EXPLAINER: Cebu City ordinance, signed last August, punishes discrimination against, and creates a council for, LGBTQs. Pending ordinance seeks to create an office on gay rights. Opposers fear 'consequences' on non-gays.

WHAT GAYS ALREADY HAVE. Last August 19, 2022, Cebu City Mayor Mike Rama signed an ordinance [Ordinance #2660] that (a) recognizes members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer community, (b) punishes acts of discrimination of persons because of sexual orientation and gender identity, expression and equality (Sogie) and (b) creates a council, called SPEC, that will protect them.

Actually, the ordinance was deemed to have lapsed into local law because the Sanggunian approved it last June 24 yet. The mayor's signature though signified support from both executive and legislative branches of the local government.

MAY GET MORE. The city's LGBTQ+ group may get more "protection and help" from the city. In a proposed ordinance pending before the committee on laws, Councilor Rey Gealon (Barug) wants to create a Cebu City office of the LGBTQ+ Affairs Office, or CCOLA for short, to be headed by a member of the group with salary from City Hall.

CCOLA shall have office space, assistance of the city's social welfare office, personnel from the mayor's office, and appropriation presumably in the annual city budget.

If the Gealon ordinance passes, the gays will have (a) SPEC, a council, and (b) CCOLA, an office, on top of a (c) penal law that imposes three to six months in jail and P3,000 to P5,000 fine for discrimination against an LBGTQ+. Gealon's move to create an office adds to the measures earlier taken by Councilors Joel Garganera (Barug) and Jessica Resch (SK rep).

GEALON'S BASIC ARGUMENT. Councilor Gealon's proposal considers the gays-plus as "underprivileged" or part of the "marginalized sector," on the same level as the sick, elderly, disabled, women and children, which needs a social security program designed for them. They are underrepresented, often subject of discrimination, violence, violation of human rights, Gealon says in his explanatory note.

The proponent's basic reason for the ordinance is not however, what has drawn fire from its opponents.

OPPOSERS' TARGET. Opposers, who read their position paper last October 26 before the City Council, didn't train their guns on the issue of LGBTQs being underprivileged or marginal and regarded as special group.

They don't want to seem discriminatory against them. They said they even "highly support" the measure "as it condemns all forms of malicious discrimination" against the gay community. They're not opposing the help of the City Government to LGBTQs; they said they just want that done "without unnecessarily negating all other freedoms protected by our Constitution."

The opposers spoke against the Gealon ordinance seeking to create the CCOLA or LGBTQ's office but they assailed largely the concept and act creating the first ordinance, #2660. They attacked alleged "invasion of personal autonomy and self-development," "constraints on economic opportunities" and limits on "access to education and learning" and access to facilities, transportation and other utilities open to the public.

WHAT'S THE POINT. Their position seemed to go this way: The rules that the City are imposing to protect LGBTQs against discrimination would infringe on the rights of non-gays. They contended that no ordinance can be passed that "infringes upon a person's free exercise of religion." They apparently believe that what would amount to discrimination against gays, which the City would punish, is an exercise of other people's freedoms.

The opposers -- represented before the City Council by Atty. Sunday Lidres Caballero, who read the paper, and Joan Arce Jaque -- were The Lord Who Cares Foundation, Hydronet Consultants Inc., Janice Minor Export Inc., CG Homes Cebu, Cebu City Ministerial Fellowship and Cebu Province Minesterial Association. It was not known and nobody asked what and how large their respective sectors represent.

DISAGREEMENT ON MEANING. While the opposers broadly raised constitutional grounds, particularly on religious freedom and free speech, they dwelt first on "loose" definition of fundamental concepts of "women," "men," gender" and the absence of the meaning of "identify." They fear confusion over meaning of the terms, especially when it involves loss of liberty or property, which a penal law may inflict.

Apparently, the opposers disagree with the premise of the ordinance that the gays need to be protected for their gender preference. Their argument: "One cannot just become a man or a woman by mere identification or association." A man is a man and a woman is a woman because he or she is born as such and not because the person feels like one. "It's never a function of the law to give credence to something based on pure emotionality or accommodation." "In the same way, we cannot choose to have our own age or class, gender or sexuality cannot be separated from facts and biology," they said.

OOPS, WRONG ORDINANCE. Most of the issues raised by Atty. Caballero and Joan Jaque were against Ordinance #2660, which the Sanggunian had passed in June and Mayor Rama signed in August. Councilor Gealon told Explainer his ordinance is for the creation of the LGBTQ office, not the penal ordinance on gays' rights. "It's no longer the forum."

Caballero omitted that point in their paper, failing to explain that they couldn't raise them earlier as they didn't have the chance to do so -- they were probably not invited -- when Ordinance #2660 was discussed. They could've argued that the reasons against the first ordinance are also valid reasons for not passing the second one. The gays already have all the protection they need; must they be given more?

ISSUES THAT ARE STILL TIMELY. Atty. Caballero and Joan Jaaque made a "final note" that the councilors must not dismiss as untimely and must consider in planning to create the CCOLA.

And that is: There are "several other sectors and causes" that urgently need more attention from the City Government, including improvement of health services, educational facilities for street children, productivity program for highland farmers, welfare programs for women and children, and the like.

Along with that are these parallel or collateral issues:

[] Are gays really marginal and on the same level as the poor and disabled? Most of them are seen to be economically productive. They do deserve protection against discrimination and they already are covered by Ordinance #2660. But does an office have to be created especially for them?

[] How well have most of these special offices worked? Through the years, mayors, including Mayor Rama, have complained of dormant special offices and having so many of them, they can't keep track of what they're doing or not doing.