Republic Act No. 7877, otherwise known as the Anti-Sexual Harassment Act of 1995, was the first criminal statute enacted in the Philippines to penalize sexual harassment.

It was adopted pursuant to the declared policy that “the State shall value the dignity of every individual, enhance the development of its human resources, guarantee full respect for human rights, and uphold the dignity of workers, employees, applicants for employment, students or those undergoing training, instruction or education.

It defines sexual harassment as follows:

SECTION 3. Work, Education or Training -Related, Sexual Harassment Defined. — Work, education or training-related sexual harassment is committed by an employer, employee, manager, supervisor, agent of the employer, teacher, instructor, professor, coach, trainor, 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.

(a) In a work related or employment environment, sexual harassment is committed when:

(1) The sexual favor is made as a condition in the hiring or in the employment, re-employment or continued employment of said individual, or in granting said individual favorable compensation, terms, conditions, promotions, or privileges; or the refusal to grant the sexual favor results in limiting, segregating or classifying the employee which in any way would discriminate, deprive or diminish employment opportunities or otherwise adversely affect said employee;

(2)    The above acts would impair the employee’s rights or privileges under existing labor laws; or

(3)    The above acts would result in an intimidating, hostile, or offensive environment for the employee.

Any person who directs or induces another to commit any act of sexual harassment as herein defined, or who cooperates in the commission thereof by another without which it would not have been committed, shall also be held liable under this Act.

Sexual harassment, as initially conceived, was the product of a consciousness that emerged among women, and propelled various feminist movements. Its subsequent recognition in law is an offshoot of those campaigns.

In the case of Escandor vs. People of the Philippines (G.R. No. 211962, July 06, 2020), the Supreme Court

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retraced the concept of sexual harassment. The SC held that it began in the context of unwanted sexual relations imposed by superiors on subordinates in the workplace.

As early as 1887, the plight of women working in factories and the extortion vis-a-vis sexual favors that they experience have been noted by several commentators. (REVA B. SlEGEL, A Short History of Sexual Harassment, in DIRECTIONS IN SEXUAL HARASSMENT LAW 3(2004).)

In 1840, women’s moral reform societies in the United States started petition drives for statutes penalizing seduction, in response to what were then inadequate legal protection of women against sexual predation at work.( MARILYN WOOD HILL, THEIR SISTERS’ KEEPERS: PROSTITUTION IN NEW YORK CITY 140-141 (1993).)

In the decade before the American Civil War, women’s rights movement began pursuing discussions on women’s socioeconomic conditions which make them vulnerable to sexual coercion. (REVA B. SlEGEL, A Short History of Sexual Harassment, in DIRECTIONS IN SEXUAL HARASSMENT LAW 6 (2004).)

According to the SC, Women’s rights advocates publicized the case of domestic servant Hester Vaughn who was held guilty of infanticide. After being fired by her employer who impregnated her, Vaughn gave birth alone and impoverished, and left her infant dead Vaughn’s case propelled efforts by women’s groups to institute legal reforms to protect women from sexual predation, and to enable other modes of collective self-help, such as organizing labor unions for women.

These developments made by the early feminist and labor movements were sustained in the 1970s by several lawyers and activists representing women in courts. It was during this time that a concerted retaliation against sexual harassment was pursued by advocates.

The term “sexual harassment” was coined by Lin Farley during a consciousness-raising session for a Cornell University course on women and work, where the women in the discussion group repeatedly described being fired or quitting a job because they were harassed and intimidated by men.

In her works, Farley recognized the sexual coercion women experienced at work as a “social order that situates sexual relations between men and women in relations of economic dependency.”

In April 1975, Farley testified before the New York City Human Rights Commission Hearings on Women and Work, and defined sexual harassment as “unsolicited nonreciprocal male behavior that asserts a woman’s sex role over her function as a worker.”

Inspired by the case of Carmita Dickerson Wood, an administrative assistant at Cornell University who quit her position due to harassment by her supervisor, Farley and other women activists at Cornell formed the Working Women United, a women’s rights organization that sought to combat sexual harassment of women in the workplace. (Carrie N. Baker, The Emergence of Organized Feminist Resistance to Sexual Harassment in the United States in the 1970s, 19 J. WOMEN’S HISTORY 161, 164 (2007).)

