sexual harassment in PH

[Rappler Investigates] Sexual harassment by the boss

Chay F. Hofileña

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[Rappler Investigates] Sexual harassment by the boss
'One would think that government lawyers would be more aware and mindful of rules that govern ethical behavior in professional settings – more so in public office'

Sexual harassment in the workplace has long been a nagging, nasty issue. But when it happens in the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) no less, involving male legal interns and a male official in a position of authority, it triggers mixed reactions ranging from discomfort to outright disgust. 

One would think that government lawyers would be more aware and mindful of rules that govern ethical behavior in professional settings – more so in public office. We expect them to be more circumspect, conscious about their image, reputation, and respectability because they are, after all, public servants who are paid using taxpayers’ money. Of course, we know of one lawyer who once occupied the highest position in the land and who shamelessly cared nothing about image nor respectability. He set the bar for government officials so low it became acceptable to be crude, rude, even degenerate.

It was shocking, to put it mildly, to read about Lian Buan’s account of the attempted sexual exploits of an assistant solicitor general in 2022. Unfortunately for him, the two male legal interns who were at the receiving end of his misbehavior filed sexual harassment charges. I will not go into the disgusting details of the complaint, you can read them in Lian’s story in case you missed it: Malacañang fires assistant solicitor general for sexual harassment.

Malacañang has fired the official after administrative cases were filed against him. Solicitor General Menardo Guevarra, who had recommended dismissal, has appointed an OIC or officer in charge even as the reprobate official has appealed the decision. As it turns out, the same official had been arrested in the US way back in late 2016 when Jose Calida was solicitor general under former president Rodrigo Duterte. For supposedly molesting a 13-year-old boy, then-assistant solicitor general Derek Puertollano was charged with sexual abuse of a minor. Even more embarrassing was that this happened while he was in the US on official time to attend a seminar on international arbitration. 

The Philippines’ Republic Act 7877, or the Anti-Sexual Harassment Act of 1995, became law under former president Fidel V. Ramos. The Philippine Commission on Women on its website says that penalties range from a minimum one-month imprisonment to not more than six months, or a fine of not less than P10,000 nor more than P20,000, “or both such fine and imprisonment at the discretion of the court.” Violations prescribe in three years. The OSG case also shows that sexual harassment victims are not only female, they can also be male. 

Close to three decades later, the penalties seem like a mere slap on the wrist. The law certainly needs revisiting and updating – it wasn’t a sufficient deterrent to the OSG sexual offender.

ABSENTEEISM. Still on the conduct of government officials, ever wondered if there ought to be penalties too for excessive absenteeism? In college, students are given a maximum number of absences or cuts, beyond which they are considered “over cut.” They then get failing marks or need to withdraw from the class “with permission.” 

No such thing for legislators, unfortunately. Senate records showed that Senator Alan Peter Cayetano was tops in absences, having attended only 36 of 54 regular sessions held from July 24, 2023, until February 21, 2024, Senate reporter Bonz Magsambol wrote. Of the 18 sessions missed, four were on account of being on official missions. Fair enough. But what of the 14 other absences? Maybe excuse letters ought to be required, too, to explain what work is being done outside session hours?

Honestly, I had almost forgotten that Cayetano was a sitting senator. But I do remember him as Duterte’s vice presidential candidate who lost to Leni Robredo in the 2016 elections. Cayetano won in the 2022 senatorial elections, placing seventh with over 19 million votes, equivalent to about 34.74% of the votes cast for senators. The gentleman from Taguig has earned the distinction of having bested ex-senator Manny Pacquiao who, before him, held the record of having the most absences. 

MARCOS PA RIN. As February comes to a close, we recall the special days of 1986 when freedom-loving Filipinos bravely stood up to a dictator and faced tanks and soldiers who could very well have shot them down – had orders been given to do so. Whatever else is said about the People Power revolution, it was undeniably a shining example to the world of what peaceful, determined, and fearless protest can do and achieve. It also showed the invincible force that politics and faith can be when jointly motivated by an intense desire to fight for the greater common good.

Thirty-eight years after that bold demonstration of utter selflessness by the crowds that spontaneously swelled on EDSA, the cynics would probably scoff at the four days of February 22 to 25 that historical revisionism has downgraded and diminished. What better proof of this diminution than the return of the Marcoses to political power? But no matter what, the truth will always shine through. 

Researcher Patrick Cruz painstakingly traced, tracked, and mapped family members or associates of the Marcoses who have been elected to public office. Read his story: 38 years after EDSA People Power Revolt: Marcos political dynasty is well-entrenched. Here are other EDSA-related stories you might have missed:

FINALE. Today marks an extra day this February. An occurrence every four years, this leap year will happen again in 2028, when presidential elections will be held. Make the most out of this extra, final day of this month. Take some time to drop me a note to share your thoughts.

If you haven’t yet, be sure to download the Rappler app on iOS or Google Play and choose to join one or several community chat rooms that are safe spaces to exchange thoughts and ideas about whatever interests you. Help us spread the word!

Till Thursday after next. Help us continue doing our work well by supporting independent and quality journalism. –

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Chay F. Hofileña

Chay Hofileña is editor of Rappler's investigative and in-depth section, Newsbreak. Among Rappler’s senior founders and editors, she is also in charge of training. She obtained her graduate degree from Columbia University’s School of Journalism in New York.