Lance Arevada

As lawmakers and LGBTQIA+ activists attempt to revive discussions on a decades-old gender equality measure, the father-son tandem of Jesus Is Lord (JIL) Church founder and CIBAC Partylist Rep. Eddie Villanueva and Senate Majority Leader Joel Villanueva were both up in arms to stall talks on a bill seeking to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression (SOGIE) in the respective chambers of Congress.

Photo Courtesy by ABS-CBN News/Joel Villanueva/Facebook

Pointing out how different religious groups appealed to most senators that they were not given enough time to air their side on the proposal, Sen. Villanueva has called to move the proposed SOGIE bill to the powerful rules committee “for further study,” a panel which he chairs.

"I think it’s been clearly stated and manifested, Madame President, that indeed, we have to hold our horses and give chance to these groups, these sectors to be heard," he said.

The Senate committee on women, children, family relations, and gender equality has already cleared Sen. Risa Hontiveros’  SOGIESC Equality Bill in December, paving the way to proceed in the Senate plenary. Hontiveros, however, lamented the bill was in a “kind of suspension or limbo” as it has never moved forward since.

By reverting the measure back to Villanueva’s panel, which is within his prerogative as majority leader, advocates are now fearing that the measure is effectively killed in the current Congress.

Hontiveros sought to propose another hearing to let evangelical groups express their positions, but at least 18 senators have already signed the motion to refer it to the rules committee.

"Parang pinupunit ang isang sanggol sa yakap, sa kandungan ng kanyang ina. What other committee has taken care of such bills as anti-discrimination and SOGIE Equality Bill since more than two decades ago?" the senator said in opposition.

With the opposition senator deferring to the majority leader’s motion, Villanueva said “he cannot speak on behalf” of his committee when asked by Senate President Pro Tempore Loren Legarda if the bill would be eventually stuck in the rules panel.

‘Drama, delay in House’

Meanwhile, in Batasang Pambansa, the elder Villanueva, who staunchly opposed the SOGIE bill measure as an evangelist, blasted the Wednesday hearing of the House committee on women and gender equality as illegal due to being “a form of forum shopping.”

Villanueva argued that a similar and more comprehensive measure against discrimination is already being tackled on the House human rights committee, which is led by another evangelist-lawmaker Manila Rep. Bienvenido Abante.

The representative then sought to suspend the hearing until his opposition was resolved, addressing the co-chairs of the panel as “Mr. Chair.”

Bataan Rep. Geraldine Roman and ACT Teachers Party-list Rep. France Castro both led the committee hearing, with none of them identifying as a man. Roman had also marked history as the first transgender lawmaker in Congress.

Upon talking to House Majority Leader Manuel Dalipe, Rep. Roman said the measure stays with her committee, and the hearing will proceed as planned. Villanueva then left the panel due to the supposed “tyranny of the minority.”

“We are not here - kaming mga mambabatas - to decide what is a sin or what is not. We are here to legislate for the present life and not the afterlife,” Roman said during the hearing, which she clarified further as not illegal.