Have you ever felt the need to change the style of clothes you want to wear because it’s “too revealing” and you’re afraid of being catcalled as soon as you walk out of your house, or worse, shamed by your own parents, relatives or boyfriends? Do you casually carry a bottle of pepper spray or any self-defense weapons for fears that a stranger would grope you out of nowhere? Have you been called ridiculous names and disparaging slurs like “baklang salot”, “pokpok” etc.? Has anyone ever threatened your life on the basis of your gender identity or sexual orientation?
Are you, like many women, children, and members of the LGBTQ community, a victim of harassment and violence in any way, shape, or form? Regardless of your answers for these questions, the dark reality presents itself among all of us. Gender-based harassments in streets, public spaces, online, workplaces, and educational or training institutions undermine the health and basic human rights of its victims. Despite this, perpetrators are rarely held accountable and the cycle of abuse repeats itself.
In 2020, a global research by girls’ rights organization Plan International revealed that 58% of girls and young women have been or are still being harassed worldwide. The same research concluded that approximately 7 in 10 (68%) of girls and young women in the Philippines have experienced harassment, specifically on social media. Horrible acts of harassment and violence are happening to us and our loved ones more than we think. However, the subject remains engulfed in our country’s culture of silence when it comes to, among others, abuses. This is precisely the problem the Safe Spaces Act or the Bawal Bastos Law tries to resolve.
What is the Safe Spaces Act or Bawal Bastos Law?
Signed in 2019, the Republic Act 11313 or the Safe Spaces Act/Bawal Bastos Law penalizes wolf whistling, catcalling, misogynistic and homophobic slurs, unwanted sexual advances, and other forms of sexual harassment in public places, workplaces, and schools as well as in online spaces.
This law, while being closely related to the Republic Act 7877 or the Anti-Sexual Harassment Act of 1995, expands the meaning of ‘safe spaces’ to the public domain—from public places to cyberspaces, from schools to workplaces, and from streets to high-rise buildings. The new law also expands the meaning of sexual harassment and who can be cosidered as an offender. While the former law limits the definition of offenders to authority figures, the present law recognizes that anyone can be offenders.
Article I of the Safe Spaces Act delineates the types of gender-based harassments and the acts that constitute them. These are: 
- Gender-based streets and public places harassment.
- Gender-based harassment in restaurants and cafes, bars and clubs, resorts and water parks, hotels and casinos, cinemas, malls, buildings, and other privately-owned places open to the public
- Gender-based harassment in public utility vehicles
- Gender-based sexual harassment in streets and public spaces committed by minors
- Gender-based online sexual harassment
- Qualified gender-based streets, public spaces, and online sexual harassment
- Gender-based sexual harassment in the workplace
- Gender-based sexual harassment in educational and training institutions
Offenses and Penalties under the Safe Spaces Act or Bawal Bastos Law
Here is a comprehensive infographic containing the acts considered as gender-based harassment and their penalties:
|First Degree Offenses||Penalty|
|– Cursing, Catcalling, Wolf-whistling, Leering and intrusive gazing|
– Taunting, unwanted invitations
– Misogynistic, transphobic, homophobic, and sexist slurs
– Persistent unwanted comments on one’s appearance and requests for personal details
– Use of words, gestures, or actions that ridicule on the basis of sex, gender, or sexual orientation; identity and/or expression
– Persistent telling of sexual jokes
– Use of sexual names, comments, and demands
– Invasion of a person’s personal space or safety
|1st offense: P1,000-fine and 12-hour community service with Gender Sensitivity Seminar|
2nd offense: 6-10 days in prison/P3,000 fine
3rd offense: 11-30 days in prison and P10,000-fine
|Second Degree Offenses||Penalty|
|– Making offensive body gestures at someone|
– Public masturbation
– Flashing of private parts
– Similar lewd actions
|1st offense: P10,000-fine and 12-hour community service with Gender Sensitivity Seminar|
2nd offense: 11-30 days in prison/P15,000 fine
3rd offense: 1 month and 1 day to 6 months in prison and P20,000 fine
|Third Degree Offenses||Penalty|
– Sexual advances, gestures
– Touching, pinching, or brushing against the genitalia, face, arms, anus, groin, breasts, inner thighs, face, buttocks, or any part of the victim’s body
|1st offense: 11-30 days in prison/P30,000-fine with attendance to Gender Sensitivity Seminar|
2nd offense: 1 month and 1 day to 6 months in prison and P50,000-fine
3rd offense: 4 months and 1 day to 6 months in prison/P100,000-fine
|Gender-based online sexual harassment||Penalty|
|– Physical, psychological, and emotional threats|
– Unwanted sexual misogynistic, transphobic, homophobic, and sexist remarks and comments online whether on public posts or through private messages
– Invasion of the victim’s privacy through cyber stalking and incessant messaging
– Recording or sharing any of the victim’s photos, videos, or information without permission
– Impersonating victims’ identities
– Posting lies about victims to harm their reputation, and filing false abuse reports to online platforms to silence victims
|The penalty of prision correccional in its medium period or a fine of not less than P100,000 but not more than P500,000|
If the perpetrator is a juridical person, its license or franchise will be revoked
The role of Local Government Units (LGUs), Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG), and other Implementing bodies for the enforcement of the Safe Spaces Act.
