16 Jul 2019

Duterte signs Philippine law against public sexual harassment

7:23 pm on 16 July 2019

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

Philippines' President Rodrigo Duterte.

Philippines' President Rodrigo Duterte. Photo: AFP / Lillian Suwanrumpha

Those caught under the Safe Spaces Act could face up to six months in jail and a fine of up to 500,000 pesos ($NZ14,590).

The law was signed in April but only made public by officials on Monday.

However, a women's rights party said Mr Duterte was himself "the single most brazen violator of the law's intent".

Under the law, gender-based sexual harassment is banned in all public places, including streets, workplaces, recreational areas and public vehicles.

Listed offences include groping, stalking, flashing and making misogynistic, transphobic, homophobic or sexist slurs.

Businesses like restaurants and cinemas will have to display signs warning against harassment, and display the numbers of telephone hotlines where the public can report alleged offences.

The law also covers gender-based sexual harassment online, including physical, psychological and emotional threats made either publicly or through private messages.

'Reclaim our streets'

Punishments range from a fine of P1,000 to P500,000 to jail sentences from six days to six months, said state media outlet the Philippine News Agency.

Officials did not explain the delay between the law being signed and it being made public.

The main author of the bill, opposition Senator Risa Hontiveros, said its passing was a "massive victory".

"With this law, we will reclaim our streets from sexual harassers and gender bigots and make public spaces safe for all."

But she said it was "only as good as how it is implemented".

Women's political party Gabriela said the new legislation was the result of hard work by various women's groups to combat gaps in the law and an "alarming rise in street-based and public sexual harassment".

But the party said Mr Duterte was "the single most brazen violator of the law's intent" and "the chief propagator of a culture that degrades and objectifies women, and that which exhorts cat-callers, sexual offenders and even uniformed personnel to disrespect women".

"Under this context, implementing the law will certainly be a challenge," said the party.

Mr Duterte has repeatedly made headlines for his provocative statements about women.

Earlier last year, he said he had sexually assaulted a maid when he was a teenager, though his spokesman later said he had made the story up.

He also sparked criticism after he kissed an overseas Filipina worker on the lips during a public event, and once told Filipino soldiers they should shoot female communist rebels in the vagina.

In April 2016, during an election campaign rally, he joked about the 1989 murder and rape of a female Australian missionary in Davao, where he was mayor at the time.

He said she had been beautiful, and that "the mayor should have been first, what a waste". His office later apologised.


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