For the past eight years, women and members of the LGBTQIA+ community at Bicol University (BU) have been subject to restriction and discrimination due to conservative attitudes and prejudices in policymaking at the administrative level. With the Mascariñas administration nearing its conclusion, the fight for equality and inclusivity is set anew before the BU presidential selection.
The upcoming BU presidential selection presents three possibilities: the establishment of a more equitable and prioritized system, the continuation of the existing structure, or a decrease in the quality of leadership. As the women and queer community in BU remember the shortcomings of the current administration, they hold expectations, dreams, and emotions that hint at their vision of the "new" BU in the coming four years.
To Covet But To Not Forget
Bicol University under its current administration has shown tolerance for the queer community on campus. This tolerance is visible through how queer students are allowed to express their gender identities, such as wearing clothing of their choice, as well as having a designated comfort room for their use in the College of Arts and Letters (CAL). While the University has embraced this level of tolerance, the queer community covets but does not forget.
In the 2022 BU General Legislative Assembly, JV Zepeda, fondly known as “Inang Magenta,” raised concerns in her privileged speech regarding prejudice and discrimination against the LGBTQIA+ community within the university. She noted the gender-based harassment of a student from the Polangui Campus, the hair-cutting issues at the College of Education, and the rejection of a resolution that would have allowed students to wear graduation clothing based on their gender expression.
“More legal bases and a stronger argument shall be presented to the admin and academic council for this particular approval,” Asher Jade Azul, University Student Council (USC) President said about the reason for the resolution’s rejection.
She also added that although there had not been any provision in the past guidelines that specifically prohibited students from wearing graduation clothes based on their gender expression, they are now lobbying for an institutionalized system that will allow them to do so.
“Sa tingin ko, hindi pa masyado LGBTQIA+ friendly ang ating paaralan sapagkat napakaraming bagay pa ang dapat bigyang aksyon. Halimbawa na lamang ay ang komitment ng pagkakapantay-pantay ng kasarian, aktibidad, impormasyon, at polisiyang nagsisilbi sa mga indibidwal na LGBTQIA+. Isa itong malaking hamon sa susunod na presidente ng pamantasan – sa kung papaano mapupunan ang mga lapses pag dating sa isyung ito,” Kyle Hendrix Diesta, a third-year BS Social Work student, said.
He added that while BU is tolerant of the LGBTQIA+ community, its level of acceptance remains relatively low. This is particularly evident in the policies of BUCAL and the Jesse M. Robredo Institute of Good Governance and Development (JMRIGD), which are more lenient on campuses it comes to the dress and hair code compared to other colleges in the university.
When asked about this inconsistent implementation of leniency on the campus, Azul stated that USC is looking into these matters with careful consideration, as there are still cases that need to be addressed especially that ARISE, the branding of the current USC, aims to focus on policy-making, with all concerns from academics, safety and security, financial aspects, and rights & welfare of the students, particularly for the LGBTQIA+ community, being taken into account.
Now that the university is at a critical juncture, Azul of USC and Diesta of CSSP have resonating ideas for the next BU President.
Diesta is seeking a leader who is open to and tolerant of the LGBTQIA+ community and has policies and initiatives dedicated to eliminating discrimination and addressing gender-based issues at BU.
Azul lists a leader with a mindset inclined to the betterment of every individual and possesses respect for the criticisms of students as her standards for the next university president.
“Isang presidenteng may malawakang pag iisip patungkol sa kapakanan ng bawat indibidwal. Isang presidenteng may respeto sa pahayag ng bawat estudyante, san man sila galing, ano man ang kanilang mga pinagmulan at pinaglalaban,” Azul said.
Decency and its definition at BU
Over 53 years, BU has established its character through its scholars who illustrated leadership and contributed service to their homeland and the world. The region and its culture changed synchronously with BU in its timeline. The influence of the United on the Bicolanos, in their means and ways of life, is gravely immense that every word it defines counts.
In this modern era where diversity is gradually unfolding its meaning for society to accept, gender, dress, and expression are some of the keywords it entails; these three must first conform to the varying definition of decency to propel a positive connotation to diversity.
