The Philippines: Acceptance of Gays in the Military does not Mean Equality (Yet)

Ernesto Torres, spokesperson of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), recently invited gay men and lesbians to join the Philippine Military. 1 Torres emphasized that giving equal opportunity to prospective soldiers proves the Philippines has zero tolerance for discrimination within the military ranks. While the development can be seen as a small triumph for gay men and lesbians in the Philippines, it falls short of full equality. Torres emphasized that all military personnel should adhere to the Military’s Code of Ethics and observe proper decorum. According to these policies, openly gay men and lesbians and those who cross-dress can be dishonorably discharged. Once inside the military, gays and lesbians must therefore ‘hide’ their sexuality in order to remain there.

Torres’s invitation came against the backdrop of considerable activism by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) groups in the Philippines who have been clamoring for the passage of the Anti-discrimination Bill pending in Congress.2 LGBT groups have welcomed the statement from the AFP as a sign that there is still hope that LGBT rights will be recognized and protected in the Philippines.

“AFP acknowledges once again the vital role of every Filipino, regardless of sex or sexual orientation, to serve and defend our country,” said Angie Umbac of Rainbow Rights. “It may take a while for structures and policies to be corrected and attuned to this declaration of non-discrimination, but the open-mindedness of AFP leadership to embrace the principles of respect and equality already sends a clear message that the LGBT can march in its ranks.”3

Although the invitation is seen as a step forward for LGBT rights in the Philippines, LGBT activists will continue to campaign for the removal of discriminatory provisions addressing homosexuality in the AFP Code of Ethics.

“We welcome the statements made by top military officials declaring that lesbians and gays are now accepted in the military,” said Jonas Bagas, spokesperson for Project Equality. “However, this is not sufficient. There has to be a concrete and comprehensive non-discrimination policy in the military.”4

There is no clear-cut policy or provisional directive clearly stating that sexual orientation and/or gender identity may not be used against someone applying for military service or to current military personnel. In fact, some of the provisions of the Code of Ethics can still be used to discriminate against lesbians and gay members of the military, especially those who are outed while in service.

“Blocking the admission of lesbians and gays is one thing. Once inside, LGBT soldiers can encounter other forms of discrimination and abuse. That, too, should be prohibited,” Bagas added.

Risa Hontiveros-Baraquel, Akbayan Representative and author of the Anti-discrimination Bill supports the call of Filipino LGBT people to reform the AFP’s Code of Ethics.

“If lesbians and gays are truly accepted in the military, then AFP should have a more concrete policy on the matter,” said Hontiveros. “It should concretely ban discrimination in military service, and there should be no if's and but's. I renew my appeal to Congress to approve the Anti-Discrimination Bill, which Akbayan authored in the House of Representatives. The bill covers discrimination in the military service and by abusive military officials.”

BACKGROUND

On February 2, 2002, during the first public hearing on the anti-discrimination bill authored by Akbayan Representative Etta Rosales in the Lower House under the Committee of Civil, Political and Human Rights, the Armed Forces of the Philippines articulated strong opposition to its passage.

AFP POLICIES ON HOMOSEXUALITY

On Procurement:
Para 5© Cir 13 GHQ AFP dtd 15 July 91, Subject: Selective Enlistment. - A person is not in qualified status for enlistment or reenlistment if he/she has been found to have homosexual tendencies or has been determined by medical/psychological experts to manifest such behaviors while in the active service.
On Discipline:
Para 5(4)(d) Cir 17 GHQ AFP dtd 02 Oct 87, Subject: Administrative Discharge Prior to Expiration of Term of Enlistment. - An individual may be discharged by reason of unsuitability, not due to misconduct, when it has been determined that he is unsuitable for further military service because of homosexual tendencies, desires or interests accompanied by overt homosexual acts. A homosexual is an individual who demonstrates, by behavior, a preference or desire for sexual activity with persons of the same sex. Homosexuals are unfit for military service because their presence impairs the morale and discipline of the organization. Allegations of homosexuality shall be thoroughly and comprehensibly inquired into, with due regard for the peculiar susceptibility of such cases to malicious charges.
Para 89(b) AFPRG 165-362, GHQ AFP dtd 29 Oct 96:
- An individual is recommended for discharge, for reason of unsuitability or unfitness, with a dishonorable discharge unless the particular circumstances in a given case warrant a general honorable discharge when it has been determined that an individual military record is characterized by sexual perversions including but not limited to latent and overt homosexuality.
Art 5 (Military Professionalism) Sec. 4.3 (Unethical Acts) AFP Code of Ethics. –
Military personnel shall likewise be recommended for discharge/separation for reason of unsuitability due to “all acts or omissions which deviate from established and accepted ethical and moral standards of behavior and performance as set forth in the AFP Code of Ethics. The following are examples: Fornication, Adultery, Concubinage, Homosexuality, Lesbianism, and Pedophilia.

