Ponente: DEL CASTILLO, J.
Decision Date: 2010-04-08
GR Number: G.R. No. 190582
Petitioner, Ang Ladlad, assails the decision of the COMELEC in denying their application for registration to run as in the party-list system. According to COMELEC, the motive of the petitioner is immoral based on the teachings in the Bible and Kora. Petitioner assailed the decision of COMELEC before the SC. In overturning the decision of COMELEC, the SC explained that the decision of COMELEC violates secularity of our law. It also violates equal protection clause, freedom of expression and some principles of international law.
1) The morality referred to in the law is public and necessarily secular, not religious as the dissent of Mr. Justice Carpio holds. "Religious teachings as expressed in public debate may influence the civil public order but public moral disputes may be resolved only on grounds articulable in secular terms." Otherwise, if government relies upon religious beliefs in formulating public policies and morals, the resulting policies and morals would require conformity to what some might regard as religious programs or agenda. The non-believers would therefore be compelled to conform to a standard of conduct buttressed by a religious belief, i.e., to a "compelled religion," anathema to religious freedom. Likewise, if government based its actions upon religious beliefs, it would tacitly approve or endorse that belief and thereby also tacitly disapprove contrary religious or non-religious views that would not support the policy. As a result, government will not provide full religious freedom for all its citizens, or even make it appear that those whose beliefs are disapproved are second-class citizens.
In other words, government action, including its proscription of immorality as expressed in criminal law like concubinage, must have a secular purpose. That is, the government proscribes this conduct because it is "detrimental (or dangerous) to those conditions upon which depend the existence and progress of human society" and not because the conduct is proscribed by the beliefs of one religion or the other. Although admittedly, moral judgments based on religion might have a compelling influence on those engaged in public deliberations over what actions would be considered a moral disapprobation punishable by law. After all, they might also be adherents of a religion and thus have religious opinions and moral codes with a compelling influence on them; the human mind endeavors to regulate the temporal and spiritual institutions of society in a uniform manner, harmonizing earth with heaven. Succinctly put, a law could be religious or Kantian or Aquinian or utilitarian in its deepest roots, but it must have an articulable and discernible secular purpose and justification to pass scrutiny of the religion clauses. x x x Recognizing the religious nature of the Filipinos and the elevating influence of religion in society, however, the Philippine constitution's religion clauses prescribe not a strict but a benevolent neutrality. Benevolent neutrality recognizes that government must pursue its secular goals and interests but at the same time strive to uphold religious liberty to the greatest extent possible within flexible constitutional limits. Thus, although the morality contemplated by laws is secular, benevolent neutrality could allow for accommodation of morality based on religion, provided it does not offend compelling state interests
2) A person may be sexually attracted to a person of the same gender, of a different gender, or more than one gender, but mere attraction does not translate to immoral acts. There is a great divide between thought and action. Reduction ad absurdum. If immoral thoughts could be penalized, COMELEC would have its hands full of disqualification cases against both the "straights" and the gays." Certainly this is not the intendment of the law
3) We also find the COMELEC's reference to purported violations of our penal and civil laws flimsy, at best; disingenuous, at worst. Article 694 of the Civil Code defines a nuisance as "any act, omission, establishment, condition of property, or anything else which shocks, defies, or disregards decency or morality," the remedies for which are a prosecution under the Revised Penal Code or any local ordinance, a civil action, or abatement without judicial proceedings. A violation of Article 201 of the Revised Penal Code, on the other hand, requires proof beyond reasonable doubt to support a criminal conviction. It hardly needs to be emphasized that mere allegation of violation of laws is not proof, and a mere blanket invocation of public morals cannot replace the institution of civil or criminal proceedings and a judicial determination of liability or culpability.
4) The principle of non-discrimination is laid out in Article 26 of the ICCPR, as follows:
All persons are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to the equal protection of the law. In this respect, the law shall prohibit any discrimination and guarantee to all persons equal and effective protection against discrimination on any ground such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.
