Filipinos are gearing up to head to the ballot box this May.
Economy, security and corruption are all high on the agenda.
But the LGBT community has been stunned by how candidates have attacked them.
Hoping to push for marriage equality and equal rights, it’s not going to be easy for the LGBT movement to achieve their goals in the current political climate.
Jofelle Tesorio and Ariel have this report from Manila and Palawan, Philippines.
“It’s common sense. Do you see any animals where male is to male and female is to female? The animals are better, they know how to distinguish, male or female. If we approve, male on male, female on female, then man is worse than animal.”
Those are the words from an interview with Filipino boxing icon, Manny Pacquiao.
Manny is currently a congressman and running for senator in the upcoming May elections.
He is against same-sex marriage and says homosexuals are worse than animals.
Among the members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender/transsexual or LGBT community who condemned Manny is famous television host Boy Abunda.
“He crossed the line. I won’t accept, Manny, that you call me worse than animals. I am lower than an animal… “I am not begging Manny Pacquiao for dignity,” he says, “I am not begging you for respect. I am not begging you for humanity because you do not own my humanity.”
Due to Manny’s anti-gay slur, Nike has dropped his sponsorship contract.
It might have affected his career as a boxer but it seems his political career has been largely unaffected.
Despite condemnation from the LGBT community, Filipinos are divided on the issue of gay marriage, homosexuality and other LGBT rights.
Most politicians who are running in the elections are also quiet or vague about the issue like presidential aspirant, Rodrigo Duterte.
“Me, personally, I cannot say about the legality because our Civil Code says man and woman. Leave it that way until such time that the issue will come to the forefront. On Pacquiao, I respect his opinion. If that’s what he thinks, freedom of expression is very important,” says Duterte, “I may disagree by what you said but I will defend your right to say it.”
There are also politicians who agree with Manny, like senator Juan Ponce Enrile. He says homosexuals can just go to another planet.
The anti-gay slur of Manny Pacquiao mirrors how LGBT issues feature in the coming elections in May.
Local LGBT community leader Joey Odtohan says LGBT issues are not pushed in government.
“That’s the thing. LGBTs are marginalised,” says Joey, “That’s why I’m calling all members of the LGBT to unite. We have the numbers. We need to be cohesive so they can hear. Maybe at least we could elect one representative in Congress so we can push for laws protecting LGBTs in the Philippines.”
In 2010 and 2013, LGBT group Ladlad ran for a seat in Congress as partylist, where marginalised groups can be represented.
They are barred to run this year because they failed to get at least two percent of the votes in the last two elections.
Joey Odtohan says another group from the LGBT community is planning to join the elections in the future.
“In the national level, we have mobilized around 70% of provincial LGBT organizations,” explains Joey, “Our national head is going around the country to make sure that we get the numbers come election 2019 so we can have at least one representative in Congress.”
The LGBT community still has no representative in government.
Every election, candidates shy away from including LGBT rights in their platform of government.
Political observer Redempto Anda explains why.
“The first thing that comes to my mind is the influence of the Catholic Church. Ours is a very Catholic country. Moral issues are still major issues and candidates normally do not want to cross swords with the conservatives,” he says, “There are so many issues that candidates would cling to and I think the list on their list would be championing LGBT rights. ”
The local LGBT head Joey Odtohan says there will be no change in the treatment of the LGBT community in the next administration.
But they’re inching slowly to push for their rights through local councils.
“Here in Puerto Princesa City, we lobbied for a law protecting the rights of LGBTs against discrimination,” he says, “We got the support of a local councillor to sponsor the anti-discrimination ordinance. So it is in place and the mayor is very supportive of this.”
The LGBT community is hoping that the anti-gay slur of boxing icon Manny Pacquaio will put the discussion on a higher level.
But LGBT leader Joey says the least they can do for now is not vote for Manny Pacquiao.