Last Sunday, eleven men presenting as gay were arrested by the police in a drug bust in a hotel in BGC (a perceived upscale neighborhood in Manila). The circumstances of the arrest present so many unanswered questions, not the least of which is, “How much of this arrest was driven by queer phobia?”
Real talk: I genuinely think that these are the reasons that those gay men were arrested so publicly.
1. They are queer.
In my country of moral pretentiousness, the queerness of these men makes them worthy of punishment. If the suspects were straight men, this would be handled very, very differently.
2. In the Philippines, gay men are still assumed to be rapists.
In their press conference after the arrest, the police reported that the men carried bottles of GBL (something like GHB or liquid ecstasy).
The police did not fail to mention in the very same breath that the drug is used by putting a drop or two in the drink of an unsuspecting person, then that person becomes unconscious. At this point, the gay man will take the person home, and have his way with him. (I can tell you that, while this happens, this is NOT the primary reason that this drug is popular among queer people.)
3. In the Philippines, sex is still considered taboo, gay sex, sinful, and group sex, uncomfortably deviant. (This arrest is even labelled in the media as a “drug orgy scandal.”)
That the arrested had drugs on them isn’t what fascinates the public about this. (The amount of drugs found isn’t remarkable at all; let us not forget that PHP 6.4 billion worth of meth was discovered at customs, and the people behind it are still living very comfortable lives right now, free from most of the public’s outrage.) It is that the arrested were assumed to be using drugs to have sex.
That the arrested present as gay made the presumed sex even more worthy of disdain. In this most Catholic of countries in Asia, queer sex is viewed as a sin, therefore, it must be punished by law by any means possible.
That the presumed sexual activity involved more than two persons threw the public into a frenzy. As taboo as gay sex in the Philippines is, group sex among gay men was difficult for many people even to conceive. Since it was so deviant, many people (including other gay men) were very happy it was stopped by this arrest.
All that being said, I do not think that the police actually saw anybody having actual sex during the arrest. The police saw eleven gay men in their underwear, then immediately assumed that they were going to have an orgy. The possibility of gay men being in their underwear doing nothing non-sexual escaped the imagination of the police and the public.
4. The queer men were not well-connected.
The arrested probably did not know anyone in power to protect them from this kind of public shaming. Arrests like this do not happen to prominent people not because they do not do drugs or engage in deviant sex; these things do not happen to them because those situations are well-contained if not prevented.
Also, let us remember that the amount of drugs that were found with them could not possibly destroy the fabric of society in the same way that 6.4 billion pesos worth of meth can. The people behind the billions worth of meth are so well-connected with people in power, the only person arrested in their case was the poor old person who was manning the warehouse when the 6.4 billion pesos of drugs were found.
5. The arrested men do hold some power by virtue of being cisgender, light-skinned, professional, and financially able.
They were arrested so publicly because that is as far as the police can punish them. Any further than that, the public outcry would drown out any brownie points that the police would have earned from the ordeal. (Many people in the Philippines happily fight injustice when it victimizes the middle to the upper classes.)
If the men were poor, uneducated, and dark-skinned, they would have been killed by the police, and the public would have thought of them as just another uncomfortable number to add to the statistics of the casualties of this damned drug war.