If laws worked retroactively in the Philippines, President Rodrigo Duterte just signed one that he’s definitely already broken again and again.
The Presidential Palace just recently announced that on April 16, the president signed Republic Act 11313, or the "Safe Streets and Public Spaces Act,” a law penalizing “any unwanted and uninvited sexual actions or remarks against any person” in public places.
This, coming from a man who asked a woman to kiss him onstage, told a mayor he would hold on to her panties “until the garter snaps,” and admitted to sexually assaulting his own housekeeper as a teenager. All of this and more is on public record.
In fact, he's probably already broken the law post-signing. On May 26, during the graduation rites of the Philippine Military Academy where cadets are pardoned for various offenses, he joked about pardoning them for rape.
"Anyway I'll pass you this time because I need good and capable soldiers," Duterte said. "I will pardon you. The number one is for rape. Number two is drugs with rape with robbery."
Not that it matters. Duterte, who just passed the three-year mark of his presidency, enjoys presidential immunity and cannot be charged for the duration of his term.
After the law's announcement, Gabriela Women’s Party, a political organization advocating for women, took to Twitter to point out the irony of the situation:
Sexual harassment, as defined by Article 1 of the law, includes “catcalling, wolf-whistling, unwanted invitations, misogynistic, transphobic, homophobic and sexist slurs, persistent uninvited comments or gestures on a person’s appearance; relentless requests for personal details, statement of sexual comments and suggestions; public masturbation or flashing of private parts, groping, or any unwanted advances.”
Depending on the act and the number of times they’ve violated the law, perpetrators may get fined between approximately $20 to $10,000, 12 hours of community service, compelled attendance to a gender sensitivity seminar, and jail time between six days to six months.
For all of the backlash President Duterte has received for his statements and actions, now he can’t resort to his usual defense: that it was all a joke.
Sexual harassment is a prevalent issue in the Philippines. A 2016 survey by Social Weather Stations found that 88 percent of female respondents aged 18-24 have experienced at least one form of sexual harassment in their lives. Fifty-eight percent of these incidents have occurred on the streets.
It took some time before the Safe Spaces Act was passed. Sen. Risa Hontiveros filed the bill on February 2017 as an extension to the Anti-Sexual Harassment Act of 1995, which only tackled harassment in offices and schools. The Senate approved the bill in October 2018, while the House of Representatives gave their approval on January 14, 2019. It’s unclear why the public release of the bill’s approval was delayed.