Tuesday, March 1, 2011

No Compromise For Human Rights by Benedict Bernabe

Below is a reply written by Benedict Bernabe to a note that Anne Lagamayo posted regarding the discrimination case at the College of Arts and Letters.

Feel free to comment and share your opinions. ANONYMOUS COMMENTS WILL NOT BE PUBLISHED.

No Compromise For Human Rights
by Benedict Bernabe

“The State values the dignity of every human person and guarantees full respect for human rights.” - Section 10, Article II: Declaration of Principles and State Policies, 1987 Constitution of the Republic of the Philippines

Dear Anne,

First of all, I would like to commend you for the beautiful piece of literature that you wrote in reaction to the recent events that transpired between your classmate Ms Hender Gercio and your professor, Ms Nikki del Corro. I don’t know Hender personally, but I do know Nikki. We went to university together and although we are not close friends, we have shared some light-hearted moments together.

Compromise: such a beautiful word. It connotes consensus, agreement and unity.

In November 2010, 79 African and Arab countries overrode 70 dissenting countries and voted to remove “sexual orientation” from the list of discriminatory grounds of extrajudicial killings which the United Nations Resolution on Extrajudicial, Summary and Arbitrary Executions aims to address. Of course, sexual orientation is not the only ground and compromise would mean passing the Resolution without mention of sexual orientation. Many of these 79 countries that voted to remove sexual orientation cited religion as their cause. Additionally in many of these countries, homosexuality, whether perceived or manifested, is punishable by imprisonment, corporal punishment and in some countries by death.

When you made a reference to “pointing a gun at Ms del Corro’s” head, I appreciated the hyperbole. However, this is a reality for many lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people in many countries all over the world. They are being killed on the grounds of the same biblical verses that Nikki cites. They are being killed because some, in the exercise of their religion, have taken it upon themselves to play God in the deserts of Sudan, in the steppes of Afghanistan, on the oilfields of Iran, and in the savannahs of Zambia, and annihilate the “sinners” because the world has created an enabling environment that compromises human rights.

Thankfully, a group of countries refused to compromise and restored “sexual orientation” in the resolution. Had we compromised, the UN would be compelled to turn a blind eye on extrajudicial executions based on sexual orientation.

Nikki might have been referring to Leviticus 20:13 when she said that the Bible says that homosexuality is a sin: "If a man lies with a male as he lies with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination. They shall surely be put to death. Their blood shall be upon them."

However, Leviticus 11:10-11 says that “But all in the seas or in the rivers that do not have fins and scales, all that move in the water or any living thing which is in the water, they are an abomination to you. They shall be an abomination to you; you shall not eat their flesh, but you shall regard their carcasses as an abomination.” This makes shellfish an abomination. What makes this abomination different from the one in Lev. 20:13? If it’s such an abomination, why are we not advocating for a ban on shellfish? Why are we being selective in the verses that we live by? Isn’t that prejudiced treatment? Isn’t that discrimination? Or, am I sounding like a Bible literalist? Effectively, this is the same literalism that people use to persecute lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people in other parts of the world.

People like Hender, people like me, people like many of my friends, your friends, many of your professors, people like us have lived our entire lifetimes in compromise with the rest of society and in the end, we have compromised our own lives. So excuse us for not taking up your offer of an impasse. We have struggled to play roles according to the script that the norms of society have written for us. We have dressed up as girls deemed unacceptable, as men deemed incomplete, as persons unequal. And now, Hender asks for the dignity to be referred to as the woman that she rightfully is, she comes upon a wall saying that she may not be a woman in Nikki’s eyes because regarding her as such is contrary to her religious belief. Having a different stance on issues (such as the RH Bill, for example) on religious grounds is acceptable for me; but denying someone else’s person on such grounds, I cannot let that pass.

I’m appalled not just because it happened; I’m appalled because of all the places where it can happen, it happened in the University of the Philippines, a cradle of the human rights movement, on whose own blood-stained walls, students and professors fought to champion human rights. It is sad that inside those same walls, we call for an impasse, and we wait for the issue to die a natural death. The silence of the Department of European Languages on the issue is deafening.

An impasse is no worse than a compromise; a stalemate is the deathblow to human rights. Do we let human dignity bow down to religious beliefs?

There is no compromise for human rights. Not for the gay men in Iran sentenced to hang by the neck because loving another man is against the Quran, not for the lesbian women in Africa who will be stoned to death because it is an abomination to lie lovingly beside another woman, not for the transgender women who are refused their identity because to do so is against the religious beliefs of some.

