'Our school is not safe': Ateneo students demand punishment for sexual predators

MANILA, Philippines (3rd UPDATE) – Hendrich Namoca had been submitting his entry requirements to Ateneo de Manila University (ADMU) when a stranger at a bus stop on campus touched his face. 

"I can't say his name. He works here, but I can't say his name because I'm scared," he said. "Hinawak-hawak niya ako sa mukha (He touched my face), he kept making comments like, 'You're so cute, are you a freshman?'"

He said he experienced similar advances while on the MRT or when walking on the sidewalk, betraying a culture of harassment that exists beyond academic institutions.

Namoca shared his story in front of fellow student protesters outside ADMU's humanities building on Tuesday, October 15. Disgruntled students, along with a handful of faculty members, held the protest after another case of sexual harassment involving faculty surfaced on Facebook Monday night, October 14. 

The post was made by a student who had alleged that a respected instructor from the university's English Department had touched him inappropriately and threatened to fail him after. The student also claimed that the said English professor had harassed 4 other victims, 2 of whom were professors. 

"[I had to go through] hearings, cross-examinations, etc. I went through months of stress, having to relive the trauma, reliving the feeling of being unsafe," the student shared on Facebook. He said the investigation was delayed for 6 months, and that when the decision came out, the English professor was given a 15-day suspension.

"Despite going through all the trouble and waiting for 6 months, she was only suspended for 15 days, more than 12 times shorter than my wait for the decision," he said. According to a source in the Ateneo English Department, the decision came out this semester. The accused professor will be allowed to teach in the next. 

The student's post made the rounds on Facebook Monday night and was shared over 1,700 times. This prompted indignant students to rally the next day against sexual harassment on campus, hoping the university administration would be more transparent with how they conduct investigations into complaints. 

The university administration does not disclose details of cases in line with the Data Privacy Act.

"We should know who the people are who make up the committee on decorum and investigation," Luther Aquino, who organized the protest, said. Aquino is also from the Philosophy Department, another department alleged to be coddling sexual predators.

"They are the people who are trying the faculty members who are accused of sexual misconduct and we don't even know who these people are? They could be their friends, they could be people who benefit from the system," he added. 

Aquino also said they want previous cases involving faculty members reopened, as they do not feel the punsihments meted out were "commensurate" with the violation. 

This is not the first time that a sexual harassment case became viral within the Ateneo community. 

In October 2018, the ADMU student council filed a case with the university against a longtime male professor who allegedly sexually harassed several students. It stemmed from a post on the public Facebook group "ADMU Freedom Wall," alleging that the professor would invite students to individual consultations in his private bedroom, and would message them inappropriately.

The social media storm that came in the wake of the Freedom Wall post saw other students coming forward with their own stories of sexual harassment at the hands of other faculty members and fellow students.

Another professor from the Philosophy Department was accused of making sexual advances at students during oral exams and making inappropriate, sexual comments in class. The university investigated the case and the professor was disallowed from teaching for an indefinite time. This semester, he is handling a few classes, according to Ateneo students. 

That these cases often stem from viral Facebook or Twitter posts, sometimes with anonymous accusers naming certain professors, makes administration response a contentious task. 

Ateneo legal counsel Patty Arroyo said during a Monday public consultation on the proposed implementing rules and regulations of the the Safe Spaces Act or Republic Act 1131 that there is a lack of clarity in the duties of schools in resolving cases, especially when it comes to ones that stem from social media and even do not reach the school's legal channels.

The school administration has called on students to file formal complaints instead because the school cannot act on unofficial, anonymous reports on informal platforms.

But students during their Tuesday protest also said the system was not working for them. 

"Bakit sila pumunta sa social media para magsalita. Bakit sila pumunta sa Facebook, sa freedom wall, sa Twitter para mang-call out ng mga harassers nila? Bakit? Kasi hindi gumagana 'yong mga sistemang nasa loob sa Ateneo," said Ia Marañon, former Ateneo council president. 

(Why do they turn to social media to speak? Why do they turn to Facebook, the Freedom Wall, Twitter, to call out their harassers? Why? Because the system inside Ateneo does not work for them).

Ateneo responds

In a statement early Wednesday, October 16, the university assured its community that it has measures in place to protect students and employees from sexual harassment, and to ensure due process for all parties involved.

"The Ateneo de Manila University does not tolerate or condone sexual harassment by any member of its community. 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," it said. 

ADMU acknowledged that "the burden is on the University to gain the trust and confidence of the community" but it cannot divulge the details about its proceedings involving sexual harassment cases "because of confidentiality restrictions in the Data Privacy Act and the Safe Spaces Act."

It said that after a formal complaint is, the university's Committee on Decorum and Investigation (CODI) conducts the investigation under university rules, and "imposes the commensurate sanction considering the evidence presented."

It also cited other mechanisms, such as the Gender Hub and the University Gender and Development Focal Point, to "provide checks and balances to ensure that we progress steadily towards greater accountability, restoration, and relief."

"We assure the Ateneo community and the public that we are taking every step possible to ensure that students and employees are safe from sexual harassment. We are committed to improving our systems and working together with all our stakeholders in building a safer and more gender-sensitive Ateneo," ADMU said. 

On Wednesday, afternoon, ADMU president Fr Jose Ramon Villarin  released a memo saying the university would complete an Anti-Sexual Harassment Manual by the end of the year. 

The manual, he said, would include a definition of sexual harassment, imposable sanctions for different types of sexual harassment, grievance procedures, and modes of intervention and assistance. 

The memo, however, made no mention of the Tuesday protest outside the university administration’s building. – Rappler.com