New law punishes wolf whistling, catcalling, online sexual harassment

Pia Ranada

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New law punishes wolf whistling, catcalling, online sexual harassment
(UPDATED) President Rodrigo Duterte, who himself was caught publicly wolf whistling a female reporter, signs the Safe Spaces Act

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – President Rodrigo Duterte has signed a law that penalizes wolf whistling, catcalling, misogynistic and homophobic slurs, unwanted sexual advances, and other forms of sexual harassment in public places, workplaces, and schools as well as in online spaces.

The law, called the Safe Spaces Act or Republic Act No 11313, was signed on April 17. A copy of the law was made public on Monday, July 15, by Akbayan Senator Risa Hontiveros, who principally authored and sponsored the measure in the Senate.

The law also penalizes online sexual harassment, including sexual slurs in private messages.

Forms of sexual harassment and corresponding penalties imposed by Safe Spaces Act:

First degree offenses:

  • Cursing
  • Catcalling
  • Wolf-whistling
  • Leering and intrusive gazing
  • Taunting, unwanted invitations
  • Misogynistic, transphobic, homophobic, and sexist slurs
  • Persistent unwanted comments on one’s appearance
  • Relentless requests for personal details such as name, contact, and social media details; or destination
  • Use of words, gestures, or actions that ridicule on the basis of sex, gender, or sexual orientation; identity and/or expression including sexist, homophobic, transphobic statements and slurs
  • Persistent telling of sexual jokes
  • Use of sexual names, comments, and demands
  • Any statement that has made an invasion on a person’s personal space or threatens the person’s sense of personal safety


  • 1st offense: P1,000-fine and 12-hour community service with Gender Sensitivity Seminar
  • 2nd offense: 6-10 days in prison/P3,000 fine 
  • 3rd offense: 11-30 days in prison and P10,000-fine

  2nd degree offenses:

  • Making offensive body gestures at someone
  • Public masturbation
  • Flashing of private parts
  • Groping
  • Similar lewd actions


  • 1st offense: P10,000-fine and 12-hour community service with Gender Sensitivity Seminar
  • 2nd offense: 11-30 days in prison/P15,000 fine
  • 3rd offense: 1 month and 1 day to 6 months in prison and P20,000 fine
3rd degree offenses:
  • Stalking
  • Sexual advances, gestures, and statements mentioned previously with pinching or brushing against the body of the offended person
  • Touching, pinching, or brushing against the genitalia, face, arms, anus, groin, breasts, inner thighs, face, buttocks, or any part of the victim’s body


  • 1st offense: 11-30 days in prison/P30,000-fine with attendance to Gender Sensitivity Seminar
  • 2nd offense: 1 month and 1 day to 6 months in prison and P50,000-fine
  • 3rd offense: 4 months and 1 day to 6 months in prison/P100,000-fine 

While Duterte signed the law, he himself had been accused of violating a similar measure in his hometown of Davao City.

Weeks before he was sworn in as president, Duterte wolf-whistled GMA 7 reporter Mariz Umali during a press conference, in violation of Davao City’s own Women Development Code, which Duterte himself signed when he was mayor.

Throughout his presidency so far, Duterte has also spewed out sexist remarks, including rape jokes, that drew widespread condemnation. (READ: Not just a joke: The social cost of Duterte’s rape remarks)

Responsibility of establishments. To make sure these acts are punished, the law orders that the management of restaurants, cinemas, malls, bars, and other privately-owned places open to the public adopt a “zero-tolerance policy.” They are to help the victim by coordinating with local police “immediately after” the sexual harassment and make CCTV footage available when ordered by the court.

Responsibility of LTO, LTFRB. It will be the Land Transportation Office and Land Transportation Franchise Regulatory Board that will penalize drivers of public utility vehicles. The punishment includes canceling the license of the driver and suspending or revoking the franchise of the transportation operator.

Responsibility of local government units. LGUs are to pass an ordinance localizing the national law within 60 days of the law’s effectivity. LGUs shall bear the “primary responsibility” of enforcing the law. The Department of Interior and Local Government is supposed to make sure LGUs comply.

Online sexual harassment

Online harassment is defined by the law as the “use of information and communication technology in terrorizing and intimidating victims through physical, psychological, and emotional threats.”

Forms of online sexual harassment and penalties for each are as follows

  • Unwanted sexual misogynistic, transphobic, homophobic, and sexist remarks and comments online whether publicly or through direct and private messages
  • Invasion of victim’s privacy through cyberstalking and incessant messaging
  • Uploading and sharing without the consent of the victims, any form of media that contains photos, voice, or video with sexual content
  • Unauthorized recording and sharing of any of the victim’s photos, videos, or any information online
  • Impersonating identities of victims online or posting lies about victims to harm their reputation
  • Filing false abuse reports to online platforms to silence victims


  • 2 years, 4 monthsand 1 day to 4 years and 2 months in prison or P100,000 to P500,000fine, or both

The law puts the Philippine National Police’s Anti-Cybercrime Group (PNPACG) in charge of apprehending violators. The PNPACG must develop an online mechanism for reporting, in “real time,” gender-based online sexual harassment.

Sexual harassment in workplaces, educational institutions

The act defines sexual harassment in workplaces this way: “An act or series of acts involving any unwelcome sexual advances, requests or demand for sexual favors or any act of sexual nature, whether done verbally, physicall or through the use of technology such as text messaging or electronic mail or through any other forms of information and communication systems, that has or could have detrimental effect on the conditions of an individual’s employment or education, job performance or opportunities.”

It also includes unwanted conduct of sexual nature or conduct based on sex affecting the dignity of a person.

Employers and other persons of authority must prevent or punish these acts, says the law. Among actions they must pursue is the creation of an independent internal committee to address complaints and investigate them. The committee should be headed by a woman and must be at least half composed of women.

The same responsibility is placed on the shoulders of school heads for sexual harassment in educational and training institutions. –

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Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada is Rappler’s Community Lead, in charge of linking our journalism with communities for impact.