MANILA: The Philippine president has signed a Bill into law penalising a range of acts of sexual harassment including catcalling, wolf-whistling and persistent telling of sexual jokes, which pro-women’s groups have accused him of committing.
Philippine officials released on Monday a copy of Republic Act 11313, known as the “Safe Spaces Act,” which Rodrigo Duterte signed in April.
The reason for the delay in its public release was not immediately clear.
The Bill’s main author, opposition Sen Risa Hontiveros, has called the law a “massive victory” against a growing culture of rude sexist actions.
“This is a big victory and a major push back against the growing ‘rude culture’ in our streets and communities,” she said.
“With this law, we will reclaim our streets from sexual harassers and gender bigots and make public spaces safe for all.”
The law defines a range of offensive acts, including catcalling, wolf-whistling, intrusive gazing, cursing, misogynistic acts, sexist slurs and persistent telling of sexual jokes in public, including in streets, workplaces, vehicles, schools, recreational areas, bars or online.
Other offenses include stalking, exposing “private parts, groping or any advances, whether verbal or physical, that is unwanted and has threatened one’s sense of personal space and physical safety.”
Restaurants, bars, cinemas and other places of recreation are required to install clearly visible warning signs against would-be violators, including a hotline number to allow rapid reporting of offenses, and to designate an officer to receive complaints or apprehend perpetrators.
“It is the policy of the state to value the dignity of every human person and guarantee full respect for human rights,” the law says.
Punishments include fines and imprisonment depending on the gravity of the offense.
Foreign violators would be deported after serving a jail term and paying fines.
Duterte has been known for speeches laden with expletives and sexual jokes.
Activists have repeatedly accused him of sexism and misogyny but supporters have defended him by saying he has introduced regulations to protect and uphold women’s rights.
Last year, Duterte publicly ordered troops to shoot female communist guerrillas in the vagina to render them “useless.”
He was also criticised for kissing a married woman on the lips in front of a large Filipino audience in South Korea last year.
Meanwhile, women’s rights political party Gabriela said on Twitter that Duterte was “the single most brazen violator of the law’s intent with his staple macho-fascist remarks”.
“Under this context, implementing the law will certainly be a challenge.”
Referring to Duterte as “the misogynist-in-chief”, journalist and campaigner Inday Espina-Varona said that while the law was “long overdue, his signing it only rams home the truth: he believes himself above the law”.
Duterte’s arch-critic, detained Sen Leila De Lima, said she hoped the president would not be exempt from compliance.
The president had repeatedly criticised De Lima over an affair, saying she was “not only screwing her driver, she is also screwing the nation,” referring to drug trafficking charges she said were politically motivated.
“If we count all his acts and comments disrespecting women since he came to power, the penalties under the law would be sorely lacking,” said De Lima.
Duterte’s spokesman Salvador Panelo said the president would comply with the law but rejected misogyny allegations.
“When he cracks jokes, it is intended to make people laugh, never to offend,” Salvador Panelo told reporters.
“You women should know that. Misogyny is different from making people laugh.” — AP/AFP