[OPINION | Dash of SAS] Why it’s important that SC defined sexual harassment


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[OPINION | Dash of SAS] Why it’s important that SC defined sexual harassment
The Supreme Court's decision on the case of a former Xavier University Cagayan de Oro law professor settles that power – not sex – is central to what sexual harassment really is


 The professor was known for opening the first class by asking students to introduce themselves, and the girls to say if they had a boyfriend. 

If the student did not have a boyfriend, he would say something along the lines of: “You better find one before it’s too late.” “What are you waiting for? You’re getting old. You may never find someone.” 

These were the more benign of his responses. The most malevolent would include a short interrogation, with questions like when was the student’s last relationship and how they may end up an “old maid.” You were considered lucky if you only had to state the minimum information required before he moved on to the next student.

Male students – there were not many in my College of Mass Communication – were not subjected to the same kind cross examination. 

I was one of those who had it lucky, but I asked him, “So what if we still did not have a boyfriend?”  

I still remember how incredulous he sounded for having to state the obvious: “If you wait too long before you have a boyfriend, you’ll be too old, and then who will want you? You’ll be like used goods in a fire sale.” 

The same professor had a girlfriend who was also a mass communication student at the time. I know because I saw them holding hands in church. To be clear, the girl was not the professor’s direct student but she was a direct 19-ish undergraduate and he was probably a 30-ish lawyer.   

This was 1993, I was a junior at the University of the Philippines taking a mandatory class in Mass Media Law. I had heard the rumors about this professor but didn’t think it could be  that bad. But it was. I was so disgusted that I dropped the class and enrolled myself in the only other Mass Media Law class, which was offered once a week on Saturday mornings from 9 am to 12 pm.  

The scrutiny and embarrassment the female students were subjected to and the professor’s relationship with a student were both an open secret to the faculty and the students. I told one of my professors about my experience in his class and she simply shook her head. 

I was studying at the most liberal university in the country known for valuing subversion as necessary for survival and where being outspoken was seen as indicative of critical thought and praised as much as academic performance. 

And yet in the face of a sexist, arrogant professor, the only act of resistance available to me was dropping his class – an act that was actually more of a punishment to me. I was the one who was  inconvenienced by having to attend a 3-hour class every Saturday morning and a lengthened academic week. 

Sexual harassment is about power  

In another university, a professor also subjected his female students to similar harassment.

Cresencio Co Untian was a law professor at Xavier University Cagayan de Oro when he sent his female students romantic text messages, showed one a naked photo of a woman and told her it looked like her in front of other students, and made a double entendre when a student requested him to repeat a question by saying, “Sir, come again?”

Untian did not deny the incidents, but he claimed that his text messages like “luv u” were merely friendly and that his actions did not humiliate the students.

Well, apparently they did. His actions humiliated them enough for them to file a complaint with Xavier University, which, in 2002, decided not to renew his contract for violating their anti-sexual harassment policy. 

In 2017, the Integrated Bar of the Philippines suspended him from practicing law for two years. IBP stopped short of calling Untian’s behavior as sexual harassment because “there was no evidence to show that respondent demanded or requested sexual favors.”

However, the Supreme Court overruled IBP’s decision, saying in a unanimous ruling that sexual harassment need not result to being forced to have sex: “The Court [has] explained that the essence of sexual harassment is not the violation of the victim’s sexuality but the abuses of power by the offender.”

Let’s say that again for the people in the cheap seats: it is still called sexual harassment even if you were not forced to have sex, i.e. raped. Sexual harassment refers to any sexual or gender-related behavior that is unwanted by a person who is subjected to it and violates his or her dignity.

The Anti-Sexual Harassment Law was passed in 1995. It set the framework and the vocabulary to define what constitutes sexual harassment, but it is faster to pass laws than change behaviors and beliefs. Until now, not all offices or schools have an anti-sexual harassment policy. 

That’s why the Supreme Court decision is so important for its finality and for its clarity in redrawing the lines on how power – and not sex – is central to what sexual harassment really is. It validates what those who have experienced sexual harassment have gone through.

It is important because the President and other world leaders like him have been normalizing sexism and sexual harassment and signaling to everyone that this behavior is acceptable because they are just “jokes.” 

They aren’t. The Supreme Court says so. – Rappler.com 





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