The Filipino gay conundrum

More News from W. Scott Thompson



A recent world opinion poll coming out of Pew Research Center, in Philadelphia in the United States, and roughly the equivalent to Manila’s Social Weather Stations in national equivalence, compared attitudes in major countries of the world toward gay people. Despite the Church and numerous laws, the Philippines came out with a superhigh rating—about 73 percent positive attitude toward gays. By contrast, Indonesia, where I also live, was about 3 percent. But I find the two are far closer than the numbers suggest.

In the Philippines, the Catholic hierarchy is of diminishing relevance, while Islam—the dangerous extreme—is growing in Indonesia, similar in a way to the growth of charismatic churches in the Philippines. That makes Indonesians more fearful of expressing their actual attitudes. I find it easier to live in either country than in my home country, whose Supreme Court recently issued epochal dicta on the sanctity of marriage, whether or not between a man and a woman.

In America, liberal open-minded friends don’t give a hoot that at 40 I “came out,” but they tend to tell their friends about parts of my career and always have to mention that “he’s gay.” I have witnessed nothing of the sort here in Asia. Everyone in my barangay knows all about me after 13 years of coming and going, and I’ve never heard a peep against me on this account. Had I moved to Tennessee I’d have been ostracized, and even in Massachusetts where it was legal for me to marry a male Filipino, I’m socially categorized. Most gay men in America stick to their group socially. This is unnecessary in Manila, where I also live much of the time, and my friends range across the board. I wrote the authorized biography of former President Fidel V. Ramos, and whenever he invited me to anything, he has always included my partner.

Okay, even the Vatican seemingly has to up the ante, as when Pope Francis spoke against gay elites in the highest circles dominating too much of Church law. But note that he said nothing about whether gay is good or bad. He was declaring against all cabals, especially secret ones, in the Vatican, and in the process proved what we always knew—the utter hypocrisy of antigay rulings. Eighty-year-old men, of whom at least a third are gay, dictating the sexual behavior of people they can know little of.

I think Filipinos sense this; there are adequate equivalents in the country’s Catholic hierarchy, and abuses are just beginning to be investigated. It’ll be a torrent in time. The American Church eventually had to settle all its gay abuses by priests with a $5 billion settlement, selling off immensely symbolic property to pay the bills.

So what accounts for that 73 percent figure? It is at Scandinavian levels, or close, and comparable to that of rich industrial societies in general. Ever since I started visiting the Philippines in 1969 (eventually becoming a permanent resident in 2005), I’ve been struck by the absence of almost any comment on the remarkable number of high officials, senators, Cabinet members, etc., who are known to be gay—through the usually valid doctrine of  tsismis, the national pastime.

I recall an intimate conversation with a former president, who wasn’t exactly on friendly terms with a high official, sometime senator, known to be gay. He said, “Well, sometimes in the back room we might tell a joke about him, but it’s only when his hypocrisy becomes too visible, but in practice we don’t even think about his sexual preference. We work with him, respect him, and why should his being gay have anything to do with it?” When his daughter laughed at the fact that the three principals in a project the former president had commissioned were all gay, he asked why that had anything to do with anything. All three principals had accomplished careers at different stages.

Although I’m dealing personally with an excruciating case where two young men, both professionals, fell in love and were both thrown out by their families, even formerly loving sisters, I find that an exception, no longer the rule. There are such cases in all countries. They just weren’t going to hide their powerful love for each other, though now they are dependent on friends for everything as they seek new careers in Manila.

When I decided in 2000 to live abroad and could have chosen any place in the world, I chose the Philippines not just because I had so many friends there and a professional scholarly interest in it, but because I found Pinoys the friendliest people on earth—and I’ve visited 60 countries and lived for extended periods in Africa, the United Kingdom, Southeast Asia and, of course, America. I’ve never regretted my choice.

W. Scott Thompson, author of “Trustee of the Nation: the biography of Fidel V. Ramos” and 15 other books on Asian and American politics, is a four-time presidential appointee in Washington, and professor emeritus at The Fletcher School. He maintains households in Guadalupe, Makati, and in Balas, Talisay, Batangas. He has three children and five grandchildren in America. He wrote this piece with the assistance of Oliver Geronilla, a language instructor at Han Maum Academy, Parañaque City.

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  • phoenixcdo

    the fact that Mr. Thompson wrote this based on personal experience makes his words more believable. He talks about public acceptance, not just mere tolerance. I think those two words have different connotations. Discourse should not just focus on morality because that is purely beside the point. Straight people have the same propensity to behave immorally as gays/lesbians. And clearly, religion has not been proven as an effective tool to temper or rectify public behavior regardless of sexual orientation, economic status, and educational background. it is so easy to use religion and morality to alienate/discriminate/disparage someone’s reputation. most of the time, hypocrites resort to this kind of argument because they can no longer substantiate their claims rationally.

