Writers urge NCCA to probe alleged sexual assault at Iligan workshop

MANILA, Phillippines – Over 300 people have urged the National Commission on Culture and the Arts (NCCA) to investigate an alleged sexual assault against a female writing fellow by a male keynote speaker and panelist at a recent writers’ workshop.

More than 50 former fellows and two former panelists of the Iligan National Writers Workshop, along with over 300 individuals, signed an open letter to the NCCA on Tuesday, August 6, urging it to conduct a "thorough and independent" probe considering it had funded the workshop held in May.

Those who signed the letter added that the probe should be done with the Commission on Human Rights, the Philippine Commission on Women, and the Mindanao State University-Iligan Institute of Technology (MSU-IIT), which was a sponsor and venue of the workshop.

What incident? According to a public post on Facebook on Monday, August 5, by writing fellow Tiny Diapana, the incident two months ago brought her "nothing but anguish and heartache."

"I was sexually taken advantage of by a panelist during a national writers workshop that I had attended this year," she wrote.

Diapana gave a detailed account of what happened on her Facebook note, where she said that the sexual assault took place inside a room of MSU-IIT's university hostel as the workshop celebrated its closing ceremony on May 31.

Diapana shared that she was drunk that night and blacked out thrice, having little recollection of "sexual things" that took place.

"I black out again, but vaguely remember a few of the sexual things that happen (like my mouth being on KS' [keynote speaker] person, his skin fully bared). When I wake up, it’s 6 in the morning, and I am naked and alone in my room," Diapana said. 

"The first thought that comes to my head is whether what I remember was real. Everything seemed so hazy... This narrative has left me with so many questions. How could this have happened?," she added

Diapana asserted that she did not give her consent. "I don’t remember giving him my consent. Not once during the night.... Intoxicated individuals CANNOT give consent. That’s in the law," she said.

Denial

Keynote speaker and panelist Timothy James Dimacali, who was said to have been involved in the incident, "vehemently" denied the allegation.

In a public Facebook post Sunday, August 4, Dimacali said that while he "acknowledged the seriousness of the allegation" and understood that "any sexual misconduct should be condemned," he was ready to defend himself at a "proper forum." 

The workshop's director, Christine Godinez Ortega, said MSU-IIT, which hosts the program, would support any probe of the NCCA if it opened one. She said the incident was already being investigated by the MSU-IIT legal office and security office.

"NCCA or any other entity is welcome to conduct the probe anytime," Ortega told Rappler.

Why dismiss it?

Signatories wanted the Mindanao Creative Writers Group (MCWG) to call attention to and acknowledge Ortega's casual treatment of Diapana's complaint.

Diapana said the workshop director had dismissed her letter recounting the events as "it was done behind closed doors and nobody heard anyone screaming, being dragged down the stairs, or trashing about.”

"I called and wrote to the workshop director about the incident. I also had my lawyer send a letter along with the affidavits of my witnesses to the workshop to ask for justice. I wanted the workshop to acknowledge what had happened and to condemn what this panelist had done to me. I wanted the organization to blacklist this panelist so that he could no longer do the same thing to others in future iterations of the workshop," Diapana said.

Ortega denied claims that the incident was "covered up." 

The signatories hit Ortega and MCWG's failure to address the issue, saying they seemed "more concerned with protecting the reputation of the keynote speaker and the workshop" than providing necessary support to the victim.

"This is not what we expected from institutions and individuals who receive financial support in the form of public funds. Any further inaction...is tantamount to complicity not just by those of us expressing concern but also to the good Filipino taxpayers," they said. 

Ortega refuted this, saying: "Records show we have advised both parties to consult or get advice from lawyers. The workshop’s implementing organizations replied to the parties concerned through the proper channels but unfortunately now, not in the kangaroo court of social media." 

"Cases need to be filed especially the claimant and the accused. Both must seek redress from the court of law. There is no turning back. We’re all responsible persons and we must face consequences of our actions," she added. 

What else is the group asking for? Aside from a probe, signatories to the open letter urged the following measures be taken:

– Rappler.com

Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers foreign affairs, the overseas Filipino workers, and elections. She also writes stories on the treatment of women and children. Follow her on Twitter @sofiatomacruz. Email her at sofia.tomacruz@rappler.com.

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