MEEKO ANGELA R. CAMBA
The night was still young, barely 7 o’ clock. Seventeen-year-old Krystel, a Grade 10 student who has been living with her father in Pasig City, was headed to her mother and stepfather’s place in Barangay Bagong Silangan, Quezon City when two young men appeared and moved menacingly toward her.
Scared and alone, Krystel bowed her head and tried to walk as far away from them as she could.
Yet it still happened.
One of the men reached from around his friend’s shoulder and grabbed her right breast, wholly and tightly. Krystel was momentarily paralyzed, and then she resumed walking. She looked back once only to find both men staring at her, with no attempt to suppress their laughter.
When she reached her mother’s house, Krystel broke into tears and told her what had happened. They immediately went to the barangay to file a complaint. The next day, the perpetrator was identified through a closed-circuit television (CCTV) camera that recorded the incident, and put behind bars.
More recently, 21-year-old “Sandy” accused two Quezon City policemen, PO1 Domingo Cena and PO2 Ric Tanguilan of Station 8, of catcalling her as she was walking down Katipunan Avenue on Nov. 2. Besides what she said were the malicious looks from the two cops, one of the men wolf-whistled at her.
As in Krystel’s case, a CCTV recording helped identify the perpetrators. Cena and Tanguilan have been relieved of their posts and charged with violating the city’s 19-month-old Ordinance 2501, the amended City Gender and Development (GAD) Code more popularly known as the anti-catcalling ordinance.
In April 2016, Quezon City became the first in Metro Manila and the country to adopt the Anti-Catcalling ordinance, which penalizes offenses such as catcalling, wolf whistling and groping with a fine ranging from P1,000 to P5,000, and jail time from one day to one year.
Problems pinpointing the perpetrators
From January to December 2016, Quezon City tallied a total of 81 women who were sexually harassed, six in 10 of them in public like Krystel or what are considered as street-level sexual harassment that qualifies as catcalling.
But Sandy and Krystel count among the handful catcalling victims who have seen their offenders apprehended.
According to a baseline study commissioned in 2016 by the UN Women and Quezon City government and which helped the city formulates its ordinance, about 51 percent of women who experienced sexual harassment in public did nothing after the incident, let alone report to authorities.
But even if they did, Chief Police Inspector Rowena Lamboho of the Quezon City Police District’s Women and Children’s Protection Office said it would have been unlikely for them to punish the perpetrators because of the fleeting nature of the offenses.
“Most of those who report (through the hotline) do not proceed (to file a case) because it is difficult to identify the suspects if, for example, they are mobile, in a moving vehicle, or the person is not from Quezon City in the first place,” she said in Filipino.
As such, phone calls remain just that: Nameless tallies (which the police refused to disclose) that give no assurance of justice to many of the victims.
The anti-catcalling ordinance is part of the global, long-term Safe Cities Program (SCP) initiated by UN Women in partnership with the Quezon City government, which aims to lower incidences of street sexual harassment worldwide and help women feel more secure.
“(The program seeks to) protect women who suffer sexual harassment that is everything short of rape in public spaces,” said program director Katherine Belen. “We do not have a law that covers that, or at least it’s not enough.”
Under the existing Anti-Sexual Harassment Law, or Republic Act 7877, only unwelcome sexual advances, requests, and/or demands for sexual favor in the workplace or school environment committed by a person of authority is considered as sexual harassment.
RA 9262 or the Violence Against Women and Children (VAWC) law, on the other hand, limits sexual violence among only those whom the victim has had an intimate relationship with.
But according to the QCPD, more than half, or one of every two reported cases of sexual harassment in the city in 2016 pertained to acts of lasciviousness, similar to Krystel’s case, while slightly more than a third were unjust vexation.
The Revised Penal Code defines acts of lasciviousness as the “intentional touching, either directly or through clothing, of the genitalia, anus, groin, breast, inner thigh or buttocks.” They are punishable by imprisonment of six months and one day to six years.
