The Philippine Commission on Women (PCW) and the Technical Drafting Committee (TDC) members led the signing of the Safe Spaces Act’s Implementing Rules and Regulations in a ceremony held on October 28, 2019 at the Crowne Plaza Manila Galleria, Quezon City.
The IRR is a result of the collaborative efforts of different agencies and non-government organizations convened by the PCW to form the TDC, which worked on the different contexts of sexual harassment defined in the law: workplace; educational and training institutions; online; and streets and public spaces.
In her opening message, PCW Chairperson Rhodora Masilang-Bucoy mentioned that the Safe Spaces Act (RA 11313) expands the scope of the Anti-Sexual Harassment Act of 1995 (Republic Act 7877).
The older law recognizes that sexual harassment occurs in work, education, and training environments, and penalizes persons who have authority, influence and moral ascendancy in such institutions who commit prohibited acts of sexual harassment. However, it did not cover other incidents of sexual harassment, such as those between peers or co-employees or those which happen in the streets, public, and online spaces.
“R.A. No. 11313 or the Safe Spaces Act addresses these gaps in our legal framework by recognizing that sexual harassment can be committed between peers or by a subordinate to a superior, by a student to a teacher or by a trainee to a trainer. The law also outlines the additional duties and corresponding liabilities for employers and heads of schools and training institutions to ensure that sexual harassment complaints in their respective institutions are addressed appropriately. Notably, the law also penalizes sexual harassment which also occurs in other environments, such as public spaces and online platforms,” said Bucoy.
Senator Risa Hontiveros, Senate Committee on Women, Children, Family Relations and Gender Equality Chairperson, who is also the principal author and sponsor of the law, calls it a “game changer.”
“The Bawal Bastos Law is a game changer. If fully implemented, it will promote policy change, behavioral change, and cultural change. Rerepormahin nito ang ating mga batas at polisiya ukol sa gender-based public harassment. Babaguhin nito ang ating pag-uugali at paggamit ng ating lenggwahe sa mga kababaihan at LGBT,” said Hontiveros.
Because in reality, while the rules are in place, the law intends to change the mindset of the Fiipinos. Representative Bernadette “BH” Herrera-Dy, former Chairperson of the House Committee on Women and Gender Equality, commented that some harassers do sexual advances in the form of “compliments.”
“There are many ways to praise someone, pero huwag naman po iyong aabot sa punto na nakakabastos na ito sa ating kapwa,” said Herrera-Dy.
“It is not an easy battle… Hence, I call on all Filipinos, women and men alike, to join us as advocates of this change, when you see friends and colleagues violating this law, inform them, call them out on their actions, educate them on the stiff penalties this law brings. Prove to us that the Filipino man is better than that,” she added.
While the change of mindset won’t happen overnight, agencies are geared up to implement the law until the change materializes.
Metropolitan Manila Development Authority Chairperson Danilo Lim shared a recent incident when one of their traffic enforcers caught an alleged sexual harasser on a bus and immediately brought him to the police station. The MMDA also commits to installing more CCTVs to help deter and apprehend not only traffic violators, but also perpetrators of sexual harassment in the streets.
The IRR provide that gender-based streets and public spaces harassment includes: cursing, wolf-whistling, catcalling, leering and intrusive gazing, taunting, cursing, unwanted invitations, misogynistic, transphobic, homophobic, and sexist slurs, persistent unwanted comments on one's appearance, and relentless requests for one's personal details.
“Mayroong nababastos dahil mayroong mga bastos. It does not only promote disrespect, but it is a crime as well. With the effectivity of the Safe Spaces Act and its IRR, we will not allow this to continue. We will not allow anyone to experience harassment anywhere again, nor allow offenders to get away with it,” enthused Lim.
Under the law and its IRR, the MMDA, together with the local units of the PNP for the provinces, and the Women and Children Protection Desk (WCPD) of the PNP, has the authority to “apprehend perpetrators and enforce the law.”
Meanwhile, the Department of the Interior and Local Government is tasked to ensure the full implementation of the law, by ensuring that the local government units will comply with the law, especially with their mandate of localizing the Safe Spaces Act.
“Tinatawagan po namin ang lahat ng local government units, ang mga governors, mayors, kapitan ng barangay, ang ating mga kapulisan at Sangguniang Kabataan na sisiguraduhing ipatutupad ang batas na ito nang walang kinikilingan,” appealed DILG Assistant Secretary Marjorie N. Jalosjos.