AFP POSITION

The Armed Forces, by its name alone primarily among others, connotes [as] martial ability not only physical strength, appearance, and behavior, but moral, emotional and most especially psychological [fitness]. The establishment of appropriate selection criteria and procedures, most especially the physiological and psychological evaluation and considerations, can only maintain this. Established standards, therefore, have to be adhered to in the strictest sense of the word.

The presence of known homosexuals might affect mission accomplishment due to the following:

  • Reduction of fighting skills. – Overt manifestation of homosexuality will mean reduction of fighting skills of a particular combat unit anchored form instability and indecisiveness when faced with situations that will threaten their lives. Correspondingly, this will give the enemy enough reason to be more aggressive.
  • Security Risk – Practicing homosexual is vulnerable to blackmail to the detriment of security-related documents or information in his possession or control, in exchange for sexual favors or to avoid humiliation the moment his sexual perversions be exposed.
  • Affect cohesion of military units. – The AFP is more concerned with the problem of integrating them into the cohesive team for defensive roles. Practicing homosexuals, when engaged in a relationship cease to be members of the unit in [a] social and emotional sense. Their commitment to one another negates the required loyalty to the organization and to their fellow soldiers.
  • Public Perception. – The AFP should present a credible manifestation of strength so as to create a deterrent posture to would-be enemies of the state. It will lose this credibility if our marching or maneuvering troops appear effeminate or when orders and commands are melodiously [more] feminine than manly maneuvers. The AFP will be subjected to public ridicule when its members begin to frequent gay bars, make themselves look like women, and engage in sexual aberrations. It will lose respect from [within] itself, the people, and the enemy. What is more dangerous is that the AFP will reduce its aggressiveness in fighting wars, thus, correspondingly result to a situation that makes the enemy develop that “superiority complex” which is an important factor in winning a war.

The AFP does not actually discriminate [against] homosexuals as persons, but the contentious issue is their fitness, whether physical, mental, or psychological, in the profession of arms. As aforementioned, the Armed Forces, not only of the Philippine government but also any government for that matter, is a unique organization incomparable with any civilian agency.

Military policies must be based on actual experience and sound judgment, not on fixed ideas of sexual equality. By necessity, the military must be free to pursue policies aimed at maximizing its effectiveness.

The military, therefore, is not a suitable subject for experiments in social engineering such as the normalization of homosexuality. It would be an experiment fraught with immense risks and foreseeable consequences that the military cannot afford. The Armed Forces exist for the sole purpose of defending the country and the way of life of every citizen.

In view of the above, it is maintained that individuals who display and manifest overt acts of their homosexual orientations and the propensity to indulge in such acts, shall be excluded in the profession of arms.


1- Manila Times, March 3, 2009 -http://www.manilatimes.net/national/2009/march/03/yehey/top_stories/20090303top9.html

2-House Bill 956 – An Act Prohibiting discrimination on the Basis of Sexual Orientation and/or Gender Identity and Providing Penalties Therefore (Anti-discrimination bill), section 4.a - Discriminatory Practices. – It shall be unlawful for any person, natural or juridical, to deny public access, including military service, to any person on the basis of sexual orientation and/or gender identity.

3-Rainbow Rights (RRights), Inc. is a group of lesbian and gay lawyers and legal activists who are dedicated to promoting LGBT rights. http://rainbowrightsproject.multiply.com

4-Project Equality is an LGBT rights network comprised of the following organizations: Akbayan Gay and Lesbian Collective, Babaylanes, Inc., Dambana, Gayon-Albay, INDIGO-Bulacan, Institute of Politics and
Governance, LIKHAAN, Student Council Alliance of the Philippines, Tabak Sangre – Tabaco City, The Library foundation (TLF) Share Collective, University of the Philippines (U.P.) Babaylan, and several individual advocates.