Moving Towards a More Inclusive Police Force in the Philippines

Quezon, Philippines--Following last September’s round table discussions, between Filipino LGBTIQ groups, local officials, and United States Police Chief of Special Liaison Branch, Lt. Brett Parson, OutRight remains optimistic that Filipino law enforcement will grow to reflect the needs of LGBTIQ citizens.

The Commission of Human Rights (Philippines) played host to both U.S. dignitaries and local LGBTIQ advocates, Sept. 28-29 of 2017, in an effort to open up dialogue between police units and LGBTIQ citizens. As part of a sustainable development initiative, Filipino law enforcement--specifically in Quezon City (Northeast of Manila)--hopes that adopting more LGBTIQ inclusive training and procedures will better ensure the safety of LGBTIQ constituents. To seed positive change, six groups were invited by both Filipino Police Departments and Quezon officials to discuss implementing LGBTIQ-aware training.

The groups present included:

  • OutRight Action International

  • ASEAN SOGIE Caucus

  • Association of Transgender People in the Philippines

  • Psychological Association of the Philippines – LGBT Psychology Special Interest Group

  • GALANG Philippines

  • Commission on Human Rights

But, top-billing at these close-quartered meetings went to special invitee of the U.S. Embassy, Lt. Brett Parsons.

Lt. Parsons, of the Executive Office of the Metropolitan Police Department in Washington D.C., has spent more than a decade liaising with LGBTIQ, Latino, Asian and Deaf /Hard of Hearing communities. From 2001 to 2007, Lt. Parsons served as supervisor to the Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit. It was through this position that he first became a watchdog for LGBTIQ rights in law enforcement.

For years Lt. Parsons oversaw police proceedings with underrepresented communities in the U.S. Finally, in 2016, after internal restructuring, Lt. Parsons was again made head of the Special Liaison Unit (SLU), which was then promoted to the Executive Office of the Chief of Police. This promotion, the Washington Blade quoted D.C. Interim Police Chief Peter Newsham saying, “will only strengthen police-community relations with those that have been historically underserved.”

During Lt. Parson’s visit to Quezon, two separate round table discussions were held, to dissect current police protocol and compare LGBTIQ awareness to programs abroad. Lt. Parson’s attendance at these meetings is just one example of his effort to expand the LGBTIQ-friendly dialogue both in the U.S. and internationally. The hope is that the Philippines will soon be designing a program that will serve as Quezon’s, and perhaps more broadly the nation’s, own SLU.

The Philippines currently lacks legislation on a national scale that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and expression (SOGIE). In 2016, OutRight co-authored a report with NGO EnGender Rights (EGR) Philippines, to highlight the ongoing harm being done to LBT individuals due to a lack of representative legislation. The conclusion drawn from our collaborative research was that, despite the brief mention of LBT people in both the Philippine Magna Carta of Women and Anti-Rape Law, there are still massive hurdles to be jumped in order to eradicate LBT discrimination. These regional efforts to restructure police forces are just one of the many ways the Philippines can (and is) working to prevent, document, monitor and follow up on cases of abuse on the basis of SOGIE.

Quezon City is one such region, often regarded as a pioneer in Filipino SOGIE reform. The city is one of a select few that have passed ordinances to protect their LGBTIQ citizens, such as the Gender-Fair Ordinance.This policy is what initiated collaboration between LGBTIQ groups and the Q.C.P.D.

The round table discussions were fruitful and ignited intellectual conversations between all groups;. In the conversations  Lt. Parson noted that trainings and implementation of personnel engaging with the Special Liaison Branch should be voluntary. However, it is still to be seen whether this model will succeed in the Philippines.

In regards to voluntarism, despite the progressive society in the Philippines, the Philippine National Police still maintain a historically “macho-image” and culture of machismo. Being involved in LGBTIQ cases might be seen as emasculating--this may result in low turnout rate.

Additionally, there is a cost to training and implementation. While the Office of the Vice Mayor of Quezon, the Q.C.P.D. Director, and District Director all seem very eager to conduct trainings concerning SOGIE issues and monitor LGBTIQ discrimination, it is still unclear if such governments can shoulder the cost of creating an entirely new branch for LGBTIQ cases. It remains to be seen whether Quezon’s efforts to restructure will receive support from more central authorities.

But, no matter the cost of implementing new police branches like the SLU or amending training, these changes are necessary. There is an urgent need for authorities to follow Quezon’s lead and employ greater inclusivity nationally.

OutRight looks forward to continued engagement with Quezon officials and the police department, as they take measures to restructure their institutions to be more accepting of a community normally overlooked by authority figures and legislation. The initial steps regional bodies in the Philippines have taken advance the state of human rights are an encouraging model for how neighbors of the Southeast Asian region can painlessly incorporate new voices into their systems.