    • john nono

      it’s simply because of ignorance of faith… as yo claim too. hypocrisy is obvious whatever is your status… it’s simply immoral. so does some sides of what it claims to be moral. there goes the paradox too. that’s the rationality if not the true argument. -truth

  • john nono

    question: does science really proved an imbalance of hormones on ‘gay’?? what’s wrong with gays? :))

    • phoenixcdo

      refer to DSM IV TR for a scientific answer.

      • john nono

        sorry? dsm iv tr :)) yes or no?

      • phoenixcdo

        reading is a form of enlightenment and self-improvement. you may want to read it first.

      • john nono

        i see… that means yes – lol

      • phoenixcdo

        if you believe so.

    • Guest

      sorry? @ phoenixcdo :))

    • phoenixcdo

      np. I think the issue stems from personal biases mostly from heterosexuals who always have a way to feel superior. I think any sexual behavior could be described as “abnormal” Immoral” “disgusting” whether the people involved are gays/lesbians or straight. telling people to behave appropriately and labelling sexual behaviors with mental illness terminology are not the same.

      • john nono

        nobody says as what yo define here?? it’s simply scientific.. the quest is very simple.. isn’t it?

      • phoenixcdo

        You seem to be using a lot of question marks in your comments. One is enough.

      • john nono

        ahaha sorry :)

      • phoenixcdo


    • w33k3nd3r

      nothing wrong with us. we were just born with someone like you around.

    • BCon

      Maybe your question should be “What’s wrong with mother nature?” Actually, parents of gay children ask themselves; “Where did I go wrong???”

  • Fulpol

    I dont know if Philippine society is more pluralistic than American society.. let say, if American society has 3 dimensions, Philippine society has 10 dimensions.. different spectrum o spectra..

    I guessed this is the reason why Pilipinos are friendly to anybody, to everyone, to everybody..

    I find it that emotion and reason has no distinction in Philippine society.. these two blend as one..

    highly level of acceptance of gay in Philippine society?? that puzzle was solved by that emotion and reason relationship and the many dimensions in the spectrum of Philippine society..

    • phoenixcdo

      in most instances I guess that’s true. sad but true.

  • niceguy60

    I have no problem with gays or lesbians. There will be problem though if they abuse young children and youths in their search for earthful needs. :-)

    • Crazy_horse101010

      almost daily here there is stories of fathers raping their daughters sometimes 2 in one day in their search for earthful needs. what about them. and if it isnt the father its uncles, grandfathers, cousins, and brothers. it is one thing foreigners are puzzled about why is there so much here. . one sick one was a father who raped his daughter to see if see was a virgin

  • w33k3nd3r

    Life’s too short to hate. We’re all people with our quirks and fears. They’re all just labels made by those who refuse to comprehend. In the end, we’re all just human.

  • Petrus_Romanus

    1 Corinthians 6

    “9 Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived:Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men[a] 10 nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.”
    “18 Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body. 19 Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; 20 you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.”

    • WesternIowan

      The bible says Eve was made from Adam’s rib, making them genetic twins and incestous ones at that, who raised a homicidal maniac who killed his own brother. Quoting the bible is dumb if you only quote it to back your prejudices against people you dislike. It can be quoted to condemn everyone and anyone. That just means you like condemning other people – which by definition disqualifies you from being a Christian since Christ’s number one command was to “love one another,” followed by “do unto others as you’d have done unto you”, as well as “judge not lest you be judged for how you judge others you will be found guilty for judging.” Jesus said “that which you do unto the least of these, you do unto me.” So try to be less judgmental, and therefore actually Christian.

      • alx2k

        i certainly agree.

  • pedronimo

    I’ll say it again: Gays need love, not laws, to make them free and happy/

  • Mang Teban

    It is the nature of Filipinos to be tolerant of guests & strangers with unusual manners
    just to avoid being labeled arrogant or being too straight-forwarded or disrespectful .
    Some call it ‘Filipino hospitality’. But oftentimes, it is
    simply False Modesty.
    We rate high in being good hosts & the best tour guides going
    out of our way to please friends.
    Gays & Mr. W. Scott Thompson think wrongly that a big
    majority support gay rights in the Philippines.
    The hard truth that while gays enjoy the freedom
    to flaunt their ‘queer’ ways in public, same number despise the
    gays in the safe comfort zones of close friends
    to poke fun on gays & maintain a distance.
    Generally, the issue on Vice Ganda’s bullying drew
    sharp reaction like it was the last straw to be
    nice to gays. Hence, how easily an apparent
    all-out support for gays can disintegrate.
    Gays, don’t press your luck. Act real. Do not
    fantasize the world will change for you.

    • phoenixcdo

      Vice Ganda is a stereotype image. His behavior, beliefs, character, principles, opinions, and mistakes do not represent all gays in general. Just like a straight guy who hires prostitutes does not represent all Pinoys…hopefully.

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