In this context, the principle of non-discrimination requires that laws of general application relating to elections be applied equally to all persons, regardless of sexual orientation. Although sexual orientation is not specifically enumerated as a status or ratio for discrimination in Article 26 of the ICCPR, the ICCPR Human Rights Committee has opined that the reference to "sex" in Article 26 should be construed to include "sexual orientation." Additionally, a variety of United Nations bodies have declared discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation to be prohibited under various international agreements.
Every citizen shall have the right and the opportunity, without any of the distinctions mentioned in article 2 and without unreasonable restrictions:
(a) To take part in the conduct of public affairs, directly or through freely chosen representatives;
(b) To vote and to be elected at genuine periodic elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret ballot, guaranteeing the free expression of the will of the electors;
(c) To have access, on general terms of equality, to public service in his country.
Ang Ladlad is an organization composed of men and women who identify themselves as lesbians, gays, bisexuals, or trans-gendered individuals (LGBTs). Incorporated in 2003, Ang Ladlad first applied for registration with the COMELEC in 2006. The application for accreditation was denied on the ground that the organization had no substantial membership base.
Before the COMELEC, petitioner argued that the LGBT community is a marginalized and under-represented sector that is particularly disadvantaged because of their sexual orientation and gender identity; that LGBTs are victims of exclusion, discrimination, and violence; that because of negative societal attitudes, LGBTs are constrained to hide their sexual orientation
The COMELEC (Second Division) dismissed the Petition on moral grounds, stating that:
In Romans 1:26, 27, Paul wrote:
For this cause God gave them up into vile affections, for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompense of their error which was meet.
In the Koran, the hereunder verses are pertinent:
For ye practice your lusts on men in preference to women "ye are indeed a people transgressing beyond bounds." (7.81) "And we rained down on them a shower (of brimstone): Then see what was the end of those who indulged in sin and crime!" (7:84) "He said: "O my Lord! Help Thou me against people who do mischief" (29:30).
The ANG LADLAD apparently advocates sexual immorality. It also collides with Article 1306 of the Civil Code: `The contracting parties may establish such stipulations, clauses, terms and conditions as they may deem convenient, provided they are not contrary to law, morals, good customs, public order or public policy. Art 1409 of the Civil Code provides that `Contracts whose cause, object or purpose is contrary to law, morals, good customs, public order or public policy' are inexistent and void from the beginning.
Art. 201 (of Revised Penal Code).Immoral doctrines, obscene publications and exhibitions, and indecent shows. The penalty of prision mayor or a fine ranging from six thousand to twelve thousand pesos, or both such imprisonment and fine, shall be imposed upon:
1.Those who shall publicly expound or proclaim doctrines openly contrary to public morals
Furthermore, should this Commission grant the petition, we will be exposing our youth to an environment that does not conform to the teachings of our faith. Lehman Strauss, a famous bible teacher and writer in the U.S.A. said in one article that "older practicing homosexuals are a threat to the youth."
Whether or not, Ang Ladlad organization should be allowed to be registered to run for party-list election.
In ruling in the affirmative, the SC explained that the reliance of COMELEC to Bible and Koran is not within the principles of secularity of the law. It explained that: "We are not blind to the fact that, through the years, homosexual conduct, and perhaps homosexuals themselves, have borne the brunt of societal disapproval. It is not difficult to imagine the reasons behind this censure - religious beliefs, convictions about the preservation of marriage, family, and procreation, even dislike or distrust of homosexuals themselves and their perceived lifestyle. Nonetheless, we recall that the Philippines has not seen fit to criminalize homosexual conduct. Evidently, therefore, these "generally accepted public morals" have not been convincingly transplanted into the realm of law.
A person may be sexually attracted to a person of the same gender, of a different gender, or more than one gender, but mere attraction does not translate to immoral acts. There is a great divide between thought and action. Reduction ad absurdum. If immoral thoughts could be penalized, COMELEC would have its hands full of disqualification cases against both the "straights" and the gays." Certainly this is not the intendment of the law.
