[OPINION | Dash of SAS] NEDA official accused of sexual harassment still in office

Last January 30, the National Economic and Development Authority submitted the results of its internal investigation into a sexual harassment case a junior officer filed against her supervisor, a high-ranking NEDA official. (Read NEDA statement here.)  

According to the statement, a thorough investigation was done by its Committee on Decorum and Investigation (CODI), and the committee’s findings and recommendations were submitted to the Office of the President. 

As the accused is a 3rd-level official, a presidential appointee, President Rodrigo Duterte would make the final decision on the matter. 

The sexual harassment incident was first reported in the Philippine Daily Inquirer and then by Rappler in early January. A 21-year-old employee alleged that her supervisor had fondled her while she and two other women shared a ride home with him after an office party. The accused was said to be drunk at the time. 

The supervisor is very influential and enjoys the tenure and stature of his over 40 years of working in the NEDA. The Davao native is very well-connected within and outside the agency. However, his internal reputation is one of a serial predator who makes unwanted sexual advances on his subordinates, usually young employees in junior positions – much like the complainant. The unwanted overtures are usually made when on official business trips abroad. Some of the victims are now senior female employees who endured the harassment and remained silent about it. 

Considering the power play and the internal culture of silence for females (a culture that exists in most of the country), it was very courageous of the complainant to seek redress. However, it cost the young budding economist her career. Rappler was able to confirm with independent sources that the complainant resigned shortly after she filed the case. While the NEDA upheld its responsibility to investigate the case, the complainant did not receive much support from colleagues, presumably out of fear of offending the very big boss whose predatory exploits were laid bare. 

It has been nearly 9 months since the report was submitted to the Office of the President for a resolution. The silence from Malacañang is deafening.

The accused was 63 years old at the time the complaint was filed in the latter part of 2018. According to the Civil Service Commission Act, the mandatory retirement age is 65 years old. 

If the official is found guilty, the penalty of dismissal from office may be imposed along with “the cancellation of eligibility, forfeiture of retirement benefits, perpetual disqualification from holding public office and bar from taking civil service examinations.”

If a decision is not reached before his retirement, there will be a 90-day limit for holding his benefits while his case is pending. Past the 90 days, he will be awarded full retirement benefits.

We have laws made to protect us from harassment, like The Anti-Sexual Harassment Law and the recently passed Safe Spaces Act, but these laws will remain mere words on paper unless authorities act on cases like the one from NEDA. That means making a decision and extracting accountability. 

The NEDA case is an opportunity for government to restore public trust in its laws and exhibit good governance by showing that the influence and power of public office come with the responsibility of being held to a higher standard of decency.

But the Office of the President is dragging its feet.

We have to ask ourselves and our officials: Why is it taking so long for the Office of the President to make a decision? Who is it trying to protect? – Rappler.com