In celebration of Women’s Month last March, advocates, led by Sen. Risa Hontiveros, call for measures penalizing acts of gender-based sexual harassment in public spaces, eventually prompting both houses of Congress to ratifiy the proposed safe streets and public spaces law. | Photo from the Office of Sen. Risa Hontiveros

Malacañang on Tuesday, July 16, said that President Rodrigo Duterte will be the first to follow the recently signed “Bawal Bastos” law, which penalizes catcalling and other gender-based harassment in public spaces and online.

According to presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo, Duterte recognized the need to prevent gender-based sexual harassment when he signed Republic Act 11313 or the Safe Streets and Public Spaces Act.

“Since the president signed that law, it means that he recognizes the need [for] that law. And since he is the chief enforcer of all laws of the Philippines, he will be the first one to obey the law,” he said during a Palace briefing. 

Duterte is known for flirting with women and kissing them in public as well as joking about rape. Just this May, he had gotten flak for cracking a rape joke while pardoning cadets at the Philippine Military Academy during their graduation rites.

Panelo, for his part, defended the president’s wont to crack lewd jokes.

“Unang-una kasi (First of all), you’ve assumed that the president is bastos (inappropriate), naging bastos (became inappropriate). He never was bastos (inappropriate). When he cracks jokes, it was intended to make people laugh, never to offend. If you will just listen to the jokes of the president talagang matatawa ka eh, matatawa ka (you will really laugh). Audience … ‘di ba, they give a hearty laughter. Hindi naman bastos (He wasn’t being inappropriate),” he said.

“Iba kasi iyong pambabastos (Being inappropriate is something else). You women should know that. Iba ang dating ng bastos at saka iyong nagpapatawa lang (Being inappropriate is different from just being funny),” he added.

Panelo also said that Duterte is respectful to women.

“You will be surprised ha, this president reacts violently, or negatively rather, to people who offend women. Mahal na mahal niya ang nanay niya; magalang sa mga girls. Magalang siya. Nag-po-po nga iyan sa lahat ng ladies (He really loved his mother, he is respectful to girls. He says ‘po’ to all the ladies),” he said.

Valuing the dignity of every person

Duterte signed the “Bawal bastos” law on April 17, but Malacañang only released the information to the media on Monday, July 15.

“It is the policy of the state to value the dignity of every human person and guarantee full respect for human rights. It is likewise the policy of the state to recognize the role of women in nation-building and ensure the fundamental equality before the law of women and men,” the new law stated.

“The state also recognizes that both men and women must have equality, security, and safety not only in private, but also on the streets, public spaces, online, workplaces, and educational and training institutions,” it added.

Under the Safe Spaces Act, no unwanted and uninvited sexual actions or remarks against any person will go unpunished. Among these acts include catcalling, wolf-whistling, unwanted invitations, misogynistic, transphobic, homophobic and sexist slurs, persistent uninvited comments or gestures on a person’s appearance; relentless requests for personal details, statement of sexual comments and suggestions; public masturbation or flashing of private parts, groping, or any unwanted advances.

Those who would commit cursing, wolf-whistling, catcalling, leering and intrusive gazing, taunting, unwanted invitations, misogynistic, transphobic, homophobic and sexist slurs, will be fined P1,000. They will also be required to do 12 hours of community service and attend a gender sensitivity seminar as first-time violators.

For second-time violators, a six to 10 days imprisonment or a fine of P 3,000 will be imposed, while jail for up to 30 days and a P10,000 fine will be imposed on third-time violators.

Those who would commit offensive body gestures and exposing private parts, public masturbation, groping and similar lewd actions, will be fined P10,000. They will also be ordered to do 12 hours of community service and attend a gender sensitivity seminar as first-time offenders.

Second-time offenders will be fined P15,000 and jailed for 11 to 30 days. Third-time offenders, meanwhile, will be fined P20,000 and jailed for one month and one day.

The Safe Spaces Act also penalizes stalking and brushing against any part of the victim’s body.

First-time violators will be fined P30,000, imprisoned for 11 to 30 days, and required to attend a gender sensitivity seminar. Second-time violators will be fined P 50,000 and imprisoned for one month and one day up to six months, while third-time violators will be fined P100,000.

Gender-based sexual harassment in the workplace will be punished, as well. The new law requires employers to post a copy of the law in the workplace, as the new decree orders the Department of Labor and Employment and the Civil Service Commission to conduct yearly spontaneous inspections to ensure compliance of both employers and employees to the law.

It also authorizes the Land Transportation Office (LTO) to cancel the license of a person found guilty of committing sexual harassment in public utility vehicles as well as allows the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) to suspend or cancel the franchise of operators who commit similar actions. n

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