Why a local rap song was problematic, according to the pending SOGIE bill

Franco Luna - Philstar.com
Why a local rap song was problematic, according to the pending SOGIE bill
Erich Bongon's transphobic lyrics drew the ire of many on social media.
Instagram / Young Vito PH

MANILA, Philippines — Local rapper Erich Gabriel Bongon, known by his stage name "Young Vito," who was recently signed to Viva Records, was on the receiving end of much backlash on social media over the weekend for lyrics he penned that many bemoaned as transphobic. 

An earlier unproduced demo of the same song was released on his personal Twitter account months ago, which handed him similar attention. In the ensuing backlash, Bongon apologized for the song, saying, "I have recently found out how much my words can affect other people." His demo was not taken down. 

Despite this, Bongon went ahead with releasing a produced, mixed and mastered version of the song anyway upon his signing with Viva Records, who have yet to publish a statement on the matter. As of this writing, the record label has yet to respond to a request for comment from Philstar.com

Just personal experience?

Many defended his song as simply a narrative of one's personal experience. 

“Ang ganda niya pero parang may mali,” Bongon's lyrics read. 

(She's beautiful but it feels like there's something wrong.) 

Users on Twitter said that this framed transgender women as predatory, and that Viva Records was one "huge record label encouraging bullying and hate crimes against the trans community."

"They assume that Young Vito's experience is only to his and that it shouldn't affect anyone else," online personality and trans advocate Gigi Esguerra told Philstar.com in an online exchange. 

"What they fail to realize is that the issue with the song is that it is based on a systemic issue that has been affecting numerous transgender women around the world."

Esguerra, who was one of those who advocated for the song's removal on social media, said that despite the seemingly shallow nature of the hip-hop lyric, "those 'small, miniscule' moments of harassment contributes the continuously growing discrimination against our community."

"What one song can do can affect the lives of so many trans women in the country in the many many years to come," she added. 

In a statement released Saturday night, UP Babaylan, the state university's LGBTQ+ organization, demanded Viva Records to apologize for giving the song a platform, calling it a "shameless decision to capitalize on the controversy the song sparked" which they said "exposes how transphobia still thrives in the Philippine music industry."

"Musicians should stop using artistic freedom as an excuse to perpetuate harmful stereotypes and reinforce bigoted views against others," UP Babaylan said in their statement.

"Music should liberate, not discriminate."

What does the proposed bill say?

Perhaps the last case of transphobia that reached this level of prominence was that of Gretchen Diez, a transgender woman who was accosted for using the female restroom at a mall in Cubao, a clear violation of an existing anti-discrimination ordinance in Quezon City. 

Once the smoke cleared, Diez urged President Rodrigo Duterte in a meeting to classify the SOGIE Equality Bill as urgent, saying the chief executive himself made that promise to her.

This did not happen.   

The SOGIE Equality Bill has had a feeble history in its many attempts at hurdling Congress. It was initially filed in 2000 by then-Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago and then-Rep. Etta Rosales (Akbayan party-list) until it was eventually stalled in the Senate. 

And for today's SOGIE Equality Bill, much of the same fate has befallen it as it has faced staunch resistance in Congress. Senate President Vicente Sotto has said the bill would have "no chance" at passing the Senate if it “transgresses on academic freedom, religious freedom, and women’s rights.”

Along with differentiating gender identity and gender expression, the current iteration of the bill defines hate crimes as criminal offenses that are "motivated in whole or in part by the offender's bias against gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression."

It also lists specific discriminatory practices on the basis of gender expression and identity, such as denying access to public, military or health services, including sexual orientation as a criterion for work, refusing admission or application to an educational, professional or training institution, and imposing disciplinary sanctions, among others. 

Section 4I in particular reads: 

Engaging in public speech meant to shame, insult, vilify, or which tends to incite or normalize the commission of discriminatory practices against LGBTs and which acts or practices in turn, intimidate them or result in the loss of their self-esteem. 

Esguerra, too, said that the discrimination felt by trans people happens "by way of ridding us of various opportunities in healthcare, workplaces, schools, etc."

Moving forward

According to the "Artists" page on their official website, Viva Records is also home to other artists including Billy Crawford, Matteo Guidicelli, Nadine Lustre, Sarah Geronimo and Yassi Pressman. Bongon is nowhere to be found on the same page. 

As of this writing, the song has been taken down from both Spotify and YouTube. 

But for the LGBTQ+ community, the battle is not won until it's tackled on a systemic level.

For many of the community's members, this starts with policy and legislation that secures them of their rights against discrimination.

But today, the SOGIE Equality Bill still largely lies suspended in limbo. 

"I'm so grateful that there was this conversation to begin with because now, more people see transgender people with more humanity," said Esguerra. 

"We are given a face in society, that we are a marginalized community that will not stop until we get the equality we have been longing for."

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