Commentary: Duterte – The first bakla president

NO other president than Rodrigo Duterte has ever done this: To refer to himself as “bakla.” Unashamed, he referred to himself as one not just once but several times.

Bakla is an umbrella term that Filipinos use to refer to gay men and transgender/transsexual women. Pejoratively, the term is used to mean cowardice.

The first time I remember him doing that was during his interview with Vice Ganda in July 2015. In March 2016, during a campaign sortie in Ilocos Norte, Duterte, while answering a question from transgender women, who he referred to in their preferred gender, claimed that he was also bakla.


And more recently, addressing the LGBT community in Davao City, he once again referred to himself as bakla.

Whether or not he is or was indeed bakla is beside the point. The mere fact that he does refer to himself as one is nothing short of extraordinary. It’s a symbolic act of showing solidarity with the LGBT community.

I’m not really surprised by his recent pronouncement vowing to protect the LGBT community against discrimination. He has always been an ally of our community.

During the 2016 elections, I was already defending Duterte’s LGBT track record. I even wrote a post addressing Congresswoman Geraldine Roman’s statement addressing the “bayot” remark of Duterte. When I met Roman in Madrid in June this year, I told her that what she did at that time was a mistake.

Among the presidential candidates, I said, Duterte had the proven track record when it came to LGBT rights. I have known this since 2003, when I visited Davao City to do field work for a research project on transgender women by a professor in the University of Hong Kong. IWAG Dabaw, the LGBT organization in Davao City, told me that their number one supporter was Mayor Duterte. That was why they could freely organize.

In 2009, when the Commission on Elections (Comelec) denied accreditation to the Ladlad LGBT party-list for the 2010 elections, Duterte was the first public official to defend the organization.

Addressing Comelec Commissioner Nicodemo Ferrer, Duterte said: “You cannot deny representation to any group. Who are you to deny them? That’s prejudice.”

Then Duterte urged Ladlad to file a case and said: “You’re lucky because had I been gay, I would have led the protest. What if I am really gay? What can you do?” (Philippine Star, “Duterte defends Ang Ladlad, November 24, 2009).

In December 2012, Davao City passed the anti-discrimination ordinance. Then Vice Mayor Duterte was the one who urged the local council to pass it. He cited an incident involving a transgender woman who was slapped by a woman for entering the restroom for females. “That woman should have considered the human side of it,” Duterte said. (Philippine Daily Inquirer, December 14, 2012).

He’s the first Philippine president to appoint to a high-ranking government position an out transgender man — Aiza Seguerra, who served as the chairman of the National Youth Commission.

Last year, under the leadership of Judy Taguiwalo, the Department of Social Welfare and Development issued a circular allowing their employees to dress according to their gender identity. A victory for their transgender employees.

Now, Duterte has shown support for same-sex marriage. But as I said in my Facebook blog (@forthemotherlandph), I would rather have another law giving legal recognition on the partnerships of couples regardless of their gender.

For pragmatic reasons, I don’t agree with amending the laws on marriage. I prefer having a new law on civil partnership available to couples of any gender combination. Same rules though on age and consent. The civil partnership would allow the couples to share property; be each other’s next of kin; be each other’s automatic beneficiaries in their insurance, SSS, etc. They can avail of sick leave to care for their partners and tax exemptions; be the registered parents of the kids they would raise; and all other legal rights and responsibilities that couples should have.

No forcing of churches and religious groups to change their definition of marriage. Leave the legal definition of traditional marriage alone. Less friction. Let them keep their tradition. Peaceful co-existence with the religious is possible.

And this is how we do it: We respect their tradition, and they respect how the state affords legal recognition to the consensual, loving, and committed partnership people forge in their lives.

Everybody happy. Love wins. And this will only be possible under the presidency of the first bakla president — Duterte!

(Published in The Manila Times on 21 December 2017)

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