Indian Catholic News

Duterte passes sexual harassment law

Philippine bishops want Duterte punished under new law banning misogynistic, transphobic, homophobic or sexist slurs.

Church leaders have welcomed a new law that penalizes gender-based sexual harassment, saying it should apply first to President Rodrigo Duterte who is known to be fond of dishing out sexist jokes. (Photo courtesy of Presidential Communications Office)

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has signed a law criminalizing catcalling, wolf-whistling and other forms of public sexual harassment.

And the country's Catholic bishops welcomed it, with a challenge to apply the law to everyone, including the president, considered in many quarters as the country’s chief misogynist, who is fond of making sexist and rape jokes.

"It is a good development," said Bishop Buenaventura Famadico of San Pablo. "Let’s hope that it is applied to everyone without giving anybody any favor."

The presidential palace announced on July 15 that Duterte has signed the Safe Spaces Act, which imposes punishments against gender-based sexual harassment.

Those found groping, stalking, flashing and making misogynistic, transphobic, homophobic or sexist slurs will be fined up to US$9,750 and could face up to six months in prison.

Bishop Ruperto Santos of Balanga said the law "will foster human decency and ethics," adding that it can be a "great help to upholding human respect and good manners."

"All must, with no exception, follow and fulfill the essence of it. All must set an example to comply with what this law implies and calls for," he said.

Bishop Arturo Bastes of Sorsogon said the first to be penalized by the law should be Duterte himself. He said it is time for the president "to be careful lest his foul mouth gets the better of him."

The prelate said the law should make people respectful of others, especially to vulnerable members of society.

Duterte drew the ire of women's groups even before he became president.

During the election campaign in 2016, the future president joked about the 1989 murder and rape of a female Australian missionary in the city of Davao, where Duterte was mayor. He said she had been beautiful and that "the mayor should have been first [to rape her], what a waste."

In a speech to soldiers, the president said government troops should shoot female communist rebels in the vagina.

Salvador Panelo, the president's spokesman, said Duterte "recognizes the need for that law" and because he is the "chief enforcer of all laws ... he will be the first one to obey the law."

"You assume that the president is rude. He never was rude. When he cracks jokes, it was intended to make people laugh, never to offend," said Panelo.

Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo noted the irony of Duterte passing the law. He said the country has many laws that are not being followed.

Benedictine nun Mary John Mananzan welcomed the law because it will provide some deterrent to sexual harassment. The nun, however, added that Duterte "should be the first to be convicted" when the law is implemented.

The president signed the law in April but the presidential palace only announced it on July 15.

Source: UCAN

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