Getting Comfortable with the Safe Spaces Act

A Look into the Salient Provisions of Republic Act No. 11313 and its IRR
By Winona Maraiah M. Fajardo, Associate, Villaraza & Angangco
In a move to address modern ways of committing gender-based sexual harassment (“GBSH”) and other acts of sexual abuse not covered under the Anti-Sexual Harassment Act of 1995 (“Anti-Sexual Harassment Act”), Republic Act No. 11313, otherwise known as the “Safe Spaces Act” or more commonly known as the “Bawal Bastos Law,” took effect on 03 August 2019, while its implementing rules and regulations (“IRR”) was approved on 28 October 2019. 
Not only does the Safe Spaces Act address sexual harassment against women, the law’s expansive coverage penalizes misogynistic, transphobic and homophobic acts. This means that the acts or remarks which are made punishable under the law can be committed against men, women and the LGBTQ++; or in other words, ANYBODY.
The Anti-Sexual Harassment Act make persons who hold positions of authority, influence and moral ascendancy punishable for committing sexual harassment. Under the Safe Spaces Act, GBSH may now be committed between peers and by a subordinate to a superior officer in workplaces, or wherever work is being undertaken by an employee. Minors can also be perpetrators under the law but will be liable only for administrative sanctions by the school as stated in their school handbook.
Employers and heads of educational and training institutions must create a Committee on Decorum and Investigation (“CODI”) which will serve as an independent internal grievance mechanism that will investigate and resolve GBSH cases in the workplace and educational and training institutions. Each CODI must be headed by a woman and have at least a representative from each employee level (i.e. rank-and-file, supervisory, etc.), with at least half of its membership comprised of women. Each CODI must also ensure that there is equal representation of persons of diverse sexual orientation, gender identity and/or expression.
Aside from the acts committed in the workplace and educational or training institutions previously punished by the Anti-Sexual Harassment Act, unwanted or uninvited actions, remarks or slurs which discriminate, stereotype or indicate prejudice on the basis of sex may now be committed online and in the streets or public spaces. The crime may be committed regardless of motive of the person committing the actions or remarks enumerated such as catcalling, persistent uninvited comments, gestures or telling of sexual jokes/names, relentless requests for personal details, and unwanted advances that threaten one’s sense of personal space and safety.
Public spaces where the penalized acts or remarks may be perpetrated include streets, malls, restaurants, public markets, government offices, public utility or private vehicles, and other recreational spaces such as theaters and spas. 
The law also makes the management of restaurants, bars, resorts, casinos and similar establishments provide assistance to victims of GBSH by coordinating with police authorities, installing of and making footage of CCTVs available upon order of the court, and to provide a safe environment for victims by posting visible signs against GBSH. Whenever possible, online platforms for reporting GBSH incidents should also be provided. A security guard or any witness to the commission of a crime is authorized by the law to conduct a citizen’s arrest when perpetrators are caught in the act. Depending on the gravity of the act or remark committed or made, GBSH in public spaces are penalized with fines ranging from PhP1,000.00 to PhP100,000.00 or imprisonment of 6 days up to 6 months, or both fine and imprisonment. Prescription can range from 1 year to 10 years. 
Meanwhile, aside from the penalties already mentioned, GBSH committed in a public utility vehicle (“PUV”) may give reason for the cancellation of a perpetrator’s license by the Land Transportation Office (“LTO”) or suspension or revocation of a transportation operator’s franchise by the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (“LTFRB”). Both the employee and the owner or operator of a common carrier are made liable by the law for the crime committed. A higher penalty is likewise imposed if the crime is committed by the driver and the victim is a passenger.
Other circumstances of committing the crime which are imposed a greater penalty are when the crime is:  (1) against a minor, senior citizen, person with disability (“PWD”), or a breastfeeding mother nursing her child; (2) made by a member of the uniformed services while in uniform; (3) committed against a person diagnosed with a mental condition which tends to impair consent; and (4) committed within the premises of a government agency by a government employee.
GBSH committed online, or through the use of any information and communications technology (“ICT”), include any terrorizing and intimidating of victims through threats, unwanted remarks and comments online (through public or private means), cyberstalking, uploading or sharing of any form of media (i.e. photos, videos or voice recordings) with sexual content without the victim’s consent, impersonating identities or posting lies about the victim, and filing of false abuse reports online to silence victims. GBSH crimes committed online do not prescribe and therefore, can be punished even after 10, 20 or 30 years. Online GBSH crimes are penalized with imprisonment of 6 months and 1 day to 6 years or a fine ranging from PhP100,000.00 to PhP500,000.00.
If the GBSH is committed online by a juridical person such as a corporation or a partnership, its license or franchise will be automatically deemed revoked and its officers will be held liable. In case of media, the perpetrator will be the editor, reporter, station manager or broadcaster.
Local government units (“LGUs”) are held primarily responsible for fighting against GBSH in public spaces, while the Department of Interior and Local Government (“DILG”) is tasked with ensuring the full implementation of the Safe Safes Act.
As an exemption, legitimate expressions of indigenous culture and tradition, such as wearing of traditional tribal attires which may show partial nudity, and breastfeeding in public shall not be penalized under the law.
Note: The above article expresses views of the author only and not those of Villaraza & Angangco. This article has been prepared for informational purposes only and should not be considered as legal advice.