The Philippine Daily Inquirer today reported that gay and lesbian officers of the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) have been banned from frisking and conducting strip searches on people of the same sex who are suspected of sneaking contraband into jail.
"At no instance [shall] a female homosexual jail officer be allowed to conduct body search on female jail visitors, while a male homosexual jail officer cannot body search a male jail visitor," a BJMP memorandum said.
The report quoted an official who said that the policy has been in practice for a "long time in some 400 jails nationwide," but the standard operating procedure was put in writing and disseminated to wardens in September last year "by way of reminder."
Ladlad, a political party of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Filipinos, has called the regulation "a clear case of discrimination."
Chair Bemz Benedito was quoted as saying: "In the first place, what is the basis to say there is malice? Just because one is a homosexual, they can automatically assume that there is sexual malice?"
"This is a clear case of discrimination on our ranks because it does not account for our capabilities and skills in performing the job, but our sexual orientation," Benedito said.
BJMP Director Rosendo M. Dial dismissed suggestions that the policy could be considered a discriminatory practice as it was to minimise possibilities of sexual abuse and to conduct body searches in a "professional manner without violating the legal rights of visitors/inmates and with due respect and regard to human dignity."
Under BJMP rules, “all male visitors shall be searched by male jail officers while female visitors shall be searched by female jail officers only.”
While most visitors are subject to just a “pat or frisk or rub” as guards are required to run their hands through the body, carefully feeling for illegal contraband such as prohibited drugs and weapons as well as ordinary contraband, such as pirated discs, jewelry and mobile phones.
The memo said: “If during the pat/frisk/rub search the jail officer develops probable cause that contraband is being hidden by the subject which is not likely to be discovered, the jail officer shall request a conduct of strip search/visual body cavity search.” The visitor can either consent to the strip and visual body cavity search, or decline and will not be allowed to enter the prison.
The report noted that the ban raises questions about privacy rights and the extent to which the government can compel law enforcers to reveal their sexual orientation, and prohibit members of a particular gender from performing tasks that are part of their jobs.