March 28, 2023

The town of Bakun, Benguet passed an ordinance prohibiting and penalizing gender-based harassment in all its public spaces.

Through Ordinance 01-2023, the municipal council recognizes that street harassment is a daily reality for majority of women, lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgenders in the country.

It stated the provisions of the Revised Penal Code on unjust vexation does not cover the gender-based, misogynistic, and homophobic public spaces harassment.

Also, the code did not clearly define or specify the particular acts or omissions punished, while provisions on sexual harassment only at present cover harassment in the workplace between a superior and subordinate.

The town ordinance provides penalties against unwanted comments, gestures and actions forced on a person in a public place without their consent. These actions are directed at them because of their actual or perceived sex, gender expression, or sexual orientation and identity.

The ordinance also prohibits actions such as unwanted cursing; wolf-whistling or the act of making a distinct two-note whistle made to show high interest of someone especially someone viewed as sexually attractive; cat-calling; leering; sexist or homophobic, transphobic slurs; persistent request for someone’s name, number or destination after clear refusal; persistent telling of sexual jokes; use of sexual names, comments and demands; following; exposing private parts for sexual gratification or intimidation; public masturbation; groping; and stalking.

Those found violating the ordinance shall be penalized from P500 or one day community service up to P2,500 and imprisonment for a period not exceeding six months, or both at the discretion of the court for repeat offenders.  

If the violator is a minor, he or she must be brought to the nearest social welfare and development office for appropriate action.

“When the victim utters the phrase, ‘no means no’ or its translation in the local dialect, the presumption of absence of consent is rendered conclusive. When the violator is a stranger to the victim, absence of consent is also presumed,” the ordinance stated.

The Philippine National Police Women and Children’s Desks and Barangay Violence Against Women (VAW) desks in all police stations and in the seven barangays of Bakun shall attend to the complaints under the ordinance. They shall coordinate with the proper authorities and shall keep a proper record of the offenders.

Also, restaurants, buildings and other privately-owned establishments open to the public shall adopt a zero-tolerance policy against harassment. These establishments shall also provide assistance to victims of harassments and shall be in coordination with concerned government agencies.

Likewise, security guards in these places may be deputized to apprehend perpetrators caught in the act and are required to immediately coordinate with the PNP.

A signage bearing the “no to gender-based street and public spaces harassment” must be displayed in areas visible to the public. A multi-sectoral safety audit shall also be conducted by the WCPD and barangay VAWC desks annually to determine the effective implementation of the ordinance within their respective areas.  

The ordinance was forwarded to the provincial board committee on social services for review. – Ofelia C. Empian