Unjust vexation, on the other hand, is used as a catch-all provision for all undefined crimes punishable by imprisonment of one to 30 days, and/or a fine ranging from P5 to P200, until the ordinance raised it to P1,000 to P5,000 or a jail term of up to one month.
Quezon City’s anti-catcalling ordinance sought to address the gap, especially after the baseline study in partnership with UN Women and SWS showed that 3 in 5 women reported having experienced sexual harassment in public spaces at least once in their lifetime, with 72% of women aged 18 to 24 experienced catcalling. Among the female respondents, 1 in 7 said they were harassed at least once every week in 2015, the study said.
Quezon City’s amended GAD Code now penalizes not only violence against women and sexual harassment, but also the following:
Light violations: Cursing, catcalling, repeatedly asking the subject for a date or her contact number, or taunting a woman with constant talk about sex
Medium violations: Stalking, making offensive mouth, hand or body gestures with the intention to demean or threaten a woman
Serious violations: Unnecessary touching, pinching or brushing against the subject’s body, public masturbation or lascivious exhibition directed at a woman, and inserting any object into the genitalia, anus or mouth of any person whether of the same or opposite sex.
The anti-catcalling ordinance, therefore, is not only intended to increase sanctions for cases of unjust vexation, but also make a statement that “in this society, we do not tolerate these kinds of actions,” Belen said.
The road ahead
However, Belen acknowledged that the getting rid of sexual harassment does not stop with the ordinance.
“It’s not going to change overnight. It’s not that if Quezon City passed an ordinance, sexual harassment will stop in the whole country. Passing the law is just the first step,” she said. “Many people will be surprised that passing the law is much easier than implementing it. But what’s good is that Quezon City is willing to work with us on it.”
Now on its second phase which will span up to the end of 2018, the SCP will focus on capacity-building for law enforcement officers on how to sensitively respond to reports of violations, as well as how to properly record data, Belen said.
Moreover, it aims to persuade other cities within and outside Metro Manila to pass a similar ordinance, she said.
But Quezon City itself still has to address a number of problems and issues to enable victims like Kristel and Sandy to make full and good use of the law.
Full implementation of the ordinance is still slated for 2018 because its implementing rules and regulations (IRRs) have yet to be issued as of this writing.
The Quezon City council’s Committee on Women, Family Relations and Gender Equality and a designated technical working group are working on the rules. Work on of the IRRs was stalled when the 18th council transitioned to the 19th council, an analysis of the ordinance done by graduate students at the Ateneo de Manila University shows.
The amended GAD Code was passed when Councilor Lena Juico, its main proponent, was chairperson of the Committee on Women, Family Relations and Gender Equality. The committee is now under Councilor Kate Coseteng.
In the absence of the IRRs, the monitoring report used by barangays to record cases of violence against women and children (VAWC) and sexual harassment has not been updated to include catcalling as a distinct form of violation, making it harder to document catcalling and other minor violations, according to the Ateneo paper.
The monitoring reports are distributed to the barangays for their GAD focal persons to fill up and submit to the GAD Council. So far, the council has not received a report on catcalling from barangays.
Should it come across such a report, however, the GAD Council would refer catcalling cases to the Quezon City Police District’s Women’s Desk since it at present focuses on information dissemination and on cases of VAWC and sexual harassment.
Burden on women
Despite Ordinance 2501, the burden of security still largely lies with the woman, according to police.
“Dapat babae ka, prepared ka na (sa panghaharass). Kahit hindi ka matapang, prepare yourself na maging matapang ka (You’re a woman, you should be prepared in the case of harassment. Even if you’re not brave, condition yourself to be),” Lamboho of QCPD said.
Moreover, she advised them to bring sharp objects such as pens to serve as protective devices, as well as to learn martial arts to defend themselves when necessary.
“Hindi na kayang laging bantayan ng kapulisan (dahil) ang pulis ay mas reactive (The police can no longer monitor everything since we are mainly just reactive),” she said.
