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What Exactly Is The Safe Streets And Public Spaces Act?

And how can it protect you?
PHOTO: istockphoto

Editor's Note [July 22, 2019]: In July 2019, President Rodrigo Duterte affixed his signature on the Safe Spaces Bill, making the Safe Spaces Act an official law. Watch this space for updates.


On May 5, 2018, Senator Risa Hontiveros held an informal forum pushing for the support of the proposed Safe Spaces Bill (S.B. No. 1326), which would penalize catcalling, wolf whistling, and homophobic or transphobic slurs hurled at women and LGBT persons on the streets and other public spaces. Sen. Hontiveros, together with gender advocate organizations UST Hiraya, UP Babaylan, and Grrrl Gang Manila, worked on an initiative that would make specific establishments safer for women and the LGBTQ community. They partnered with several places to make “Safe Space Zones” all over Manila—until the law catches up with what we really needed.

Almost a year later, on April 21, 2019, the Safe Streets, Public Spaces Act lapsed into law, updating our existing (and outdated) 24-year-old anti-sexual harassment laws. FYI, the Anti-Sexual Harassment Act of 1995 only covers sexual harassment committed by authority figures in the schools, training institutions, and workplace.

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What does “Gender-Based Street And Public Spaces Harassment” mean?

Under Section 3 of the newly passed law, this means: unwanted comments, gestures, and actions forced on a person in a public space without their consent and is directed at them because of their actual or perceived sex, gender, gender expression, or sexual orientation and identity, including but not limited to unwanted cursing, wolf-whistling, cat-calling, leering, sexist, homophobic or transphobic slurs, persistent telling of sexual jokes, use of sexual names, comments and demands, following, flashing, public masturbation, groping, stalking, and all analogous cases of sexual harassment and/or assault.

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It also lists down places that are considered “public,” which includes but are not limited to: streets, alleys, public parks, schools, government buildings, malls, bars, restaurants, transportation terminals, public markets, and public utility vehicles.

What violations fall under the Safe Streets, Public Spaces Act?

The specific acts that constitutes as harassment are divided into three types of violations: light, medium, and severe. They also have different penalties. Here’s a complete breakdown:

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Light violations – Cursing, wolf-whistling, cat-calling, leering; persistent requests for name and contact details; the use of words tending to ridicule on the basis of actual or perceived sex, gender expression, or sexual orientation and identity including sexist, homophobic and transphobic slurs; or the persistent telling of sexual jokes.

Penalties: A first-time offender will be subject to a P1,000 fine and/or an eight-hour community service; a second offense involves imprisonment (six to ten days) or a P2,000 fine; a third offense involves imprisonment (11 to 30 days) or a P3,000 fine.

Medium violations – Making offensive body gestures at someone, exposing private parts for the sexual gratification of the perpetrator with the effect of demeaning, harassing, threatening or intimidating the offended party.

Penalties: Punishment for the first offense is a P3,000 fine and/or eight-hour community service; second offense involves 11 to 30 days in prison or a P4,000 fine; and the third offense shall be punished by one to six months of imprisonment or a P5,000 fine.

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Severe violations – Stalking; all the acts mentioned under the light and medium violations, when accompanied by touching, pinching, or brushing against the body of a person; or any touching, pinching, or brushing against the genitalia, anus, groin, breasts, inner thighs, face, or buttocks even when not accompanied by acts mentioned under the light and medium violations.

Penalties: The first offense involves 11 to 30 days of imprisonment or a P4,000 fine, provided that it includes attendance in a Gender Sensitivity Seminar; the second offense, one to six months in prison or a P5,000 fine; and the third offense also involves one to six months in prison or a P10,000 fine.

Speaking to Atty. Hanna Bravo of Barrios & Bravo Law Offices, though the passing of this law is a big step towards protecting people from street harassment, some parts can still use some tweaking. For instance, under the section on light violations, the word “persistent” is used but not clearly defined. Atty. Bravo notes, “Meron pang mapaglalaruan [dito] because how do you define ‘persistent’? Gaano siya ka persistent? Would two times suffice?”

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Additionally, under the list of medium violations, the phrase “offensive body gestures at someone” is also subject to interpretation: “How do you define ‘offensive’? The acts themselves, though [seemingly] self-explanatory, are open pa rin to various interpretations. It might be better to cite examples of offensive gestures like sticking your tongue out at someone and the like,” Atty. Bravo explains. The same can be said about what “stalking” is. If someone constantly watches your Instagram Stories or likes all your Instagram posts, if he or she stalking you? The parameters aren’t set and fixed by the law yet.

How will this law be implemented in public spaces?

Under Section 6 of the Safe Streets, Public Spaces Act, the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) and local units of the PNP for other provinces will deputize enforcers to be “Anti-Sexual Harassment Enforcers” (A-SHE). Once deputized, these officers will address complaints on the street and apprehend offenders. For light and medium violations, A-SHEs may impose the fine on the spot or issue orders for community service. Together with the Women and Children’s Desk at PNP stations, A-SHEs will keep a ledger of offenders of this act to keep track of each offender’s offenses (first, second, or third).

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What are Safe Space Zones?

Section 8 sounds like an extension of the Safe Space Zones, which were established in 2018. It reads, “Restaurants, bars, cinemas, malls, buildings and other privately-owned places open to the public shall adopt a zero-tolerance policy against harassment. These establishments should provide assistance to victims of harassment by helping coordinate with local police authorities in the immediate aftermath of the reported harassment, making CCTV footage available, and providing a space gender-sensitive environment to encourage victims to report harassment at the first instance. The Philippine Commission on Women (PCW) will develop a mandatory seminar against public spaces harassment, attendance in which shall be made a prerequisite for business permit renewal. All restaurants, bars, cinemas, and other places of recreation shall install in their business establishments clearly-visible warning signs against public spaces harassment, including the anti-harassment hotline number in bold letters, and shall designate at least one anti-sexual harassment officer to receive gender-based harassment complaints.

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Atty. Hanna Bravo is the co-founder of Barrios & Bravo Law Offices located at U-2 46 West Avenue, Quezon City.

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