Crimes against the vulnerable
Heinous crimes against members of two of the country’s most vulnerable sectors – the LGBTQ community and persons with disabilities (PWDs) – have shocked the nation in recent days.
On May 20 in Quezon City, transman Norriebi Tria, also known as Ebeng Mayor, 21, was found, according to reports, “bloodied and bruised, a wooden stick impaled into his genitals” three days after he was reported missing. A childhood friend eventually confessed to the gruesome rape-slay and pointed to two other suspects. The three men are facing charges of rape with homicide and robbery. Quezon City mayor Joy Belmonte denounced Mayor’s murder as a hate crime and said, “This type of violence has no space in a civilized society where everyone is treated equally and with utmost respect.”
In Valenzuela City, Edwin Arnigo, 18, who had been diagnosed with autism, was shot dead Sunday by police after an alleged gun scuffle during a raid on an illegal cockpit. But his mother quoted witnesses as saying that police had shot her son while he was at the office of the homeowners’ association, and dragged his body to the cockpit where they stripped off his shirt to muddle the evidence. The four cops involved in the operation are now under restrictive custody pending investigation of the case.
This isn’t the first time the police has directed deadly force at people with special needs. Last year, Winston Ragos, 34, a retired soldier left traumatized by his tour of duty in Marawi, was shot dead at a checkpoint by police despite neighbors telling them that Ragos was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Ragos was unarmed, had his arms raised and his back turned to the police when shot. The NBI has charged the police team in the incident with murder, perjury, and planting of evidence.
Mayor’s case, meanwhile, recalls the barbaric murder of transwoman Jennifer Laude in 2014 by American serviceman Joseph Scott Pemberton. The 26-year-old Laude was found dead in the toilet of a motel, her neck blackened with strangulation marks. President Duterte, however, released Pemberton in September 2020 before he could fully serve his sentence and granted him absolute pardon. Laude’s killer has since been deported to the US and has faced no further repercussions.
Crimes against the LGBTQ community are nothing new. Though the Philippine National Police began rolling out “LGBT desks” across its district offices in 2018 to provide targeted support to this community, ritual oppression remains. In June last year, police arrested and unlawfully detained 20 participants in an LGBTQ Pride March in Manila, for allegedly breaking COVID-19 protocols.
Since 1996, 164 cases of violence and hate crimes against gay people have been documented, according to Bataan representative and transgender lawmaker Geraldine Roman, who has proposed a bill that would criminalize anti-LGBTQ discriminatory practices in schools and businesses. Transgender Europe’s Trans Murder Monitoring initiative, on the other hand, which tracks the killings of trans people around the world, said that at least 50 transgender or gender non-binary individuals have been murdered in the Philippines since 2010, although the real death toll is probably higher. When a non-binary person is murdered, the police would likely log the gender as either male or female. The stigma of being an LGBTQ member remains as well, so that friends and family are often dissuaded from identifying the victim as such.
Although there have been advances in the sector’s visibility and empowerment, there is a long way to go for many Filipinos, especially the religiously inclined, to overcome the cultural and social biases, stigma, and prejudices that breed hostility toward LGBTQ members. A good start would be the school and home, where children unconsciously absorb the values and attitudes of their elders toward The Other, the person deemed “different” from the rest because of gender orientation, economic status, disability, membership in an indigenous community, etc. Schools need to teach tolerance and welcome diversity and inclusion among its students and faculty as well, and discourage bullying that eventually escalates into hate crimes.
For PWDs, aside from the government installing more PWD-friendly public facilities and services, laws protecting PWDs and ensuring their fuller participation in civic affairs need to be implemented more vigorously. And if laws against discrimination and the denial of fundamental rights are lacking, as in the case of the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity and Expression Equality Bill that remains an issue of protracted contention in Congress, it is incumbent on the government to address that gap and pursue measures that extend fairness, inclusion, and equal protection to all Filipinosʍbut especially those from historically disenfranchised communities.
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