The Bawal Bastos Law acknowledges that combating gender-based harassment necessitates a concerted effort between private and public institutions. Stress is also provided on qualified gender-based harassment against passengers of public utility vehicles, persons with disability, senior citizens, breastfeeding mothers, people with mental problems tending to impair consent, and if the perpetrator is a member of the uniformed services i.e., PNP or AFP. As a result, it recognizes privately-owned public places, workplaces, schools, LGUs, national government agencies, and other implementing bodies as responsible for ensuring enforcing the provisions of the law and protecting the most vulnerable sectors of the country.
LGUs have the responsibility to pass an ordinance which will localize the effectivity of the act within 60 days of its effectivity, disseminate copies of the Act, prevent gender-based sexual harassment by conducting information campaigns and anti-sexual harassment seminars, discourage and impose penalties on acts of gender-based sexual harassment, create an anti-sexual harassment hotline, and coordinate with the DILG.
The DILG and other implementing bodies are tasked to inspect if the LGUs have responded to their responsibilities as provided above and provided capacity-building activities in relation to the implementation of this act.
Public spaces, privately-owned places open to the public, schools, workplaces, and LGUs are enjoined to adopt a zero-tolerance policy against gender-based sexual harassment. They are obliged to provide assistance to victims by putting up warning signs, installing helpdesks, creating an independent internal mechanism or a committee on decorum and investigation (CODI), coordinating with the police, making CCTV footage available (even without court order), and encouraging victims to report harassment at the first instance, among others. Even educational institutions, by the virtue of this law, are obliged to investigate the presumed acts of gender-based harassment and take appropriate steps to resolve the situation i.e, educational institutions have the right to strip the diploma from the perpetrator or issue an expulsion order.
The irony of all this is that Former President Rodrigo Duterte has been accused many times of gender-based harassment, which may as well be penalized by the law he himself signed. In 2016, he made a controversial statement regardig an Australian rape victim in 2016. Before he was sworn in as president, he also wolf-whistled a female journalist during a press conference televised nationally. We can go on enumerating the times the former President drew flak for his discriminatry remarks against women, but the struggle will only continue.
We have to be steadfast in subverting the macho-patriarchal ideologies that reduce women to mere objects of entertainment and pleasure. With the Safe Spaces Act, we have the opportunity to ensure that the generations to come will live in a society that protects and fosters public and private spaces free from all forms of gender-based harassments and violence. .
Our institutions must take necessary actions to enforce the law and make sure that anyone who tries to break it will be duly penalized. Gone are the days of silence and rationalization of harassment. With the Safe Spaces Act, along with global movements that champion integrity and bodily autonomy, people are finally standing up against gender-based harassment. More and more have been speaking out about their experiences in public spaces, educational or training institutions, workplaces, and online spaces.
 Narvaez, Aly. (2020). Plan International. 7 in 10 girls and young women in PH experience online harassment – Plan International study. https://plan-international.org/philippines/news/2020/10/16/7-in-10-girls-and-young-women-in-ph-experience-online-harassment-plan-international-study/#:~:text=In%20the%20Philippines%2C%20the%20survey,very%20frequently%20(33%20percent).
 The LAWPhil Project. Seventeenth An Act Defining Gender-Based Sexual Harassment in Streets, Public Spaces, Online, Workplaces, and Educational or Training Institutions, Providing Protective Measures and Prescribing Penalties Therefor. https://lawphil.net/statutes/repacts/ra2019/ra_11313_2019.html
 Corrales, Nestor. (2016). Inquirer.net. Duterte rape joke on Australisn missionary: too much?. https://newsinfo.inquirer.net/779912/viral-duterte-rape-joke-on-australian-missionary
 France-Presse, Agence. (2017). Rappler. Duterte in hot water for wolf whistling GMA7 reporter. https://www.rappler.com/nation/135097-philippines-duterte-hot-water-wolf-whistle-reporter/