We also find the COMELEC's reference to purported violations of our penal and civil laws flimsy, at best; disingenuous, at worst. Article 694 of the Civil Code defines a nuisance as "any act, omission, establishment, condition of property, or anything else which shocks, defies, or disregards decency or morality," the remedies for which are a prosecution under the Revised Penal Code or any local ordinance, a civil action, or abatement without judicial proceedings. A violation of Article 201 of the Revised Penal Code, on the other hand, requires proof beyond reasonable doubt to support a criminal conviction. It hardly needs to be emphasized that mere allegation of violation of laws is not proof, and a mere blanket invocation of public morals cannot replace the institution of civil or criminal proceedings and a judicial determination of liability or culpability."
The SC also upheld the principle of Equal Protection, thus:
Despite the absolutism of Article III, Section 1 of our Constitution, which provides "nor shall any person be denied equal protection of the laws," courts have never interpreted the provision as an absolute prohibition on classification. "Equality," said Aristotle, "consists in the same treatment of similar persons."
The COMELEC posits that the majority of the Philippine population considers homosexual conduct as immoral and unacceptable, and this constitutes sufficient reason to disqualify the petitioner. Unfortunately for the respondent, the Philippine electorate has expressed no such belief. No law exists to criminalize homosexual behavior or expressions or parties about homosexual behavior. Indeed, even if we were to assume that public opinion is as the COMELEC describes it, the asserted state interest here - that is, moral disapproval of an unpopular minority - is not a legitimate state interest that is sufficient to satisfy rational basis review under the equal protection clause. The COMELEC's differentiation, and its unsubstantiated claim that Ang Ladlad cannot contribute to the formulation of legislation that would benefit the nation, furthers no legitimate state interest other than disapproval of or dislike for a disfavored group.
From the standpoint of the political process, the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender have the same interest in participating in the party-list system on the same basis as other political parties similarly situated. State intrusion in this case is equally burdensome. Hence, laws of general application should apply with equal force to LGBTs, and they deserve to participate in the party-list system on the same basis as other marginalized and under-represented sectors.
The SC also upheld the Freedom of Expression:
Freedom of expression constitutes one of the essential foundations of a democratic society, and this freedom applies not only to those that are favorably received but also to those that offend, shock, or disturb. Any restriction imposed in this sphere must be proportionate to the legitimate aim pursued. Absent any compelling state interest, it is not for the COMELEC or this Court to impose its views on the populace. Otherwise stated, the COMELEC is certainly not free to interfere with speech for no better reason than promoting an approved message or discouraging a disfavored one.
This position gains even more force if one considers that homosexual conduct is not illegal in this country. It follows that both expressions concerning one's homosexuality and the activity of forming a political association that supports LGBT individuals are protected as well.
Other jurisdictions have gone so far as to categorically rule that even overwhelming public perception that homosexual conduct violates public morality does not justify criminalizing same-sex conduct. European and United Nations judicial decisions have ruled in favor of gay rights claimants on both privacy and equality grounds, citing general privacy and equal protection provisions in foreign and international texts. To the extent that there is much to learn from other jurisdictions that have reflected on the issues we face here, such jurisprudence is certainly illuminating. These foreign authorities, while not formally binding on Philippine courts, may nevertheless have persuasive influence on the Court's analysis.
In the area of freedom of expression, for instance, United States courts have ruled that existing free speech doctrines protect gay and lesbian rights to expressive conduct. In order to justify the prohibition of a particular expression of opinion, public institutions must show that their actions were caused by "something more than a mere desire to avoid the discomfort and unpleasantness that always accompany an unpopular viewpoint."
WHEREFORE, the Petition is hereby GRANTED. The Resolutions of the Commission on Elections dated November 11, 2009 and December 16, 2009 in SPP No. 09-228 (PL) are hereby SET ASIDE. The Commission on Elections is directed to GRANT petitioner's application for party-list accreditation.