Ana Lea Javier takes pride in being a member of Viva Hot Babes, a group of eight young, vivacious dancers who have become hugely popular among television viewers. She was a recent addition to the group, having joined sometime during the campaign period for last year’s elections, when the Hot Babes stumped for a number of national candidates.
Recently, however, Javier was prominently in the news, but the controversy she was involved in went beyond the usual show-biz innuendo. She has not only accused a congressman of sexual harassment; she has brought charges against him.
Women’s rights advocates have rallied behind Javier, using her case to rouse public opinion on the issue of sexual harassment.
The congressman in question is Rep. Antonio Diaz of Zambales. On January 30 Javier went on television to say that Diaz sexually harassed her and failed to give her the P50,000 talent fee that he and her manager had agreed on.
Two weeks later, on February 14, Javier surprised the 77-year-old Diaz with a Valentine’s Day “present”—she filed sexual harassment charges against him before the Department of Justice.
In her four-page complaint, Javier said Diaz forcibly kissed, caressed and embraced her at his beach resort in Iba, Zambales, on January 20, after the birthday party of Gov. Vic Magsaysay of Zambales.
Diaz allegedly offered Javier another P50,000 if she would give in to his advances.
Javier is the first show-biz personality to openly complain and file a sexual harassment case against a politician.
Diaz denied Javier’s allegations and asked Justice Secretary Raul M. Gonzalez to allow him to air his side. Diaz had earlier dismissed the allegation as an attempt by Javier to “attract publicity.”
“Her being a Hot Babe member is not reason for people to trample on her person,” Gabriela spokesperson Gertranjo Libang told The Manila Times in a phone interview, in reaction to statements that Javier may have provoked the alleged sexual assault because of her “sexy image.”
“Nobody has the right or the power to abuse a person regardless of job or manner of dressing,” said Emily Magharing, spokesperson for the feminist legal resource Women’s Legal Bureau.
Added Rowena Guanzon, a lawyer: Javier has a decent job and she refused to have sex. “Why is it that women are blamed when they complain against an abuse? We should stop victim-blaming and face the real issue,” she said.
The real issue is not one but three, as far as sexual harassment victims are concerned, Magharing said.
• That five women and children get sexually harassed every day or one every five hours
• That the flawed Antisexual Harassment Act of 1995 (R.A. 7877) should be amended
• That society, including the male-dominated judiciary, “is not that sensitive to the sufferings with which a person, in this case a woman, goes through when faced with such a traumatic, highly degrading experience.”
Javier’s case has drawn wide publicity, but it doesn’t guarantee her victory in court, or that of hundreds of other abused Filipino women who have also filed charges in court.
For one, the country’s Antisexual Harassment Act has flaws. “The penalty is insufficient and it has limited coverage,” said Guanzon.
“One provision cited that sexual harassment happens when a person of authority or influence demands, requests or requires any sexual favor from the other. But what if that person proceeds to harass sexually without even asking? In most cases it is what happens!” she said.
R.A. 7877, which was enacted in 1995, penalizes those found guilty with imprisonment of from one to six months, or a fine of P10,000 to P20,000, or both. Guanzon considers the punishment too light, considering the anguish and humiliation suffered by a sexual harassment victim.
The male perspective
Another big obstacle, said Guanzon, is that the law is interpreted from a male perspective, making it more prone to biases and gender stereotyping. “Only about 30 percent of those working in the judiciary system are women. There is a great tendency to trivialize the violence committed against women’s rights,” she said.
Women’s groups who have rallied behind Javier believe that sexual harassment is not a selective offense.
“We have addressed many cases wherein the victim was appropriately dressed and is not working in the entertainment business. But all the same they became victims,” said Magharing.
In the summer of 2003, the Center for Women’s Resources released a report which indicated that five women and children on the average get sexually harassed every day, or one in every five hours.
In another publication on sexual harassment released by the Saligan Women’s Unit in Ateneo, the statistics revealed that the majority of the aggressors are male (95 percent) and that the victims are usually women “between the ages of 16 and 19 (67 percent of the time).”
Another informal study conducted by Saligan in various trial courts (both at the prosecution and court levels) in the cities of Manila, Caloocan, Quezon, Pasay and Makati indicated that “something had gone awry somewhere along the implementation of R.A. 7877.”
Of the 28 cases filed in court between 1995 and 2000, more than half resulted in a dismissal. The reasons ranged from the desistance of the complainant and the filing of a case of acts of lasciviousness instead of sexual harassment, to the difficulty in establishing the elements of the crime as stated in the law.
The report further stated: “It is surprising that there were a few complaints filed, considering the nature of the places surveyed. . . . The general public’s failure to properly understand the issue of sexual harassment, the general attitude of the people surrounding the case (i.e. the prosecutors, police, lawyers, etc.) and the lack of faith in the legal system as a whole may have an impact on the decision not to pursue a relief in court.”
The law is also poorly implemented, Magharing said. “No monitoring body checks on sexual harassment incidence in local and private institutions.”
A survey by the Employers’ Confederation of the Philippines recently showed that 64 percent of the companies in the country have yet to comply with the law of setting up guidelines for sexual harassment cases.
Amor de los Reyes of another NGO, the Women’s Crisis Center, said that despite the presence of a law and growing awareness about women’s rights, her group’s hot line got only 13 calls last year. “Some probably cannot summon the courage to seek for help. Maybe they’re afraid to lose their jobs or suffer the humiliation.”
Not only does a sexual harassment victim face the threat of humiliation and losing a job. She is also burdened with psychological and emotional trauma.
Paranoia sets in Gertranjo Libang of Gabriela, who is also a psychologist, said a victim “gets paranoid and thinks that it is her fault. But she is angry of course, so she comes out into the open to report the offense. When people wrongly start accusing her of improper decorum, her self-esteem starts to diminish. That’s when it becomes more problematic, because the victim may no longer want to pursue the case.”
In Javier’s case, Libang said, “the girl was probably too scared, aware that she was in an uncontrolled environment where the reported incident took place. In sexual harassment, only one thing can stop the victim from fighting: fear.”
What is sexual harassment?
It is any unwanted, unwelcome sexual conduct, advances or attention, request for sexual behavior or other physical verbal or nonverbal conduct, which is sexual.
The Antisexual Harassment Act of 1995 (R.A. 7877) states: “Work, education or training-related sexual harassment is committed by an employer, employee, manager, supervisor, agent of the employer, teacher, instructor, professor, coach, trainer or any other person who, having authority, influence or moral ascendancy over another in a work or training or education environment, demands, requests or otherwise requires any sexual favor from the other, regardless of whether the demand, request or requirement for submission is accepted by the object of said Act.”
Some forms of sexual harassment:
• Green jokes
• Obscene letters
• Sexual proposition
• Intentional touching
• Suggestive looks
• Posting of explicitly sexual materials
• Persistent demands for dates or sex
What you should do to stop sexual harassment
• If someone tries to make advances to you, say “No!” and stop your aggressor.
• Immediately report the harassment to the concerned person or office within your place of work or institution (e.g. immediate superior, human resources, guidance center)
• If possible, narrate the incident to a third person you can confide in.
• File a complaint for sexual harassment under R.A. 7877 or other provisions of the Revised Penal code. You also have available remedies under the civil law provisions on damages.
• Do not believe in the myth that sexual harassment is actually meant as a compliment.
• Seek counseling and join a support group.
• Conduct an awareness program to inform others about sexual harassment.
Saligan Women’s Unit