Bicol University, as one of the premier institutions of education in the country, carries a vast pressure in portraying the definition of decency in its community as its primary goal should be to cater to the good of everyone, not only to specific groups of people. Decency occurs in many definitions by sectors in the university; one most relevant is its meaning in clothing.
As stated in the revised Student Handbook in 2019, inappropriate attire is one that is unacceptable by the specific culture. If so, then the idea of culturally acceptable, what it means, is now what defines decency. However, people are so diverse that up to now, no definite standard of culture is known, which leaves decency in an unstable stand; only reliant on how people will define and implement it. Fairness will then come up to challenge the authority about how there should be one knowing the instability and chaotic definition of decency in culture-based dictionaries.
How short is too short?
When one faces a question about length, two words are instantaneously in mind: short and long. Having something short basically means it isn't long enough, but to determine such is surely uneasy. Short is a relevant word used to define just about anything. It can be a description, just a word, but sometimes it is also the problem.
In institutions such as BU, dress codes are not inevitable. Dress codes are in place to maintain decency and boundaries in the professional and informal fields, as is often said. However, decency is so profound that dress codes barely meet the minimum in fulfilling it. Now, if there should be a policy on how one should dress inside the campus, the administration must determine when is short or too short.
Determining how short is too short should not only care about giving constriction on the length of freedom to dress how you want. It is a known fact that wardrobe doesn't always equate to who a person is and how to treat someone. It is also important to note that clothing gives freedom of expression.
Short can be too short if one invalidates the creativity shown in what one wears. Short can be too short if the people who implement the dress code become biased and judgemental of how one desires to dress. And short can be too short if one disregards the idea that there is a problem with how institutions convey dress codes to their scope.
It isn't just about the length of the dress; it is about the fairness and the relevance of these regulations.
The Skirt and its Share of Thoughts
The person who wears skirts is often the one who experiences unjust judgments and discrimination in their way of clothing. Hearing what the skirt has to say about this dress code and its implementation might be a coherent means to address any luring injustice.
Angelica Panique, a third-year Bachelor of Science in Accountancy student from the Daraga campus, says, "Adhering to the dress code set out by the university reveals the students' level of discipline and commitment to the institution's mission and vision." For her, the dress code is relevant to the institution only in that it should be gender-friendly, which means that one shouldn't be limited to how one wants to dress just because of culturally accepted norms of dressing based solely on sexual orientation.
Honey Ann Penes, who is also a third-year student of Bachelor of Elementary Education from the Main Campus, shared that she believes that now that it is already the 21st century, the perception and relevance of things have already changed. The world is now in a progressive era where clothes no longer define decency.
"I can wear shorts and still, it does not mean anything aside from I am more comfortable wearing shorts. I can be decent and still wear short skirts,” she added.
On the idea of following the culturally accepted norms on dressing, three other interviewees who chose to remain anonymous hailing from the East, Daraga, and Tabaco campus think that it is far more beneficial now to dress according to what one feels and what one wants as it showcases the freedom of expression. Decency, as defined by the interviewees, is not all about the way one dress, but the way one acts and behaves. Being responsible and acting accordingly is how one portrays decency, they emphasized.
In the implementation of the dress code, some of the interviewees showed dismay as to its alleged unfairness. As some shared that there are campuses that reprimand others but tolerate others. They added how the firmness of the implementation to women and the LGBTQIA+ somehow looks like discrimination and suppression of the freedom of expression. It is a hope to them that the authorities find ways to have the dress code be just and fair to each gender and hear the voices of the ones who experience the challenges brought by it.
What Women Mean to Us Today
When you hear the word "woman," what comes to mind? Some will say the words and phrases: weak and incapable of keeping up with men. However, aren't we aware that women can also achieve greatness like men? Aren't they able to compete? Share their knowledge? And most importantly, they can complete tasks that others claim men cannot.
Women also perform great academically as numerous universities demonstrated; one of them is Bicol University, which is known as a world-class university and has a large number of women who have graduated with honors.