With much respect,

Benedict Bernabe
Bachelor of Arts in European Languages '06


In a landmark ruling in 2006, the Supreme Court of the Philippines upheld freedom of religion when it “freed from administrative liability a married court employee who co-habited with an equally married person – a practice disallowed by some religions and sanctioned by the government.” (http://www.mb.com.ph/node/80573)

However, in the same ruling, the high court said that “we must emphasize that the adoption of the benevolent neutrality-accommodation approach does not mean that the court ought to grant exemptions every time a free exercise claim comes before it.”

In essence, although the Supreme Court upholds the free exercise of religion, it does not deem it as absolute and the judiciary looks at each claim through the lens of benevolent neutrality – which considers the sincerity of the religious belief. The court also points out that “the interest of the State should also be afforded utmost protection.”

As our Constitution itself states, the State values the dignity of every human person and guarantees full respect for human rights. I believe that dignity includes being referred to the gender by which you identify and the State guarantee of full respect covers the acts of its own actors – those who are under the employ of the State including civil servants and professors in State-funded universities such as our dear Alma Mater.

In the case between my contemporary Nikki and your classmate Hender, arguments in favor of Nikki invoke her claim to the free exercise of her religion. In your note, you have put this as equal and opposite to Hender’s claim to her right to be recognized according to the gender by which she identifies, hence the stalemate, hence the impasse.

However I beg to disagree and jurisprudence seems to be on my side. I believe that human dignity and human rights is universal as evidenced by the international treaties and declarations that our country has signed in recognition of such. Nikki’s freedom to exercise her religion is not absolute, in the sense that she may exercise it if it does not infringe on the interests of the State. Since it is in the interest of the State to guarantee fully the respect for the dignity and the human rights of every citizen, regardless of age, race or gender, Nikki cannot invoke her freedom of religion in this regard, more so since she is a State actor herself, representing the State as a professor of a State-funded university.

Additionally, since we are putting up Hender’s right to recognition and Nikki’s right to exercise her religion, the Supreme Court decision adds that “in the interpretation of a document, such as the Bill of Rights, designed to protect the minority from the majority, the question of which perspective is appropriate would seem easy to answer.” I believe the statement argues in favor of the interpretation of rights in favor or Hender, a gender minority.

Resolution on Extrajudicial, Arbitrary and Summary Executions
UN restores gay clause to killings resolution
GA Third Committee deletes 'sexual orientation' from resolution on extrajudicial executions
Estrada v. Escritor


Veronique said...

hi! very well written piece. :)

i don't agree with his citing of the Bible though (but only in this part). he cannot use Old testament verses while refering to things we base (Christians) our acts upon, specially our time, which is now.

with the New testament, with Christ's blood saving us from all sins - Old testament practices have been overruled by the ones in the New testament.

you can read more here:

anyway, hope the situation turns out for the better.

more power

Matthew said...

"Why are we being selective in the verses that we live by? Isn’t that prejudiced treatment?"

Whatever you say dude. Maybe it applies to homosexuals as well, all of you saying homosexuality is not a sin and forgetting about what happened to Sodom and Gomorrha? Cheers.

moody said...

Hi veronique,

i also dont agree with nikki del corro citing the bible and saying that homosexuality is a sin. she is what i call a fundamentalist. and just like most fundamentalists, they are VERY SELECTIVE with which entries in the bible should be retained and dismissed. take a look at this. http://www.fallwell.com/ignored%20verses.html

moody said...

Hi matthew,

You should read these two articles before you take a stand on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (lgbt) rights. Obviously you dont know anything about the LGBT community, and you know VERY little about universal human rights. Not all Filipinos are Christians, but we are all humans, so dont even argue about religion here.

Read this:


and this:


Howie D. said...

"As our Constitution itself states, the State values the dignity of every human person and guarantees full respect for human rights."
"I believe that dignity includes being referred to the gender by which you identify and the State guarantee of full respect covers the acts of its own actors"

Hmmm.. The problem here is that Ms.Del Corro has her own definition of dignity. I also believe that Ms. Del Corro intentionally address this matter in a private way (not in front of the class) to show full respect

howell said...

(Romans 1:18-26)
"God’s Wrath Against Mankind

The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness...
... Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion."

(Revelation 21:8)
"But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.”

luke said...

matthew, unlike those people in sodom and gomorrah, i dont think gays you and i know of go about on the streets coercing and threatening people to have sex with them. its insane and almost unreal. cheers!

howell, no one is wicked for being who they are naturally. don't you want be true to yourself instead of pretending to be someone else. and if you're concerned about who we express our love with, it no longer matters to you. we showed it and made it known to the other person the same way you did. we waited and asked if he or she felt the same. we didn't learn it from aliens.

if you want to talk about morality then ask abraham first why he married his half-sister sarah. and who do you think adam and eve's children made love with, the cows in the meadows?

