Jurisdictions around the region have developed laws regarding equality of gender to varying degrees. the levels of progress can be illuminating
This article focuses on laws relevant to sexual harassment in the Philippines. Republic Act No. 7877, also known as the Anti-Sexual Harassment Act of 1995, is the main Philippine legislation that defines and penalizes sexual harassment in the workplace, or in an education or training environment. The Anti-Sexual Harassment Act of 1995 defines sexual harassment as one that is “committed by an employer, employee, manager, supervisor, agent of the employer, teacher, instructor, professor, coach, trainer, or any other person who, having authority, influence or moral ascendancy over another in a work or training or education environment, demands, requests or otherwise requires any sexual favour from the other, regardless of whether the demand, request or requirement for submission is accepted by the object of said act.”
The Anti-Sexual Harassment Act of 1995 further enumerates instances when sexual harassment is committed, as classified in the environment it is exhibited. In a work-related or employment environment, sexual harassment is committed when:
- The sexual favour is made as a condition in the hiring or in the employment, re-employment or continued employment of said individual, or in granting said individual favourable compensation, terms of conditions, promotions or privileges; or the refusal to grant the sexual favour results in limiting, segregating or classifying the employee, which in any way would discriminate, deprive or diminish employment opportunities or otherwise adversely affect the employee;
- The above acts would impair the employee’s rights or privileges under existing labour laws; or
- The above acts would result in an intimidating, hostile or offensive environment for the employee.
In an education or training environment, sexual harassment is committed:
- Against one who is under the care, custody or supervision of the offender;
- Against one whose education, training, apprenticeship or tutorship is entrusted to the offender;
- When the sexual favour is made a condition to the giving of a passing grade, or the granting of honours and scholarships, or the payment of a stipend, allowance or other benefits, privileges, or consideration; or
- When the sexual advances result in an intimidating, hostile or offensive environment for the student, trainee or apprentice.
The Anti-Sexual Harassment Act of 1995 also punishes a person who directs or induces another to commit any act of sexual harassment as defined by law, or who co-operates in the commission thereof by another without which it would not have been committed (section 3 of the Anti-Sexual Harassment Act of 1995).
An employer is duty bound to: (1) promulgate rules and regulations jointly approved by the employees, students or trainees describing the procedure for the investigation of sexual harassment cases and the administrative sanctions; and (2) create a committee on decorum and investigation for cases on sexual harassment (section 4 of the Anti-Sexual Harassment Act of 1995).
Noteworthy is the fact that an employer may be held liable for damages arising from the acts of sexual harassment committed in the employment, education or training environment if the employer or head of office, educational or training institution is informed of such acts by the offended party and no immediate action is taken (section 5 of the Anti-Sexual Harassment Act of 1995).
The penalty under the Anti-Sexual Harassment Act of 1995 is imprisonment of not less than one month nor more than six months, or a fine of not less than PhP10,000 (US$193) nor more than PhP20,000, or both fine and imprisonment at the discretion of the court (section 7 of the Anti-Sexual Harassment Act of 1995).
Republic Act No. 9262, also known as the Anti-Violence Against Women and Their Children Act of 2004 includes sexual harassment as a form of sexual violence against women and prescribes penalties for the commission of such acts. Sexual violence is defined as “an act which is sexual in nature, committed against a woman or her child.
It includes, but is not limited to:
- Rape, sexual harassment, acts of lasciviousness, treating a woman or her child as a sex object, making demeaning and sexually suggestive remarks, physically attacking the sexual parts of the victim’s body, forcing her/him to watch obscene publications and indecent shows, or forcing the woman or her child to do indecent acts and/or make films thereof, forcing the wife and mistress/lover to live in the conjugal home or sleep together in the same room with the abuser;
- Acts causing or attempting to cause the victim to engage in any sexual activity by force, threat of force, physical or other harm or threat of physical or other harm or coercion;
- Prostituting the woman or child (section 3B of the Anti-Violence Against Women and Their Children Act of 2004).
The Anti-Violence Against Women and Their Children Act of 2004 punishes engaging in any form of harassment or violence against women and their children. It appears that the language of the legislation is broad in its scope to encompass various acts such as sexual, physical or psychological harassment. The penalty of imprisonment under this act depends on the specific acts of the offender.
In addition, the imposition of fines in the amount of not less than PhP100,000 but not more than PhP300,000; and to undergo mandatory psychological counseling or psychiatric treatment and report compliance to the court is mandated under section 6 of the act.
Several local cities such as Quezon City and the City of Manila have adopted local ordinances recognizing and penalizing catcalling as a form of sexual harassment.
Ordinance No. 2501-2016, issued by Quezon City, also known as the Gender and Development Code of Quezon City, imposes a fine and jail term for acts considered as sexual harassment of women in public spaces.
The Gender and Development Code of Quezon City defines sexual harassment against women in public space as “unwanted, unwelcome, uninvited comments, gestures and actions forced on a woman in public places without their consent, and is directed at them because of their sex, gender, gender expression, or sexual orientation that affect victims not just physically but moreover psychologically causing anxiety, fear, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, or other effects damaging the health and well-being of a person”.
Light violations, such as cursing, catcalling, repeatedly asking the subject for a date or her contact number, or taunting a woman with constant talk about sex, are punishable with a fine of from PhP1,000 to PhP5,000, or imprisonment of up to one month. The penalty increases based on the severity of the acts.
Ordinance No. 7857 issued by the City of Manila, also known as the Safe City for Women and Girls Ordinance of 2018, prohibits all forms of sexual harassment including catcalling, wolf-whistling, cursing and stalking.
Violators will face one day to one year of jail time plus a fine ranging from PhP200 to PhP5,000. Violators are required to attend a gender sensitivity seminar conducted by the Philippine National Police and the Philippine Commission on Women.
The above-mentioned legislation and ordinances define the rights and remedies of victims of sexual harassment. These laws aim to empower those who have been sexually harassed to speak up and hold their offenders liable for the latter’s acts.
Despite the fact that there is existing Philippine legislation penalizing sexual harassment, victims are not aware of their legal remedies, or are silenced as a result of the stigma attached to the cxoncept of sexual harassment. Victim shaming is often the culprit in undocumented cases of sexual harassment.
The #MeToo movement paved the way for information dissemination and women empowerment. Women no longer suffer in silence, and they take an aggressive stance in asserting their rights under prevailing legislation. There is an increase in the complaints on sexual harassment cases in the workplace and catcalling violations as a result of the #MeToo movement.
As there is a need to balance confidentiality or anonymity of reports with the need to document and substantiate incidents of complaints, employers should establish a system whereby complainants and whistleblowers are adequately protected in the workplace in the event complaints for sexual harassment are reported by them.
A mechanism whereby the identities of those who file reports are anonymous, especially when they are not indispensable to the case’s resolution, and those whose identities are necessary to be disclosed are protected from retaliation, should be put in place.