Placards from Tuesday's, Oct. 15, 2019, demonstrations protesting the impunity of sexual harassers in the school's faculty line the counters of Ateneo de Manila University's Xavier Hall, where its Office of the Vice President is housed.
The GUIDON/Jim Dasal
Ateneo vows justice amid surfacing of sexual misconduct allegations vs faculty members
Franco Luna (Philstar.com) - October 16, 2019 - 3:39pm

MANILA, Philippines (Update 3: Oct. 17, 2019; 10:31 a.m.) — Just a day after students protested Ateneo de Manila University’s inaction towards allegations of sexual harassment against faculty members, the school vowed it is working to ensure that justice would be served.

“Measures are in place to ensure the protection of our students and employees from any form of sexual harassment, at the same time guarantee that due process is followed, all parties are heard, and justice is served,” the university said Tuesday in a statement sent to Philstar.com.

It also acknowledged that “the burden is on the University to gain the trust and confidence of the community.”

Confidentiality restrictions in the law

The statement, however, was careful to mention that the university could not disclose any information pertaining to the identities of individuals involved, the content of investigative proceedings and the succeeding decision made by the university due to confidentiality restrictions in the Data Privacy Act and the Safe Spaces Act. 

Republic Act 11313 or the Safe Spaces Act stipulates in Article IV, Section 17c that independent internal mechanisms “guarantee confidentiality to the greatest extent possible.” 

Ateneo also referred to the Anti-Sexual Harassment Policy included in the Policies and Procedures manual issued by its Office of Human Resource Management and Organizational Development. Section 3.5 of the policy notes that “all concerned parties are required to ensure the confidentiality of the issue during the issue [and] guarantee utmost respect for individual privacy” in official cases of sexual harassment. 

Approved in May 2018, the policy provides employees a definition of sexual harassment based on Republic Act 7877 or the Anti-Sexual Harassment Act of 1995 and requires any witnesses of sexual misconduct to tender a written report “within a reasonable amount of time.” It also provides for the creation of the school’s Committee on Decorum and Investigation. 

Current and former graduates of the Ateneo Philosophy Department also released a public statement of their own demanding accountability, safety for students and the passage of a faculty code of conduct. The statement asserted that “sexual violence has long been a persistent, unresolved issue of the Ateneo community, and decried that students continue to fear for their safety.”

In particular, the statement called for “public disclosure of the composition of the Committee on Decorum and Investigation, and the results of their investigations so far.”

Similarly, an earlier statement released Tuesday by the Ateneo Sanggunian argued that “the systems put in place in institutions like the Ateneo [have] failed in creating a safe environment for its students.”

Philstar.com reached out to a number of professors who said they were “scared” of the possibility of sanctions from the university's management should they comment on the issue.

One faculty member who requested anonymity said, "I think it should be emphasized that the school does act on every case. They just don't disclose anything which can lead to erroneous assumptions. I do think that more transparency will do the school good."

A report by the Ateneo Sanggunian sent to Philstar.com outlined the student government’s recommendations for possible courses of action and revealed that only 29.5% of sexual harassment cases were properly filed and resolved with the school, while 31.6% of cases filed lay suspended in the long process. 

The remaining 39.5%, though, continued to lack official disciplinary cases with the university administration and were only pursued by the student government. 

“In recent years, these stories have normally been coursed through social media, [however] even after generating much attention from the student body, the community remains frustrated about the administration’s lack of action and the priority placed on the University’s name, at the expense of the safety of the students,” the philosophy students’ statement said.

“If Ateneo is truly committed to the pursuit of social justice, it needs to confront the hard truth: the campus is unsafe, the processes have failed us, and the University is complicit.”

As of writing, the statement has garnered 169 signatures. 

'Language to appease emotions, not address problems'

On Wednesday, ADMU president Ramon Villarin released a memo declaring that the university's legal counsel Nina Patricia Sison-Arroyo was tasked with drafting an Anti-Sexual Harassment Manual in line with the responsibilities of academic institutions listed in the Safe Spaces Act.

The manual is slated to include sanctions for any violations, grievance procedures, and modes of intervention and assistance, with its completion targeted for the end of the year. 

Alumni of the university also released a statement later Wednesday evening, saying the statements of victims who came forward online should be assumed in good faith, that future policies include fixed adjudication timelines, case-specific penalties, proper gender sensitivity training, as well as counseling for victims while doing away with opt-out clauses. 

"[The online medium] is a reasonable avenue for persons in distress in light of the power imbalance between students and teachers [and] the current opaqueness and inaccessibility of the grievance procedure," the statement, co-signed by hundreds of Ateneo alumni, read.

"The university must stop hiding behind the Data Privacy Act and Safe Spaces Act as an excuse for an investigation process that is opaque, slow, and ineffective. An efficient and transparent process, designed to protect survivors and allow for the due process of the accused, is achievable within the means of the law."

According to the statement, the definition of sexual harassment in the university's aforementioned policy as "unwelcome or unwanted sexual advances or acts … when such conduct has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual’s work or academic performance" is one that "impose[s] unreasonable demands" on victims. 

It also outlined a number of policies for transparency, arguing that the administration "need not name either the victims or the accused."

A faculty member who also asked to remain anonymous said that the university's earlier statement was more of a response to the protesters than the victims.

"I dislike the use of stakeholders. Also, it doesn't say anything," the professor said. 

"It's the admin equivalent of the non-technical kind of "tech support" given by telcos when they say "system upgrade" or by gadget repair services who blame the "motherboard" for any problems: it's nonspecific language meant to appease emotions and not to address problems."

'Efforts have not been enough'

The Ateneo Loyola Schools Faculty Association on Wednesday night released a statement of their own calling for a zero-tolerance policy and faculty self-regulation efforts against sexual harassment, as well as an "independent review of the mechanisms and processes of the university in handling sexual harassment cases."

"The recent expression of outrage, however, points to the reality that the efforts have not been enough. This is the main issue: the inadequacy of ADMU’s responses to issues of sexual harassment," the faculty association admitted. 

They were also careful to expound on the rationale behind the university's earlier data privacy claims, saying, "While we are aware that there are concerns about the way this issue has been raised, we stand against the practice of publicly naming either perpetrators or victims. We caution against associating harassment with particular departments or schools [because] sexual predation can and does happen to anyone, anywhere."

Despite the legal constraints pointed out, the faculty asserted that knowing how and why sexual harassment cases were progressing was "the right of the community."

"While the University should comply with pertinent laws, it should also resist approaching compliance as the end-all and be-all."

ATENEO DE MANILA UNI­VER­SITY SEXUAL HARASSMENT
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