Safe Spaces Act also defines online harassment which includes acts that use information and communications technology in terrorizing and intimidating victims through physical, psychological, and emotional threats, unwanted sexual misogynistic, transphobic, homophobic and sexist remarks and comments online, whether publicly or through direct and private messages, invasion of the victim's privacy through cyberstalking, and incessant messaging and others.
The Cybercrime Investigation and Coordinating Center (CICC) of the DICT, the PNP Anti-Cybercrime Group (ACG), National Telecommunications Commission (NTC), National Privacy Commission (NPC) and other relevant agencies are tasked to prepare appropriate and effective measures to monitor and penalize gender-based online sexual harassment.
The DICT expressed full support to the implementation.
“The DICT firmly believes that it is high time to stop the cycle of harassment and keep our cyber spaces safe for everyone, especially Filipino women. Technology is a friend that provides avenue for a nation to thrive, given the proper safeguards,” said DICT Undersecretary, Atty. Ivin Ronald D.M. Alzona.
The Civil Service Commission and the Department of Labor and Employment are tasked to oversee the law’s implementation in the workplace for the public and private sectors, respectively.
In educational and training institutions, the Commission on Higher Education (CHED), Department of Education (DepEd), Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA), and other agencies or offices with attached training institutions are mandated to formulate the guidelines to effectively implement the law.
Formulating the IRR
President Rodrigo Roa Duterte signed the Safe Spaces Act (Republic Act 11313) on April 17, 2019. The law took effect on August 3, 2019 and Section 38 of the law tasked selected government agencies and women’s organizations to draft the IRR within 90 days after it took effect.
In line with this, the TDC conducted fourteen extensive meetings to develop the IRR.
Regional public consultations were also held, in partnership with Plan International Philippines, in various areas like Baguio City, Cebu City, Pampanga, Davao City, Cotabato, Masbate, and the National Capital Region to gather inputs and recommendations from various sectors nationwide.
Plan International Philippines Deputy Country Director Ryan Lander vowed to continue pushing for the contextually appropriate, non-discriminatory, and inclusive application of this law.
“We are a steadfast ally of girls, boys, young women, and men and will continue promoting and protecting their right to freely move in public places now enshrined in the Safe Spaces Act. We will make sure that it works in each local context, adapting to the changing needs of every Filipino in educational institutions, workplaces, public spaces, and online,” said Lander.
The Need to Create Safe Spaces
The Safe Spaces Act defines gender–based sexual harassment in streets, public spaces, online, workplaces, and educational and training institutions.
The law penalizes all forms of sexual harassment in streets and public spaces, as well as in online spaces. It also strengthens the administrative mechanisms against sexual harassment in workplaces and in educational and training institutions. Another salient feature of the law is that it recognizes that sexual harassment may be committed even between peers, or by a student to a teacher, or a trainee to a trainer.
Under the IRR, agencies tasked to enforce the law will have a clear grasp as to their roles in its implementation. The law and its IRR give definite mandates for establishment owners, Public Utility Vehicle Operators/Drivers, Local Government Units, and Educational and Training Institutions related to preventing and addressing GBSH.
The Safe Spaces Act is an attempt to eradicate gender-based harassment, enclosed under the umbrella of Violence Against Women, because figures show that, despite the existing laws protecting Juanas, VAW still persists, a manifestation of gender inequality.
Data from the PNP Women and Children Protection Council show that sexual harassment is the 5th commonly reported incident related to Violence Against Women. In 2018 alone, the WCPC received 128 complaints of sexual harassment.
Meanwhile, figures from the Social Weather Station in 2016 show that 8 out of 10 young women aged 18-24 have experienced sexual harassment at least once in their lifetime.
PCW Chairperson Rhodora Bucoy laments this as well as the slim number of women reporting their experience.
“2 in 5 women, that is 41%, aged 15 to 49 have never sought help to end violence nor told anyone about violence. 1 in 4 told someone about violence but did not seek help,” shared Bucoy.
With the IRR signed, the PCW and all the TDC members look forward to a culture free of sexual harassment.
“We prescribed in the IRR a timely and effective delivery of service to survivors to end a culture of hopelessness and impunity and foster a culture of justice and support. The PCW commits itself to its role in ensuring that this Act is implemented and to promote a culture of respect as way forward to end sexism and misogyny in our society,” Chair Bucoy noted.
After the signing, the IRR shall be published and shall be effective 15 days from its publication.