For a city of 2.93 million people, Quezon City only has 3,278 police officers, a ratio of one police officer for every 896 residents.
Miks Padilla of women’s rights organization Woman Health Philippines, however, said women should not be the ones held responsible for evading harassment.
She further shared her frustration at how women are victimized by how society demands them to be.
The UN Women Safe Cities and Safe Public Spaces Global Initiative earlier identified the stigma against and fear among victims as among the reasons that stop them from reporting cases.
“What I don’t want happening is that a woman confines her activities and expression dahil takot siya sa (because she is afraid) sexual harassment,” Padilla said. “Twice na siyang navi-victimize (She’s a victim twice over).”
Such is the case for Krystel. Even after her perpetrator was put away for trial, her mother’s neighbors would stare at her with animosity, some even going as far to call her a liar.
Quezon City’s baseline study further shows that more women (27 percent) than men (21 percent) believe that women are to blame for the sexual harassment.
When people, especially the victims themselves, fail to recognize such acts as a violation of their rights, including their human rights, the tendency is that they do not see the need to report the offenses, says the policy analysis paper of the Ateneo students.
The pressures, together with financial concerns, have made Krystel consider giving up the fight.
Female victims of violence and sexual harassment, and now catcalling, are not required to pay fees for filing, processing and medical-legal services. But bureaucratic red tape and slow processing time have proved to be disincentives for victims, the analysis done by Ateneo students shows.
Besides the long and cumbersome processes, the complainant is often transferred from one desk to another, and the waiting period is extended should they decide to file a case in the court. As a result, the victims often feel that the benefits of filing cases are outweighed by the time of waiting and other costs that are not covered such as transportation costs, according to the analysis.
So even for street harassment cases that get tracked, women eventually lose the will to pursue them because government agencies use the same tedious and lengthy process in handling VAWC cases.
And because street harassment cases are often not taken seriously by authorities, the victims end up wondering if pursuing a case is worth the trouble, the analysis further shows.
This is evident when a police officer admitted that he and his colleagues often exaggerate the facts of the claims so prosecutors, some of whom consider street-level sexual harassment as “minor,” will not dismiss the cases.
To date, Krystel and her family have spent more than P3,000 on documents and transportation, an expense that could force them to drop the case.
“Yung mga ginagastos namin pambili na ng bigas, pangkain na namin sa araw-araw. Hindi mo naman mapupulot basta-basta yung P3,000 (We could’ve used the money we spent for the case to cover our daily expenses. You won’t find P3,000 lying around just like that),” Krystel’s mother, a barangay health worker, said.
“Pero siyempre hindi namin pinagsisisihan na gumastos kami, dahil para sa laban na rin naman namin ‘to (But we don’t regret it because it’s for our daughter’s fight),” she added.
For Krystel, however, whether or not she drops the case, there is only one thing she wants at the minimum: an apology. That, and a promise for her attacker to never do it again.
Belen said this is one of the main goals of an anti-street sexual harassment policy.
“It’s not just about the law. It’s about…empowering women to say ‘I’m going to tell off that harasser—it doesn’t (necessarily) mean I’m going to bring him to prison,’” she said. “It’s a behavior campaign. It shows how society views the issue: that it’s not just a trivial issue.”
For women who have gone through the same experience as she has, Krystel gives this piece of advice: “Huwag silang panghinaan ng loob kung alam nilang nasa tama sila (They shouldn’t give up if they know they’re right).”
(The author is a journalism major at the University of the Philippines-Diliman. She submitted this story for their Computer-Assisted Reporting or J116 class taught by journalism professor Yvonne T. Chua. The policy analysis paper cited in this report was submitted by Catherine Hoggang, Mikee Defensor, Stephen Espiritu, Edna Africa, and Mariz Castañeda for their PoS 111 or Intro to Public Policy class at Ateneo de Manila University.)
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