The performance of women in licensure examinations is another example. Recently, Shanna Mae Goyena, a BU Institute of Design and Architecture (BU-IDEA) alumna made it to the top notchers as top 2 in the recently concluded 2022 Architecture Licensure Examination. Six Bueño women also passed and became top notchers in the 2022 Nursing Licensure Examination. Pamela Peña from the Main Campus ranked eighth place, Claire Ann Lou Lumbes and Choan Neo who are both from BU Polangui Campus (BUPC) ranked ninth, and in tenth place were Jan Mariell Elnar, who is also from BUPC, and Mary Claire Garcia and Mikhaila Yvonne Llaneta both hailing from BU Main. They are just some of the thousands of Bueño women who passed and topped their Licensure Examination.
But why do women still face discrimination despite these accomplishments? In this circumstance, what kind of solution is the administration implementing, if any, to prevent such incidents?
Laws that Protect Women
Republic Act No. 7192 - Women in Development and Nation Building Act
Equality of opportunity and treatment, the Act intends to promote the integration of women as full and equal partners with men in development and nation-building. The National Economic and Development Authority is given primary responsibility for carrying out the purposes of the Act. The Act grants women, regardless of their marital status, full legal capacity to act and to enter into contracts. It grants them equal access to membership in all social, civic, and recreational clubs as well as the right of admission into military schools. Full-time homemakers shall have the right to participate in government-sponsored social security schemes.
Republic Act No. 9710 - Magna Carta of Women
The Magna Carta of Women is a comprehensive women’s human rights law that seeks to eliminate discrimination against women by recognizing, protecting, fulfilling, and promoting the rights of Filipino women, especially those in marginalized sectors.
The Magna Carta of Women defines discrimination against women as:
- Any gender-based distinction, exclusion, or restriction which has the effect or purpose of impairing or nullifying the recognition, enjoyment, or exercise by women, irrespective of their marital status, on a basis of equality of men and women, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field;
- Any act or omission, including by law, policy, administrative measure, or practice, that directly or indirectly excludes or restricts women in the recognition and promotion of their rights and their access to and enjoyment of opportunities, benefits, or privileges;
- A measure or practice of general application that fails to provide for mechanisms to offset or address sex or gender-based disadvantages or limitations of women, as a result of which women are denied or restricted in the recognition and protection of their rights and their access to and enjoyment of opportunities, benefits, or privileges; or women, more than men are shown to have suffered the greater adverse effects of those measures or practices; and
- Discrimination compounded by or intersecting with other grounds, status, or condition, such as ethnicity, age, poverty, or religion.
Republic Act No. 9262 - Anti-Violence Against Women and Their Children Act of 2004.
This is an act defining violence against women and their children, providing protective measures for victims, prescribing penalties therefore, and for other purposes. It is a law that seeks to address the prevalence of violence against women and their children (VAWC) by their intimate partners like their husband or ex-husband, live-in partner or former live-in partner, boyfriend/girlfriend or ex-boyfriend/ex-girlfriend, dating partner or former dating partner.
It refers to any act or a series of acts committed by an intimate partner (husband, ex-husband, live-in partner, boyfriend/girlfriend, fiance, with who the woman had sexual/dating relationship):
- against a woman who is his wife, former wife;
- against a woman with whom the person has or had a sexual or dating relationship;
- against women with whom he has a common child; or
- against her child whether legitimate or illegitimate within or without the family abode,
Of which results in or is likely to result in physical, sexual, psychological harm or suffering or economic abuse including threats of such acts, battery, assault, coercion, harassment, or arbitrary deprivation of liberty.
The BUeño Women
Ludy Ann Encinas, a first-year Bachelor of Public Administration student, shared that she experienced discrimination inside the BU campus, hearing things such as her being weak because she is a woman.
"Kung may nais man akong iparating sa kaniya [to the new president of BU] tungkol sa usaping ito, yun ay dapat na magkaroon ng polisiya o mga patakaran ang Bicol University para maiwasan ang diskriminasyon. Dahil naniniwala ako na lahat tayo ay may karapatan sa lahat ng bagay, at ang mga babae ay may kaya ring gawin na ginagawa ng lalaki, kahit ang pamunuan ang kanyang mamamayan. Dahil ang babae ay tagapaglingkod na hindi lamang utak ang ginagamit kundi may halong puso at dangal sa kanyang ginagawa," Encinas said.
Quincia Balderama, a first-year student taking up a Bachelor of Science in Entrepreneurship, shared that to avoid problems like these discriminations, the university’s leadership needs to develop programs that will help women everywhere not to be afraid, to tell the truth, and address this issue.
