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Giving more teeth to sexual harassment law

GABRIELA party-list Rep. Arlene Brosas

GABRIELA party-list Rep. Arlene Brosas

ONE concrete measure that lawmakers can pass in March, which is Women's Month, is a bill seeking to amend Republic Act (RA) 11313, or the “Safe Spaces Act.” Rep. Arlene Brosas of Gabriela Women's Party has filed House Bill (HB) 7376, which pushes for stiffer penalties for sexual harassment in the workplace, including schools and training institutions.

“This year, the Philippines is set to celebrate the fourth anniversary of the enactment of the RA 11313, or the Safe Spaces Act, which was passed into law on April 17, 2019. But, despite the law's passage, various forms of sexual harassment and abuse have been on the rise,” Brosas said in a statement.

“The imposable penalty provided under the Anti-Sexual Harassment Act is not enough, considering the gravity of the crime. Increasing the penalties and expanding the coverage of the Safe Spaces Act is essential in punishing perpetrators,” she said.

Under HB 7376, any person found guilty of sexual harassment faces a penalty of prision correccional. The duration of the penalty for prision correccional shall be from six months and one day to six years, except when suspension is imposed as an accessory penalty, in which case its duration shall be that of the principal penalty.

The amendment also increases the fine for the commission of the crime to “not less than P250,000, but not more than P500,000.”

Current penalties for sexual harassment committed in educational and training institutions are only available in RA 7877, or the “Anti-Sexual Harassment Act of 1995.” The old law states that “perpetrators may be penalized by imprisonment of not less than one month nor more than six months, or a fine of not less than P10,000 nor more than P20,000.”

These penalties are not commensurate with the gravity of the crimes. The fine is also a pittance, coming as it does from a law that was passed 28 years ago.

Moreover, under RA 7877, only persons of authority, influence or moral ascendancy over the victims are the ones penalized for sexual harassment.

The Safe Spaces Act, however, expands the definition of sexual harassment committed in the workplace. Its net already includes those committed by peers, subordinates, students and trainees.

Brosas also filed House Resolution 46 to investigate the verbal and emotional abuse cases allegedly committed against the students of the state-run Philippine High School for the Arts in Laguna.

“The cases lodged by the students against the perpetrators prompt serious reflection on how the Safe Spaces Act is being enforced, especially in schools,” Gabriela said.

Brosas said the government should prioritize passing legislation “that would benefit vulnerable sectors and not anti-people policies like Charter change.” The majority of the senators seem to be with Brosas in this issue, as they said last week that Charter change was not a priority at this time. A certain neophyte senator may work double time going around the country advocating for Charter change, but without the votes from his peers, all his work will come to naught.

“As we celebrate Women's Month, we must put the spotlight on the plight of women who fell victim to sexual harassment and violence,” the party-list representative said.

The Gabriela party-list was also instrumental in the passage of RA 116481, which raised the age of sexual consent from 12 to 16.

RA 116481 amends the 1997 Anti-Rape Law and the Revised Penal Code provisions on child rape as a crime. Gabriela called its passage a “hard-fought” victory for women and child rights advocates. Its success boosts the anti-sexual abuse laws in the country.

Before its passage, the age of consent in the Philippines was 12 years old, among the lowest in the world.

The law has helped address the highly alarming situation of rampant violence against women and children here, where one child is sexually abused every 24 minutes and one woman every 34 minutes, or roughly a hundred women and children sexually abused every day.

It is in this light that Gabriela Women's party-list has now filed a bill to amend RA 11313. It will not only give more teeth and more edge to the previous laws against sexual harassment. It will also prove that we value women, whose capable hands carry half the world.

Credit belongs to : www.manilatimes.net

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