New law punishes wolf whistling, catcalling, online sexual harassment


A new law sets down penalties for various forms of gender-based sexual harassment

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:

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


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. –

Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at