On the night of July 13, 1966 a jobless merchant seaman, after having consumed several drinks, entered a student nurses’ home in the southeast side of Chicago. Armed with a revolver and a switchblade, he demanded money from the residents. Terrified, the nurses obliged. Drunk, he lingered in the house for an hour. Then he decided to kill the nurses. He led the women in singles or pairs to other rooms where he stabbed or strangled them.
During the times he was out of the room, one nurse slithered under a bunkbed. After brutally killing eight women, including two Filipinas, the intruder walked out of the house, forgetting that he had come upon nine residents that night.
After a massive manhunt, Richard Speck was captured. At the trial in April of 1967, the lone survivor, Filipina nurse Corazon Amurao, gave 133 pages of testimony, leading to the conviction of Speck.
Corazon eventually returned to the Philippines as the celebrity who survived the Crime of the Century. (That is the title of the book about the macabre massacre.) Corazon felt that having lived to tell the story qualified her for public office. The people of Bataan thought so, too. They elected her member of the board of the province.
That has been the story of the electoral process in the Philippines. Fame, whether gained as a movie star, basketball player, prizefighter, failed coup plotter, TV news reader, teller of toilet jokes, next of kin of a national figure, or as a mere witness or survivor of a horrible event, has been the main qualification for election to the provincial board, city council, and Congress. “Da King of Movies,” who did not have the academic grounding nor the least bit of experience in governance, almost made it to the presidency.
In the early afternoon of Aug. 13, a 28-year-old mall goer was about to enter the women’s restroom in the Farmer’s Market mall in Cubao, Quezon City when the janitress blocked the woman from entering the toilet. The woman initially walked away but went back to the janitress and asked her to repeat what she had said earlier, taking a video of the encounter with her phone’s camera.
That the woman was recording the confrontation angered the janitress, who dragged her across the mall to a dilapidated office where she was detained, cuffed, and shamed by the mall staff. Not getting any explanation from any of them for her detention, she told them she wanted to talk to the police.
The woman was brought from the mall to the Cubao police station. Police officers then brought her to the Quirino Memorial Medical Center for medical test. From there she was transferred to the Quezon City Police District’s Anti-Cybercrime Division in Camp Karingal. She was eventually brought back to the Cubao station. The officers could not decide what charges to file against her.
The woman walked free hours after her arrest, at around 11:30 p.m., after the janitress decided to drop her complaint. The janitress, in a written letter to Gretchen Diez, apologized and said she was “willing to learn LGBT rights.”
Her arrest drew immediate mass media attention and became the topic of many social media conversations. Her recent schedule was filled with a series of appearances on TV talk shows.
Politicians and entertainment celebrities were quick to rally behind her. Officials of Quezon City, where there is an anti-discrimination ordinance, asked why the untoward incident happened at all. The Senate conducted an investigation in aid of legislation — the passage of the SOGIE (sexual orientation and gender identity and expression) Equality Bill. Bataan 1st District Rep. Geraldine Roman, the first transgender member of the House of Representatives, brought her to Malacañang for an audience with President Rodrigo Duterte. Senator Bong Go said that the government is planning to organize a national LGBTQ+ convention for its members to raise their concerns.
Suddenly, Gretchen Diez, who just needed to pee, became the new face of the LGBTQ+ movement in the Philippines. She vowed to “pursue legal action” to make sure that what happened to her does not happen to any trans woman in any part of the country.
Some Filipinos have questioned her motives, branding her making a big issue out of the honest mistake of a janitress who was clueless about LGBTQ+ rights as political opportunism. Well, given the political process in the Philippines where fame, no matter how gained, qualifies one for public office, the emergence of Gretchen Diez as a politician may not be far in the future. In fact, she had expressed her willingness to run for public office. She has told mainstream media that she is willing to maximize all of the power she has to fight for the cause of the LGBTQ+ community even if takes running for office.
Fame earned in some mundane calling like in show business, sports world, and broadcast journalism brought Joseph Estrada and son Jinggoy, Ramon Revilla, son Bong, and son-in-law Robert Jaworski, Freddie Webb, Tito Sotto, Lito Lapid, Manny Pacquiao, Noli de Castro, and Loren Legarda to the Senate. Loy Ejercito, Ralph Recto, Francis Pangilinan, Grace Poe, JV Ejercito, and Nancy Binay were carried by the fame of their spouse or father to that once august hall where statesmen ruled.
So why begrudge the political aspirations of a transgendered person just because she became famous for wanting to pee in a toilet apropos to her orientation? After all, Bong Go was catapulted to the Senate simply by being the personal aide of the President.
Oscar P. Lagman, Jr. is a retired corporate executive, business consultant, and management professor. He has been a politicized citizen since his college days in the late 1950s.