A LAW EACH DAY (KEEPS TROUBLE AWAY) - Jose C. Sison (The Philippine Star) - October 24, 2012 - 12:00am

People working in the public or private sector should know or should not take lightly the Anti- Sexual Harassment Law, or Republic Act (RA 7877) punishing acts showing low regard for women and disrespect for their honor and dignity in a working environment. This law which took effect on March 5, 1995 is the law involved in this case of Bernie.

Bernie was a married man who is the Municipal Assessor of a town up north. Also working in the same LGU were Tess, the senior bookkeeper, Margie and Nida both regular employees belonging to the rank and file.

Sometime in February 2000, Bernie sent a note to Margie telling her “I like you.” Feeling offended Margie threatened to give the note to his wife. But Bernie was able to grab the note and tore it to pieces, Later on, in March 2002, he sent another note to Margie fantasizing that he dated her then telling her “ang tamis ng halik mo.”

On the other hand, Bernie’s offending acts on Nida started on April 5, 2002 when Bernie whispered to her during a retirement program about her flawless skin while twice slowly pinching her arm near the shoulder. Then a few days later Nida received a text message from Bernie while she was passing in front of his car asking her, “pauwi ka na ba sexy?” Then between April 22 to 25, 2002, Nida received 5 more messages from Bernie telling her “I like you,” “Have a date with me,” “Don’t tell others what I told you, nakakahiya,” “Puso mo to pag binigay mo sa akin I would be very happy,” and “I slept and dreamt nice things about you.”

In the case of Tess, Bernie’s indecent advances were committed on Nov. 18, 2000 during a field trip of the officers and employees of a multi-purpose cooperative to a resort in Bulacan when Bernie pulled her towards him and attempted to kiss her. Tess resisted and was able to escape Bernie’ clutches to rejoin the group. Thereafter Bernie apologized to Tess thrice regarding the incident.

But the three ladies have had enough. They filed three cases of sexual harassment against Bernie. After proper investigation by the Office of the Mayor, Bernie was found guilty of all three charges. On the charges of Margie and Nida, Bernie was meted with the penalties of reprimand for the offense of light harassment and 30 days suspension for the offense of less grave sexual harassment. His transgression against Tess however was deemed to be grave sexual harassment for which he was dismissed from the service.

Bernie appealed to the Civil Service Commission (CSC) only the decision dismissing him since the two other cases were no longer appealable. But the CSC affirmed his dismissal on the ground of grave misconduct instead of grave sexual harassment. On further appeal to the Court of Appeals (CA), the latter found Bernie guilty only of simple misconduct and meted the penalty of mere 30 days suspension. The CA considered Bernie’s repeated apologies as lack of intention to commit so grave a wrong and his 10 years of outstanding service as mitigating circumstances. Was the CA correct?

No. Bernie’s act of grabbing Tess and attempting to kiss her without her consent was an unmistakable manifestation of his intention to violate laws that specifically prohibit sexual harassment in the work environment. Assuming arguendo that he never intended to violate RA 7877, his attempt to kiss Tess was a flagrant disregard of a customary rule that had existed since time immemorial — that intimate physical contact between individuals must be consensual. Bernie’s defiance of custom and lack of respect for the opposite sex were more appalling because he was a married man. It showed low regard for women and disrespect for Tess’ honor and dignity.

Bernie’s persistent attempts to make peace with Tess even indicated how well he was aware of the gravity of the transgression he had committed and the heavy penalty that awaited him if Tess would complain of his aggressive behavior. His long years of government service should even be seen as a factor that aggravated his offense because by such length of service he was already expected to know that public service requires utmost integrity and strictest discipline.

Furthermore, this is the third offense that he is being penalized for sexual harassment, his continued misbehavior should not be allowed to go unchecked. He should be dismissed from the service with forfeiture of retirement benefits except leave credits if any with prejudice to re-employment in in any public office (Narvasa vs. Sanchez Jr., G.R. 169449, March 26, 2010, 616 SCRA 586).

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