Andre Betita said...

I have just read the Facebook note by Ms. Anne Lagamayo and I commend her for keeping a clear head in the midst of the storm this issue seems to have caused.

See, I think the real problem is that people's thought-processes are so polluted with belief-borne beliefs, that they can't isolate a single thought from the great mess of tangled ideas in their heads. You ask for their verdict on whether a single fruit is rotten and they insist on examining the entire forest for "background", and then they base their verdict on THAT background without ever taking five seconds to personally observe the fruit in question by itself.

We really didn't need to invoke the Constitution here. We didn't need examples of the oppression of LGBT individuals elsewhere in the world. The Department of European Languages didn't even need to get involved. The issue at its core -- as Ms. Lagamayo has already implied and as I shall again point out for emphasis -- is simple: this is between two INDIVIDUALS with beliefs that conflict with each other. One is hell-bent on making the other address her as female. The other is hell-bent on saying no to that. This phenomenon, BY ITSELF, has as much significance to "the interests of the State" as two kids arguing who's going to be the cop in a game of cops and robbers.

Really, the only way we can justify saying that this issue has some social significance is when (at least) one of the individuals decides to extend his/her individual belief to affect another individual's beliefs. That, unfortunately, is what Ms. Hender Gercio sought to accomplish. And failing to accomplish it by herself, she chose to ask the Department -- a socially-acknowledged policy-making body -- to do it for her. This single move is what threw the rock off the cliff, and started the snowball effect of everybody jumping in, thinking that the matter somehow affected them through some vaguely-perceived notion of how the matter affected society in its entirety.

But let us zero in on the core of the issue itself: the two conflicting beliefs at the very center of this ridiculously huge snowball.

Andre Betita said...

The way I see it, the two conflicting beliefs are as follows:

(1) One one hand, Ms. Nikki del Corro seeks to be able to continue addressing Ms. Gercio as a male, by virtue of Ms. del Corro's religious belief.

(2) On the other hand, Ms. Gercio seeks to have Ms. del Corro's religious belief modified or done away with, so that Ms. del Corro could address Ms. Gercio as a female.

(It would not do to explain Ms. Gercio's belief to simply be her "seeking to be addressed in the gender she identifies with" because while it is true that THAT is one of her beliefs, it is not the exact belief that conflicts with Ms. del Corro's. As reported, Ms. Gercio already IS addressed by the rest of the class in the gender she identifies with. What she wants that she's not getting, is to be addressed in the gender she identifies with by ONE MORE person in particular.)

Anyway, given the conflict between beliefs (1) and (2), it is clear who is intruding upon whose perceived rights. All these cries of religion-driven oppression on the part of Ms. del Corro are unjustified, because, in this issue, Ms. del Corro seeks to impose religious practice on no other person but herself. She seeks to reserve the right to address Ms. Gercio as a male, but she doesn't require Ms. Gercio to behave as a male or to modify her own mindset into thinking of herself as a male. All that Ms. del Corro is asking, is to allow HERSELF -- and nobody else -- to address Ms. Gercio as a male.

Ms. Gercio, on the other hand, seeks to bring an individual external to herself (Ms. del Corro) into alignment with her own thinking. This, when EVERYBODY ELSE in the class already subscribes to her thinking. This makes Ms. Gercio the intruding party in this conflict. I'm not saying she's wrong or that her request is invalid. I'm merely pointing out that the conflict is borne of her intrusion and not of Ms. del Corro being on the defensive with her religious belief.

Given all this, Ms. Lagamayo's call for an impasse is the most sensible thing I can think of, too. We are not infallible, all-knowing judges to be able to say with absolute certainty that gender identity is more important than religious belief, or vice-versa. We argue that human dignity is universal and above religious bias, but does human dignity not encompass the right to spiritual belief as well? Ms. del Corro holds her religious belief sacred. Ms. Gercio holds her gender identity sacred. Well, then, why don't they just BOTH hold their precious things sacred and not try to convert each other?

Of course, even in such an impasse, there will remain a conflict, between one person who wishes to be addressed as a female by EVERYBODY, and another person hell-bent on being the one to negate the "everybody" category. But at least the conflict is kept personal, between the two individuals, who are actually the only ones this issue is concerned with anyway. If they wish to resolve that conflict, if they wish to convert each other, then they should do so on their own personal time and with their own personal devices. Not through higher governing or policy-making bodies. And certainly not through the invocation of the same legal technicalities that, in the first place, allowed them to possess conflicting beliefs and still co-exist.

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