Published 5 July 2019, The Daily Tribune

When does professional become personal? When does familiar become invasive? When does close become too close?

A capitalistic society is built on relationships normally stationed at each part of a person’s life cycle. Babies are born, and at a pre-determined age, they start formal education. As adolescents, they enter into institutions that will offer them training in preparation for the endeavors that they wish to pursue in the future. Thereafter, as bona fide members of the labor force, they start to work in offices in order to apply what they have learned. They perfect their craft  with a sincere hope that somehow, someway, they can  give significant contribution  to society.

Normally, in any place of learning, education or work, a person of authority exercises control and supervision over others. The exercise of authority obviously requires interaction and dealings with his subordinates. Interactions have to be imbued with prudence and oiled by the balm of charity, otherwise, they may unwittingly or unintendedly create unhealthy environments. Remember that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Enter, Sexual Harassment.

Republic Act No. 7877, also known as the Anti-Sexual Harassment Act of 1995, defines and penalizes Sexual Harassment. The act is committed by a 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 favor from the other, regardless of whether the demand, request or requirement for submission is accepted.

Note that the Supreme Court has already clarified that although the law provides a “demand, request or requirement” it is not necessary that such be expressed in an oral or written form. The acts of the perpetrator are of equal weight and consideration. The Supreme Court cited the squeezing of shoulders, running of fingers across the ear, tickling the ear, inappropriate conversations, giving money for school expenses with a promise for future privileges, and statements with sexual overtones as acts pertaining to an unspoken request for a sexual favor.

The aforementioned law designates specific instances of Sexual Harassment depending on the place of its commission.

If it is in a work-related or employment environment, it is committed when: a) sexual favor is made as a condition in the employment, re-employment or continued employment of said individual, or in granting said individual favorable compensation, terms, promotions, or privileges; or the refusal to grant the sexual favor results in limiting, segregating or classifying the employee which in any way would discriminate, deprive or diminish employment opportunities or otherwise adversely affect said employee; b) such acts would impair the employee’s rights or privileges under existing labor laws; or c) such acts would result in an intimidating, hostile, or offensive environment for the employee.

If it is in an education or training environment, it is committed: a) against one who is under the care, custody or supervision of the offender; b) against one whose education, training, apprenticeship or tutorship is entrusted to the offender; c) when the sexual favor is made a condition to the giving of a passing grade, or the granting of honors and scholarships or the payment of a stipend, allowance or other benefits; d) when the sexual advances result in an intimidating, hostile or offensive environment for the student, trainee or apprentice.

A person found guilty of Sexual Harassment shall suffer the penalty of imprisonment of not less than one (1) month nor more than six (6) months, or a fine of not less than ten thousand pesos (P10,000) nor more than twenty thousand pesos (P20,000), or both such fine and imprisonment at the discretion of the court.

Exceptional also to the aforementioned law is the duty and liability of the Employer or Head of Office in places where Sexual Harassment can be committed. They have the duty to promulgate rules and regulations on investigation of Sexual Harassment cases including the administrative sanctions, and to create a committee on decorum and investigation on sexual harassment. They have the solidary liability for damages arising from acts of Sexual Harassment committed within their dominion if they have been informed of such act by the offended party and no immediate action is taken.

Even with this carefully crafted law, it appears that the aforementioned law does not curtail Sexual Harassment in the Philippines. The Philippine Commission on Women, the primary policy-making and coordinating body on women and gender equality concerns, opines that the confinement of Sexual Harassment to the existence of authority, influence or moral ascendancy between the offender and the offended party unduly restricts its application, letting the same act between peers and co-workers run unchecked and unregulated. The same act committed against the superior officer is also not within its purview. Perhaps the law may be appropriately amended to cover these areas or simply, everyone should follow the tried and tested  rule- be modest, kind and prudent in your dealings with others.

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