The Safe Spaces Act and Philippine Sports

by: Jillian Gandingco

Time to say goodbye to “bastos” (rude) culture! 

The Safe Spaces Act (SSA), more popularly known as the “Bawal Bastos” Law, is the law that defines and punishes gender-based sexual harassment in all public spaces, including streets, recreational spaces, workplaces, education or training institutions, and even online.

Dubbed as a “social game changer”[1], the law implements protective measures that promote “positive policy, behavioral and cultural changes”[2] and strengthen existing laws and policies against gender-based harassment. The SSA recognizes, protects, and guarantees the fundamental equality, security, and safety of all persons but most especially women and members of the LGBT community. There is absolutely zero-tolerance for catcalling, wolf-whistling, unwanted sexual advances, stalking, and other forms of sexual harassment by any person in public places. 

Anyone (even a minor) can be an offender under this law. The specific act or series of acts punishable by the SSA may be verbal, non-verbal, physical, or through the use of technology. Depending on the punishable act and the public space in which it is committed, the offender could be subject to community service (including a Gender Sensitivity Seminar) for 12 hours, imprisonment ranging from 6 days to 6 months, and/or a fine ranging from Php 1,000 to Php 500,000. 

The Safe Spaces Act definitely applies to sports. Sports can be played by anyone regardless of age or physical ability in any public space and online. It can be for fun or for competition. Based on the SSA, possible offenders include coaches, athletes, parents, school officials, teachers, other persons-in authority, employers, employees, co-workers, officials and members of the national sports associations, leagues and clubs, advertisers, gym owners and patrons, and government officials.

Playing some good, old street basketball with friends and neighbors in a public park when another player hurls misogynistic and sexist slurs? Punishable under Section 4 because the public park is a public space. 

Playing volleyball at a private sports facility when an on-looker catcalls or wolf-whistles? Punishable under Section 5 because a private sports facility is a privately-owned space open to the public, which makes it a public space. 

In fact, the owners of said spaces are obligated to provide assistance to victims of gender-based sexual harassment by calling on the local police. As an extra precaution, owners of business establishments are also required to install clearly, visible warning signs against gender-based public spaces sexual harassment. 

Joining a new varsity team and being cyberbullied, cyberstalked, or receiving incessant messages all over social media from fans, haters or bashers alike? Getting verbal sexually abusive messages while streaming on Twitch? As long as it’s online conduct that causes or likely to cause mental, emotional or psychological distress, and fear of personal safety, then it’s punishable under Section 12. 

The punishable acts under gender-based online sexual harassment may be committed through any of the following means: (1) public or through direct and private messaging (stop sliding into DMs!!), (2) invading victim’s privacy through cyberstalking and incessant messaging, (3) uploading and sharing without the consent of the victim, any form of media that contains photos, voice, or video with sexual content, (4) unauthorized recording and sharing of any of the victim’s photos, videos, or any information online, (5) impersonating identities of victims online, or (6) posting lies about victims to harm their reputation, or filing, false abuse reports to online platforms to silence victims.

Working as an employee for a sports team when the boss makes unwelcome sexual advances, requests or demand for sexual favors, or other conduct untoward to the recipient? As long as the act or series of acts has or could have the effect of altering working conditions, then it is punishable under Section 16 because the workplace is a public space.

The workplace is a unique environment because it must not only be conducive for work, but must also be a safe space for all. For this reason, the SSA imposes respective duties for the employers, employees, and co-workers to promote a productive and safe working environment. Employers are duty-bound to prevent and punish any and all forms of gender-based sexual harassment. They are required to post a copy of the SSA in a conspicuous place, conduct seminars, create an internal mechanism to address gender-based sexual harassment, and provide a code of conduct. Non-compliance subjects employers to a fine ranging from Php 5,000 to Php 15,000 in addition to the penal liabilities under the SSA. As an extra precaution, the SSA mandates the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) for the private sector and the Civil Service Commission (CSC) to conduct routine inspections.

Training at the school’s court with the varsity team when the coach or teammate makes unwelcome sexual advances, requests or demand for sexual favors? As long as the act or series of acts has or could have the effect of altering learning conditions, then it is punishable under Section 21 of the SSA because the school is a public space. Such act is also punishable under the Anti-Sexual Harassment Act. 

Schools, whether public or private, have the duty to foster a safe space and provide a gender-sensitive environment for truth-telling. A copy of the SSA must be posted on a conspicuous, public place accessible to all. Additionally, a grievance procedure is required and must be addressed by the school’s respective Committee on Decorum and Investigation. Non-compliance subjects the School Heads, Teachers, or other Persons-in-Authority to a fine ranging from Php 5,000 to Php 10,000. If the offender is a student, the student is liable for administrative sanctions stated in the school handbook. A routine inspection conducted by the Department of Education (DepEd), the Commission on Higher Education (CHED), and the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) is also mandated by the SSA.  

Sports leagues have come a long way in addressing issues related to sexism and gender inequality. But more can be done to implement the law and enjoy sports at the same time. 

Here are some best practices that sports leagues and the industry as a whole can implement to foster safe spaces and play on: 

  1. INFORMATION AND AWARENESS: Post a copy of the SSA on a conspicuous place and conduct seminars relating to gender sensitivity; 
  2. INCLUSIVE AND GENDER-SENSITIVE POLICIES AND GUIDELINES: Restructure respective Committees on Decorum and Investigation according to the law and disseminate a Code of Conduct reflecting these changes, including a grievance procedure conducive to truth-telling;
  3. INSPECTION: Implement spontaneous inspection by the national sports associations and appropriate government offices to ensure compliance with the SSA. 

Goodbye to “bastos” (rude) culture! Good riddance!

Jillian Gandingco is a newly minted lawyer, who just finished painting a mural and is a certified plantita.


[1] “Hontiveros: Bawal Bastos Law a Social Game Changer.” Manila Standard, Manila Standard, 28 Oct. 2019, 2:10 PM, http://www.manilastandard.net/news/national/308598/hontiveros-bawal-bastos-law-a-social-game-changer-.html.

[2] Id. 

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