We were gratified to learn that President Rodrigo Duterte has signed into law a measure penalizing cat-calling and other forms of harassment in public areas.
Under the final version of the Safe Spaces Act (RA 11213), principally authored by Senator Risa Hontiveros, persons arrested for cursing, wolf whistling, catcalling, and saying misogynistic, transphobic, homophobic, and sexist slurs for the first time will be fined ₱1,000 and will serve 12 hours in community service, which includes attendance at a gender sensitivity seminar. Second-time offenders will be jailed for six to 10 days or fined ₱3,000, while third-time offenders will be jailed 11 to 30 days and fined ₱10,000.
Penalties for making offensive body gestures and exposing private parts are at ₱10,000 for first-time offenders, and ₱15,000 along with jail time of 11 to 30 days for second-time offenders. Third-time offenders will be fined ₱20,000 and will be detained for a minimum of one month and a day up to six months.
Stiffer sanctions await perpetrators of sexual harassment in public utility vehicles, as well as on those who are either minors, senior citizens, or persons with disability. The penalties higher in degree will be applied in case the perpetrator is a government employee, or a member of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police—and the acts were done while in uniform.
Local government units are expected to pass corresponding anti-catcalling ordinances, and are required to have an anti-sexual harassment hotline.
The passage of the law seems particularly fitting, given that it has been signed by a President that has often been criticized for being sexist and even misogynistic. Since taking office in June 2016, the President has ordered soldiers to shoot female rebels “in the vagina,” kissed a married woman in the mouth in front of a crowd of overseas Filipino workers, and joked about raping a female missionary and Miss Universe.
Last year, at a forum with Indian and Filipino businessmen in New Delhi, the President said he wished he could promise investors “42 virgins” if they put up businesses in the Philippines, much like jihadists promise suicide bombers that 72 virgins await them in heaven if they die as martyrs.
Thus far, Palace officials have played down the President’s statements and actions as jokes or “playful gestures”—and insist that his critics are taking him too seriously.
But the new law that the President himself signed now makes no allowance for such “jokes” or “playful gestures.” His apologists may no longer come back to us and say he was just joking.
We do hope the President will now set an example and follow the law.
But of course, he may still fall back on his presidential immunity from suit, which gives him carte blanche for another three years to tell the tasteless and sexist jokes we have come to expect.