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Sexual Harassment and the Safe Spaces Act: Escandor vs People of the Philippines

The case of Escandor vs People of the Philippines, G.R. No. 211962, reminds us that the core of sexual harassment in the workplace is the abuse of power by a superior over a subordinate. This is specified and penalized by Republic Act No. 7877, also known as the Anti-Sexual Harassment Act of 1995. 

Mrs. Cindy Sheila Cobarde-Gamallo was a Contractual Employee of the NEDA Regional Office No. 7 for the UNICEF-assisted Fifth Country Program for Children. Meanwhile, Jose Romeo C. Escandor was a public officer and the Regional Director of ENDA Regional Office No. 7. 

Escandor was charged with violating Republic Act No. 7877, otherwise known as the Anti-Sexual Harassment Act of 1995. Allegedly, he committed several acts of sexual harassment from July 1999 until November 2003, when Gamallo resigned from her job. These acts include but are not limited to: touching her without her consent, such as grabbing her hands or thigh, embracing her and kissing her on the forehead; telling her that if it were possible, he would have prevented her marriage with her husband; asking her on dates; sending her sexually suggestive messages; telling her that he was in love with her; giving her gifts of chocolates, wine, and a bracelet on Christmas; and grabbing her on a stairway and kissing her on the lips during an office Christmas party in 2002. 

In his defense, Escandor testified that he never committed any of the acts that Gamallo accused him of doing. In fact, he asserted that the case was a plan hatched by several employees to oust him and his wife from the office. 

The Sandiganbayan found Escandor guilty of sexual harassment. It gave credence to Gamallo’s testimony, noting that “there is nothing in the records that would indicate that Gamallo is dishonest or untruthful.” Escandor was sentenced to six months of imprisonment, as well as a fine of Php20,000.00. Escandor filed a Motion for Reconsideration, but his motion was denied by the Sandingbayan, leading to the creation of this petition.

Despite his attempts to reconsider his verdict, Escandor’s guilt for sexual harassment was established beyond reasonable doubt. According to the Anti-Sexual Harassment Act of 1995, three requirements must be met before someone can be convicted fo sexual harassment. Firstly, the accused must have authority, influence, or moral ascendancy over the victim. Secondly, the authority, influence, or moral ascendancy must be in a work, training, or education-related environment. Finally, the accused must make a demand, request, or requirement of a sexual favor from the victim.

This case fulfills all three requirements to convict Escandor for sexual harassment. Though Escandor was not her immediate superior, he nonetheless had authority over Gamallo at their workplace. This fulfills the first two requirements. His actions, such as asking her out on dates and sending her unsolicited text messages alluding to sex, amounted to a request for sexual favors, fulfilling the third requirement.

It should also be noted that R.A. No. 11313, also known as the Safe Spaces Act, does not undo or abandon the definition of sexual harassment under R.A. No. 7877, or the Anti-Sexual Harassment Law of 1995. Instead, these two acts cover separate instances of sexual harassment. While the Safe Spaces Act punished acts of sexually harassing someone based on sexual orientation, gender identity and/or expression, the Anti-Sexual Harassment Act of 1995 punishes abuse of authority, influence or moral ascendancy to enable the sexual harassment of a subordinate.

As a result, Escandor’s Petition for Review on Certiorari was DENIED by the Supreme Court. His punishment of imprisonment of six months and a fine of P20,000.00 remained.

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