Arabella Peñaranda, a third-year Bachelor of Arts in Psychology also shared her observation regarding the issue.
"So far within the premises Ng Bicol University wala pa naman, but I observed yung mga jokes na talagang nakakaapekto sa kanilang morals and they feel something lesser of human beings," Peñaranda said.
She added that if she is granted the opportunity to have small talks to the Bicol University Administration, she suggests holding seminars with the primary goals of promoting gender equality and gender sensitivity for all BU students.
"Sana maging aware sila [BU administration] at ma-educate ang lahat ukol sa issue na ito. Magkaisa ang lahat para mabawasan ang mga pangyayari katulad nito [discrimination] sa ating Unibersidad," an anonymous student from the Main Campus said.
Another anonymous student who took a Bachelor of Science in Chemistry and is currently in her second year shared her experiences.
“Yes, it affected me in a way that I started questioning myself and my capabilities as a woman, I just kept on reminding myself that I am not just a woman and I can also do what a man can do. And if I were given a chance to talk to the upcoming president of this University, I will tell him/her to spread more information about this issue as it may affect someone greatly."
Cristal Lyka Alaurin, a first-year Bachelor of Public Administrator student also shared her experience.
"Actually, I have experienced "cat calling," as I am the type of girl who dresses in crop tops, pants, t-shirts, blouses, and dresses. I know I don't look like anything, but we all know there are boys who will look at you differently. They will discriminate against you even if you wear a long palda or a large t-shirt. They could still summon you. It has such an impact on me that I don't want to go outside alone because it causes me trauma. It's difficult to move on when I see boys behind me and I'm alone. I'm worried because I believe they have bad plans for me which is unfortunate because I became judgmental, which is unhealthy, but I can't blame myself because of my experience, and I know that even boys have gone through what I went through."
She also said, "Katarungan ng isa katumbas ng katarungan ng madla, ang diskriminasyon ay nilulutas hindi ipinagpapabukas."
"Yes, minsan nga napapa-tanong ako sa sarili ko, what if kung lalaki na lang ako? or something that goes along those lines. I stood my ground na lang. Since hindi naman ganon kalala, I just brush those issues off. It's not a helpful advice since alam ko may mga mas malala pang pinagdaanan yung iba kesa sakin,” another anonymous student from BU College of Education said.
The notion that being a woman makes you weak, that being a man makes you stronger and better, and that being a part of the LGBTQIA+ community makes students more vulnerable as targets for insults, teasing, and disdain, which will never be right. Each gender possesses uniqueness; just because we can do something that they can't, doesn't mean that we should compare ourselves to them.
Even though there are still individuals who have something to say because the world in which they grew up differs from the world in which we live today, it is still insufficient for them to express an opinion that will cause harm to others. Even if we wrap our bodies, we can't avoid being rude if it's the person's real intention or if it's already a habit. Clothing, on the other hand, will never be a reason for others to be rude. But keep in mind that there is a limit to what we can wear. Even though we are free to wear whatever we want, we still need to dress appropriately, especially when we go to school or church, where appropriate attire is required.
People have the freedom to express one’s preferred gender and be accepted as such and are free to wear what they want. Dress codes are only supposed to guide people in dressing accordingly. Everyone is valid in this society and no one must dictate one’s character. If the implementation of dress codes dictates suppression and discrimination, and when people deny their identity, it is up to the authorities to come up with a solution that serves fairness and justice to all.
The holes should not just be sewn hastily; consulting the person who experienced it, managing the extent of the problem, and applying appropriate solutions are what the wearer of the skirt seeks in the next president of our university.
Ma. Lani Balderas is a Bachelor of Science in Chemistry student at the BU College of Science. She joined the Universitarian in 2020 as a staff writer and was assigned to cover gender and development.
Jimwell Tanay is a Bachelor of Arts in Communication student at the BU College of Arts and Letters. He joined the Universitarian in 2020 as a Public Relations Staff and was assigned to cover gender and development.Mar Eiler Barquin is a Bachelor of Public Administration student at the BU Jesse M. Robredo Institute of Governance and Development. He joined the Universitarian in 2023 as a Public Relations Staff and was assigned to cover gender and development.