Six months ago, in 21st-century Philippines, Ang Ladlad and I were called "immoral" by the Second Division of the Commission on Elections. Last week, we were called "abnormal' by a Catholic bishop.
The second division of the Comelec is composed of Commissioner Nicodemo Ferrer, an Extraordinary Eucharistic Minister of the Church in Binmaley, Pangasinan; Commissioner Lucenito Tagle, Director of the Christian Family Movement in Cubao; and Commissioner Elias Yusoph, a Muslim imam. Nothing wrong with that, of course, but these three gentlemen should have inhibited themselves from discussing the merits of Ang Ladlad's accreditation because they would be biased parties in the case at hand. Instead, they rushed headlong into it, with the singleness of purpose of a typhoon bearing down on a small island. During the hearing which I attended with my laywer, Atty. Nick Pichay, I would be asked brilliant questions like this.
Commissioner Yusuph: How shall I address you, Miss or Madame?
Danton Remoto: You may call me Professor Danton Remoto, or Mr. Danton Remoto.
Commissioner Ferrer: I think you are already over-represented in Congress. Tell me who are the gays in Congress! And the gays in Senate, tell me who he is!
Danton Remoto: Your Honor, Imee Marcos said that there are only 13 gay people in the Congress when she was there, but she claimed she's the only one who is out of the closet there. As for the gay senator, I am not aware of his identity. If you are, Your Honor, maybe you can shed light on the issue?
It was like going through what the character Joseph K. underwent in Franz Kafka's novel, The Trial. Except that in Kafka's novel of the absurd, the interrogators had quicksilver wit and blazing imagination.
The Second Division of Comelec said Ang Ladlad should not be allowed to run because it is an "immoral" organization that offends religious beliefs. And then -- in a defense that would later send me laughing like a hyena -- they quoted the Holy Bible, the sacred Koran, and a Bible scholar named Lehmann Strauss. I have no problem with the Holy Bible, which I read and re-read in my Catholic school days, nor with the sacred Koran, since I studied Islam, Islamic Mysticism and Literature as a Fulbright Scholar at Rutgers University in the year 2000. But why were these religious texts used to defend a legal case? And Lehmann Strauss? He was a biblical scholar who became famous in the 1950s -- or a decade before the great liberation movements of the Sixties. That great decade, the Sixties, produced the liberation of Asian and African countries from their colonial masters, as well as the women's liberation movement, the black liberation movement, and yes, the gay liberation movement that began at Stonewall Inn, Greenwich Village, New York, as the decade turned to the Seventies.
In short, our venerable commissioners were quoting a scholar famous 60 years ago. I have taught Research Writing at the Ateneo de Manila University in the last 22 years, and one of the iron rules of research is this: your source should not only be the latest, but also the most authoritative and substantial source on the subject matter. How could a person who wrote 60 years ago still hold sway in a field -- biblical exegesis -- which even until now is like a minefield seen with different lenses of interpretation?
My father died on October 18 and my mother was dying a month later, when I received the news of rejection from the Comelec. Bedridden and having peritoneal dialysis treatments three times a day, we spared her the news that a national Comelec officer was lambasting me and Ang Ladlad on national TV with labels like "immoral" and "unfit for public office." She would die on November 19, we would bury her on November 24, and on November 25, I wore a black shirt and marched with hundreds of Ang Ladlad members in an indignation rally in front of Comelec. My speech that day was shot and uploaded in YouTube, and never have been so livid, so pure in my rage and my grief.
And in the ways that my parents told me -- to be brave and never to buckle down, to stand tall and to fight till the bitter end -- my lawyers and I filed a pleading with the Supreme Court, asking it to set aside the Comelec decision. We spent the whole of December -- our Christmas and New Year and holidays -- doing research,writing and rewriting our petition, secure in the thought that we were right. At the back of my lawyers' minds, they knew this case would set legal history. At the back of my mind, wracked with grief over my parents' consecutive deaths, I knew the best way to honor their memories would be to be brave and strong.
And so three days before the Supreme Court handed down its decision, I was visiting my parents' grave at Holy Cross Memorial Park. After lighting our candles and saying our prayers loudly, I touched the names of my parents inscribed in gold on the black granite, touched every single letter of those names I loved most, and asked them to help us with the Supreme Court decision.
Last Thursday, I was at the Rizal Library of the Ateneo de Manila University. I was gathering together the books I would put in the Reserve Section, so my students in the course Books of the Century in summer class would not buy the expensive books anymore. My cell phone flashed and I read a message from two journalists, telling me that the Supreme Court's decision was now posted on its website. "And you won!" It said in three brief letters. And. you. won.
The books I was holding -- the books of James Joyce and Virginia Woolf, of Albert Camus and Samuel Beckett, of T.S. Eliot and Rainer Maria Rilke, of Pablo Neruda and Gabriel Garcia Marquez, of Maxine Hong Kingston and Toni Morrison, of Franz Kafka and Derek Wolcott --these dozen books of the 20th century's best writers suddenly began to wobble, and almost fell from my hands.
But that was a week today. In today's newspapers, Bishop Deogracias Yniguez just said that people should not vote for Ang Ladlad because homosexuality is an aberration, and homosexuals are "abnormal." Since the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines said it will not push for nor oppose any candidacy, what then is the good bishop doing with his mealy-mouthed statements?
And this, in the 21st century, when the American Psychological Association, the American Psychiatric Association and the World Health Organization of the United Nations had already taken away homosexuality from its list of mental illnesses. And this, in the 21st-century Philippines, where cases of sexual abuse and pedophilia by Filipino priests have never been discussed in the open, like a person with sores festering in the closet.
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