals to marry under Philippine laws, it simply doesn’t. There’s no mention of it anywhere in the bill – which is either good or bad, but mostly good if we factor in the predisposition of some “Christian” leaders such as Abante.
This bill, supported by leaders of many faiths, including Christian denominations more progressive and liberal than Abante on the subject of eradicating discrimination, has taken too long to pass and is a legitimate demand of a considerable segment of the population. Lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transexuals are citizens too, and they too have a right not to be discriminated against based on their gender in schools, places of work and everywhere else they happen to go.
By insisting that he impose his “Christian” beliefs and his condemnation of homosexuality over the passage of this bill, Abante is doing Baptists, Christians and himself a disservice. He is parading around town, showing his extreme narrow-mindedness, intolerance, and a culture of hatred that is incompatible with genuine democracy and, at it most basic, incapacity to respect, serve and love those who are different.
Human rights, aside from being claimed as God-given gifts, are more importantly safeguards of citizens against abuses and neglect of government. Enacting laws on the rights of lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transexuals is a reminder that the government is not just the government of the majority, but of all, including the minorities of all stripes, color, creed, gender and age.
Abante needs to be reminded that Pinoy lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transexuals are here to stay and pledge to survive. They are our beauticians, designers, filmmakers and comedians. They are also our engineers, doctors, nurses, soldiers, policemen, writers, lawyers, architects, state employees and congresspersons. I am sure that within Congress, there are many of them who are either representatives or staff of Abante’s colleagues. These persons are predominantly hardworking, excellent in their chosen fields, reliable and religious too. Of course, there are exceptions too. But crooks and malevolent types are a regular occurrence regardless of gender. In fact, there are more criminals among “straight” people – but that does not mean anything except that crime and criminals exist.
The district of Manila Abante represents in Congress is also home to many lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transexuals. They pay taxes and vote in elections. Their businesses are everywhere. Nationwide, we could also find them, complete with their many formal and informal organizations, commanding the respect of many bigger businesses and enterprises due to their immense buying power and their proclivity at being at the cutting edge in so many fields. Abante is inviting the ire of this very vocal population, and we could expect that in the next partylist elections, perhaps an overwhelming majority of them will vote for Ang Ladlad just to make sure next time he foams in the mouth, one or even three partylist representatives will be there to take care of him.
It would be good if the other more liberal, more progressive leaders of various faiths spend some time to speak with Abante for his personal and spiritual liberation from the culture of hate. Better yet, I advise him to go around, open his eyes, listen to the plight of all Pinoy lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transexuals who each day have to put up with endless, cruel and inhuman acts of discrimination – on top of trying to survive the national crisis.
There is no better antidote to his homophobia than trying to understand his perceived enemies.