In 1979, Catharine MacKinnon published her book “Sexual Harassment of Working Women” which propelled the adoption of laws on sexual harassment in the United States. (STACY L. MALLICOAT, Women and Victimization: Stalking and Sexual Harassment in WOMEN AND CRIME: A TEXT/READER 199 (2011).) According to the SC, her central argument was that sexual harassment was sex discrimination: “Sexual harassment is discrimination ‘based on sex’ within the social meaning of sex, as the concept is socially incarnated in sex roles. Pervasive and ‘accepted’ as they are, these rigid roles have no place in the allocation of social and economic resources.”68 Through the works of Lin Farley and Catharine MacKinnon, the discourse on sexual harassment translated into that of anti-discrimination.

In 1964, in the United States, the Civil Rights Act prohibited acts of discrimination on the basis of sex, among others. (Philippine Telegraph and Telephone Co. v. National Labor Relations Commission, 338 Phil. 1093, 1110 (1997) [Per J. Regalado, Second Division])

American jurisprudence subsequently recognized two (2) categories of sexual harassment: first, quid pro quo; and second, hostile environment sexual harassment.

Quid pro quo harassment conditions employment or job benefits on sexual favors; (Scalia, Eugene, The Strange Career of Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment, 21 HARV. J. L. & PUB. POL’Y 307,308(1998) citing Bryson v Chicago State University 96 F.3d 912, 915 (7lh Cir. 1996)) while hostile environment sexual harassment results from sexual advances which make the working environment hostile or abusive to the employee. (Harris vs Forklift Systems, Inc, 510 US 17, 21(1993))

The two types of sexual harassment recognized in American jurisprudence are akin to sexual harassment as defined under Republic Act No. 7877. Section 3(a)(l) similarly recognizes that sexual harassment is committed when a sexual favor is made a condition for employment or for the grant of certain benefits. Likewise, Section 3(a)(3) recognizes sexual harassment as committed when the offender’s advances result in an intimidating, hostile, or offensive environment for the employee.

In the Philippines, the Anti-Sexual Harassment Act of 1995 is a relatively new law. Although the Revised Penal Code, enacted in 1930, already penalized offenses relating to violations of chastity, Congress saw it fit to enact a new law specifically punishing sexual harassment committed in an “employment, education, or training environment.”

Per SC, the original provisions of the Revised Penal Code on Rape (prior to its amendment in 1997) already punished a man who has carnal knowledge of a woman under specified circumstances. That the crime is committed in an employment, school, or training environment was not an element. This is also true for other crimes centering on a perpetrator’s lascivious, harassing or otherwise vexatious conduct, such as Acts of Lasciviousness, Seduction, and Unjust vexation. These offenses pertain to acts which are not necessarily committed in an employment, training, or school environment.

Under Republic Act No. 7877, an act of sexual harassment may result in three distinct liabilities: criminal, civil, and administrative. An action for each can proceed independently of the others.

In a criminal action, the accused is prosecuted for a wrong committed against society itself or the State whose law he or she violated. In a civil action, a defendant is sued by the plaintiff in an effort to correct a private wrong. The purpose of an administrative action, on the other hand, is to protect the public service by imposing administrative sanctions to an erring public officer.

Sexual harassment as defined and penalized under Republic Act No. 7877 requires three elements for an accused to be convicted: (1) that the employer, employee, manager, supervisor, agent of the employer, teacher, instructor, professor, coach, trainor, or any other person has authority, influence, or moral-ascendancy over another; (2) the authority, influence, or moral ascendancy exists in a work-related, training-related, or education-related environment, and (3) the employer, employee, manager, supervisor, agent of the employer, teacher, instructor, professor, coach, trainor, or any other person who has authority, influence, or moral-ascendancy over another makes a demand, request, or requirement of a sexual favor.

The key elements which distinguish sexual harassment, as penalized by Republic Act 7877, from other chastity-related and vexatious offenses are: first, its setting; and second, the person who may commit it. As to its setting, the offense may only be committed in a work-related, training-related, or education-related environment. As to the perpetrator, it may be committed by a person who exercises authority, influence, or moral ascendancy over another.

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