Yes, but is it sexual harassment ?

The case of alleged sexual harassment raised by Cristy Ramos against 2 members of the Philippine national football team, the widely (and wildly) popular Azkals, has brought the issue of sexual harassment into the forefront once more, this time in the area of team sports.

The details of the incident has been widely reported elsewhere, and need not be repeated here. Suffice it to say that it has led to wide, and sometimes acrimonious, debate online and off among those who would condemn the perceived sexual “offenders” and those who would defend, or at least offer explanations for,  their actions.

First the disclaimer: The Ramos sisters were good friends and our neighbors at the subdivision where we grew up. The Ramoses are family friends, FVR and my dad having gone to college together. However, we drifted apart during our college years, having attended different schools, although I would bump into the recently-departed Jo once in awhile, she being a popular campus figure in U.P. Diliman.  I would also see Cristy’s husband, Freddy Jalasco, socially from time to time although I have not seen him in years.

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There are two particular articles which I found most enlightening, all the more so for being from the point of view of women who are no strangers to the atmosphere and psychology of men’s team sports. One is by Lia Cruz (Sexual Harassment in mens’ locker room should be challenged) and the other by Mika Palileo (What is sexual harassment? On Sofia Cristina and the woman question), both at the AksyonTV website. Their insights are fascinating and cast light on one of the darker aspects of popular sports.

But the question remains, is it sexual harassment ?

Not by the provisions of the Anti-Sexual Harassment Act of 1995 (R.A. 7877) , which defines sexual harassment as committed by 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. Thus, the harasser must be: 1) a teacher, boss, coach , trainer or person having moral authority over the victim; and 2) made in a work, training or educational environment; 3) where a sexual favor is asked or required. The elements of sexual harassment, at least as it is defined under Philippine law,  are not present. Neither does the incident fall under Acts of Lasciviousness” as punished under Articles 336 and 339 of the Penal Code, since there seemed to be no force, threat,  violation or overt intimidation. Neither was there physical contact.

Can it then be considered as Unjust Vexation” under Article 287 of the Penal Code ? It has certainly vexed the victim.

According to the Supreme Court in Baleros, Jr. vs. People (G.R. No. 138033, February 22, 2006, 483 SCRA 10) , Unjust Vexation is broad enough to include any human conduct which, although not productive of some physical or material harm, would unjustly annoy or irritate an innocent person. The paramount question is whether the offender’s act causes annoyance, irritation, torment, distress or disturbance to the mind of the person to whom it is directed. By the permissive definition in the Baleros ruling (and similar earlier rulings), and the fact that the crime of Unjust Vexation is vague and undefined in the Penal Code, a case for the subject offense can be made against the Askal bad boys.

However, this will involve a long-drawn criminal trial to prove what would in the end be considered a light offense (maximum penalty: 30 days jail time which would be subject to probation and a P200.00 fine). And the perpetrators, who happen to hold dual citizenships, could avoid facing the music by simply staying away from the Philippines. And I would imagine that, ultimately, it would be an unsatisfying verdict even if proven.  The crime of Unjust Vexation is so vague, unclear and so far removed from what we know to be the common concept  of Sexual Harassment that, for purposes of example, deterrence or vindication of crimes against women, it just will not do.

But what recourse does a woman have, apart from seeking administrative sanctions as Cristy Ramos has done before the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) ?

Call me biased, but I believe a criminal offense, or at least an act which should be considered a criminal offense, may have been committed. And I’m sick and tired and ashamed, as a man, of hearing the usual “boys-will-be-boys defense which says that popular athletes are not responsible for their acts and unjustly places the onus on the victim.

That it should happen to Cristy Ramos, is doubly troubling. Putting aside the fact that she was a presidential daughter, this is a lady who knows her football. She was an outstanding varsity athlete at UPLB and a mainstay of the Philippine national women’s football team.  She’s no stranger to locker rooms. And it should be emphasized that Ms. Ramos was at the locker room before the Philippines-Malaysia friendly on official business , as a commissioner and  officer of the AFC. That she should be subject to such blatant disrespect, given her stature, makes one fear for any ordinary Filipina who might stray the Azkals way. Weren’t they already involved in one such incident in which a women claimed she was harassed at an Azkals’ gathering ?

Unfortunately, we seem to be caught in a quandary, as far as the law is concerned. Clearly, our legal concept of sexual harassment should be expanded to include cases not covered by a work, training or educational environment.  This is dangerous ground, admittedly, as a broad concept of sexual harassment might put a lot of us men in trouble. A wider-ranging law can be a potent weapon against the guilty but can just as easily be used to oppress the innocent.

At the moment, we’re in a situation described by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart in attempting to categorize pornography in Jacobelis vs. Ohio (1964). His famous phase I know it when I see it describes our present dilemma.  To paraphrase Mr. Justice Potter, I may not be able to define precisely or exactly categorize the crime committed, but I know it when I see it. Cristy Ramos certainly knew it when she experienced it.

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