Around this time last week, Filipino netizens were rightfully indignant over the demeaning remarks that eight-division boxing world champion and Sarangani Rep. Manny Pacquiao said about people in same-sex relationships, which he described in a television interview as “masahol pa sa hayop” or worse than animals.
The negative reactions cascaded swiftly, from popular celebrities including Boy Abunda, Vice Ganda, and Lea Salonga as well as international sports figures like Magic Johnson. Pacquiao was eventually forced to apologize over his remarks, though not fast enough to prevent Nike from dropping him as a global brand endorser.
Honestly, I was surprised by the huge backlash that Pacquiao’s comments against LGBT people generated (“mas masahol pa sa hayop”), especially on social media.
Is it a sign that Filipinos now care about LGBT people especially when they are being used as a punching bag by ultra-conservatives? Or is there a silent majority that actually backs what Pacquiao said?
Call me pessimistic, but I doubt this gaffe would hurt his chances of getting elected as Senator. Unfortunately, I don’t think Pinoys value LGBT issues all that much. He may eventually lose his Senate bid, but this alone won’t sink his campaign.
It is easy to criticize Pacquiao for his abhorrent comments on LGBT people. It is also easy to boost the hashtag #LoveKnowsNoGender on social media. However, drowned out in all the fracas are these harsh realities:
1) Discussing about marriage equality here is still premature. Before we get to that point, legal protections for LGBT people in the area of public accommodation and employment must be in place first.
No gay or lesbian should be fired from his/her job just because of his/her sexual orientation. And also, no one should be barred from going anywhere just because he/she opts to cross-dress.
2) LGBT issues are not discussed at the national level. The truth is, it’s very rare for any national or local candidates to mention it at all in their respective campaign platforms. Compare this to the United States where the two likely standard bearers of President Barack Obama’s Democratic Party, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, are both supporting marriage equality.
3) LGBT issues are still not considered as bread-and-butter issues here in the Philippines despite the significant number of individuals belonging to the community. Obviously, a lot needs to be done before our society becomes more accepting of the plain truth that LGBTs deserve every right straights have – including eventually the right to marry and raise children.
While Pacquiao really deserved flak for his misinformed comments on homosexuality, it reached the point when the criticism directed to him by LGBTs and their allies already went overboard. The last thing they should let happen is for him to earn public sympathy by being depicted as an underdog.
It would have been better if the energy was instead redirected to educating the public about the real issues affecting LGBT people. Now that the issue is no longer “trending,” that opportunity may have already slipped away.