As a journalist, it sounds weird to write about myself. But the story of sexual harassment has to be told, as it affects almost, if not all, women. Some even have to endure it in silence. (READ: Why it is not okay to catcall women)
You'd think you can be spared this trouble if you live in a quiet, peaceful, and gated area, such as Kawilihan Village. It turns out, that is no assurance. (READ: Catcalling: The hidden threat and prejudice)
Two months since I was catcalled by a construction worker in our area, the village board of directors has not taken a stand on such a serious matter – it was sexual harassment. The boss of the culprit, who is also a resident of the village, happens to be Senator Nancy Binay's brother-in-law. He has acknowledged the incident but refuses to act on it. Now, he is trying to sue the village guards who responded to my call.
I have repeatedly asked the village association for updates over the past weeks, but the last message I got from village president Flor Bañaga was, there is no clear evidence against the culprit. So does this mean she and the board would not take action against him?
What happened: My harrowing experience happened on the night of March 7. I was jogging at around 10 pm, when a construction worker whistled at me from the view deck of the house they were building. It was dark at the construction site, but there was enough light from the street lamp to expose his skin color, hair, forehead, built, and bright shirt. (READ: The streets that haunt Filipino women)
I'm not one to back down from such types of men. So I shouted back, "O, ano'ng tinitingin-tingin mo?" He laughed and said something I could not understand. When the guy saw I would not let his action pass, he left his post and hid. (READ: 'Hi, sexy!' is not a compliment)
I immediately called the village guard and we went to the worker's location. I waited on the street while the guard told us he would knock on the door. Shortly after, he came back with 3 men, all saying they were asleep in the room when it happened.
I did not see the exact face of the man who catcalled me, but when I saw the 3 construction workers, I knew which one of them was the culprit, based on the skin color, forehead, hair, and built that I saw.
What the worker's boss did: On March 10, the village board called a meeting between me and the construction worker's boss, a contractor. He was on the defense and kept saying he knows the law.
Because it's second nature to a journalist like me, I asked permission to record the whole conversation and he agreed to it.
First, he said he could not reprimand his men because I was "just 80% sure" about the identity of the culprit. He said he could not act on it.
At this point, I could not help my tears. The harassment happened. He himself even said he does not contest it – yet here he was, seemingly defending his worker, telling me he could not do anything. As if it's okay for a woman to be harassed if and when the suspect cannot be identified.
This incident happened inside a gated village. Can you imagine what happens in the streets outside?
I told the contractor that when his worker catcalled me, the latter became two things: a sexual harasser and a threat. After doing that to a woman, who knows what he could do next – to me or any other woman in the village?
It turned out it was not the first time the contractor's workers committed such an offense. The village administration secretary was herself a victim of sexual harassment just a few months ago, with workers on this same property "complimenting" her "nice ass."
I insisted that I want the man out of the village and transferred to another project. I did not even ask for the worker's termination. But for the contractor, it was not an option.
Instead, he wants the guard, who responded to my complaint that night, fired for alleged trespassing. What's worse, he was practically forcing me to "support" the guard's removal from his post in exchange for the transfer of his worker. I don't know what's fueling this logic.
"Kung natanggal 'yung sa akin, dapat matanggal 'yung guard (If my worker is going to be transferred, the guard should be sacked).... I want the same justice…. That is trespassing of private property," he said firmly. "'Yung sa iyo sinutsutan ka lang, ito trespassing (You were just catcalled, what the guard did was trespassing)."
"Kung tatanggalin ko 'yung tao ko, na matagal na sa akin at first time ito nangyari, na 80% lang, paano pa itong guard na 100% trespassing? (If I remove my worker, who has been employed under me for a long time and this is the first time this has happened, and you're just 80% sure, how about the guard who committed 100% trespassing)?" he continued.
Of course, I refused the compromise. Who, in her right mind, would do that? And here's where he turned the tables on me. He alleged that I was washing my hands off the issue and that I was an "accomplice" to the crime of trespassing.
The guard even volunteered to resign just to appease this man, whose worker clearly committed harassment.
I sought Senator Binay's office on the incident and her relative's action, but I have yet to hear from them.
What the village administration did and did not do: More than a month after the incident, the president of the village association wrote to request that the two parties meet for a "neutral ground," notwithstanding the fact that a meeting already occurred 3 days after the incident. In her letter, she said there was no irrefutable evidence of the culprit's identity.
"The Kawilihan Village Board empathizes with your experience. We do not wish such incident on any of our residents. Rest assured, we at the KVHA are working towards tightening security measures within the subdivision. If the incident was adequately captured by the available CCTV then we have irrefutable evidence of the culprit's identity. Nevertheless, we assure you and other homeowners, that we will continue to pursue initiatives which will best promote peace and order within the subdivision," Bañaga, the village president, said in a letter dated March 27.
On the surface, it may look like a well-meaning letter. But here is where the problem lies: there was a violation inside the village, the worker's boss himself acknowledges it, yet not one of the 3 men would admit to it. So does this mean the village board cannot, and would not, address a sexual harassment case?
"In this regard, you might want to pursue talks with the other homeowner, not to exacerbate the incident but to find a neutral ground since we are neighbors after all, supposedly looking out for each other," she said. "He told me that all his workers are strictly reminded to observe their company policy and etiquette."
I replied to her letter. But to this date, there is still no response to that – more so a decision on my complaint.
What sexual harassment is not: We should not take sexual harassment lightly. If violators go scot-free in places where people thought they would have a full sense of safety, what message does it send to every woman, some not as fortunate to have the recourse I had? And what message does it send to the harassers, that what they did is no big deal?
All I want is for the worker to be transferred to another project, for my and other residents' security and peace of mind.
In her letter, Bañaga said, "We live in the same community and we encourage each to be guided by a sense of family as we maneuver through our misunderstandings."
I tried to get where she is coming from. But sexual harassment is never a "misunderstanding"; it is an offense.
It would greatly help if, like Quezon City, other cities would pass ordinances banning catcalling and other forms of harassment. (READ: Garbage collector fired for catcalling female student in QC)
We are all for good community relations, but we cannot let this sexual harassment incident go. Neighbors do not harass neighbors. The perpetrator will get away on a technicality. Who is to say that this leniency will not embolden him and others to do the same or even worse, considering this is the second time it was committed by a man or men from the same stable of workers?
I am raising this question not just in relation to my case but to other similar cases in other places.
There is no "neutral ground" when it comes to sexual harassment. There is a perpetrator, a victim, and, in cases like mine, some enablers. – Rappler.com
Camille Elemia is Rappler's lead reporter for media, disinformation issues, and democracy. She won an ILO award in 2017. She received the prestigious Fulbright-Hubert Humphrey fellowship in 2019, allowing her to further study media and politics in the US. Email email@example.com